Europe’s MENA Colonial Legacy: France Hands Over Skulls of 24 Algerian Resistance Fighters

Written by | Thursday, July 9th, 2020

Algeria says France has returned the remains of 24 fighters who were killed resisting French colonial forces in the 19th Century – Algeria buried them during the weekend when it was celebrating its independence day. Having been returned by France after 170 years, this step is the latest attempt to settle questions linked to France’s colonial domination, which began in 1830 and ended in 1962 after a bloody four-year independence war. The skulls, belonging to soldiers who died during the 19th century, were buried in Algeria’s biggest cemetery, El Alia, near Algiers’ square dedicated to the “martyrs of the Algerian Revolution”.
The ceremony was attended by Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune. Speaking on Thursday, President Tebboune said that “within a few hours Algerian military planes will fly in from France… with the remains of 24 [members] of the popular resistance”. He also said that some of the remains belonged to leaders of the resistance movement, including Sheikh Bouzian, who was captured by the French in 1849, then shot and decapitated. President Tebboune noted the resistance fighters “had been deprived of their natural and human right to be buried for more than 170 years”. The skulls of nearly 40 Algerian fighters were taken to France as trophies in the 19th Century and later put on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.
French and Algerian intellectuals and historians have been campaigning for years to return these skulls to Algeria. Despite the scorching heat, many ordinary citizens paid tribute to the soldiers, as their coffins, covered with the national flag, were exposed at Algiers’ Palace of Culture. Algeria had officially requested them back in January 2018, along with several colonial archives. French President Emmanuel Macron had pledged to return the bodies of the fighters during a visit to Algeria in 2017, after calling the colonisation of the country “a crime against humanity”. Later in 2019, during a visit to Ivory Coast, he called colonialism “a grave mistake” and a “serious fault”. “This gesture is part of a process of friendship” to heal the “wounds of our history,” the Elysee commented on Friday.

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