French troops in Algeria
Between 1954, when the Algerian uprising against French colonial rule broke out, and 1962, when Algeria became an independent republic, some two million French soldiers crossed the Mediterranean to fight against the FLN’s (National Liberation Front) guerrillas in an operation that marked a generation. Most of these soldiers were conscripts. In Paris, the developing war in Algeria led to the fall of six prime ministers, the collapse of the IVth republic, the return of General de Gaulle to power at the head of the Vth republic — a vehicle of his own creation — and near civil war following an attempted right-wing coup in Algiers.
During the war, atrocities were committed on both sides, and after it, with the general amnesty declared at Evian as part of its negotiated settlement, many of these were officially forgotten. France turned to interior self-modernization, while Algeria began a process of nation-building under the tutelage of the victorious FLN.
More recently, however, there has been a move to disinter the past in the wake of recent, well-publicized revelations in France concerning the extent of human-rights violations, specifically the torture and murder of those suspected of being members or sympathizers of the FLN, by the French army in Algeria and by the authorities in France itself. In recent months both the French president, Jacques Chirac, and the prime minister, Lionel Jospin, have referred to these reports, mostly stressing the need to consider them in their historical context and talking of the need for “national healing” to take place. “Let history do its work,” said Chirac, interviewed recently on the television channel TF1. Former generals have also appeared on television admitting that they used torture to interrogate suspects during the Algerian War.
With the official records of the period remaining largely closed, however, and with those committing them never having been held accountable either for their orders or for their acts, other voices have been a lot less diplomatic than have those of the political establishment.
French troops in Syria
In 1920, an independent Arab kingdom of Syria was established under king Faysal of the Hashemite family. His rule ended after few months, following the clash between Syrian forces and regular French forces at the battle of Maysalun. French troops occupied Syria later that year after the league of Nations put Syrian under the French mandate. With the fall of France in 1940, Syria came under the control of the Vichy Government until the British and Free French occupied the country in July 1941. Continuing pressure from Syrian nationalist groups forced the French to evacuate their troops in April 1946, leaving the country in the hands of a republican government that had been formed during the mandate.
Actually, the self-proclaimed Free Syrian Army is called the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people” by the French neo-colonial leaders.
Photo: French soldiers in Algeria