Email from Dr. Girma Iyassu, Great-great Grandson of Menelik II: News of Vaska

From: "Dr. Girma Iyassu" <g_iyassu@hotmail.com>

To: Richard Seltzer <seltzer@acunet.net>

Date: Thu, 08 Oct 1998 11:42:12 PDT

Bremen October 8 1998

Dear Richard:

It was an overwhelming joy and happiness to see your works about the Ethiopian history. The two books you translated from Bulatovich are absolutely unknown to the Ethiopians; I thank you very very much for your great contribution to our history. If you allow me please let me introduce my self:

My name is Dr. Girma Yohannes Iyassu Menelik II. I hope you know very well about the Ethiopian Royality. My Grand father Lij Iyassu( Emperor 1910-1916) was overthrown by Teferi Makonen( the late Emperor Haile Selassie I)on the 27 Sept. 1916; after several years of incarceration he was killed by Haile Sellasie in 1935 just few months before he left Ethiopia for Asylum to London(due to Italian invasion 1936-1941). My father is called Prince Yohannes Iyassu. He was the first who gathered the Patriots of Ethiopa and fought to oust the Italians. At the end of the war 1941 the Ethiopians wanted him as a legitimate Emperor to be their leader(as great grand son of Menelik II). Haile Sellasie who went back to Ethiopia with the help of the British forces was so powerful to put my father in prison until he was freed by the Military Junta in 1974 and died three years later. Haile Sellasie eliminated also four male children and six grand children of Iyassu until 1965. I was born in 1961(1953 Ethiopian Calendar) and first grew up in a (desert) monastery called Assebot until I left the country in 1973 with the help of the then French Governor in Djibouti and with my baptismal name Ghebre Sellasie in my Pass (which remained with me). I later come to Germany where I finished my school studied and now teach at the university.

For the time being I am thinking to come to the US and try to get a job as an assistance professor, but I have to checkout the procedures as well as look for sponsors.

After such a short introduction, I want to ask you that whether your books are already edited? If not; why do not we think about first to edit something like some hundred copies just to make them accessible to the scholars of Ethiopian studies. If you agree I will try to organize some funds from the government here. If you also agree I need a copy of it in WORD version not HTML.

I am very proud having met you and I really admire your publications, Novels, Screen and Stage plays.

With my best Regards

Dr. Girma

From: Richard Seltzer <seltzer@acunet.net>

To: "Dr. Girma Iyassu" <g_iyassu@hotmail.com>

Date: Thu, 8 Oct 1998 15:51:25 -0400 (EDT)

What an amazing story. I'm delighted to hear from you.

Perhaps by some miracle you might be able to help solve a mystery that has intrigued me since I first read Bulatovich's books. Did you ever, in your family tradition, hear anything of "Vaska" -- the little emasculated boy who Bulatovich rescued near Lake Rudolph? Bulatovich brought the boy back to Russia with him. Vaska stayed with Bulatovich's mother and was educated as a Russian both at home and then probably at the seminary school at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg. In 1907, when the boy was 12-13, and with the on-set of puberty, became subject to abuse from his classmates when they discovered he was a eunuch. Bulatovich then sent Vaska back to Ethiopia, at the same time that he himself decided to take monastic orders and go to Mount Athos. In 1910-11, Bulatovich returned to Ethiopia, in part to visit Vaska.

I'm wondering what became of Vaska? When he returned to Ethiopia in 1907, he would have been very unusual -- a native-born Ethiopian who had no knowledge of any Ethiopian language, who only spoke Russian and perhaps a smattering of French or English. I have no idea who among Bulatovich's acquaintances might have welcomed Vaska and taken care of him until he reached adulthood. In any case, from the little bit of medical literature I've seen on the subject, it is unlikely that he would have lived to be more than 30-40 years old (because of being emasculated prior to puberty).

I realize that this is bizarre, and it is very unlikely that you might have heard anything. But any clue could be very helpful...

Richard Seltzer

From: "Dr. Girma Iyassu" <g_iyassu@hotmail.com>

To: seltzer@seltzerbooks.com

Date: Fri, 09 Oct 1998 07:06:43 PDT

Bremen, Freitag 9 1998

Dear Richard:

Yes, I heard a lot about Vaska; but people like my grandmother used to tell us about "Baska". The story is as follows; but, as I was reading your book of Bulatovich, I was not thinking about our "Baska the young black FERENJ"( Ferenj means White in Amharic).

Baska, told me my grandmother -was very well known at the court of Ras (and after 1914 King) Mikael of wollo(Father of Lij Iyassu -my Grandfather).King Mikael thought, the young man who spoke the language of the Ferenj, could help him as a translator and teacher for his children. Baska also learned Amharic at the court. King Mikael has also tried to get him a wife from the noble family of Wollo; but Baska rejected and told the king that he was a eunuch. King Mikael was sad about the young man and asked him who did that to him. Baska told the King that happened during his childhood to him and it was an officer of Cherencho the King of Kaffa.

Cherencho was in Prison at that time and King Mikael wanted to punish him for that, but his son Lij Iyassu who was in power at the time(1910-1916) did not accept the idea. After the battle of Segele (between the Shoans and King Mikael in 1916) and after King Mikael was captured by Teferi Makonen (late Haile Sellasie), Baska went to the Province of Hararghe with my grandmother in Cher-Cher district. My grandmother who is the daughter of Dejazmach Woldegebriel and elder sister of Ras Birru owned a very large Land and property there.

She told us that sometimes she was angry with him because he ate meat, eggs or drank milk on Wednesdays and Fridays which was a taboo to the Christians. At the age of 25 Baska wanted to be a Monk and go to monastery, but he thought he will not success. Baska finally started to write and read Arabic, his teacher was Mohammad Ubadin an immigrant from Jemen and a close friend of my grandmother (because he bought a piece of land from her and as an importer he brought her some Pieces of clothes and perfumes).

But on one Friday in the month of may Baska came very late in the afternoon to my grandmother and told her that he came late because he was converted to Islam. My grandmother was near to heart attack as she heard that; she shouted and get mad, but Baska told her that he was not satisfied with his own life and want to serve only "the Almighty".

At the same day he collected his belongings and went to the town called Gelemso; which is about 65 or so Kms away and joined Shaik Umar Ali.

After 10 years my grandmother visited him at Gelemso. The story is interesting. My grandmother and the Shaik had a land dispute which lasted about seven years, before going to the higher court. Baska solved the problem at once. He advised both in such a philosophical way that both gave the border piece of land to a very poor family who enjoyed it.

This piece of land was named by the community as "Baska Land".

This is the story I remember and I think he died some times later and buried there. I have a very old book of our family from Wollo I will check whether the chronist recorded it.

Dr. Girma Iyassu

From: "Dr. Girma Iyassu" <g_iyassu@hotmail.com>

To: seltzer@seltzerbooks.com

Date: Sat, 10 Oct 1998 07:29:12 PDT

Bremen Sat 10 Oct. 1998

Dear Richard:

Concerning Baska, I my self never thought that it was so much interesting for someone. It is really very amazing. I will also call to Addis Ababa and ask one of the oldest member of our family -my aunt Alem Tsehay Iyassu. Baska used to go to Gojjam Province some times accompanying or as a special envoy or messenger of my grandmother.

I wish you and your family a HAPPY WEEKEND.


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