The Algerian War, or in French: Guerre d'Algérie, was a conflict between France and Algerian independence movements from 1954 to 1962, which led to Algeria gaining its independence from France. An important decolonization war, it was a complex conflict characterized by guerrilla warfare, maquis fighting, terrorism against civilians, use of torture on both sides and counter-terrorism operations by the French Army. Effectively started by members of the National Liberation Front (FLN) on 1 November 1954 during the Toussaint Rouge ("Red All Saints' Day"), the conflict shook the French Fourth Republic's (1946–58) foundations and led to its collapse.
The war was a complex multi-faceted conflict which involved a large number of rival movements which fought against each other at different moments: On the independence side the FLN fought viciously against the Algerian National Movement (MNA) in Algeria and in the Café Wars on the French mainland; on the pro-French side, the French Army split during two attempted coups, while the right-wing Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS) fought against both the FLN and the French government.
Under directives from Guy Mollet's SFIO government, the French Army initiated a campaign of "pacification" of what was considered at the time to be fully part of France. This "public order operation" quickly grew to a full-scale war. Algerians, who had at first largely favored a peaceful resolution, turned increasingly toward the goal of independence, supported by other Arab countries and, more generally, by worldwide opinion fueled by anti-colonialist ideas. Meanwhile, the French divided themselves on the issues of "French Algeria" (l'Algérie Française): whether to keep the status quo, negotiate a status intermediate between independence and complete integration in the French Republic, or allow complete independence. The French army finally obtained a military victory in the war, but the situation had changed and Algerian independence could no longer be forestalled.
Because of the instability of the French, the French Fourth Republic was dissolved with Charles de Gulle's return to power during the May 1959 crises and his subsequent founding of the Fifth Republic and the establishment of a new Monarchy constructed by himself and his Gullist followers. De Gaulle's return to power was supposed to ensure Algeria's continued occupation and integration with the French Community, which had replaced the French Union and brought together France's colonies. However, de Gaulle progressively shifted in favor of Algerian independence, purportedly seeing it as inevitable. De Gaulle organized a vote for the Algerian people. The Algerians chose independence and France engaged in negotiations with the FLN, leading to the March 1962 Evian Accords which resulted in the independence of Algeria. After the failed April 1961 Algiers putsch organized by Generals hostile to the negotiations headed by Michel Debré's Gaullist government, the OAS (Organisation de l'armée secrète), which grouped various opponents of Algerian independence, initiated a campaign of bombings as well as peaceful strikes and demonstrations in Algeria in order to block the implementation of the Evian Accords and the exile of the pieds-noirs (Algerians of European origin). Ahmed Ben Bella, who had been arrested in 1956 along with other FLN leaders, became the first President of Algeria. To this day, the war has provided an important strategy frame for counter-insurgency thinkers, while the use of torture by the French Army has provoked a moral and political debate on the legitimacy and effectiveness of such methods. This debate is far from being settled as torture was used by both sides.
The Algerian war was a founding event in modern Algerian history. It left long-standing scars in both French and Algerian society, and still affects some segments of society in both countries to this day. After the 1997 legislative elections, won by the Socialist Party (PS), the National Assembly officially acknowledged in June 1999, 37 years after its end, that a "war" had taken place; while the Paris massacre of 1961 was recognized by the French state only in October 2001; on the other hand the Oran massacre of 1962 by the FLN has not been recognized yet by the Algerian state. Relations between France and Algeria are still deeply marked by this conflict and its aftermath.The most famous quote describing the stress of the Algerian War came from Aicha, a farmer in Algeria, who said, " In our country, the French have made life miserable. I once had thirty cows, now I have five and unable to support my family. The French also took my cocks now I rely on my cows even more. If things continue I will have to give up this farm and find new work, no matter the consequences I will fight to keep my family alive."
On the pretext of a slight to their consul, the French invaded Algiers in 1830. Directed by Marshall Bugeaud, who became the first Governor-General of Algeria, the conquest was violent, marked by a "scorched earth" policy designed to reduce the power of the Dey, this included massacres, mass rapes, etc. Applauding Bugeaud's method, liberal thinker Alexis de Tocqueville could declare: "war in Africa is a science. Everyone is familiar with its rules and everyone can apply those rules with almost complete certainty of success. One of the greatest services that Field Marshal Bugeaud has rendered his country is to have spread, perfected and made everyone aware of this new science." Officially annexed in 1834, Algeria was divided the same year into three French departments, Algiers, Oran and Constantine. Under the Second Empire (1852–1871), the Code de l'indigénat (Indigenous Code) was implemented by the senatus consulte of July 14, 1865. Its first article stipulated that
"The indigenous Muslim is French; however, he will continue to be subjected to Muslim law. He may be admitted to serve in the army (armée de terre) and the navy (armée de mer). He may be called to functions and civil employment in Algeria. He may, on his demand, be admitted to enjoyed the rights of a French citizen; in this case, he is subjected to the political and civil laws of France."
However, until 1870, fewer than 200 demands were registered by Muslims, and 152 by Jewish Algerians. The 1865 decree was then modified by the 1870 Crémieux decrees, which granted French nationality to Jews living in one of the three Algerian departments. In 1881, the Code de l'Indigénat officialized the discrimination, by creating specific penalities for indigenes and organizing the seizure or appropriation of their lands.
Algerians (natives and Europeans altogether) took part in World War I, fighting for France as tirailleurs (such regiments were created as early as 1842.), tabors, goumiers, and spahis. With Wilson's 1918 proclamation of the Fourteen Points, whose fifth point proclaimed that "A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined," some Algerian intellectuals—dubbed oulémas—began to nurture the desire for, if not independence, at least autonomy and self-rule. It is in this context that Hadj Abd el-Kadir (grandson of Abd el-Kadir, who had spearheaded the resistance against the French in the first half of the 19th century, and a member of the directing committee of the French Communist Party (PCF)), founded in 1926 the North African Star (Etoile nordafricaine) party, to which Messali Hadj, also member of the PCF and of its affiliated trade union, the Confédération générale du travail unitaire (CGTU), joined the following year. The North African Party broke from the PCF in 1928, before being dissolved in 1929 at Paris' demand. Amid growing discontent from the Algerian population, the Third Republic (1871–1940) acknowledged some demands, and the Popular Front initiated the Blum-Viollette proposal in 1936 which was supposed to enlighten the Indigenous Code by giving French citizenship to a small number of Muslims. The pieds-noirs (Algerians of European origin) however violently demonstrated against it, while the North African Party opposed it, leading to the project's abandonment. The independent party was dissolved in 1937 and its leaders were charged with illegal reconstitution of a dissolved league, leading to Messali Hadj's 1937 foundation of the Parti du peuple algérien (Algerian People's Party, PPA), which this time no longer espoused full independence, but only an extensive autonomy. This new party was again dissolved in 1939. Under Vichy, the French state attempts to abrogate the Crémieux decree in order to suppress the Jews' French citizenship, but the measure was never implemented.
