Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Algeria, France and Turkey: Pains of the Past and Ambitions for the Future

Algeria, France and Turkey: Pains of the Past and Ambitions for the Future

Wednesday, 5 February, 2020 - 09:30

France’s relationship with Algeria and Algeria’s relationship with France are more condensed and sensitive than any other relationship between two countries. Each of them has had a deep impact on the other, through occupation and colonization and through immigration and cultural engagement. There is a bitter past between them and horizons for a future that may be promising. They have many traumas and constantly attempt to cure their many wounds.

Recently, President Macron said: "The Algerian war is undoubtedly the most dramatic ... I know this since my presidential campaign ... It is a challenge before us and enjoys the same importance that (ex-president) Jacques Chirac was looking at in 1995 to the Nazi Holocaust. "

This phrase seemed to challenge a taboo and was condemned by far-right French parties who are proud of their country’s colonial history.

Macron, despite many reservations about him, is taking a different path: he wants to close the open wound. He called the colonization of Algeria a “crime against humanity” as presidential candidate in 2017. As president in 2018, he recognized his country’s use of torture during the Algerian war. This is among the things that are traditionally kept quiet.

The French president knows that purifying the Algerians’ memory of France is among the pre-conditions for his country's democratic and modern development. He knows that their shared experience is too important and precious to be dealt with lightly and that the past still weighs heavily on the present.

For France, which occupied Algeria in 1830 and later evolved its occupation to settler colonialism (a million settlers) accompanied by linguistic and cultural annihilation, confronted a number of insurgencies that preceded the 1954 revolution. The French say that the war cost 400,000 lives. The Algerians call it the “revolution of a million martyrs”.

The Algerian war had a deep impact on French politics. De Gaulle’s 1958 5th Republic began the corrective turn that ended in the 1962 independence. A coup attempt and an attempted murder of de Gaulle himself were orchestrated by the “Secret Army Organization” in response to the Gaullist new policies. The special military tribunal issued the death penalty as a punishment for the far-right’s actions. The “General” then went about rectifying the relationship with the Arab world, famously describing Israel as an arrogant and elitist nation following the 1967 war.

The Algerian war affected French partisan life. The “Unified Socialist Party”, led by Michel Rocard, was distinguished, among other things, by its attitude toward the Algerian question. Its famous demonstration, which the Communist Party participated in, in early 1962, supporting Algerian independence became famous for two reasons: the fact that the head of the police, Maurice Papon whom it was later discovered had collaborated with Nazi occupiers of France, took on its repression, and the fact that eight protesters who had taken refuge from the police’s bullets in the metro suffocated to death.

The Algerian war was the subject of a longstanding dispute between France and the United States. During this period, France participated, mostly because of Algeria, in the 1956 war against Egypt, and its relationship with the Soviet Union deteriorated.

There was also the major cultural impact; Algeria and Vietnam wars gave the idea of “commitment” its meaning for French intellectuals. The first of them became the “war of Sartre”, who signed the famous “Declaration of the 121”, in which the French elite recognized the Algerians’ right to revolution. Sartre also participated, through the “suitcase campaign”, in smuggling money and leaking information to Algerian revolutionaries. The far-right even chanted: “execute Sartre” in the streets of Paris.

On the other end, the French language that had been imposed on Algeria at first quickly formed into a cultural and to a large extent political identity that was felt by a pretty sizable sector of the Algerian society, especially among the Amazigh elite.

Today, there are more than six million people, from over four generations, who are either French of Algerian origin or Algerian immigrants to France. The overwhelming majority of them integrated and gave France some of its brightest figures. A minority of them is engaged in a "war of identity", and a minority within that minority partook in the terrorist acts that started in the mid-1990s, with the "Armed Islamic Group." This happened in parallel with the outbreak of civil war in Algeria itself.

Identity, Islamophobia and terrorism issues are met with the counting on integration on the one hand and mutual interests on the other. The value of trade between France and Algeria exceeds 8 billion euros annually, and France is one of the largest investors in Algeria, providing 40,000 direct job opportunities and 100,000 opportunities through mediation in the sectors of transportation, car manufacturing, nutrition and pharmacology…

Nevertheless, the sensitivity and importance of the relationship between the two countries have not deterred Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from rubbing salt on the Algerian wound. He recently revealed that his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, had confirmed to him that France had killed more than five million Algerians during its occupation of his country.

The story, which Algeria denied, says more about Erdogan than it does about history. Aspiring to expand to North Africa, the employer of Syrian mercenaries who are transported to Libya, will not be more concerned about the interests of Algeria than the interests of his neighbor, Syria. Erdogan's use of the pain experienced in the past by others, in the service of his ambitions for the future, is a tradition well known in the Middle East. Let us remember for a minute Iran's investment in the Palestinian pain!

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks