Algeria fetes 50 years of independence from France but war memories, and rancour, still thrive

News Agencies – July 5, 2012

 

As the Muslim North African nation celebrates 50 years of nationhood, the two countries are locked in a war of memories that still weighs on lives on both sides of the Mediterranean, and on the two countries’ ties. There have been no apologies for the brutal eight-year war that ended 132 years of French rule in Algeria or admissions of the longstanding allegations of torture. A half-century after Algeria broke free and wrenched from France the crown jewel of its empire, there is no reconciliation.

But Algerians keep waiting, while the French remain traumatized by loss and guilt. “Time is not sufficient” to make the wounds on both sides disappear, said Benjamin Stora, a leading French historian on the era. “We see that the more time passes, the more memory returns.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika kicked off a year of celebrations, laying a wreath at the soaring monument dedicated to the Algerians who lost their lives in the war — known as “martyrs.” On a hill overlooking Algiers, the monument is a symbol of the legitimacy of the Algerian state, whose ideological foundations are embedded in the independence war.

Algeria claims that 1.5 million people died in the 1954-1962 war, which they call a revolution. That figure is contested by historians who believe 300,000-400,000 died — still more than the number of French killed in World War I. That compares to about 30,000 French soldiers killed in Algeria.

At an exhibition hall at the French Army Museum in Paris, under the roof of the gold-domed Invalides where Napoleon is buried, there is a quiet effort under way to own up to one rarely spoken truth. Part of an exhibition devoted to the French conquest, the war and the evacuation, the photos depicting French torture are a first. The photographer, Jean-Philippe Charbon, refused their publication while he was alive.

A new ‘dirty war’ threatens Algerians

Paris/Algiers (dpa) – On September 7 in Batna, 425 kilometres east of Algiers, hundreds of people had gathered near the city’s mosque to await President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Shortly before the president arrived, an explosion ripped through the crowd, shredding bodies and sending survivors fleeing in panic. Twenty-two people were killed and 107 were injured in what might have been just another bloody chapter in Algeria’s long history of terrorism, but for the fact that it was the first ever to involve a terrorist carrying the explosives on his body. It was unclear if the bombing targeted Bouteflika. According to the Algerian Interior Ministry, the bomber fled after failing to penetrate a security cordon and then blew himself up.