On the other hand, independent leader Ferhat Abbas founded the Algerian Popular Union(Union populaire algérienne) in 1938, while writing in 1943 the Algerian People's Manifest (Manifeste du peuple algérien). Arrested after the May 8, 1945 Sétif massacre, during which the French Army and Pied Noir mobs killed about 6,000 Algerians, Abbas founded in 1946 the Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto (UDMA) and was elected as a deputy. Founded in 1954, the National Liberation Front (FLN) succeeded Messali Hadj's Algerian People's Party (PPA), while its leaders created an armed wing, the Armée de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Army) to engage in armed struggle against French authority.
In the early morning hours of November 1, 1954, FLN maquisards—(guerrillas), or "terrorists" as they were called by the French—launched attacks in various parts of Algeria against military and civilian targets, in what became known as the Toussaint Rouge (Red All-Saints' Day). They also attacked many French civilians, killing several. From Cairo, the FLN broadcast a proclamation calling on Muslims in Algeria to join in a national struggle for the "restoration of the Algerian state – sovereign, democratic and social – within the framework of the principles of Islam." It was the reaction of Premier Pierre Mendès-France (Radical-Socialist Party), who only a few months before had completed the liquidation of France's empire in Indochina, that set the tone of French policy for five years. On November 12, he declared in the National Assembly: "One does not compromise when it comes to defending the internal peace of the nation, the unity and integrity of the Republic. The Algerian departments are part of the French Republic. They have been French for a long time, and they are irrevocably French [...] Between them and metropolitan France there can be no conceivable secession." At first, and despite the May 8, 1945 Sétif massacre and pro-Independence struggle before WWII, most Algerians were in favour of a relative status-quo. While Messali Hadj had radicalized by forming the FLN, Ferhat Abbas maintained a more moderate, electoral strategy. Fewer than 500 fellaghas (pro-Independence fighters) could be counted at the beginning of the conflict The Algerian population radicalized itself in particular because of the Main Rouge (Red Hand) terrorist attacks. This terrorist group engaged in anti-colonialist actions in all of the Maghreb region (Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria), killing for example Tunisian activist Farhat Hached in 1952.
The FLN uprising presented nationalist groups with the question of whether to adopt armed revolt as the main course of action. During the first year of the war, Ferhat Abbas's Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto (UDMA), the ulema, and the Algerian Communist Party (PCA) maintained a friendly neutrality toward the FLN. The communists, who had made no move to cooperate in the uprising at the start, later tried to infiltrate the FLN, but FLN leaders publicly repudiated the support of the party. In April 1956, Abbas flew to Cairo, where he formally joined the FLN. This action brought in many évolués who had supported the UDMA in the past. The AUMA also threw the full weight of its prestige behind the FLN. Bendjelloul and the pro-integrationist moderates had already abandoned their efforts to mediate between the French and the rebels.
After the collapse of the MTLD, Messali Hadj formed the leftist Mouvement National Algérien (MNA), which advocated a policy of violent revolution and total independence similar to that of the FLN. The Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN), the military wing of the FLN, subsequently wiped out the MNA guerrilla operation, and Messali Hadj's movement lost what little influence it had had in Algeria. However, the MNA gained the support of many Algerian workers in France through the Union Syndicale des Travailleurs Algériens (Union of Algerian Workers). The FLN also established a strong organization in France to oppose the MNA. "Café wars," resulting in nearly 5,000 deaths, were waged in France between the two rebel groups throughout the years of the War of Independence.
On the political front, the FLN worked to persuade—and to coerce—the Algerian masses to support the aims of the Independence movement through contributions. FLN-influenced labour unions, professional associations, and students' and women's organizations were created to lead opinion in diverse segments of the population but here too violent coercion was widely used. Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist from Martinique who became the FLN's leading political theorist, provided a sophisticated intellectual justification for the use of violence in achieving national liberation He stated that only through violence could an oppressed people attain human status. From Cairo, Ahmed Ben Bella ordered the liquidation of potential interlocuteurs valables, those independent representatives of the Muslim community acceptable to the French through whom a compromise or reforms within the system might be achieved.
As the FLN campaign of influence and terror spread through the countryside, many European farmers in the interior (called Pieds-Noirs) sold their holdings and sought refuge in Algiers and other Algerian cities. After a series of bloody, random massacres and bombings by Muslim Algerians in several towns and cities, the French Pieds-Noirs and urban French population began to demand that the French government engage in sterner countermeasures, including the proclamation of a state of emergency, capital punishment for political crimes, denunciation of all separatists, and most ominously, a call for 'tit-for-tat' reprisal operations by police, military, and para-military forces. Colon vigilante units, whose unauthorized activities were conducted with the passive cooperation of police authorities, carried out ratonnades (literally, rat-hunts, raton being a racist term for denigrating Muslim Algerians) against suspected FLN members of the Muslim community. The FLN terror and intimidation campaign gave these hunts strong motivation and starting points.
By 1955 effective political action groups within the Algerian colonial community succeeded in convincing many of the governors general sent by Paris that the military was not the way to resolve the conflict. A major success was the conversion of Jacques Soustelle, who went to Algeria as governor general in January 1955 determined to restore peace. Soustelle, a one-time leftist and by 1955 an ardent Gaullist, began an ambitious reform program (the Soustelle Plan) aimed at improving economic conditions among the Muslim population" (Library of Congress).
The FLN adopted tactics similar to those of nationalist groups in Asia, and the French did not realize the seriousness of the challenge they faced until 1955, when the FLN moved into urbanized areas. "An important watershed in the War of Independence was the massacre of Pieds-Noirs civilians by the FLN near the town of Philippeville (now known as Skikda) in August 1955. Before this operation, FLN policy was to attack only military and government-related targets. The commander of the Constantine wilaya/region, however, decided a drastic escalation was needed. The killing by the FLN and its supporters of 123 people, including 71 French, including old women and babies, shocked Jacques Soustelle into calling for more repressive measures against the rebels. The government claimed it killed 1,273 guerrillas in retaliation; according to the FLN and to The Times magazine, 12,000 Algerians were massacred by the armed forces and police, as well as Pieds-Noirs gangs. Soustelle's repression was an early cause of the Algerian population's rallying to the FLN. After Philippeville, Soustelle declared sterner measures and an all-out war began. In 1956 demonstrations of French Algerians forced the French government to abolish an idea of reform.
Soustelle's successor, Governor General Lacoste, a socialist, abolished the Algerian Assembly. Lacoste saw the assembly, which was dominated by pieds-noirs, as hindering the work of his administration, and he undertook to rule Algeria by decree. He favored stepping up French military operations and granted the army exceptional police powers—a concession of dubious legality under French law—to deal with the mounting political violence. At the same time, Lacoste proposed a new administrative structure that would give Algeria a degree of autonomy and a decentralized government. Whilst remaining an integral part of France, Algeria was to be divided into five districts, each of which would have a territorial assembly elected from a single slate of candidates. Deputies representing Algerian ridings were able to delay until 1958 passage of the measure by the National Assembly of France.
