Princess Aida Desta died on January 15, 2013 in northern Virginia.
She was the daughter of Ras Desta Damtew and Princess Tenagnework, granddaughter of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. She was the wife of Leul Ras Mangasha Seyum, Prince of Tigray, son of Seyum Mangasha, and great-grandson of Emperor Yohannes IV.
The young Princess accompanied her mother, siblings, and grandparents into exile in 1936 upon the occupation of Ethiopia by fascist Italy. Her father Ras Desta Damtew however led the resistance forces in southern Ethiopia for some months, until he was captured by the Italians and executed in 1937. Princess Aida and her sisters were educated at the Clarenden school in northern Wales, a favorite all girls school for upper class Britons and foriegn royals, and then went on to Cambridge. Princess Aida later returned to Ethiopia and married Ras Mangasha Seyum. They would go on to have five sons and a daughter. Princess Aida was active in charitable and cultural pursuits in Ethiopia during the reign of her grandfather Emperor Haile Selassie.
In 1974, Princess Aida was seized at the palace at Mekele by revolutionary soldiers sent to arrest her husband. Ras Mangasha had escaped days earlier and would establish the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU) which would fight the Derg regime until the EDU fractured in 1977 between rival factions. Princess Aida however had decided to remain behind and share the fate of her grandfather, her mother, and her family. Princess Aida was among the women of the Imperial family who were incarcerated under te Derg for 14 years. Her brother Prince Rear Admiral Iskinder Desta was executed along with 62 other former officials on Friday November 23, 1974. Together with her mother Princess Tenagnework Haile Selassie, and her sisters Princesses Seble, Sophia and Hirut, were Princess Sara Gizaw Duchess of Harrar (Widow of Prince Makonnen Haile Selasssie), Princess Yeshashework Yilma (the Emperor’s niece by his elder brother), Princess Ijigayehu Asfaw Wossen (daughter of the Crown Prince) and Princess Zuriashwork Gebre Igziabiher (widow of Prince Asrate Kassa). These women were made to share a former storage room in the precincts of the notorious Akaki Prison known as “Alem Bekagn” which translates to “I am down with the world”. They shared mattresses on the floor and were forced to endure the light of a single light bulb that was never turned off during their entire imprisonment. Years of campaigning by their friends and relatives as well as human rights and humanitarian organizations around the world had little effect in convincing the Derg regime to release the women of the Imperial family. The Princesses were suddenly and unexpectedly released from prison in September 1988, followed a year later by the men of the family.
After their release, Princess Aida resumed her interrupted family life with her husband and children in exile. She returned to Ethiopia after the fall of the Derg and split her time between the suburbs of Washington DC and Addis Ababa.
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