Most of African nations had lived under the clutch of European colonialism. Ethiopia is one of the countries that said no to European occupation, with its brave and patriotic people sacrificing their lives to defend the country from the grip of colonialism. What the brave Ethiopians did to protect their motherland will forever be in the history annals of the country and the black people in general. In connection with the 121st Anniversary of the Adwa Victory The Ethiopian Herald's Robel Yonannes has presented to you the translation of the interview Addis Zemen daily held with Patriot Asresahegn Lemma.
Patriot Asresahegn Lemma is one of the remaining seven veterans and patriots who were involved in the second Italian war of invasion that lasted from 1935 to 1941. Our forefathers defended their country with everything they had mainly shield and spear against the invading fascist Italian army equipped till its knee and with modern arms. Patriot Asresahegn is the living eyewitness who went to the battlefield to fight fascist Italian army just at the age of six.
Patriot Asresahegn was born in December 24, 1930, to parents Lemma Aseged and Laqech Admeqe in Bulga, Amhara State. Being the eldest son of his family, his birth coincided with the coming of his uncle from the Maichew war victorious, which made the occasion momentous and joyful. For this reason, he was much adored by his uncle Aytenfsu Aseged as much as his parents.
He spent the first three years of his life in a rural town, where he was born and lived with his parents and uncle. He grew up like every other rural boy helping his parents by shepherding the family's cattle.
He spent a brief time to study theology education in the local religious school as his father wanted him to become a priest when he grew up. But, for him there was nothing important than protecting his country from the invading force of Italian army. So at a young age, he went to the battlefield with his uncle to drive out the invading army out of the country.
Childhood in the battlefield
Not many parents will dare and be willing to send their six year old son to the battlefield particularly when the enemy is ruthless, well armed and trained. Remembering the episode, he said “My uncle loved me even more than my parents did. As I didn't want to be afar from him and live with my parents alone, I followed him into the battlefield. And my parents didn't hesitate to give their consent when I asked them that my uncle wanted to take me with him.”
In 1936, the Fascist Italian army invaded Ethiopia from multiple directions. The war at Tegulet and Bulga area was even more intensified and bloody. The kid Asresahegn joined the resistance at his tender age with his uncle not to fight of course but to be a source of morale and support to his uncle, whom he loved dearly.
The six year old Asresahegn started to live in caves with the resistance under the watchful eyes of a guardian. Living like that had afforded him the chance to get a close range view on the successes of the resistance campaign.
Prior to the war as the leaders of the battle were Kefelew Weldetsadiq and his uncle and victor of Maichew war, Aytenfsu Aseged, they believed that they would win. As expected, the Adabay Jama battle ended with victory.
“At that time I was crawling and breaking into the middle of the war without asking anybody just to see the place where my uncle and his compatriots were fighting. And he used to get angry with me for doing such stunt. My love for my uncle cannot be described with words.”
“When I was seven, the mule I had my riding hit by bullet and I felt from my saddle hurting both of my laps,” said Patriot Asresahegn reminiscing the war scene during the fight against fascist Italy.
Witnessing the courage and morale of his uncle and other patriots, Asresahegn returned back home with small injury after his first exposure to a battlefield. Although not physically fit and was not given a weapon at that time, obviously, he used to put the of holster his uncle's gun. He also burned down houses at night with his uncle where the invaders lived beside seizing fortresses.
His uncle along with many other patriotic Ethiopians foiled the invasion of fascist Italy's plan to colonize our people and country. Asresahegn was involved in daunting wars that took place in Tegulet and Bulga at a tender of age, not as a fighter of course but as a morale booster. Without being intimidated by the bone-chilling weather of the night and the scorching heat of the day, he was one way or another involved in sending the invading foe back to where they had come from.
After Ethiopia reclaimed its freedom in 1941 and drove the invading army out of the country, Patriot Asresahegn came to Debre-Birhan. He started to work at the then newly established Ministry of National Defence with a monthly payment of 90 birr. He has taken on various tasks and responsibilities in different and other parts of the country since then.
A burning desire for education
As a little boy he had aspirations to become a priest and even started taking on theological study, but his love for his uncle and country has put a dent on that aspiration. Out of his love to his uncles' morale to fight the foe, he trekked to the battle where he unknowingly found himself caught in fighting and driving out the invading fascist Italy army out of his town by putting a halt into his school as a kid, but he knew very well the importance of education that he started to read books at every spare time he got.