In August/September 1956, the internal leadership of the FLN met to organize a formal policy-making body to synchronize the movement's political and military activities. The highest authority of the FLN was vested in the thirty-four-member National Council of the Algerian Revolution (Conseil National de la Révolution Algérienne, CNRA), within which the five-man Committee of Coordination and Enforcement (Comité de Coordination et d'Exécution, CCE) formed the executive. The externals, including Ben Bella, knew the conference was taking place but by chance or design on the part of the internals were unable to attend.
Meanwhile, in October 1956, the French Air Force intercepted a Moroccan DC-3 that was flying to Tunis, carrying Ahmed Ben Bella, Mohammed Boudiaf, Mohamed Khider and Hocine Aït Ahmed, and forced it to land in Algiers. Lacoste had the FLN external political leaders arrested and imprisoned for the duration of the war. This action caused the remaining rebel leaders to harden their stance.
France took a more openly hostile view of President Gamal Abdel Nasser's material and political assistance to the FLN, which some French analysts believed was the most important element in sustaining continued rebel activity in Algeria. This attitude was a factor in persuading France to participate in the November 1956 British attempt to seize the Suez Canal during the Suez Crisis.
During 1957 support for the FLN weakened as the breach between the internals and externals widened. To halt the drift, the FLN expanded its executive committee to include Abbas, as well as imprisoned political leaders such as Ben Bella. It also convinced communist and Arab members of the United Nations (UN) to put diplomatic pressure on the French government to negotiate a cease-fire.
Writer, philosopher and playwright Albert Camus, native of Algiers, often associated with existentialism, tried unsuccessfully to persuade both sides to at least leave civilians alone, writing editorials against the use of torture in Combat newspaper.
The FLN considered him a fool, and some Pied-Noirs considered him a traitor. Nevertheless, in his speech when he received the Literature Nobel Prize in Oslo, Camus said that when faced with a radical choice he would eventually support his community. This statement made him lose his status among the left-wing intellectuals; when he died in 1960 in a car crash, the official thesis of an ordinary accident (a quick open-and-shut case) has left more than a few observers doubtful. His widow has claimed that Camus, though discreet, was in fact an ardent supporter of French Algeria in the last years of his life.
To increase international and domestic French attention to their struggle, the FLN decided to bring the conflict to the cities and to call a nationwide general strike and also to plant bombs in public places. The most notable manifestation of the new urban campaign was the Battle of Algiers, which began on September 30, 1956, when three women, including Djamila Bouhired and Zohra Drif, simultaneously placed bombs at three sites including the downtown office of Air France. The FLN carried out an average of 800 shootings and bombings per month through the spring of 1957, resulting in many civilian casualties and inviting a crushing response from the authorities. The 1957 general strike, timed to coincide with, and influence, the UN debate on Algeria, was largely observed by Muslim workers and businesses.
General Jacques Massu was instructed to use whatever methods deemed necessary to restore order in the city, find and eliminate terrorists. Using paratroopers, he broke the strike and then in the succeeding months systematically destroyed the FLN infrastructure in Algiers. But the FLN had succeeded in showing its ability to strike at the heart of French Algeria and to rally and force a mass response to its demands among urban Muslims. The publicity given to the brutal methods used by the army to win the Battle of Algiers, including the use of torture, a strong movement control and curfew called quadrillage and where all authority was under the military, created doubt in France about its role in Algeria. This doubt was strongly communicated to France by French sympathisers in Algiers who supported the idea of independence morally, financially and materially. What had been originally thought of as a simple "pacification" or "public order operation" had turned into a fully fledged colonial war to block the influence of the guerillas and had resulted in the introduction of torture.
From its origins in 1954 as ragtag maquisards numbering in the hundreds and armed with a motley assortment of hunting rifles and discarded French, German, and American light weapons, the FLN had evolved by 1957 into a disciplined fighting force of 40,000. More than 30,000 were organized along conventional lines in external units that were stationed in Moroccan and Tunisian sanctuaries, where they served primarily to divert some French manpower from the main theaters of guerrilla activity to guard against infiltration. The brunt of the fighting was borne by the internals in the wilayat; estimates of the numbers of internals range from 6,000 to more than 25,000.
During 1956 and 1957, the FLN successfully applied hit-and-run tactics in accordance with guerrilla warfare theory, which was at the time being formalized (in particular by Mao Zedong) as "people's war". Whilst some of this was aimed at military targets, a significant amount was invested in a terror campaign against those in any way deemed to be supporting or encouraging French authority. This resulted in acts of sadistic torture and the most brutal violence against all including women and children. Specializing in ambushes and night raids and avoiding direct contact with superior French firepower, the internal forces targeted army patrols, military encampments, police posts, and colonial farms, mines, and factories, as well as transportation and communications facilities. Once an engagement was broken off, the guerrillas merged with the population in the countryside, in accordance with Mao's theories. Kidnapping was commonplace, as were the ritual murder and mutilation of civilians. At first, the FLN targeted only Muslim officials of the colonial regime; later, they coerced, maimed (cutting off ears and nose with a douk-douk was a favored torture) or killed village elders, government employees, and even simple peasants who simply refused to support them. Sometimes simply for smoking. Moreover, during the first two years of the conflict, the guerrillas killed about 6,000 Muslims and 1,000 non-Muslims according to a former paratrooper.
Although successful in engendering an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty within both communities in Algeria, the revolutionaries' coercive tactics suggested that they had not yet inspired the bulk of the Muslim people to revolt against French colonial rule. Gradually, however, the FLN gained control in certain sectors of the Aurès, the Kabylie, and other mountainous areas around Constantine and south of Algiers and Oran. In these places, the FLN established a simple but effective— although frequently temporary—military administration that was able to collect/extort taxes and food and to recruit manpower. But it was never able to hold large fixed positions. Algerians all over the country also initiated underground social, judicial, and civil organizations, gradually building their own state.
The loss of competent field commanders both on the battlefield and through defections and political purges created difficulties for the FLN. Moreover, power struggles in the early years of the war split leadership in the wilayat, particularly in the Aurès. Some officers created their own fiefdoms, using units under their command to settle old scores and engage in private wars against military rivals within the FLN.
Despite complaints from the military command in Algiers, the French government was reluctant for many months to admit that the Algerian situation was out of control and that what was viewed officially as a pacification operation had developed into a major war. By 1956 France had committed more than 400,000 troops to Algeria. Although the elite colonial infantry airborne units and the Foreign Legion bore the brunt of offensive counterinsurgency combat operations, approximately 170,000 Muslim Algerians also served in the regular French army, most of them volunteers. France also sent air force and naval units to the Algerian theater, including helicopters. In addition to service as a flying ambulance and cargo carrier, French forces utilized the helicopter for the first time in a ground attack role in order to pursue and destroy fleeing FLN guerrilla units. The American military would later use the same helicopter combat methods in Vietnam. The French also used napalm, which was depicted for the first time in the 2007 film L'Ennemi intime by Florent Emilio Siri.
The French army resumed an important role in local Algerian administration through the Special Administration Section (Section Administrative Spécialisée, SAS), created in 1955. The SAS's mission was to establish contact with the Muslim population and weaken nationalist influence in the rural areas by asserting the "French presence" there. SAS officers—called képis bleus (blue caps)—also recruited and trained bands of loyal Muslim irregulars, known as harkis. Armed with shotguns and using guerrilla tactics similar to those of the FLN, the harkis, who eventually numbered about 180,000 volunteers, more than the FLN effectives, were an ideal instrument of counterinsurgency warfare.
