Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum

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Things to do


Date of travel

January, 2016

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Our city tour of Addis Ababa included the “Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum”:, which opened in 2010, and is dedicated the millions of Ethiopians who lost their loved ones during the brutal, socialist Derg regime from 1974 to 1991. Although President Mengistu’s regime promised to bring in democracy within 2 years they never did. Whilst familiar with the atrocities in Auschwitz and Cambodia’s Killing Fields, I felt ashamed to admit I was unfamiliar with this dreadful period of Ethiopian history.

Whilst we had our own guide, we were required to have a guide from the museum: a chap in his sixties who at first, was slightly irritating as he hurried us along reading the English explanations really quickly (everything is very well labelled in both English and Amharic). We were starting to feel a little rushed around the numerous ground-floor rooms and so began asking lots of questions in an attempt to slow the pace.

He then started to movingly tell us about his brother who had been killed during this time, but whose body had never been found. There was a mock up of a mass grave and a glass cabinet full of bones and skulls which had been removed from the grave. Whilst some had been identified others hadn’t, and as our guide pointed to a skull and said, ‘that could be my brother’, I felt terribly emotional.

The Derg regime ousted Haile Selassie and there was a large black and white blown up photograph of him being bundled into the back of a VW beetle – the ultimate humiliation bearing in mind he always drove a Mercedes.

The hundreds of black and white portraits, mostly named, were equivalent to those displayed in similar museums. Particularly moving were the portraits of brothers and families who had all been killed. This included four brothers killed on the same night with their mother’s quote ‘As if I bore them all in one night, they slew them in a single night’.

The exhibits were mainly photographic but there was also a huge display of clothes taken from the mass grave and a model demonstrated one method of torture where prisoners were tied to a bamboo cane by the arms and legs and beaten. A list of other horrific torture treatments was displayed including being dipped in hot oil.

Whilst emotionally draining, I was pleased that the museum had been included on our itinerary as I now feel much more informed. I’d be interested to hear how familiar this period of history is to fellow Silver Travellers.

There is no entrance free but donations are welcome.

Helen Jackson

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