Tuesday, 25 December 2018

The Author - "R. P. Sevadjian"

Dear friends and family,

Wishing you all a Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year!

2018 was a very eventful year for me and my work. I am hopping 2019 will match and better it!

As my last post of the year, I am sending you my book review for It was only Yesterday which I hope you will enjoy.

With every good wish and love,


It was only Yesterday
by Hannah Mariam Meherete-Selassie

I have just read Emebet Hannah Mariam Mehere-Selassie’s It was only Yesterday, a fascinating, evocative and very touching memoir of her childhood in her great grandfather’s household in Ethiopia. The fact that her great-grandfather was Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, makes this account even more fascinating.

This unputdownable book is timely in that it candidly describes life in the Imperial Household, not only for Emebet Hannah, but for various other ‘Palace Kids’, her cousins and relations. It certainly debunks the myths of luxurious living supported by hundreds of servants. Myths which were put together by the Derg, coupled with photographs which implied that His Majesty fed his dogs on prime cuts of beef while the people in the countryside starved. Sadly, this has become an enduring image of Court life in Ethiopia in the 1970s. The propaganda of the Derg, the reportage on British television by Jonathan Dimbleby and, afterwards, the ridiculous and sensationalist work by Ryszard Kapuschinski did so much damage to a great man’s reputation.

There are so many touching vignettes of Emebet Hannah’s interaction with His Majesty. His interest in her studies, his championing of her equal rights to her male cousins; he approved of her wish to wear trousers, he suggested she might undergo military training in Israel (much as her male cousins were receiving training at Sandhurst), and, a picture which will now stay with me forever, of his using an exercise bike in his bedroom every morning.

Emebet Hannah, conveys the deep pain and longing with which she thinks of her father whom she never knew, he having lost his life resisting the Palace Coup of 1960, before her birth a few months later. Like other posthumous children, she has many ‘what if,’ questions to which she has no satisfactory answers. But she has the solace of knowing that her father died a hero in His Majesty’s service, and that he was never forgotten by the Emperor.

The book encompasses events from 1960-74. Years during which I grew up in Addis Ababa, and therefore saw and experienced many of those described in the book. There is good analysis of what may have given rise to the ‘Palace Coup’, and fifteen years later, the ‘Creeping Coup’—both of which are vivid in my memory. The first because it was so frightening for the uncomprehending general populace—the latter because it changed our way of life forever.

This book should prompt readers to seek more information about the truly sad events which led to the murder of the last Emperor of the oldest monarchy in the world. The cruelty suffered by the ordinary people in the name of revolution is chilling.

On a lighter note, Emebet Hannah’s description of the Emperor’s drive to his country residence at Bishoftou brought a smile to my face. We too, used to go to Bishoftou at the weekend. We too stopped at Cononalpi (a state-owned bakery, pasta and biscuit factory at Akaki) to buy little bread rolls—and wonderfully scented anicettabiscuits. Sometimes the Royal party would have preceded us and there would be no bread rolls left!

I would like to thank Emebet Hannah for remembering the Armenians of Ethiopia, that group of people who considered themselves Ethiopian, who spoke Amharic, and whose contribution to the country is often forgotten. The Boghossians, Knadjians and Sevadjians (to name but a few) were all closely linked to the Imperial Court.

His Majesty was always exquisitely dressed. Many of his clothes were made by Noubar Donikian, who was a master tailor as all who have seen photos of the immaculately dressed Emperor will attest.

My uncle Dr. Arshavir Terzian, the medic Emebet Hannah remembers, did indeed accompany the Emperor on several of his foreign tours. In appreciation of his service and in a show of friendship, Dr. Terzian was given an offspring of Lulu, the Emperor’s beloved buff-coloured chihuahua. The puppy was named Laika—after the Soviet Space Dog. Later, the Emperor also gave him a miniature pinscher named Lady.

Emebet Hannah must be congratulated for her objective and measured descriptions, and conclusions about many things which might have proved difficult for a person who grew up in His Majesty’s household to make. Hopefully, younger Ethiopians who have not previously had access to politically impartial writings about those subjects will read It was only Yesterday and come to an appreciation of the life and work of the illustrious man who was their leader, and the sad, unnecessary and chaotic demise of his reign.


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