Algeria's hard-won liberty

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Algeria's hard-won liberty

Algeria's hard-won liberty
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On July 5, 1962, Algeria celebrates its new national independence.

It followed eight years of war with France and more than 130 years as a French possession.

In the end, the Algerians and the French under President Charles de Gaulle had approved the Evian Accords, and accepted what many had come to see as inevitable: Algerian self-determination.

The war had begun on the 1 November, 1954.

Great numbers would be killed and forcibly displaced, as insurgents fought the French colonial military and rival factions fought each other.

Algerians suffered battles, internment, torture, reprisals, starvation, disease, and exposure.

Eminent historian Benjamin Stora said: “It was one of the most violent anti-colonial wars, lasting for eight years. It brought hundreds of thousands of deaths, an exodus of a million Algerians of European origin – the ‘Pieds Noirs’ – and the massacre of the Harkis.”

General de Gaulle had returned to office in 1958, by which time France had committed more than 400,000 troops to Algeria.

The Harkis were the some 170,000 indigenous Muslim Algerians who served in the French army.

Against insurgent forces in the tens of thousands, the French won military control.

But negotiations with the nationalist rebels enraged civilian pieds-noirs, who felt betrayed and barricaded streets in the capital Algiers and seized government buildings.

De Gaulle had decided the Algerians would “have the free choice of their destiny”.

The European-descended population that had grown up in Algeria starting with its violent expropriation in 1830 left en masse a home that had become a hostile territory.

The French government had not prepared for this.

Stora said: “Most of these people were of very modest means, either petty administrators or craftsmen or small shopkeepers. They were rejected by history. From 1962 up to today, they lived in nostalgia and resentment – so many people. There is no equivalent in history.”

France called this an “operation of public order” against rebel “terrorism”, so ignored the Geneva Conventions. For decades, there would be official denials, but both sides used torture systematically. Amnesties pre-empted justice.

“It was thought that through amnesty we’d forget about it all, and that time would eventually erase all that. Well, not at all,” said Stora.

“Fifty years later, the memory of Algeria, the memory of the war has never been so strong.”

It is against that background of colonial brutality that today’s Algeria was born. Both its people there and those living in France continue to walk in its shadow.