The memorial initiative comes at a time when rapprochement between the two countries has started to take shape. However, France is yet to formally apologise for its brutal colonial past.
Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has appointed a veteran historian to research France’s colonial history in the country as part of an effort to normalise relations.
In an announcement to local media on Sunday evening in Algiers, Tebboune designated Dr Abdelmadjid Chikhi, who had served in the country’s war of independence against France, to lead the initiative.
Chikhi is the director general of the National Centre for Algerian Archives.
“We got along with French President Emmanuel Macron on memory matters to work normally,” explained Tebboune.
“To make things easier…they [Paris] have appointed a known historian and his opposite is Doctor Abdelmadjid Chikhi who is known and is responsible for the national archives and a specialist. We gave them his name.”
Chikhi will work jointly with a French historian Benjamin Stora on memorial issues, directly under the supervision of the presidents of the two countries.
“We hope that they will accomplish their work in truth, serenity and appeasement to resolve these problems which poison our political relations, the business climate and good understanding. We must face these painful events to start again on profitable relations with the two countries, in particular on the economic level,” Tebboune said in an interview with French daily L’Opinion.
The colonial past still lingers
The question of memory of Algeria’s colonial past is a very sensitive subject in relations between France and Algeria. France’s 132 years of colonial rule in Algeria, and the violent eight-year war of independence (1954-1962) that ended it, has left a legacy whose wounds still remain.
In the latest sign of thaw in relations, Paris handed over the skulls of 24 Algerian resistance fighters beheaded at the onset of French colonisation in lieu of Algeria’s 58th independence anniversary, a symbolic gesture that Algiers considered to be “a big step”.
However, Algeria is still waiting for a formal apology for France’s colonial occupation of the North African country. Tebboune has expressed hope that his French counterpart would build on recent conciliatory overtures.
“We have already had half-apologies. The next step is needed…we await it,” Tebboune said to France 24.
“I believe that with President Macron, we can go further in the appeasement process…he is a very honest man, who wants to improve the situation.”
Tebboune reiterated that an apology would “make it possible to cool tensions and create a calmer atmosphere for economic and cultural relations,” especially for France’s large Algerian community.
Retrieving colonial-era documentation is also paramount.
Chikhi assured the current generation of Algerians would continue to demand the restitution of all the national archives – in particular, those that account for some 2,200 missing during the war of independence along with records of French nuclear tests in the Algerian Sahara during the 1960s.
In December 2019, Macron said that “colonialism was a grave mistake” and called for turning the page on the past.
During his presidential election campaign, Macron called France’s colonisation of Algeria a “crime against humanity”.
UN Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to make amends for “centuries of violence and discrimination”.
Last month, a bill adopted by the Algerian Parliament established May 8, 1945, as a “National Day of Memory”. May 8 is an official day of mourning in Algeria that remembers the massacre of 45,000 Algerians at the hands of French colonial forces.