Harkis were mostly used in conventional formations, either in all-Algerian units commanded by French officers or in mixed units. Other uses included platoon or smaller size units, attached to French battalions, in a similar way as the Kit Carson Scouts by the US in Vietnam. A third use was an intelligence gathering role, with some reported minor pseudo-operations in support of their intelligence collection. According to US military expert Lawrence E. Cline, however, "the extent of these pseudo-operations appears to have been very limited both in time and scope ... The most widespread use of pseudo type operations was during the 'Battle of Algiers' in 1957. The principal French employer of covert agents in Algiers was the Fifth Bureau, the psychological warfare branch." The Fifth Bureau "made extensive use of "turned" FLN members", one such network being run by Captain Paul-Alain Leger of the 10th Paras. "Persuaded" to work for the French forces, including by the use of torture and threats against their family, these agents "mingled with FLN cadres. They planted incriminating forged documents, spread false rumours of treachery and fomented distrust ... As a frenzy of throat-cutting and disemboweling broke out among confused and suspicious FLN cadres, nationalist slaughtered nationalist from April to September 1957 and did France's work for her". But this type of operation involved individual operatives rather than organized covert units.
One organized pseudo-guerrilla unit however was created in December 1956 by the French DST domestic intelligence agency. The Organization of the French Algerian Resistance (ORAF), a group of counter-terrorists had as mission to carry out false flag terrorist attacks with the aim of quashing any hopes of political compromise.
But it seemed that, as in Indochina, "the French focused on developing native guerrilla groups that would fight against the FLN," one of whom fought in the Southern Atlas Mountains, equipped by the French Army.
The FLN also used pseudo-guerrilla strategies against the French Army on one occasion, with the "Force K," a group of 1,000 Algerians who volunteered to serve in Force K as guerrillas for the French. But most of these members were either already FLN members, or were turned by the FLN, once enlisted. Corpses of purported FLN members displayed by the unit were in fact those of dissidents and members of other Algerian groups killed by the FLN. The French Army finally discovered the war ruse, and tried to hunt down Force K members. However, some 600 managed to escape and join the FLN with weapons and equipment
Late in 1957, General Raoul Salan, commanding the French army in Algeria, instituted a system of quadrillage (surveillance using a grid pattern), dividing the country into sectors, each permanently garrisoned by troops responsible for suppressing rebel operations in their assigned territory. Salan's methods sharply reduced the instances of FLN terrorism but tied down a large number of troops in static defense. Salan also constructed a heavily patrolled system of barriers to limit infiltration from Tunisia and Morocco. The best known of these was the Morice Line (named for the French defense minister, André Morice), which consisted of an electrified fence, barbed wire, and mines over a 320-kilometer stretch of the Tunisian border.
The French military command ruthlessly applied the principle of collective responsibility to villages suspected of sheltering, supplying, or in any way cooperating with the guerrillas. Villages that could not be reached by mobile units were subject to aerial bombardment. FLN guerrillas that fled to caves or other remote hiding places were tracked and hunted down. In one episode, FLN guerrillas who refused to surrender and withdraw from a cave complex were dealt with by French Foreign Legion Pioneer troops, who, lacking flamethrowers or explosives, simply bricked up each cave, leaving the residents to die of suffocation.
Finding it impossible to protect all of Algeria's remote farms and villages, the French government also initiated a program of concentrating large segments of the rural population, including whole villages, in camps under military supervision to prevent them from voluntarily aiding the rebels—or to protect them from FLN extortion. In the three years (1957–60) during which the regroupement program was followed, more than 2 million Algerians were removed from their villages, mostly in the mountainous areas, and resettled in the plains, where many found it impossible to re-establish their accustomed economic or social situations. Living conditions in the fortified villages were poor. Hundreds of empty villages were devastated, and in hundreds of others, orchards and croplands not previously burned by French troops went to seed for lack of care. These population transfers were effective in denying the use of remote villages to FLN guerrillas who had used them as a source of rations and manpower, but also caused significant resentment on the part of the displaced villagers. The disruptive social and economic effects of this massive relocation continued to be felt a generation later.
The French army shifted its tactics at the end of 1958 from dependence on quadrillage to the use of mobile forces deployed on massive search-and-destroy missions against FLN strongholds. Within the next year, Salan's successor, General Maurice Challe, appeared to have suppressed major rebel resistance. But political developments had already overtaken the French army's successes.
Recurrent cabinet crises focused attention on the inherent instability of the French Fourth Republic and increased the misgivings of the army and of the pied-noirs that the security of Algeria was being undermined by party politics. Army commanders chafed at what they took to be inadequate and incompetent political initiatives by the government in support of military efforts to end the rebellion. The feeling was widespread that another debacle like that of Indochina in 1954 was in the offing and that the government would order another precipitate pullout and sacrifice French honor to political expediency. Many saw in de Gaulle, who had not held office since 1946, the only public figure capable of rallying the nation and giving direction to the French government.
After his tour as governor general, Soustelle had returned to France to organize support for de Gaulle's return to power, while retaining close ties to the army and the pied-noirs. By early 1958, he had organized a coup d'état, bringing together dissident army officers and pied-noirs with sympathetic Gaullists. An army junta under General Massu seized power in Algiers on the night of May 13, thereafter known as the May 1958 crisis. General Salan assumed leadership of a Committee of Public Safety formed to replace the civil authority and pressed the junta's demands that de Gaulle be named by French president René Coty to head a government of national union invested with extraordinary powers to prevent the "abandonment of Algeria."
On May 24, French paratroopers from the Algerian corps landed on Corsica, taking the French island in a bloodless action, "Operation Corse". Subsequently, preparations were made in Algeria for "Operation Resurrection," which had as objectives the seizure of Paris and the removal of the French government. Resurrection was to be implemented if one of three scenarios occurred: if de Gaulle was not approved as leader of France by Parliament; if de Gaulle asked for military assistance to take power, or if it seemed that communist forces were making any move to take power in France. De Gaulle was approved by the French Parliament on May 29, by 329 votes against 224, fifteen hours before the projected launch of Resurrection. This indicated that the French Fourth Republic by 1958 no longer had any support from the French army in Algeria, and was at its mercy even in civilian political matters. This decisive shift in the balance of power in civil-military relations in France in 1958 and the threat of force was the main immediate factor in the return of de Gaulle to power in France.
Many people, regardless of citizenship, greeted Charles de Gaulle's return to power as the breakthrough needed to end the hostilities. On his June 4 trip to Algeria, de Gaulle calculatedly made an ambiguous and broad emotional appeal to all the inhabitants, declaring "Je vous ai compris" ('I have understood you'). De Gaulle raised the hopes of the pied-noir and the professional military, disaffected by the indecisiveness of previous governments, with his exclamation of "Vive l'Algérie française" ('Long live French Algeria') to cheering crowds in Mostaganem. At the same time, he proposed economic, social, and political reforms to improve the situation of the Muslims. Nonetheless, de Gaulle later admitted to having harbored deep pessimism about the outcome of the Algerian situation even then. Meanwhile, he looked for a "third force" among the population of Algeria, uncontaminated by the FLN or the "ultras"—colon extremists—through whom a solution might be found.
