An immensely significant piece of Ethiopian history was returned home last Tuesday; a sizable piece of Ethiopia’s 1,700 year-old famed Axum obelisk which was ransacked by Italian forces under the command of former dictator Benito Mussolini 68 years ago was returned, ending a decades-long dispute between the two nations.
“This is an historic moment for all Ethiopians,” Teshome Toga, Ethiopia’s culture minister, said, just as the artifact landed in the biblical city of Axum in northern Ethiopia.
As reported by Reuters, “Ethiopia’s ancient city of Axum, legend has it, was the site of the queen of Sheba’s biblical realm and the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. Towering funeral stones are what remain of its past glory. It lies in the shadow of the Adwa Mountains, 850 km north of Addis Ababa, where Emperor Menelik II defeated the Italians in 1896.”
Ethiopia’s minister for information, Netsannet Asfew, said: “We have waited a long, long time for this. This is a proud moment for us.”
The obelisk is immeasurable valuable to Ethiopia as it is one of the few remaining items that represent the dominant and influential kingdom of ancient Axum, which flourished between 200 and 100 B.C. It was there, within the Axumite kingdom, that Emperor Menelik II defeated the Italians in 1896 — the greatest modern victory of an African army over a European force. Ethiopia was the only African nation to resist colonization by European forces.
The return of the monument is long delayed and much anticipated as the Italian government pledged in 1947 to return all property plundered from Ethiopia during their occupation of the country from 1936 to 1941.
Logistical delays and bureaucracies postponed the homecoming of the obelisk from Rome where Mussolini ordered it erected as a signal of his military might; the treasure then stood in Rome in front of the United Nations food and agriculture program until now.
Eighty-two-year-old Abebe Alemayhue recounted to CNN, “I am now in the last stretch of my life on this earth, and I will go to my grave with the greatest happiness I ever experienced to see the return of the obelisk,” said Alemayhue, who remembered how Italian invaders surrounded Axum and carried the obelisk away under heavy guard.
Ethiopia is not the only country to protest the raiding of national relics by Nazi armies; “for example, Greece has repeatedly requested the return of the Elgin Marbles, fragments from Athens’ Parthenon temple removed in the early 19th century, from London’s British Museum” as reported by CNN.com.