A white wedding during Ethiopia’s Red Terror

by Zelalem

Genet and Aynalem exchanging vows in the presence of a priest and guests at her father’s house.Image copyright
Vintage Addis Ababa

Love can often flourish in the most hopeless of situations.

And so it was for Aynalem and Genet who married each other in 1978 during the height of Ethiopia’s brutal Red Terror.

The bloodshed began a year earlier, when Marxist leader Mengistu Haile Mariam took control of Ethiopia and launched a lethal campaign against his enemies.

Thousands of people died during his crackdown, with hundreds of thousands more forcibly resettled.

But this didn’t stop Aynalem and Genet from exchanging their wedding vows in Sendafa, a small city just outside the capital, Addis Ababa.

Photos from this day have been compiled by the digital archive, Vintage Addis Ababa, to show how people carry on with life in exceptional circumstances.

A long courtship

The couple met in 1973 when they lived in the same neighbourhood.

A year later, the country’s imperial government was overthrown by the Derg communist regime, paving the way for Mengistu’s rule.

Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, Chairman of the Ethiopian Provisional Military Council, talking during a press conference, February 22nd 1978.Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

In 2008, Ethiopia sentenced Mengistu Haile Mariam to death in absentia – he currently lives in Zimbabwe

The chaos that followed upended their lives in ways they could not have imagined.

Aynalem had hoped to marry Genet early, as soon as she finished high school.

But in 1978 she was arrested for taking part in an opposition protest and jailed for three months.

“Living under the Derg regime was not easy,” Genet says. “The fear in the atmosphere hindered our joy from being complete.”

Although the regime banned family from visiting their loved ones in prison, Aynalem used to check on Genet every few days.

He was a Revolutionary Guard, which meant she would have been in danger if other opposition activists knew about their relationship.

“We couldn’t greet or speak [to each other, or] the guards [would] notice we knew each other. But I still got very excited every time I saw him drive into the compound,” she says.

Despite Genet’s time in prison, the couple’s wedding photos show no trace of the difficulties they encountered.

Kissing the knee

The morning of their wedding began with an Ethiopian tradition.

Aynalem kissed his mother’s knee before leaving to pick up Genet, and move into his own home.

Aynalem kisses his mother’s knee before he leaves to pick up his brideImage copyright
Vintage Addis Ababa

Outside his house, friends and neighbours had gathered to send him on his way.

Neighbours cheer Aynalem onImage copyright
Vintage Addis Ababa

Aynalem heads off to pick up GenetImage copyright
Vintage Addis Ababa

Striking in his dark suit and white polo-neck, Aynalem led his groomsmen to the Chevrolet he and Genet had rented for their wedding.

Genet next to the Chevrolet they rented for the dayImage copyright
Vintage Addis Ababa

In the early afternoon, the couple exchanged their vows before a priest and guests at the house of Genet’s father.

They bought their rings at Africa Jewellery in Piazza, Addis Ababa – which remains open today.

The couple also found time to have a wedding photo-shoot away from the 300 guests who attended their marriage.

Genet and Aynalem during their wedding photo shootImage copyright
Vintage Addis Ababa

Sadly for Genet, Aynalem passed away in 2008, though she cherishes the years they had together.

“I was married to the man I loved, and raised children who are dear to my heart,” she says.

All photos copyright: Vintage Addis Ababa

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