Article 17 the Italian text of the treaty Ethopia’s king appeared to agree to make use of the offices of Italy as an intermediary with other Powers.
Continuing Italy in Africa 1896,
our selection from special article for Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 19 by Frederick Augustus Edwards published in 1905. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Italy in Africa 1896.
Place: Addis-Ababa, Ethopia
Next it was discovered that Massowah was unhealthful, and that a position on the Abyssinian plateau was necessary to insure the health of the Italian troops. But all this naturally excited the suspicion and enmity of Johannes, the Negus (or king) of Abyssinia. The treaty that Admiral Hewett had entered into with him, in 1884, to provide for the relief of the Egyptian garrisons, which were besieged by the troops of the Mahdi, gave him in return freedom of transit for his goods through Massowah. This provision was now disregarded by Italy, and the Negus naturally felt a strong grievance at this breach of faith. Italy’s designs on the “hinterland” of her new acquisitions rendered him the more uneasy, and he showed no disposition to receive General Pozzolini, sent to him by the Italian Government.
The raids of the Abyssinian chief Debeb and Ras Alula gave General Gene occasion to occupy and fortify the village of Waha (October, 1886), thirty miles south of Massowah. The Negus protested against this encroachment on his territory, and Ras Alula advanced with his troops to Ghinda, on the frontier of Tigre, and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Italian forces. This demand not being complied with, the Ras attacked the fort of Saati, where the Italians had an advanced post (January 25, 1887), and on the following day fell upon a small force under Colonel De Cristoforis, near Dogali, and annihilated it after a heroic defense on the part of the Italians, whose losses were more than five hundred killed or wounded. The latter fought with great courage, but the Abyssinians came on in such over-whelming numbers that they had no chance, and fell as they stood, their bodies afterward being found in lines on the ground. This battle, or massacre, of Dogali was witnessed by an Italian, Count Salimbeni, who, with his companions, Major Piano and Lieutenant Savoiroux, had been taken prisoner by Ras Alula while travelling on a peaceful mission in Abyssinia.
This reverse created a lively sensation in Italy, and reinforcements were at once sent out, the Italian force being raised to twenty thousand men. An attempt was made by England, which has thrown away many opportunities of increasing her already great influence in Abyssinia, to prevent open war, but Gerald Portal was received by the Negus with scant courtesy and treated almost as an ally of the Italians. But both Italy and Abyssinia showed a disinclination to begin hostilities. Ras Alula addressed a temperate letter to General Di San Marzano, but, though he had massed his forces in sight of the Italians, refrained from striking a blow. At the same time the Italians were intriguing with Menelik, King of Shoa, a vassal of the Negus, and concluded with him a treaty whereby in return for his neutrality they agreed to give him five thousand Remington rifles.
Meanwhile events in the Sudan again favored Italian pretensions. The Dervises were raiding Gojam, and King John advanced to repel them, but was himself killed in the fight (March 10, 1889). With the aid received from the Italians, Menelik was now sufficiently strong to seize the crown, to which, indeed, he laid claim as the lineal descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
The Italians had obtained great influence over Menelik, first through the labors in Shoa of Monsignore Massaia, Vicar Apostolic to the Gallas, and then through the officers of the scientific mission sent by the Italian Geographical Society in 1876 under the Marquis Antinori. The Marquis did not live to carry on the work, and other travelers laid down their lives in this region in the advance of science. Cecchi and Chiarini made a vain effort to penetrate to the mysterious but interesting region of Kaffa, but were imprisoned, and only Cecchi lived to tell the tale. Another expedition, under Count Porro, failed even to reach Shoa from Zeila, being massacred at Artu, just beyond Jaldessa, in the Somali country (April 9, 1886).
In Shoa itself the conduct of Menelik had been most friendly to the Italian savants, and now, that he had succeeded to the Abyssinian crown, it looked as if the star of Italy was in the ascendant. It was not long before Menelik was induced to sign at Uchelli (May 2, 1889) a treaty defining the frontier in a way favorable to Italy. This treaty gave to Italy on the Abyssinian plateau the villages of Halai, Saganeti, and Asmara, and, in the Bogos country, Adi-Nefas and Adi- Johannes, the Italian frontier beyond Adi- Johannes being continued by a line carried due west. But a still more important provision was concealed in another article of the treaty, which virtually made Abyssinia acknowledge the suzerainty of Italy. In Article 17 the Italian text made Menelik agree to make use of the offices of Italy as an intermediary with other Powers; the Amharic version, on the contrary, provided that Menelik could, at his option, have recourse to Italy in his international relations. It does not appear whether this serious discrepancy was intentional or accidental; but Menelik protested against the former interpretation, and was determined to maintain his independence.
The Italians at once set about occupying the positions they had thus so easily obtained from Menelik almost before he had had time to learn the extent of his own kingdom, and, indeed, within eight weeks of the death of his predecessor. And, not contented with this, they even pushed farther and occupied the districts of Serae and Mai-Tsade, on the north or right bank of the Mareb, and also the district of Okule-Kusai to the eastward; and they now claimed as their frontier a line thirty- five miles south of that recognized by the Treaty of Uchelli, formed by the Mareb River, its eastern tributary, the Belesa, and the valley of the Muna, a river flowing toward the Red Sea in the direction of Amphila. But Menelik would have none of this, and, when Count Antonelli visited him to try to come to terms, he seems to have turned the tables on the Italian by getting him to sign a new convention (February 6, 1891), abrogating Article 17, when, in fact, the Count thought it was confirming the article. The Italian diplomatist was hoist with his own petard. The negotiations were broken off, and thus matters remained for a time while Italy turned her attention in another direction.
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