Sétif and Guelma massacre

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Map of Algeria showing Sétif province

The Sétif massacre refers to widespread disturbances and killings in northern Africa in and around the Algerian market town of Sétif, located to the west of Constantine, in 1945. The French police fired on local demonstrators at a protest on 8 May 1945.[1] Then, riots in the town itself were followed by attacks on French colons (settlers) in the surrounding countryside resulting in 103 deaths. Subsequent attacks by French authorities and vigilantes are estimated to have caused much greater numbers of deaths amongst the Muslim population of the region: somewhere between 1,020 and 45,000 people (see below). Both the outbreak and the indiscriminate nature of its repression are believed to have marked a turning point in Franco-Algerian relations.[2]


Flag of the Algerian nationalists in 1945

The initial outbreak occurred on the morning of May 8, 1945, the same day Nazi Germany surrendered in World War II. A parade by about 5,000 of the Muslim Algerian population of Sétif to celebrate the victory ended in clashes between the marchers and the local French gendarmerie, when the latter tried to seize banners attacking colonial rule.[3] There is uncertainty over who fired first but both protesters and police were shot and armed men amongst the Muslim marchers then killed Europeans caught in the streets.[4] A smaller scale protest in the neighboring town of Guelma was dispersed the same evening. Attacks on pieds noirs (French settlers) in the neighboring countryside then resulted in the deaths of 103 Europeans, mostly civilians, plus another hundred wounded.[4] The historian Alistair Horne reports that there were a number of rapes and that many of the corpses were mutilated.[4]

French suppression[edit]

After five days of chaos, French military and police restored order, but then carried out a series of reprisals for the attacks on settlers. The army, which included Foreign Legion, Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian and Senegalese troops, carried out summary executions in the course of a ratissage ("raking-over") of Muslim rural communities suspected of involvement. Less accessible mechtas (Muslim villages) were bombed by French aircraft, and the cruiser Duguay-Trouin, standing off the coast in the Gulf of Bougie, shelled Kherrata. Pied noir vigilantes lynched prisoners taken from local jails or randomly shot Muslims not wearing white arm bands (as instructed by the Army) out of hand.[3] It is certain that the great majority of the Muslim victims had not been implicated in the original outbreak.[5]

These attacks killed anywhere between 1,020 (the official French figure given in the Tubert Report shortly after the massacre) and 45,000 people (as claimed by Radio Cairo at the time). Alistair Horne notes that 6,000 was the figure finally settled on by moderate historians but acknowledges that this remains only an estimate.[5] The Sétif outbreak and the repression that followed marked a turning point in the relations between France and the Muslim population under its control since 1830, when France had colonized Algeria, the closest portion of Africa to France. While the details of the Sétif killings were largely overlooked in metropolitan France, the impact on the Algerian Muslim population was traumatic, especially on the large numbers of Muslim soldiers in the French Army who were then returning from the war in Europe.[6] Nine years later a general uprising began in Algeria, leading to independence from France in March 1962 with the signing of the Évian Accords.


The anti-colonialist movement had started organizing itself before World War II, under Messali Hadj and Ferhat Abbas. Anti-French sentiment had been building across Algeria for months, leading to thousand-person protests in such cities as Mostaganem in the previous weeks. Contemporary factors other than those of the emergence of Arab nationalism included widespread drought and famine in the Constantine region.[7] With the end of World War II, 4,000 protesters took to the streets of Sétif, a town in northern Algeria, to press new demands for independence on the French administration.[8]

In February 2015 there was an article 'Lessons from Algeria: counter-insurgency, commitment and cruelty' in Strife, a blog run by the War Studies Department of King's College London, that provides a contemporary view on the impact of the massacre.[9]

Impact on modern Algerian/French relations[edit]

French officials during a remembrance ceremony for victims of the Setif massacre, held in Aubervilliers on 9 May 2010.

In February 2005, Hubert Colin de Verdière, France's ambassador to Algeria, formally apologized for the massacre, calling it an “inexcusable tragedy”.[10] It was the most explicit comment by the French State on the massacre.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

The Algerian cinema, rich with war movies, depicted the massacres more than once. When Outside the law by Rachid Bouchareb was nominated best picture in the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, French pieds noirs, harkis and war veterans demonstrated against the film being shown in French cinemas, accusing it of distorting reality.


  • Yves Courrière, La guerre d'Algérie, tome 1 (Les fils de la Toussaint), Fayard, Paris 1969, ISBN 2-213-61118-1
  • Jean Louis Planche, Sétif 1945, histoire d'un massacre annoncé, Perrin, Paris 2006, ISBN 2262024332
  • Roger Vétillard, Sétif. Mai 1945. Massacres en Algérie, éd. de Paris, 2008, ISBN 978-2-85162-213-6
  • Eugène Vallet, Un drame algérien. La vérité sur les émeutes de mai 1945, éd. Grandes éditions françaises, 1948, OCLC 458334748
  • Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace. Algeria 1954–1962, New York 1978, Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-61964-7

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Témoins des massacres du 8 Mai 1945 en Algérie
  2. ^ Morgan, Ted, My Battle of Algiers, p. 17, ISBN 0-06-085224-0 .
  3. ^ a b Morgan, 26
  4. ^ a b c Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954–1962 (New York: The Viking Press, 1977), p. 26.
  5. ^ a b Horne, 27.
  6. ^ Professor Douglas Porch, page 569 The French Foreign Legion, ISBN 0-333-58500-3
  7. ^ John Gunther, page 121 Inside Africa, Hamish Hamilton Ltd 1955
  8. ^ Jean Louis Planche, Sétif 1945, histoire d'un massacre annoncé, p. 137.
  9. ^ http://strifeblog.org/2015/02/20/lessons-from-algeria-counter-insurgency-commitment-and-cruelty/
  10. ^ Algeria Marks WWII Anniversary with Call for French Apology, VOA News, 2005-05-09 .
  11. ^ , Al Jazeera https://web.archive.org/20060207134504/http://english.aljazeera.net:80/NR/exeres/C50D0EF1-4FCE-48C6-89A9-D059B34F7B0D.htm, archived from the original on February 7, 2006  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]