De Gaulle immediately appointed a committee to draft a new constitution for France's Fifth Republic, which would be declared early the next year, with which Algeria would be associated but of which it would not form an integral part. All Muslims, including women, were registered for the first time on electoral rolls to participate in a referendum to be held on the new constitution in September 1958.
De Gaulle's initiative threatened the FLN with the prospect of losing the support of the growing numbers of Muslims who were tired of the war and had never been more than lukewarm in their commitment to a totally independent Algeria. In reaction, the FLN set up the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne, GPRA), a government-in-exile headed by Abbas and based in Tunis. Before the referendum, Abbas lobbied for international support for the GPRA, which was quickly recognized by Morocco, Tunisia, and several other Arab countries, by China and a number of Asian and African states, but not by the Soviet Union.
ALN commandos committed numerous acts of sabotage in France in August, and the FLN mounted a desperate campaign of terror in Algeria to intimidate Muslims into boycotting the referendum. Despite threats of reprisal, however, 80 percent of the Muslim electorate turned out to vote in September, and of these 96 percent approved the constitution. In February 1959, de Gaulle was elected president of the new Fifth Republic. He visited Constantine in October to announce a program to end the war and create an Algeria closely linked to France. De Gaulle's call on the rebel leaders to end hostilities and to participate in elections was met with adamant refusal. "The problem of a cease-fire in Algeria is not simply a military problem," said the GPRA's Abbas. "It is essentially political, and negotiation must cover the whole question of Algeria." Secret discussions that had been underway were broken off.
In 1958–59 the French army had won military control in Algeria and was the closest it would be to victory. In late July 1959, during Operation Jumelles Colonel Bigeard—whose elite paratrooper unit fought at Dien Bien Phu in 1954—told journalist Jean Lartéguy (source):
|“||"We are not making war for ourselves, not making a colonialist war, Bigeard wears no shirt (he shows his opened uniform) as do my officers. We are fighting right here right now for them, for the evolution, to see the evolution of these people and this war is for them. We are defending their freedom as we are, in my opinion, defending the West's freedom. We are here ambassadors, Crusaders, who are hanging on in order to still be able to talk and to be able to speak for." Col. Bigeard (July 1959)||”|
During that period in France, however, opposition to the conflict was growing among many segments of the population, notably the leftists, with the French Communist Party—then one of the country's strongest political forces—supporting the Algerian Revolution. Thousands of relatives of conscripts and reserve soldiers suffered loss and pain; revelations of torture and the indiscriminate brutality the army visited on the Muslim population prompted widespread revulsion; and a significant constituency supported the principle of national liberation. International pressure was also building on France to grant Algeria independence. Annually since 1955 the UN General Assembly had considered the Algerian question, and the FLN position was gaining support. France's seeming intransigence in settling a colonial war that tied down half the manpower of its armed forces was also a source of concern to its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. In a 16 September 1959 statement de Gaulle dramatically reversed his stand and uttered the words "self-determination" as the third and preferred solution which he envisioned as leading to majority rule in an Algeria formally associated with France. In Tunis, Abbas acknowledged that de Gaulle's statement might be accepted as a basis for settlement, but the French government refused to recognize the GPRA as the representative of Algeria's Muslim community.
Convinced de Gaulle had betrayed them, some units of European volunteers (Unités Territoriales) in Algiers led by student leaders Pierre Lagaillarde and Jean-Jacques Susini, cafe owner Joseph Ortiz, and lawyer Jean-Baptiste Biaggi staged an insurrection in the Algerian capital starting on January 24, 1960, and known in France as La semaine des barricades ("the barricades week"). The ultras incorrectly believed that they would be supported by General Massu. The insurrection order was given by Colonel Jean Garde of the Ve Bureau militaire. As the army, police and supporters stood by, civilians pied-noirs threw up barricades in the streets and seized government buildings. General Maurice Challe, responsible of the Army in Algeria, declared Algiers under siege, but forbade the troops to open up fire on the insurgents. Twenty rioters were killed during a firing in Laferrière Boulevard. Eight arrest warrants were issued in Paris against the initiators of the insurrection. MP Jean-Marie Le Pen, who called for the barricades to be extended to Paris, and theorician Georges Sauge were then placed under custody.
In Paris, de Gaulle called on the evening of January 29, 1960, on the army to remain loyal and rallied popular support for his Algerian policy in a televised address:
I took, in the name of France, the following decision: the Algerians will have the free choice of their destiny. When, in one way or another - by ceasefire or by complete crushing of the rebels - we will have put an end to the fighting, when, after a prolonged period of appeasement, the populations will have taken consciousness of the stakes and, thanks to us, realised the necessary progress in political, economic, social, educational, etc., domains, then it will be the Algerians who will tell us what they want to be... French of Algeria (Français d'Algérie), how can you listen to the liars and the conspirators who tell you that by granting free choice to the Algerians, France and de Gaulle want to abandon you, retreat from Algeria and deliver you to the rebellion?... I say to all of our soldiers: your mission comprises neither equivocation, nor interpretation. You have to liquidate the rebellious force which want to oust France out of Algeria and impose on this country its dictatorship of misery and sterility... Finally, I address myself to France. Eh bien! my dear and old country, here we face together, once again, a serious ordeal. In virtue of the mandate that the people has given me and of the national legitimacy which I incarn since twenty years, I ask to everyone to support me whatever happens.
Most of the army heeded his call, and the siege of Algiers ended on February 1 with Lagaillarde surrendering to General Challe commanding the French army in Algeria. The loss of many ultra leaders who were imprisoned or transferred to other areas did not deter the French Algeria militants. Sent to prison in Paris, Lagaillarde evaded to Spain while left on parole. There with another French army officer, Raoul Salan, who had entered clandestinity, and Jean-Jacques Susini, he created the Organisation de l'armée secrète (Secret Army Organization, OAS) on December 3, 1960, with the purpose to follow-up the fight for French Algeria. Highly organized and well-armed the OAS stepped up its terrorist activities, which were directed against both Algerians and pro-government French citizens, as the move toward negotiated settlement of the war and self-determination gained momentum. To the FLN rebellion against France were added civil wars between extremists in the two communities and between the ultras and the French government in Algeria.
