Covered with national flag and greeted by a long guard of honor, the remains of 24 Algerian fighters killed at the beginning of French colonization were welcomed on Friday during a solemn military ceremony in Algiers.
On Friday, July 3, the Algerian state organized a solemn military ceremony on the arrival of the remains of 24 rebels killed during the colonization and returned by France.
Hercules C-130, carrying skulls, landed at Algiers International Airport in the early afternoon, followed by three fighters from the Algerian army. Once on Algerian soil, 24 coffins of the “martyrs”, covered with the national flag, were greeted by a long guard of honor. They were slowly carrying soldiers, wearing sanitary masks, on a red carpet and to the sound of 21 shots.
🔴 Last minute: arrival at Houari Boumediene International Airport#Algiers mortuary remains of 24 popular resistance leaders aboard a military aircraft from #France.#Algeria 🇩🇿
Pictures: general television. pic.twitter.com/iPNYH4xeNK
– Moncef Ait-Kaci (@Moncefaitkaci) July 3, 2020
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune bowed to every casket. An imam said a prayer before a speech by the chief of staff, Said Chengriha. On Saturday, remains must be buried on Sunday, Independence Day, in Martyrs Square at El Alia Cemetery in Algiers
These are “the remains of 24 popular resistance leaders who have been deprived of their natural and human rights to be buried for more than 170 years,” Abdelmadjid Tebboune explained on Thursday when the exchange returned.
The Algerian president had paid tribute to “these heroes who faced the brutal French occupation, between 1838 and 1865, and who decapitated the savage enemy before sending their shells abroad so that their graves were not a symbol of resistance”.
Arrival at Houari Boumediene International Airport#Algiers mortuary remains of 24 people resistance leaders aboard a military aircraft from #France. The return of the skulls for the other Chouhada deportees after death will follow. #Algeria 🇩🇿 pic.twitter.com/B4rJYUcCMc
– Moncef Ait-Kaci (@Moncefaitkaci) July 3, 2020
“A process of friendship and clarity”
This restoration of France is a strong sign of a thaw in relations between Algeria and the former colonial power, marked since independence in 1962 by recurring controversies of tensions and misunderstandings. “This gesture is part of an approach of friendship and clear-sightedness in all wounds in our history,” the French Presidency declared on Friday.
“This is the purpose of the work of the President of the Republic with Algeria and which will continue, with due respect to all, to unite the memories of the French and Algerian peoples,” she added.
According to historian Benjamin Stora, interviewed by the AFP, France is rediscovering its history through this kind of gesture: “This helps to get out of oblivion from the dark sides of our history. We had a feeling that the colonial conquest had but the construction of large Hausman cities like Alger or Oran, by roads, by hospitals … were built on massacres, on horrible things.
“This terrible story has been passed down from generation to generation in Algerian families. The relationship with France is very painful. It cannot go as a letter in the post. There is a worldwide movement to retell the history of people and France cannot miss this,” insists this specialist from Algeria.
Illustrative Algerian warriors “war trophies”
It was not until January 2018 that Algeria officially asked France to return the skulls and colonial archives. During a visit to Algiers in December 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron undertook to return the Algerian human remains stored at the Musée de l’Homme, one of the sites of the National Museum of Natural History.
At that time, the president’s museum, Bruno David, said the institution was “ready to support the recovery process.” “These human remains entered our anthropology collections in the late 1800s after various sections linked to the French conquest of Algeria,” he explained.
Among the most famous Algerian fighters at the beginning of colonization is Cheikh Bouziane, the leader of the uprising in Ziban in eastern Algeria in 1849. He was captured by the French and then shot and beheaded. there also the famous Mohammed Lamjad ben Abdelmalek, known as Sharif “Boubaghla” (“the man with the foot”), the initiator of a popular uprising, killed in 1854. These skulls were considered “war trophies” by the French soldiers.
The memory issue at the heart of Algeria-France relations
It is an Algerian historian, Ali-Farid Belkadi, who raised the issue of these skulls in 2011 after conducting research at the museum. He then lamented that the skulls were “covered in vulgar cardboard boxes, causing the packaging of shoe stores”. A criticism disproved by the museum management.
In recent years, petitions, especially signed by historians Benjamin Stora, Pascal Blanchard and Mohammed Harbi, have demanded that these remains be returned to Algeria.
On the Tuesday of the 58th anniversary of Independence, which is celebrated on Sunday, this gesture shows a desire for satisfaction following the recent diplomatic quarrel surrounding the broadcast of a French documentary on Algerian youth against regime, which greatly displeased Alger.
The question of memory remains at the heart of the volatile relations between Algeria and the former colonial power. Algerian deputies have only unanimously adopted a “historic” law that set up a Memorial Day, May 8, in memory of the massacres committed in 1945 by French forces in Setif and Constantine.
The Algerian authorities also want to put back the document on the “disappeared” during the War of Independence (1954-1962) – more than 2,200, according to Alger, and that of the French nuclear tests in Algerian Sahara that “did and continue to claim life,” they said.
In February 2017, while he was presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron on a visit to Alger, called Algeria’s colonization a “crime against humanity”.