5. The Jihad against the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia : 1529-1543

19) In 1529, Lebna Dengel and Gragn fought in Shimbra Kure (Bishoft/Debre Zeit), after which the Jihad wars nearly destroyed the Christian Kingdom. Ahmad Gragn overtook Dawaro and Shewa in 1531. He then marched north to Amhara and Lasta, while some of his soldiers spread to southern Ethiopia. Ahmad Gragn was pillaging and burning Ethiopian Churches, including the richest churches of Makana Sellassie , Atronsa Maryam, and Debre Libanos, and Killing Christians by the thousands. By 1533 the Jihad was waged in Tigray after Lebna Dengel had arranged for the removal of valuables including the Arc of the Covenant from Aksum. Among other churches, Gragn destroyed the famous cathedral at Aksum Tseyon. Then, Lebna Dengel sent for a military alliance with Portugal in 1535, and he died in Debre Damo in 1540. A year before, in 1539, his son Minas was captured by Gragn in a battle. His other son, Emperor Gelawdewos (1540-59) was crowned emperor. In 1541, Minas Legbna Dengel was returned from Istanbul to his brother. Also in 1541, 400 Portuguese musketeers arrived in Massawa led by Captain Cristovao de Gama. At that time bahrenegash Yeshaq was still working for the causes of Ethiopia. The Portuguese were joined by Itege Sabla Wayn, the wife of Lebena Dengel, and On 23 March 1542, Gragn was wounded at a battle at Anatsa near Lake Ashenge, and after another defeat he relocated to Zobel in the eastern escarpment. From there, Gragn sent for 900 musketeers from the Pasha of Zabid in Yeman. On 31August 1542 at battle of Afla near Lake Ashenge, Cristovao was captured, tortured and beheaded by Gragn personally. Gragn went after Gelawedewos, who was camped in Dersege. When Gelawedewos relocated to Weyna Dega, east of Lake Tana, Gragn marched toward him, and Gragn was killed on 20 February 1543. Weyena Dega was the Capital city of the legendary Emperor Degnajan of the 9th century who evangelized southern Ethiopia .

Despite the death of Gragn, Harar was not restive. Amir Nur built the walled city of Harar in the 1550’s. The outer wall, the jugol, had five gates. Homes, and the mosque in the city and the wall are built of sandstone and granite held by mud. The streets inside the city are narrow. The divans, the sitting rooms, of the faithful are covered with carpets. The five gates of the jugol were shut during the night, and the key given to the Sultan, so that no one gets in or out of the city at night. From the walled city Amir Nur waged several skirmishes in 1551. In 1557, Turks arrived at Massawa and Arqiqo, and Amir Nur of Harar was proclaimed “commander of the faithful.” In 1559 Amir Nur attacked Fatagar. Gelawedos sent his cousin, Hamelmal, to Harar and Sultan Barakat ibn Umar Din abandoned the city and was defeated. However, Amir Nur captured Gelwedewos in a battle. He beheaded the emperor on 20 March 1559 and married Bati Del Wembera, the widow of Gragn. Subsequently, Minas (1559-1563) became emperor. Meanwhile, the Turks had befriended bahrenegash (Eritrea since 1890) Yeshaq, who became Pasha Yeshaq.

In 1567, northward migrating Oromo/Gala had completely swept across the Sultanate region around the city. Many of the Oromo were converted to Islam. Amir Nur died of pestilence in the famine of 1567-68. But the influence of the Oromo not only in the eastern escarpment but also in the western escarpment to which the Christian Kingdom relocated was profound.

Though Gragn was killed, and Nur suffered a natural calamity, Ethiopia has been readjusting itself ever since, least of which is not the bogus claim of Ethiopian territory by the Ottoman Empire (See the Turkish Fiction). European interests compounded the problems of Ethiopia thereafter.





Gene Sharp for nonviolent movement

Rubicon is crossed


Joint UEDF-CUD press release of July 2005