During the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), France mobilized tens of thousands of native Algerian soldiers, known as the harkis, for counterinsurgent operations directed against their own countrymen of the National Liberation Front. As recruits for the French army, the harkis were given French status, which was then revoked when Algeria gained its independence. France later accepted the harkis as veterans and “repatriates,” only to confine them in camps until the 1970s. The abuse of the harkis has been noted as a “forgotten” episode in French postcolonial history. This article argues that the harkis were far from having been “forgotten,” and in fact were considered important throughout the Fifth Republic as a powerful counterpoint to the more problematic immigrant Algerian population in France. The harkis represented the key tension in postcolonial France between the notion of an irrevocable civil status and a national identity that favored a Eurocentric culture.
The Politics of the Integration of Harkis After 1962
Harki Collective Memories, 2003–2010
Laura Jeanne Sims
Since 2005, scholars and politicians have employed a framework of “memory wars” to interpret conflicts over the colonial past in France. The case of the Harkis, Algerians who fought with the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence, and their descendents, challenges basic features of this paradigm. Disputes among children of Harkis about how to interpret the French colonial project in Algeria and their fathers’ motivations for supporting the French reveal the limitations of considering the Harkis and other participants in the Algerian War as unified memory camps, a constituent element of the memory war model. Conceiving of memory debates in terms of a “war” also obscures the ways in which narrating the past can constitute an act of reconciliation and signal a desire for inclusion, as it has for Harki sons and daughters.
The Harkis' Exile at the Rivesaltes Camp (1962–1964)
Jeannette E. Miller
The French government placed 20,000 of the approximately 100,000 harkis repatriated to France following the Algerian War in the Rivesaltes camp. Located in rural French Catalonia, it had previously lodged foreigners and French citizens whom the government removed from society. The decision to house the harkis in this camp, made during summer 1962 as the French government extricated itself from its 132-year empire in Algeria, symbolized that they were aliens: Berber and Arab repatriates, nearly all of whom obtained French nationality shortly after they arrived in France, were targeted by government housing policies that distanced them from public view. The camp's architecture, living conditions, isolation from French citizens, military oversight, and “reeducation” classes, beyond functioning as powerful symbols, reinforced—and contributed to—the government's treatment of the harkis as aliens. Over the twenty-seven months it remained open, Rivesaltes fostered an exilic existence for these harkis and socially excluded them from French society.