For the past few years, I have been 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. As these men and women tell you about their activist lives, they also tell you about their lives. Listening to one life after another, I finally realized that one day, I would have to write something about 1962.
One of these interviews took place at the Ijtihad bookstore, in Algiers. I was interviewing a man who was told me about how he became an activist. He began his story with his own experience of Independence, in 1962: like many others, his family had migrated to Algiers during the war, fleeing the intense violence in the countryside; but because of the increasing violence of the city caused by the OAS (the Secret Army Organization, a pro-French Algeria terrorist organization), the family sought refuge back in their home village in Kabylia. Along with other village boys and girls, he reminisced, they had undertaken various tasks during the transitional period that ran from the cease-fire in March to Independence in July, as well as during the summer of 1962. They had visited the surrounding areas to record the numbers of dead, survivors, destroyed houses, as well as the needs in food in each village in order to organize support. They also took part in reburial ceremonies for the mujahidin, the combatants killed during the war: from the cease-fire onwards, relatives had gone in search of their bodies, and whenever they were able to find them, endeavored to bring back their remains in order to bury them in their village cemetery. The youth, lined up in scout outfits, attended such reburial ceremonies, sang nationalist anthems [anashid], and played a quasi-official role in ceremonies that were only just being invented, thus representing the absent (or the not-yet-present) authorities of the Algerian state.