The scars of Algeria’s eight-year war of independence run deep.
Brutally subjugated by France for 132 years, in a ruthless oppression that even newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron has called “genuinely barbaric” and “a crime against humanity,” the Algerians are still suffering as a result of Paris’ seeming inability to let go of what was its last major colony.
Even today, a resentful France still uses its international propaganda machine to punish its unruly former colony with negative press and to try to justify the indefensible atrocities it committed against the Algerian people.
The largest country in Africa and the Arab world paid a heavy price for its freedom: the loss of 1.5 million soldiers and civilians.
Algeria’s struggle for independence started in May 1945, when Algerians who had fought to liberate Europe during World War II began to demand basic human rights and equality with French citizens, as well as soveriegnty for their people.
A group of peaceful Algerian dissenters took to the streets in Setíf to express their demands for independence.
France’s response to the protest was quick and to the point: The colonial government brutally massacred more than 45,000 Algerians, underscoring a flagrant message that insubordination by the colony would not be tolerated.
And thus began the Algerian war for independence.
As tensions grew, entire Algerian villages were decimated by French soldiers and parents were forced to watch as their children were tortured and dismembered at the hands of the oppressors.
The French were unrelenting in their assault on what they perceived as a rebellious society of insurgents, resorting to aerial bombing raids and ratissages, in which army units combed through cities and towns slaughtering everyone they came across.
In addition to the callous murders of civilian, men, women and children, nearly a million Algerians were tortured as an entire nation was punished for its insolence in daring to seek independence.
For those who still would not buckle to the whip of submission, the French set up internment camps where, according to French historian Pierre Emmanuel Vidal-Naquet, there were “hundreds of thousands of instances of torture.”
Inside these hellholes, victims were routinely beaten, hung by the feet, submerged in water headfirst, given electrical shocks, raped and forced to drink bleach.
Public hangings of dissidents were common and, back in Paris, an anti-Algerian assault on Muslim families — France’s own version of Kristallnacht — forced many Algerian immigrants to seek shelter in other countries.
On a single day in October 1961, police slaughtered more than 200 Algerians in Paris.
And still the Algerian people refused to bend.
Finally, when the defeated French packed up and left Algeria in 1962, a war-torn but determined nation held a referendum on July 1, 1962, casting ballots to become a sovereign republic.
Four days later, Algeria was declared a free and independent state.
Rebuilding their country in the aftermath of war was not easy for the Algerians, who struggled through a two-decade-long civil war against terrorist Islamic fundamentalists who launched a vicious campaign of indiscriminate violence in Algeria in 1988, leading to the deaths of more than 100,000 people and incalculable economic losses.
But the single unifying thread that has tied Algeria and the Algerian people together has always been their determination to remain independent and free, no matter what tragedies may befall them.
The harsh memories of the country’s grisly struggle against the French is a fundamental part of modern Algerians’ political DNA, and is recalled with sadness and determination every year in November, on the anniversary of the nation’s proclamation of independence by the insurgent National Liberation Front (FNL).
And the Algerian revolution gave voices to the cries of other nations for African decolonization, as well as the withdrawal of foreign occupation in Asia and Latin America.
Following in the footsteps of Algeria’s revolt against France were uprisings in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and Tunisia.
Next came West and East Africa, and, finally, South Africa, and all took their cue from the valiant and resilient Imazighen fighters.
Today, Algeria is the third-largest economy in Africa and, with the world’s 10th-largest natural gas reserves and 16th-largest oil reserves, is a major exporter of hydrocarbon energy.
Moreover, Algeria has consistently been a stalwart of peace and stability in a region that is known for its political volatility.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]