Beside Pierre Lagaillarde, Jean-Baptiste Biaggi was also imprisoned, while Alain de Sérigny got arrested, and Joseph Ortiz's FNF dissolved, as well as General Lionel Chassin's MP13. De Gaulle also modified the government, excluding Jacques Soustelle, believed to be too pro-French Algeria, and granting the Minister of Information to Louis Terrenoire, who quit RTF (French broadcasting TV). Pierre Messmer, who had been member of the Foreign Legion, was named Minister of Defense, and dissolved the Fifth Bureau, the psychological warfare branch which had ordered the rebellion. These units had theorized the principles of "counter-revolutionary war", including the use of torture. During the Indochina War (1947–54), officers such as Roger Trinquier and Lionel-Max Chassin inspired themselves from Mao Zedong's strategic doctrine, and considered that to convince the population to support the fight, bodies had to be modeled in order to affect the mind. The 5e Bureaux were organized by Jean Ousset, French representant of the Opus Dei, under the order of Permanent Secretary General of the National Defense (SGPDN) Geoffroy Chodron de Courcel. The officers were initially formed in the Centre d'instruction et de préparation à la contre-guérilla (Arzew). Jacques Chaban-Delmas added to that the Centre d'entraînement à la guerre subversive Jeanne-d'Arc (Center of Training to Subversive War Jeanne-d'Arc) in Philippeville, Algeria, directed by Colonel Marcel Bigeard. According to the Voltaire Network, the Catholic stay-behind Georges Sauge animated conferences there, and one could read on the walls of the center the following maxim: "This Army must be fanatic, despising luxury, animated by the spirit of the Crusades" Pierre Messmer hence dissolved structures which had turned themselves against de Gaulle, leaving the "revolutionary war" to the exclusive responsibility of Gaullist General André Beaufre.
The French army officers uprising can be understood as following; some officers, most notably from the paratroopers corps, felt betrayed by the government for the second time after Indochina (1947–1954). In some aspects the Dien Bien Phu garrison was sacrificed with no metropolitan support, order was given to commanding officer General de Castries to "let the affair die of its own, in serenity" ("laissez mourrir l'affaire d'elle même en sérénité").
The opposition of the MNEF student trade-union to the participation of the conscripts to the war led to a secession in May 1960, with the creation of the Fédération des étudiants nationalistes (FEN, Federation of Nationalist Students) around Dominique Venner, a former member of Jeune Nation and of MP-13, François d'Orcival and Alain de Benoist, who would theorize in the 1980s the "New Right" movement. The FEN then published the Manifeste de la classe 60.
A Front national pour l'Algérie française (FNAF, National Front for French Algeria) was created in June 1960 in Paris, gathering around former De Gaulle's Secretary Jacques Soustelle Claude Dumont, Georges Sauge, Yvon Chautard, Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour (who would present himself as far-right candidate in the 1965 presidential election), Jacques Isorni, Victor Barthélémy, François Brigneau and Jean-Marie Le Pen. Another ultra rebellion occurred in December 1960, which led de Gaulle to dissolve the FNAF.
After the publication of the Manifeste des 121 against the use of torture and the war, the opponents to the war created the Rassemblement de la gauche démocratique, which included the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) socialist party, the Radical-Socialist Party, Force ouvrière (FO) trade union, CFTC trade-union, FEN trade-union, etc., which supported de Gaulle against the ultras.
De Gaulle convoked the first referendum on the independence of Algeria on January 8, 1961, in which 75% of the voters (both in France and Algeria) approved independence and De Gaulle's government began secret peace negotiations with the FLN. However, in Algeria itself, only 40% of the voters desired independence.
The "generals' putsch" in April 1961, aimed at canceling the government's negotiations with the FLN, marked the turning point in the official attitude toward the Algerian war. De Gaulle was now prepared to abandon the pieds-noirs, the group that no previous French government was willing to write off. The army had been discredited by the putsch and kept a low profile politically throughout the rest of France's involvement with Algeria.
Talks with the FLN reopened at Evian in May 1961; after several false starts, the French government decreed that a ceasefire would take effect on March 19, 1962. In their final form, the Evian Accords allowed the pieds-noirs equal legal protection with Algerians over a three year period. These rights included respect for property, participation in public affairs, and a full range of civil and cultural rights. At the end of that period, however, all Algerian residents would be obliged to become Algerian citizens or be classified as aliens with the attendant loss of rights. The agreement also allowed France to establish military bases in Algeria even after the independence (including the nuclear test site of Regghane, the naval base of Mers-el-Kebir and the aerial base of Bou Sfer) and to have advantages on the Algerian oil.
In the second referendum on the independence of Algeria held in June 1962 the French electorate approved the Evian Accords by an overwhelming 91 percent vote. On July 1, 1962, some 6 million of a total Algerian electorate of 6.5 million cast their ballots. The vote was nearly unanimous, with 5,992,115 votes for independence, 16,534 against, with most Pied-noirs and Harkis either having fled or abstained from voting. De Gaulle pronounced Algeria an independent country on July 3. The Provisional Executive, however, proclaimed July 5, the 132nd anniversary of the French entry into Algeria, as the day of national independence.
During the three months between the cease-fire and the French referendum on Algeria, the OAS unleashed a new terrorist campaign. The OAS sought to provoke a major breach in the ceasefire by the FLN but the terrorism now was aimed also against the French army and police enforcing the accords as well as against Muslims. It was the most wanton carnage that Algeria had witnessed in eight years of savage warfare. OAS operatives set off an average of 120 bombs per day in March, with targets including hospitals and schools. Ultimately, the terrorism failed in its objectives, and the OAS and the FLN concluded a truce on June 17, 1962. In the same month, more than 350,000 Pied-noirs left Algeria.
Despite the Evian Accords guarantees towards the French citizens, after the end of June civilians became the target of systematic FLN attacks. It quickly became apparent to Europeans that the new government would not ensure their safety or enforce their rights. The Oran massacre of 1962, four days after the vote, is the main example of deliberate strategy of killing to terrorize pieds-noirs and push them to leave. These tactics proved effective. Summer 1962 saw a rush to France. Within a year, 1.4 million refugees, including almost the entire Jewish community and some pro-French Muslims, had joined the exodus to France. The vast majority left, as detailed below.
Pieds-Noirs (including indigenous Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews) and Harkis accounted for 13% of the total population of Algeria in 1962. For the sake of clarity, each group's exodus is described separately here, although their fate shared many common elements.
Pied-noir (literally "black foot") is a term used to name the European-descended population (mostly Catholic) that had been in Algeria for generations; it is sometimes used to include the indigenous Mizrachi and Sephardi Jewish population as well, which likewise emigrated after 1962. The Europeans had arrived as immigrants from all over the western Mediterranean (particularly France, Spain, and Malta), starting in 1830. The Jews had arrived in several waves, some coming in Roman times starting in 600 BCE and some had arrived as refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, and had largely embraced French citizenship after the décret Crémieux in 1871. In 1959, the pieds-noirs numbered 1,025,000 (85% of European Christian descent, and 15% were made up of the indigenous Algerian population of Mizrachi and Sephardi Jewish descent), and accounted for 10.4% of the total population of Algeria. In just a few months in 1962, 900,000 of them fled or left the country, the first third prior to the referendum, in the most massive relocation of population to Europe since the Second World War. A motto used in the FLN propaganda designating the Pied-noirs community was "Suitcase or coffin" ("La valise ou le cercueil") – an expropriation of a term first coined years earlier by pied-noir "ultras" when rallying the European community to their hardcore line.
