A Forgotten Diplomatic Front of World War I: Ethiopia
Keywords: World War I, Ethiopia, Ottoman Empire, German Empire
The First World War that caused the collapse of four Empires: the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, is being remembered today as a pitiless conflict that caused the death of 8.700.000 soldiers and civilians and the rendering destitute of at least quite as many. Those who study the WWI tend to focus their attention upon the large battles that took place during the 1914-18 period but few realise the enormous struggle for influence over Ethiopia - the then only independent country, other than Liberia, on the African Continent - that took place between the Entente and the Central Powers and the intensity of diplomatic efforts made to draw Ethiopia into one camp or the other. The appointment of Ahmed Mazhar Bey, a previous director of the Translation Department at the Bâb-ı Ali (Sublime Porte) as Consul General of the Ottoman Empire in the eastern Ethiopian city of Harar and the subsequent transfer of the Consulate General to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in 1914, led to important developments in the history of Ethiopia. Mazhar Bey who would demonstrate soon his skills of visionary in his position, was quick to realise the strategic advantages that would accrue from the alignment of Ethiopia to the ranks of the Central Empires. The Turkish Consul General's efforts towards this end were met favourably by Lidj Iyassou, the young de facto Emperor of Ethiopia, who, besides his sympathy for Islam, had developed a personal friendship with Mazhar Bey. The possible entry of Ethiopia to the war on the side of the Central Powers caused the Ambassadors of the Entente Powers (Great Britain, France and Italy) in Addis Ababa to take action and on September 10th 1916, the British, French and Italian Ministers made a joint "demarche" vis-avis the Ethiopian Government. The fruits of the Entente Powers' undertaking were soon to be harvested. The Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Abouna Matheos would, on the 27th September 1916, declare Prince Lidj Iyassou both deposed and excommunicated. Thus, the Addis Ababa "Coup d'Etat" of 27th September 1916, was going to change the course of the history of modern Ethiopia.