Half a century after independence, Algerians who fought with the French are still stigmatised
This month, as Algeria celebrates the 50th anniversary of the , which brought an end to the Algerian War, the painful issue of the the Algerians who fought with the French army has resurfaced. Harkis, as they are known, are still considered by many in Algeria as traitors.
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Harki children in a camp in Riversaltes, France, in 1962. Photo posted on this site
This month, as Algeria celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Evian Accords, which brought an end to the Algerian War, the painful issue of the Algerians who fought with the French army has resurfaced. Harkis, as they are known, are still considered by many in Algeria as traitors.
At the end of the war, those who were able to seek refuge in France found themselves, along with their wives and children, in cramped and dirty military camps, completely cut off from the outside world. But the vast majority were not able to leave Algeria, and several thousand Harkis were massacred. Abandoned by France, ostracised by Algeria, the Harkis feel that they have suffered greatly and are desperate to be rehabilitated back into society.
We have decided to compare two accounts, the first from one of our Observers in Algeria, and the second from the French-born son of a Harki. Both of them have agreed to talk about this controversial issue that the Algerian state has removed from all school textbooks, effectively obliterating it from the country’s history.
"When today’s leaders hand power over to the next generation, the perception of Harkis will completely change"
Abdelkrim Mekfouldji, 58, lives in Blida, Algeria.
My generation, born during the Algerian War, grew up in a climate of hate. Back then, the children of Harkis did not even have access to regular schooling.
The time for questioning whether or not the Harkis’ involvement in the ranks of the French army was an act of treason is over. Today it’s time to forgive. However, those who lost family members during the war are probably not yet ready to forgive. Nor are the members of the ruling party, the FLN [National Liberation Front, a political party created in 1954 to fight for Algerian independence from France], whose hostile declarations and propaganda continue to fuel feelings of hatred towards the Harkis.
The possibility for change now lies with young people, who make up the majority of Algerian society. They are not affected by the feelings of betrayal that older people suffer from. In fact, they are in favour of dialogue and exchange. Social networks have enabled many young people to come into contact with the children of Harkis who fled Algeria for France. They speak openly about a subject that Algeria has always wanted to hide.
When today’s leaders, most of whom are former FLN combatants, hand power over to the next generation, I’m sure that the perception of Harkis will change completely.”
“My fight is with France, not with Algeria”
Charles Tamazount, 38, is the son of a Harki. He lives in Paris, France.
I was born in a camp in Vias, in the prosperous Lot-et-Garonne region of France. Our camp was surrounded by fences and barbed wire, and our comings and goings were strictly controlled. We were cut off from the world. As children of Harkis we were cooped up, forbidden from going to the state's schools. Today, many still bear the scars of this isolated life.
I trust that time will lessen the tensions. Memories will fade. The children of Harkis are now able to interact with those descended from Algerian immigrants. Such a relationship was unthinkable 25 years ago. Both the passing of time and research on the history of the Harkis have made a difference as our understanding of the complexity of the war and the difficulties people experienced has improved.
Fifty years after the end of the war, there are still some grey areas. France must acknowledge its responsibility in the abandonment and subsequent massacre of the Harkis. My fight is with France, not with Algeria.
We’re proud of what our parents did and we will never renounce them. In order to move on, we must not let go of our past. ”