Jul. 6, 2020 (GIN) – “The martyrs are returning home.” Those were the words of noted historian Malika Rahal on learning that the remains of 24 Algerian resistance fighters, killed in the Algerian independence war of 1954-62, would be flown back to Algeria after years kept by the French in a museum’s storage area.
“The body parts of those who fought the conquest of their country are returning home after a very long stay in cardboard boxes at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris,” Rahal said.
Algeria had officially asked for the return of the remains in 2018, as well as a handover of colonial archives but bureaucratic obstacles blocked their return until now, when a worldwide reexamination of the legacy of colonialism since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a white police officer is taking place.
The remains – skulls of decapitated fighters – were viewed as war trophies by French colonial officers.
“This is the monstrous face of colonization,” Algerian army chief Said Chengiha said in a speech on July 3.
Algerian historian Ali-Farid Belkadi, the first to make the grisly discovery while doing research, alerted Algerian authorities. He said the skulls were kept in “vulgar cardboard boxes that resemble shoe boxes”.
On July 5, Algeria’s 58th anniversary of independence, the fighters’ remains will finally be laid to rest in the martyrs’ section of the capital’s El Alia cemetery, local media reported. They were flown into Algiers airport from France on a Hercules C-130 transport plane, escorted on arrival by Algerian fighter jets, an AFP correspondent said.
To a 21-gun salute, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and a military guard of honor gave the war heroes an official welcome. Tebboune bowed in front of each coffin and a Muslim cleric recited a prayer for the dead.
France’s 132 years of colonial rule, and the brutal eight-year war that ended it, have left a lasting legacy of tensions between the two governments and peoples. The French presidency described the handover as an effort to “reconcile the memories of the French and Algerian people”.
Historians welcomed the return of the remains, but say they are just part of Algeria’s history that is still in French hands. “We have recovered part of our memory,” historian Mohamed El Korso told the AP news agency.
“But the fight must continue, until the recovery of all the remains of the resistance fighters, which number in the hundreds, and the archives of our revolution.”