Talking about his love for books, he says “It was hard to get access to school and formal education like now during those days, as there were not many schools at the time. And the payment it took to go to the ones that existed at that time was also extremely expensive as well. It was not the easiest of times either in terms of peace as well and, it was also hard to get the opportunity to go to school. I have read many books ever since the days I was in the cave in the middle of the battlefield, and my appetite to read did not stop when I went to Debre-Birhan”
He didn't learn through the chalk and board form of conventional school, but had a real desire to learn which made him turn into a serial book reader to quench that desire, which continued even after leaving Debre-Birhan for Makalle. Fortunately enough, when he arrived at Addis Ababa in 1955, he was sure that he would get the chance to learn in school.
As he expected, he found the chance to do so when he started regular school at Shimelis Habte School in the evening shift. Unfortunately, his desire lived short as his salary wasn't enough to cover school fees and get by for a month that he was forced to quit as ten grader.
The Congo Stint
In May 1961, the United Nations requested Ethiopia to give military support in its effort to free that war-torn African country, Congo. When the Ethiopian Minister of Defence decided to dispatch the second battalion of the army to Congo, Patriot Asresahegn was chosen and sent to Congo as an assistant to the tank commander.
When he came back home after a one year generous service in Congo, where he displayed a huge bravery on mission, he received heft amount of prize money from the United Nations. Given that it was the UN that was paying their salary; he came back to his country with some money saved up.
Marriage and Personal Life
Patriot Asresahegn bought a huge house in 'Qera' area located at the capital Addis Ababa with the money he saved up after coming back from Congo. Despite the pain he felt with the death of his first wife, he was able to remarry again in 1990. “I was unfortunate for not having a child from both of my marriages. Though it seemed not enough to show how I adore him, I raised two children of my beloved uncle to show my love and respect to him.”
His uncle Aytenfesu Aseged was survived by his two children when he lost his life in the Somalia war. Brought up by Patriot Aserasahegn, his uncle's two children were fortunate enough to live along side with him. And now the eldest son is working as a lecturer in Switzerland, while the other one is working as consultant in the construction sector.
When he came to Addis Ababa, he worked as Property Officer in the army up until 1968, before he started working as Head of Documentation Office in the Armed Forces. In 1972, he left the Armed Forces and joined Ministry of Information. He worked there for many years as head of procurement department in the ministry's radio section.
He has also worked in the capacity of administrator in various departments of the ministry from 1972 to 1985. In addition, he has also worked in Ancient Ethiopian Patriots Association at various posts . He has also served his country as member of the parliament for many years.
Award and Recognition
He has won nine different prizes for the bravery and courageous acts he has shown in various battlefields. The five-palm medal, bronze star medal, 15 years of service Menelik II Silver medal, long years of service Menelik II gold medal, cavalry gold medal, UN medal awarded for service in the Congo, Congolese government medal, Ethiopian Millennium Medallion, and Peace Ethiopia Medal are some of the medals of honour he got for his achievements. On top of these medals, he has also received many awards in terms of cash and gifts.
Whether if it comes from the things he learned or picked up from his uncle or some other reason, he is an astute and judicious man that he is mostly chosen to come up with solutions to problems. He is an admirer of the two Ethiopian kings from Tewdros II to Menelik II. He says he has learned a thing either from one or the two of them on how to bring solutions to problems.
He has worked tirelessly in social associations like ‘Idirs’ at various capacities. He has also served as a chairman of history and news service in the Ancient Ethiopian Patriots Association, whilst playing a prominent role in the effort to acquire 1.5 million birr from Addis Ababa City Administration that would be used for the construction of the Association’s headquarters building and member's of the association.
Ethiopia is one of the only two countries that didn’t surrender to colonialism. Although Fascist Italians tried to invade the country twice, they were driven back with humiliation and shame by our brave and patriotic forefathers. As someone who was involved in the second attempted but failed invasion of 1935, Asresahegn says, “The level attention and respect that are accorded to us patriots from the people and government is good. We have got the recognition and honour the country can possibly give to us.” As patriots did not and do not let Ethiopia's sovereignty be compromised, the young generation of this time should develop their country and get rid of poverty. The youth should be courageous just like the patriots who got rid of the fascist invading armies, said Asresahegn.
Previously, our leaders used to fight each other in order to assume power. But, now all this has stopped, and every nation, nationalities and people of the country have continued to live together owing to the results of the democratic success gained so far. Today's generation is not entrusted with fighting war to protect their country but they should work to develop their country by working in their homeland and should stop looking for other countries making perilous journeys to find work while they could have created jobs in their motherland, according to Patriot Asresahegn.
Currently, Patriot Asresahegn devotes his little off time to the bureau of the Patriot Association. We wish our patriot father long years of health.