In search of the missing after the Algerian War for Independence

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, in fact, about their lives. Listening to one life after another, I finally realized that one day, I would have to write about 1962.

One of these interviews took place at the Ijtihad bookstore, in Algiers. I was interviewing a man who was telling me about how he had become 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 violence in the countryside; but because of the increasing violence in 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 youth, he reminisced, they had undertaken various tasks during the transitional period (between the cease-fire in March and independence in July), as well as during the summer of 1962. These had visited the surrounding area to record the numbers of dead, of survivors, of 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, their 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 be buried them in their village cemetery. The youth, lined up in scout outfits, attended these 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.

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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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