In search of the missing after the Algerian War for Independence

Several years ago, I started conducting biographical interviews with left-wing activists in Algeria. This research isn’t over yet, but in the process, it has led to unexpected findings, because when these men and women tell you about their activist lives, they also tell you, in fact, about their lives. From one life to another, I finally understood that one day, I must write about 1962.

One of these interviews took place at the Ijtihad bookshop, in Algiers. “My” interviewee was telling me about how he became an activist. He began his story with his own experience of independence: like many others, his family had migrated to Algiers during the war, fleeing violence; but because of the violence caused by the OAS (the Secret Army Organization, a pro-French Algeria terrorist organization) in 1962 in the city, they took refuge in their home village in Kabylia again. He remembered various tasks that he and other village youth had taken on during the transitional period between the cease-fire in March and independence in July, as well as during the summer of 1962. These included visiting surrounding areas to record the numbers of dead, of survivors, of houses destroyed, the needs in food etc. They also took part in reburial ceremonies for the mujahidin whose bodies had been brought back to the village: from the moment of the cease-fire, relatives of the combatants had gone in search of the their bodies, and — when they were able to find them — brought the remains back to be buried in their village cemetery. The youth who attended such ceremonies sang nationalist anthems [anashid], lined up in scout outfits, playing a quasi-official role in ceremonies that were only just being invented, thus representing the absent (or the not-yet-present) authority of the Algerian state.

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Malika Rahal

Malika Rahal est historienne, chargée de recherche à l'Institut d'histoire du temps présent (CNRS). Dr. Malika Rahal is a historian at the Institut d'histoire du temps présent (CNRS) الدكتورة ملكة رحّال باحثة في التاريخ، معهد تاريخ الزمن الحاضر، المركز الوطني للبحث العلمي

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