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French Algerian Diaspora Marks 1961 Crackdown

"Algerians are drowned here" grafitti on Quai de Tournelle wall near Saint Michel, Paris
"Algerians are drowned here" grafitti on Quai de Tournelle wall near Saint Michel, Paris File

The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo is will join a demonstration today in the French capital in recognition of thousands of members of the Algerian diaspora who were victims of repression in the 1960s.Today marks the 54th anniversary of a protest by members of the Algerian community which was brutally repressed.


Commemorations for the victims of repression are to take place in towns across France, but the most important one is on the Pont Saint Michel in Paris at a plaque which was unveiled by her predecessor, Pierre Delanoë, on the 40th anniversary of the reprisals.

On the 17th October 1961, tens of thousands of Algerians held a peaceful demonstration in Paris against a discriminatory curfew imposed by the Paris police department chief at that time, Maurice Papon.

The demonstrators asserted that the curfew was a violation of their right to freedom and equality. Around 20-30,000 people showed up for the demonstration that was organised in secret.

During the protests, and in the days that followed, between 5-6,000 Algerians were arrested, imprisoned and hundreds were injured.

The exact death toll from the police repression remains unclear. Official reports at the time said that two protestors were killed when police opened fire due to violence. But studies since have concluded that during the period, around 300 people died. The figure remains contested, however, because many bodies were disposed of hastily - some thrown in the Seine River - whilst some Algerians were simply deported.

The incident came against the backdrop of the brutal Algerian war of independence, between 1954-1962 in which thousands of Algerians, pieds-noirs (Algerian residents of French origin) and harkis (Algerian soldiers who fought for the French) died. In 1962, the government declared an amnesty for all crimes comitted during the Algerian War.

But getting to the bottom of the facts of this event has proved difficult. In 2012, President François Hollande acknowledged that the French state killed in cold blood the demonstrators and the Senate passed a resolution recognising the culpability of the French state.

This year a collective of Algerian dispora associations, trade unions and left-wing political parties are calling on the government to enact the provisions in that resolution.

Firstly, they are calling for a memorial museum dedicated to this event. Secondly, they want the truth to be told about the the shadowy Organisation de l'armée sécrete, the Secret Army Organisation which was a clandestine military organisation established in 1961 to retain French control of Algeria. But most of all, they want the truth to be told about this event, by allowing historians access to the archives so that France, and its Algerian population, can finally recognise of of the darkest chapters in its history.

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