France: Algerian veterans bitter

France: Algerian veterans bitter

From a series on Al Jazeera about veterans, video available.

As part of its series on Veterans Al Jazeera visited France where feelings over the country's brutal war in its former colony Algeria more than 40 years ago still run deep.

Born and raised in Algeria Rabah Gerrairia considers the African nation very much "his country" but it is with sadness and bitterness that he explains why he will never return there.

"I won't go back, I won't go," he says. "Of course my family's there, and I'd love to see them. But I'm scared. I'm really scared I'd be killed. It's my country, but I can never go back, never."

Gerrairia fears for his welfare in Algeria emanate from his part in France's brutal and bloody conflict in its former colony between 1954 and 1962.

He was one of 150,000 Algerian Muslims who fought for the French during the war known as "harki", a term that more than four decades on is still a negative one for many of their countrymen.

Ahead of the declaration of independence by Algeria in 1962 they were forcibly disarmed by the French army – who stood by as thousands were tortured and killed by Algerian independence fighters who regarded them as traitors.

Unlike European settlers who had also fought for the French – and despite the clear danger to their lives – Algerians who had fought for France were forbidden from immigrating to the former colonial power.

Through the kindness of individual French commanders, however, several thousand were illegally smuggled to France where on arrival they were confined to primitive rural camps.

In the south of France, near Marseilles one group of veterans remain close friends, regularly meeting to relive their experience and share a cup of tea.

Revisiting the site of one camp, that was only finally demolished in 1995, the men reveal their hostility at the French government for their treatment.

"In the camp we lived communally, without any relation to the outside world. We were Arabs and didn't know what racism was," says Slimane Djera, another veteran.

"It was only when I was in college that racism came along. We were treated differently – always put at the back of the class. And we have found it very difficult to find jobs."

"They [France] said we were there to defend "Republican values", and then they left us without arms, to our own destiny," says Saiid Merabti. "We want France to admit its responsibility for those of us who died in Algeria and for our abandonment in France"

The Algerian veterans' anger is symptomatic of a conflict that has left deep psychological scars on the French psyche and whose legacy was left unaddressed and ignored for a long time by successive governments.


Source: Al-Jazeera (English)

No comments: