Sétif and Guelma massacre
|Setif and Guelma massacre|
|Part of French Algeria conflict|
Map of Algeria showing Serif showing province
|Massacre, Communal violence|
Historians: 6,000 to 20,000|
French claim: 1,020
Radio Cairo: 45,000
|Perpetrators||French authorities and vigilantes|
|Motive||Repression of demonstrations that demand Algeria independence. 102 French settlers were killed by rioters.|
The Sétif and Guelma massacre was a series of widespread disturbances and killings in 1945 around the French Algerian market town of Sétif, west of Constantine, Algeria. French police fired on demonstrators at a protest on 8 May 1945. Riots in the town were followed by attacks on French colons (settlers) in the surrounding countryside, resulting in 102 deaths. Subsequent attacks by the French authorities and European settler vigilantes caused deaths among the Muslim population of the region; estimates ranged between 1,020 (contemporaneous French claim) and 45,000 (subsequent Radio Cairo claim) people killed. Both the outbreak and the indiscriminate nature of its repression are thought to have marked a turning point in Franco-Algerian relations, leading to the Algerian War of 1954–1962.
- 1 Background
- 2 Outbreak
- 3 French suppression
- 4 Legacy
- 5 In popular culture
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
The anti-colonialist movement had started organizing itself before World War II, under Messali Hadj and Ferhat Abbas. However, the participation of Algeria in the war had a major impact on the rise of nationalism. Algeria held the capital of the Free France from 1943, which created hope for many nationalists. Ferhat Abbas published in 1943 a Manifesto that claimed the right for Algerians to have a constitution and a State associated to France. The lack of French response to this text inspired the creation of the "Amis du Manifeste et de la Liberté" (AML) and the rise of nationalism, 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, in a region where the European settlers were a minority: in the city of Guelma, there were 4,000 settlers for 16,500 Muslim Algerians. This situation led to the spreading of conspiracy theories among the settler community and local administration, that started creating or supporting armed militias. 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.
The initial outbreak occurred on the morning of 8 May 1945, the same day that 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. There is uncertainty over who fired first but both protesters and police were shot. Armed men amongst the Muslim marchers then killed Europeans caught in the streets. A smaller and peaceful protest of Algerian People's Party activists in the neighboring town of Guelma was violently repressed by the police the same evening. News from Sétif acted as a match on the poor and newly nationalist rural population, and led to attacks on pieds-noirs in the Sétif countryside (Kherrata, Chevreul) that resulted in the deaths of 102 Europeans, mostly civilians (12 in Guelma), plus another hundred wounded. The historian Alistair Horne reports that there were a number of rapes and that many of the corpses were mutilated.
French suppression in Sétif
After five days of chaos, the French military and police suppressed the rebellion, and 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. It is certain that the great majority of the Muslim victims had not been implicated in the original outbreak.
A "French subversive movement" in Guelma
French violence in the Guelma region differs from Sétif in that it lasted until 26 June 1945, when there were 12 pieds-noirs killed in the countryside. The Constantine préfet, Lestrade-Carbonnel had supported the creation and growth of settler militias, while the Guelma sous-préfet, André Achiari, created an illegal justice system (Comité de Salut Public) designed to encourage the violence of the vigilantes against unarmed civilians, and to facilitate the identification and execution of nationalist activists. He also structured the different organizations (the police, the army and the intelligence agency) to support and assist the militias. These groups killed in the city and the countryside, and buried the bodies in mass graves in places like Kef-el-Boumba, but the corpses were later dug up and burned in Héliopolis.
These attacks killed between 1,020 (the official French figure given in the Tubert Report shortly after the massacre) and 45,000 Muslims (as claimed by Radio Cairo at the time). Horne notes that 6,000 was the figure finally settled on by moderate historians, while Jean-Pierre Peyroulou, crossing Allies' statistics and Marcel Reggui's testimony concludes that a range from 15,000 to 20,000 is likely, contesting Jean-Louis Planche's 20,000 to 30,000 deaths estimation. The identity of the Muslim Algerian victims differs in Sétif and Guelma. In Sétif's countryside, even if some victims were actual rebels that took a part in the insurrection, the majority were families that only lived in the same area. However, nationalist activists were specifically targeted by the settlers' vigilantes in Guelma. Most of them were men (13% of the men in Guelma were killed), either member of the AML, the Muslim scouts or the local CGT
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. 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. Nine years later, a general uprising began in Algeria, leading to independence from France in March 1962 with the signing of the Évian Accords.
Legacy in Algeria
From 1954 to 1988, the massacres of Sétif and Guelma were commemorated in Algeria, but it was considered as a minor event compared to November 1, 1954, the beginning of the Algerian war for independence, which legitimized the one-party regime. The members of the FLN, as rebels and as State members did not want to emphasize the importance of May 1945: it would have involved remembering that there were other contradictory currents of nationalism, such as Messali Hadj's Algerian National Movement that opposed the FLN. With the democratization movement of 1988, Algerians "rediscovered" a History different from the one told by the regime, as the regime itself was questioned. Researches about the massacres of May 1945 developed, as well as a memorial will to remember these events. The presidency of Liamine Zéroual and Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the Fondation du 8 Mai 1945 also started using the memories of the massacres as a political tool to discuss the consecuences of the "colonial genocide" with France:
Semantic debates: genocide, massacre or politicide
The words used to refer to the events are often instrumentalized or carry a memorial connotation. The word massacre, currently used in historical research to mention the Muslim Algerian victims of May 1945, was first used by the French propaganda to refer to the 102 European victims to justify the violent French suppression. The word genocide, used by Bouteflika for example, does not apply to the events in Guelma, since the Algerian victims were targeted because of ther nationalist activism, which whould make the Guelma massacre a politicide according to B. Harff and Ted R. Gurr's definition. The word massacre is, according to Jacques Sémelin a more useful methodological tool for historians to study an event whose definition is debated.
Impact on modern Algerian/French relations
In February 2005, Hubert Colin de Verdière, France's ambassador to Algeria, formally apologized for the massacre, calling it an "inexcusable tragedy", in what was described as "the most explicit comments by the French state on the massacre".
In popular culture
The Algerian cinema, rich with war movies, depicted the massacres more than once. When Outside the Law by Rachid Bouchareb was nominated for 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.
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