The French government claimed not to have anticipated that such a massive number would leave; at the most it said it estimated that perhaps 200–300,000 might choose to go to metropolitan France temporarily. Nothing was planned for their move to France, and many had to sleep in streets or abandoned farms on their arrival. A minority of departing pieds-noirs, including soldiers, destroyed their possessions before departure, applying scorched earth policy in a sign of protestation and as a desperate symbolic try to leave no trace of over a century of European presence, but the vast majority of their goods and houses were left intact and abandoned to Algerians. Scenes of thousands of panicked people camping for weeks on the docks of Algerian harbors waiting for a space on a boat to France were common from April to August 1962. About 100,000 pieds-noirs chose to remain, but most of those gradually left over the 1960s and 1970s, primarily due to residual hostility against them, including machine-gunning of public places in Oran.
The so-called Harkis, from the Algerian-Arabic dialect word harki (soldier), were the Muslim indigenous Algerians (as opposed to European-descended Catholics or the indigenous Algerian Mizrachi Sephardi Jews) who fought as auxiliaries on the side of the French army. Some of these were veterans of the Free French Forces who participated in the liberation of France during World War II or in the Indochina War. The term also came to include civilian indigenous Algerians who supported a French Algeria. According to French government figures, there were 236,000 Algerian Muslims serving in the French Army in 1962, either in regular units (Spahis and Tirailleurs) or as irregulars (harkis and moghaznis). Some estimates suggest that, with their families, the indigenous Muslim loyalists may have numbered as many as 1 million, but 400,000 is more commonly cited.
In 1962, around 91,000 Harkis fled or sailed to France, despite French policy against this. Pierre Messmer, minister of the armies and Louis Joxe, minister for Algerian affairs gave orders to this effect. The Harkis were seen as traitors by many Algerians, and many of those who stayed behind suffered severe reprisals after independence. French historians estimate that somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 Harkis and members of their families were killed by the FLN or by lynch mobs in Algeria, often in atrocious circumstances or after torture, a climax being reached at the Oran massacre of 1962. The abandonment of the "Harkis" both in terms of non-recognition of those who died defending a French Algeria and the neglect of those who escaped to France, remains an issue that France has not fully resolved—although the government of Jacques Chirac made efforts to give recognition to the suffering of these former allies.
The FLN estimated in 1962 that nearly eight years of revolution had cost 1.5 million dead from war-related causes. Some other Algerian sources later put the figure at approximately 1 million dead, while French officials estimated it at 350,000. French military authorities listed their losses at nearly 18,000 dead (6,000 from non-combat-related causes) and 65,000 wounded. European-descended civilian casualties exceeded 10,000 (including 3,000 dead) in 42,000 recorded terrorist incidents. According to French figures, security forces killed 141,000 rebel combatants, and more than 12,000 Algerians died in internal FLN purges during the war. An additional 5,000 died in the "café wars" in France between the FLN and rival Algerian groups. French sources also estimated that 70,000 Muslim civilians were killed, or abducted and presumed killed, by the FLN.
Historians, like Alistair Horne and Raymond Aron, consider the actual figure of war dead to be far higher than the original FLN and official French estimates, but below the 1 million adopted by the Algerian government. Horne has estimated Algerian casualties during the span of eight years to be around 700,000. Uncounted thousands of Muslim civilians lost their lives in French army ratissages, bombing raids, and vigilante reprisals. The war uprooted more than 2 million Algerians, who were forced to relocate in French camps or to flee to Morocco, Tunisia, and into the Algerian hinterland, where many thousands died of starvation, disease, and exposure. In addition large numbers of pro-French Muslims were murdered when the FLN settled accounts after independence.
After Algeria's independence was recognised, Ahmed Ben Bella quickly became more popular, and thereby more powerful. In June 1962, he challenged the leadership of Premier Benyoucef Ben Khedda; this led to several disputes among his rivals in the FLN, which were quickly suppressed by Ben Bella's rapidly growing support, most notably within the armed forces. By September, Bella was in control of Algeria by all but name, and was elected as premier in a one-sided election on 20 September, and was recognised by the United States on September 29. Algeria was admitted as the 109th member of the United Nations on 8 October 1962. Afterwards, Ben Bella declared that Algeria would follow a neutral course in world politics; within a week he met with U.S. President John F. Kennedy requesting more aid for Algeria, with Fidel Castro, expressing approval of Castro's demands for the abandonment of Guantanamo Bay and returned to Algeria requesting that France withdraw from its bases there. In November, Ben Bella's government banned the party, providing that the only party allowed to overtly function was the FLN. Shortly thereafter in 1965 Bella was deposed and placed under house arrest (and later exiled) by Houari Boumédiènne, who served as president until his death in 1978. Algeria remained stable, though in a one-party state, until violent civil war broke out in the 1990s.
For Algerians of many political factions, the legacy of their War of Independence acted to legitimise and virtually sanctify the unrestricted use of force in achieving a goal deemed to be justified. Once invoked against foreign colonialists, the same principle could be turned with relative ease also against fellow Algerians. The determination of the FLN to overthrow the colonial rule, and the ruthlessness exhibited by both sides in that struggle, were to be mirrored thirty years later by the determination of the FLN government to hold on to power and of the Islamist opposition to overthrow that rule, and the brutal struggle which ensued.
Torture was a frequent process in use since the beginning of the colonization of Algeria, which started in 1830. Claude Bourdet had denounced these acts on December 6, 1951, in L'Observateur: "Is there a Gestapo in Algeria?" Torture had also been used -on both sides- during the First Indochina War (1946–54)
General Paul Aussaresses admitted in 2000 the use of torture during the war and justified it. He also recognized the assassination of lawyer Ali Boumendjel and head of FLN in Algiers, Larbi Ben M'Hidi, which had been disguised as "suicides".
Bigeard, who qualified FLN activists as "savages", claimed torture was a "necessary evil". To the contrary, General Jacques Massu denounced it, following Aussaresses' revelations, and before his death pronounced himself in favor of an official condemnation of the use of torture during the war.
Bigeard's justification of torture has been criticized by various persons, among whom Joseph Doré, archbishop of Strasbourg, and Marc Lienhard, president of the Lutherian Church of Augsbourg confession in Alsace-Lorraine.
In June 2000, Bigeard declared that he was based in Sidi Ferruch, known as a torture center and from where many Algerians never left alive. Bigeard qualified Louisette Ighilahriz's revelations, published in Le Monde on June 20, 2000, as "lies". An ALN activist, Louisette Ighilahriz had been tortured by General Massu. She herself called Bigeard a "liar", and criticized him for continuing to deny the use of torture 40 years later. However, since General Massu's revelations, Bigeard has now admitted the use of torture, although he denies having personally used it. He then declared: "You are striking the heart of an 84-year-old man." Bigeard also recognized that Larbi Ben M’Hidi had been assassinated, and his death disguised as a "suicide". Paul Teitgen, prefect of Algiers, also revealed that Bigeard's troop threw Algerians in the sea from helicopters (which resulted in brutalized corpses found in open waters nicknamed "crevettes Bigeard"), a tactic later theorized in Argentina by Admiral Luis Maria Mendia, as "death flights."
