The Harkis: The Wound That Never Heals
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In this haunting chronicle of betrayal and abandonment, ostracism and exile, racism and humiliation, Vincent Crapanzano examines the story of the Harkis, the quarter of a million Algerian auxiliary troops who fought for the French in Algeria’s war of independence. After tens of thousands of Harkis were massacred by other Algerians at the end of the war, the survivors fled to France where they were placed in camps, some for as long as sixteen years. Condemned as traitors by other Algerians and scorned by the French, the Harkis became a population apart, and their children still suffer from their parents’ wounds. Many have become activists, lobbying for recognition of their parents’ sacrifices, compensation, and an apology.
More than just a retelling of the Harkis’ grim past and troubling present, The Harkis is a resonant reflection on how children bear responsibility for the choices their parents make, how personal identity is shaped by the impersonal forces of history, and how violence insinuates itself into every facet of human life.
rehearsal of the past and a loan word for nostalgia: but an active memory that will ceaselessly reaffirm the primacy of the present—an essential condition for the correct understanding of the past—and will permit a better apprehension of the future. —Jeanne in Messaoud Benyoucef’s Letters to Jeanne The Name of the Father is the third work in a loose trilogy that is united by a notion of active memory, which Jeanne describes in Lettres à Jeanne (Letters to Jeanne), the epistolary novel (later
186). By 1954, roughly half the rural population of working age were usually unemployed (Ruedy 1992, 123). The Muslim population in the cities more than doubled as the rural poor fled to the cities, the majority ending up in shantytowns and overcrowded “native quarters.” Urban unemployment reached 28 percent in 1954. True, an economically active urban middle class (around 200,000) also grew but at a far slower rate. They were deeply resentful of the small Algerian elite (roughly 5,000–6,000) and
France and seemed proud of being in the unit. 5.The Harkis were generally considered—and perceived themselves—to be the lowest ranked of the auxiliaries. For the most part illiterate peasants, they were, in effect, journeymen who performed all sorts of tasks, ranging from scouting and combat to menial ones like garbage collection and KP. Some were attached to engineering and transportation units, others to police brigades (brigades de gendarmerie), and still others to counterguerrilla units
brambles they and their fathers collected; how they had moved from the tents to barracks that were infested with cockroaches and other vermin; how in the cold winter the tents and sometimes the barrack roofs of corrugated iron were blown down; how they were always muddy and dirty and were disinfected; how they learned nothing at school . . . The Ministry of Education had opened forty-four classes for thirteen hundred pupils in 1963. Among the fifty-odd teachers were army conscripts with little
figured importantly in all the stories I heard of life in the camp, as the Harkis and their children still call the project. The tower is a symbol of their humiliation, which, I imagine, was even greater than in the camps since it was in sight of the city three kilometers away. “We were visible in our invisibility, and this must have bugged the Narbonnais,” a Harki’s son told me. Another remembered the Narbonnais who, on their Sunday walks, looked at them through the wire fence as though they