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  • An estimated 45,000 were killed by French troops and colonists' militias in the massacre at Setif, eastern Algeria.

    An estimated 45,000 were killed by French troops and colonists' militias in the massacre at Setif, eastern Algeria. | Photo: Twitter

Published 24 June 2020
Opinion

The massacres of 8 May - described at the time as events or troubles - marked the beginning of the Algerian war of independence.

Algeria’s Parliament adopted Tuesday a bill that establishes May 8, 1945, as a “National Day of Memory,” commemorating the massacre of tens of thousands of Algerians at the hands of French colonialism.

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On that date, while Europe was triumphantly celebrating the end of the Second World War, France was violently slaughtering thousands of peaceful anti-colonial protesters in Algeria, opening up a phase of unprecedented brutality, not seen since the invasion of the North African country in 1830.

By the end of the violence, which continued until May 22, around 45,000 Algerian men, women and children had been killed.

As Nazism and fascism fell in Europe and the horrors of the Holocaust were being revealed, Boucif Mekhaled reports in his book Chronicles of a Massacre, how Algerians were being “burned en masse in ovens” by the French army.

France wanted to ruthlessly strike a blow to any development of Algerian nationalist sentiment. But its violent repression had the opposite effect.

The massacres of May 8 - described at the time as events or troubles - marked the beginning of the Algerian war of independence. This episode is one of the high turning points in colonial history.

Algerian writer Kateb Yacine wrote about how May 8 was a turning point for him.

“It was in 1945 that my humanism was confronted for the first time at the most atrocious of displays. I was twenty years old. The shock I felt in front of the merciless butchery of several thousand Muslims, I have never forgotten. That’s how my nationalism developed.”

French President Emmanuel Macron addressed this shameful period from the former colonial power’s past, which it would prefer to forget, saying earlier this year that the “Algerian War is today absent from our political memory and the subject of a conflict of memories like the Holocaust was.”

Speaking to the cover-up of France’s war crimes during the colonization of Algeria, he added, “We don’t talk about this. We crush it.”

But Algeria has never forgotten the date; it has now institutionally memorialized it.

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