He was one of Ethiopia’s greatest Patriots during the era of Italian Occupation yet his story is little-known. Abdissa Aga, born in Welega, Oromia, was just 14 when he joined the Ethiopian Army and fought against Fascist Italy in 1936 in Ethiopia. He was captured while fighting the Italian troops and imprisoned in a concentration camp on the island of Sicily in Italy.
That was where he met Captain Julio, a Yugoslav hero. The two became friends while in prison and started planning their escape. They succeeded and escaped secretly with a dozen prisoners to the woods. A few days later, Aga and his men returned to the camp at night to help other prisoners escape. They did so while fighting the Fascist forces, many of whom feared Aga.
According to writer Dr. Fikre Tolossa, Aga “choked and silenced the guards. He and Julio took off the uniforms of the guards. Two of the former prisoners wore the uniforms, held the guns of the dead soldiers, and stood at the gate of the camp pretending to be Fascist watchmen. Abdissa and Julio, followed by the other partisans Penetrated the camp, released all of the prisoners, fought with some of the Fascist officers, robbed them off their ammunitions and supplies, as well as trucks full of weapons, and drove back to the woods.”
With more men and ammunition, Aga went on to fight the Fascist Italians in their own land. He and his army of partisans (former prisoners) freed other prisoners and robbed concentration camps, government warehouses, banks, and others. Their numbers continued to grow, and as they grew, the Italian government started fighting them strongly.
At the time, the partisans had chosen Aga as their leader, calling him Major. Italian forces tried so hard to capture Aga and when they failed, they tried to woo him by promising him “a big post”. He refused their offer.
Then came the Second World War. The Allied forces, Britain, the U.S., France and Russia supported Aga and his men with arms and provisions. They asked him to lead the international army of partisans consisting of the French, Americans, English, Ethiopians and other nationals. His friend Julio became the commander of the Yugoslav partisans. This arrangement was made to defeat the Italians.
According to Ethiopian history, Aga was “the first hero who entered and captured the city of Rome sitting in a jeep, waving first and foremost the flag of Ethiopia, which was also tied around the arms of his international soldiers including Americans, French and English.”
The Allies honored him for his bravery and he was made the Commander of the British Military Police by the British who sent him to Germany to fight against the German Army. After fighting the Nazis and conquering many cities and villages there, Aga reportedly “entered Berlin triumphantly again waving Ethiopian and British flags.”
He became famous across the world but when the war ended, and the British, the Americans and the Canadians asked him to join their armies, he refused, saying he would want to return home to his country Ethiopia. This didn’t go down well with the Allies, who then accused him of “ravaging the Italian Fascists when he was a partisan.” In the end, Aga was forced to pay a large fine to avoid being imprisoned. The Ethiopians, the British and Aga himself paid the fine.
The Ethiopian hero returned to his country where he surprisingly graduated as a first lieutenant before his rank was finally raised to colonel and ultimately became the head of the Emperor’s personal bodyguard. Aga passed away a few years after the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution.