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.
distortion and repression of those wounds and what responsibility they themselves had for them. Clearly, drunkenness, depressions, idées fixes, and suicides suggest otherwise. What I am questioning is the adequacy of the biomedical understanding of these and other symptoms—in terms of trauma and posttraumatic stress disorders—which does not take account of the existential and ethical orientations that constitute a person’s sense of self, environment, and history and that influence, if they do not
thousand died. A corps d’indigènes of seventy-six thousand (excluding volunteers) fought in World War II (Langelier 2009, 6).4 In 1954, there were twenty thousand indigenous career soldiers in the French army as well as thousands of draftees, most of whom were stationed in Indochina (Jordi and Hamoumou 1999, 23). The French army had, in fact, only twenty thousand men in Algeria at that time. As large contingents were still in Indochina and others in Morocco and Tunisia, it took time to build up
his father specifically had been told to do. Rather, he generalizes. His—more generally, the Harki children’s—generalizations may, at times, be deflections of what was specifically known but too painful to admit. Or they may reflect discretion—an unwillingness to reveal what is deeply personal to a stranger. But, most often, they seem to have been the result of ignorance of what, in fact, happened. It seems likely that Mabrouk never really knew what his father was ordered to do as the war came to
estimates, Michel Roux (1991, 223–31) concluded that roughly 140,000 Algerian refugees made it to France, mostly between 1962 and 1968. Of these, 85,000 were auxiliaries and their families. The remaining 55,000 were the families of privileged Algerians: municipal elites, general councilors, deputies and senators, bureaucrats, caids, aghas, bachagas, career soldiers and officers in the French army, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. Just as it is impossible to number the Harkis who were
to override his personal interest. He had, of course, heard their stories before. No doubt, he had arranged similar meetings. He also had to maintain the respectful distance that a younger Algerian man must show his elders. Between these meetings, Azzedine and I talked about many things, as we would have with any friend or acquaintance: my work, his work, French politics, American politics, September 11, the Iraq War, the Islamists, sports, a project for a memorial at Rivesaltes, and violence