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Map of Algeria showing Sétif province

The Sétif massacre refers to widespread disturbances in and around the Algerian market town of Setif located to the west of Constantine in 1945. The initial outbreak occurred on the morning of May 8, 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered in World War II. A parade by the Muslim Algerian population of Setif to celebrate Victory in Europe Day ended in clashes between the marchers and the local French gendarmerie. Attacks on pied noirs (French settlers) in the neighbouring countryside then resulted in the deaths of 103 Europeans, mostly civilians, plus another hundred wounded.[1] The historian Alistair Horne records that there were a number of rapes and that many of the corpses were mutilated. [2]

After five days of chaos French military and police restored order but then carried out a series of reprisals. The army, which included Senegalese troops, carried out summary executions. Less accessible mechtas (Muslim villages) were bombed by French aircraft and the cruiser Duguay-Trouin standing off the coast, in the Gulf of Bougie, shelled Kerrata. Pied noir vigilantes lynched prisoners taken from local gaols or randomly shot Muslims not wearing white arm bands (as instructed by the Army) out of hand.[2] It is certain that the great majority of the Muslim victims had not been implicated in the original outbreak.[3]

These reprisals killed anywhere between 1,020 (the official French figure given in the Tubert Report shortly after the massacre) and 45,000 people (as claimed by Radio Cairo at the time). Alistair Horne notes that 6,000 was the figure finally settled on by moderate historians but acknowledges that this remains only an estimate.[3] The Setif outbreak and the repression that followed marked a turning point in the relations between France, which had colonized Algeria since 1830, and the Muslim population. While the details of the Setif killings were largely overlooked in metropolitan France the impact on the Algerian Muslim population was traumatic, especially on the large numbers of Muslim soldiers in the French Army who were then returning from the War in Europe. Nine years later a general uprising began in Algeria leading to independence from France in March 1962 with the signing of the Evian Accords.



The anti-colonialist movement had started organizing itself before World War II, under Messali Hadj and Ferhat Abbas. Anti-French sentiment had been building across Algeria for months, leading to thousand-person protests in such cities as Mostaganem in the previous weeks. With the end of World War II, 4,000 [4] protesters took to the streets of Sétif, a town in northern Algeria, to press new demands for independence on the colonial government.

In February 2005, Hubert Colin de Verdière, France's ambassador to Algeria, formally apologized for the massacre, calling it an “inexcusable tragedy”.[5] It was the most explicit comments by the French state on the massacre. [6]

President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika has called the Sétif massacre the beginning of a “genocide” perpetrated during the Algerian War by the French occupation forces. This accusation of genocide was swiftly denounced by the French State and by various French historians, although massacres, the use of torture and other human rights abuses by both sides were not questioned. All in all, the Algerian War and its consequences remains an important memory stake in both countries.


  • Yves Courrière, La guerre d'Algérie, tome 1 (Les fils de la Toussaint), Fayard, Paris 1969, ISBN 2213611181
  • Jean Louis Planche, Sétif 1945, histoire d'un massacre annoncé, Perrin, Paris 2006
  • Roger Vétillard, Sétif. Mai 1945. Massacres en Algérie, éd. de Paris, 2008
  • Eugène Vallet, Un drame algérien. La vérité sur les émeutes de mai 1945, éd. Grandes éditions françaises, 1948
  • Alistair Horne, “A Savage War of Peace. Algeria 1954-62”, ISBN 0-670-61964-7

See also


  1. ^ Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954 - 1962 (New York: The Viking Press, 1977), 26.
  2. ^ a b Horne, 26.
  3. ^ a b Horne, 27.
  4. ^ Jean Louis Planche, Sétif 1945, histoire d'un massacre annoncé p137
  5. ^ Algeria Marks WWII Anniversary with Call for French Apology
  6. ^

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