Counter-insurgency tactics developed during the war were used afterward in other contexts, including the Argentine "Dirty War" in the 1970s. Journalist Marie-Monique Robin wrote a book alleging that French secret agents had taught Argentine intelligence agents counter-insurgency tactics, including the systemic use of torture, block warden system, etc, all techniques employed during the 1957 Battle of Algiers. The film itself on The Battle of Algiers has been screened and seen by many militaries from different nations afterwards. She found in the Quai d'Orsay, head of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the document proving that a secret military agreement tied France to Argentina from 1959 until 1981, date of the election of President François Mitterrand.
Although the opening of the archives after a 30 years lock-up has enabled some new historical research on the war, including Jean-Charles Jauffret's book titled La Guerre d'Algérie par les documents (The Algerian War according to the documents), many remain unaccessible. This contrary to the engagement of Prime minister Lionel Jospin's (Socialist Party, PS) engagement on July 27, 1997. The recognition in 1999 by the National Assembly, in which the PS had obtained a majority during the 1997 legislative elections, permitted the Algerian War to, at last, enter the syllabus of French school. The Paris massacre of 1961 has only begun to emerge in the nation's memory, although access to the archives remains strongly restricted. The French state, who finally recognized 40 deaths, is a far way from giving free access to the archives (there is no such law as the US Freedom of Information Act in France). However, it has been proved, including with David Assouline's limited access to the Paris archives (granted by Socialist Minister of Culture Catherine Trautmann) that at least 70 Algerians died during these events—and 90 persons by the second half of October 1961.
The Algerian War remains a contentious event today. According to historian Benjamin Stora, doctor in history and sociology and teacher at Paris VII, and one of the leading historians of the Algerian war, memories concerning the war remain fragmented, with no common ground to speak of:
"There is no such thing as a History of the Algerian War, there is just a multitude of histories and personal paths through it. Everyone involved considers that they lived through it in their own way, and any attempt to take in the Algerian War globally is immediately thrown out by the protagonists."
Not to speak about Franco-Algerian history: although Benjamin Stora has counted 3,000 works in French on the Algerian war, there still is not one single work made in cooperation between a French and an Algerian citizen. Although we can "no longer talk about a 'War without a name'... a number of problems remain, especially the absence of sites in France to commemorate" the war. Furthermore, conflicts arise on the commemoration date to end the war. Although most place it in the March 19, 1962 Evian agreements, which is the French state's official version, others point out that massacres of harkis and kidnapping of pied-noirs took place afterwards.
Stora further points out that "The phase of memorial reconciliation between the two sides of the sea is still a long way off." This was recently illustrated by the Union for a Popular Movement's (UMP) vote of the February 23, 2005 law on colonialism, which asserted that colonialism had globally been "positive." Thus, a teacher in one of the elite's high school of Paris can declare:
"Yes, colonisation has had positive effects. After all, we did give to Algeria modern infrastructures, a system of education, libraries, social centers ... There were only 10% Algerian students in 1962? This is not much, of course, but it is not nothing either!"
Beside a heated debate in France, the 23 February 2005 law had the effect of jeopardizing the treaty of friendship that President Jacques Chirac was supposed to sign with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a treaty which is not any more in the agenda. Following this controversial law, Bouteflika has talked about a "cultural genocide", in particular in reference to the 1945 Sétif massacre. Chirac finally had the law repealed through a complex institutional mechanism.
Another matter concerns the teaching of the war, as well as of colonialism and decolonization, in particular in French secondary schools Hence, there is no reference to racism in any textbook, excepting one published by Bréal editing house and for Terminales students (those passing their baccalauréat). This, despite an institutional racism still pregnant in French society, as demonstrated by SOS Racisme's various tests concerning racial discrimination. Textbooks still refers to "them" as "Muslims" and "us" as "French," despite the fact that Algerians held the French nationality, and that many French citizens today come from a Muslim background. Henceforth, it does not come as a surprise to see that some of the first to speak about the October 17, 1961, massacre were music bands, including (but not only), hip hop bands such as famous Suprême NTM ("les Arabes dans la Seine") or politically engaged La Rumeur. Indeed, the Algerian War is not even the subject of a specific chapter in textbook for Terminales Henceforth, Benjamin Stora can state that:
"As Algerians do not appear in their "indigenous" conditions and their sub-citizens status, as the history of nationalist movement is never evoqued, as none of the great figures of the resistance—Messali Hadj, Ferhat Abbas—emerge nor retain attention, in one word, as no one explains to students what has been colonisation, we make them unable to understand why the decolonisation took place."
The Algerian War and its consequences are thus fundamental to any understanding of the state of 21st century France, as well as the social situation in the French suburbs, which were brought to world attention during the civil unrest in autumn 2005. For the first time since the Algerian war, the head of the state, President Jacques Chirac (UMP) proclaimed the state of emergency, which was confirmed a few weeks later by the National Assembly (the only parties to vote against its extension were the Communist Party and the Greens, who explicitly referred to this dark period of French history that had been the Algerian War).
For example, in metropolitan France, in 1963, 43% of French Algerians lived in bidonvilles (shanty towns). Thus, Azouz Begag, Delegate Minister for Equal Opportunities in the government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin (UMP), wrote an autobiographic novel, Le Gone du Chaâba, about his experience living in a bidonville in the outskirts of Lyon. It is impossible to understand the third-generation of Algerian immigrants to France without recalling this bicultural experience. An official parliamentary report on "prevention of criminality", commanded by then Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin (UMP), and made by MP Jacques-Alain Bénisti, went as far as claiming that "Multilingualism (bilinguisme) was a factor of criminality." (sic). Following outcries from many NGOs and left-wing sectors, the definitive version of the Bénisti report finally made of multilingualism an asset instead of a default.
Thus, the stakes of the contemporary debate on torture clearly appear in full light: after having denied its use during 40 years, the French state finally recognized it, although it never did any official proclamation about it. Paul Aussaresses was sentenced following his justification of the use of torture for "apology of war crimes." But, in the same way that during the "events", the French state claimed torture was an isolated act, instead of admitting its responsibility in the institutionalization of torture as a standard counter-insurgency method, used to break the population's morale (and not, as Aussaresses has claimed, to "save lives" by gaining short-term information which would enable to stop "terrorists"), it now claims that it was a regrettable incident due to the context of the war. But various historical researches have proved both thesis false: "Torture in Algeria was engraved in the colonial act, it is the "normal" illustration of an abnormal system," wrote Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard and Sandrine Lemaire, who have published decisive work on the phenomena of "human zoos." From the smokings (enfumades) of the Darha caves in 1844 by Pélissier to the 1945 riots in Sétif, Guelma and Kherrata," the repression in Algeria has used the same methods. Following the May 9, 1945 Sétif massacres, other riots against European presence occurred in Guelma, Batna, Biskra and Kherrata, making 103 deaths among the pied-noirs. The repression of these riots officially made 1,500 deaths, but N. Bancel, P. Blanchard and S. Lemaire estimate it to be rather between 6 and 8,000 deaths
Note: concerning the audio and film archives from the Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA), see Benjamin Stora's comments on their politically oriented creation. what about Benjamin Stora's own political orientation as admitted Trotskyist?
Translations may be available for some of these works. See specific cases.