The conquest of Algeria

  • France invaded Algeria in 1830. This invasion was incredibly violent and included the massacre, rape, and torture of Algerians. In fact, the French conquest of Algeria in the nineteenth century resulted in the deaths of almost a third of the Algerian population.
  • In 1848, Algeria was made a department of France. The overseas departments and regions of France are those that lie outside of mainland France. In theory, overseas departments have the same status as mainland France’s regions and departments. However, in practice, many overseas departments are treated like colonies with very limited rights.
  • Algeria was integral to the French mainland and became to France what India (referred to as the jewel of the Crown) was to the British empire: its colonisation was very beneficial and economically productive for France.
  • After the French conquest, over a million Europeans settled in Algeria and they comprised 10% of the population. They became known as the pied-noirs or the colons. Many of these Europeans (who were of French, Spanish, Italian, and Maltese descent) were from working-class backgrounds but enjoyed an elevated status over the native Algerians. This socio-economic disparity between native Algerians and the pied-noirs created an air of mistrust between the two groups.

Algerian nationalism

  • By the 1920s, some Algerian intellectuals began to nurture the desire for independence or, at the very least, autonomy and self-rule. However, to the Algerians, it appeared that self-determination was a concept only intended for the white peoples of Europe. The pied-noirs also demonstrated resistance to the idea of Algerian natives participating in democratic life, as they had no intention of allowing the conquered natives to co-exist with them on equal terms.
  • On 8 May 1945, while France celebrated their victory in the Second World War, there was an expectation that liberation would come to the Algerians too. However, this didn’t happen and, in response, native Algerians organised a protest in Sétif (a city in Algeria) to demand independence.
  • The protests became a massacre, as the protesters killed more than 100 pied-noirs, and the French soldiers retaliated by killing up to 30,000 Algerian natives. The Sétif massacre shocked Algerians and radicalised the liberal independence movement. A new generation of Algerian independence leaders soon emerged.

Events of the Algerian Civil War

Front de Libération Nationale (FLN)The FLN fought for Algeria’s independence. They fought against the French army using guerilla warfare due to the superiority of the French military.
The French ArmyThe French army fought against the FLN. They were supported initially by the French people and the pied-noirs in Algeria.
Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS)This was a French dissident paramilitary organisation. The OAS carried out terrorist attacks to prevent Algeria’s independence from French rule. The OAS’ motto was ‘Algeria is French and will remain so’. The OAS often served the political needs of the pied-noirs.
The Pied-noirsThe pied-noirs (colons) were people of French and other European origins born in Algeria during the period of French rule. During the Algerian War, the pied-noirs overwhelmingly supported colonial French rule and opposed the FLN and Algerian nationalist groups. They didn’t want the status quo to change as they enjoyed socio-economic privileges over native Algerians.
  • On 1 November 1954, the FLN launched an armed revolt throughout Algeria, demanding independence. In response, the French deployed troops to monitor this situation. This event marks the beginning of the Algerian War.
  • August 1955. The FLN launched attacks on civilians resulting in more than 120 people being killed in Philippeville. In retaliation to the FLN’s actions, French troops and pied-noir vigilante groups retaliated by killing approximately 12,000 Algerians.
  • The Battle of Algiers, 30 September 1956. As a way to draw attention to this conflict, the FLN began to target urban areas, which was a shift from their usual approach. Three women in alliance with the FLN planted bombs in public places and thus began the Battle of Algiers. The city of Algiers erupted in violence.
  • The events of the Battle of Algiers resulted in public disapproval of the French rule over Algeria and was the most important event of the Algerian War. This disapproval was due to the French army’s response to the FLN strike. The French army adopted a ‘by any means necessary’ approach to quelling the violence which included torture. This approach was not well received by the onlookers of the war and France lost support from its allies.
  • May 1958. Pied-noirs stormed Algiers’ governor-general’s office after the French government failed to suppress the revolution. With the support of French army officers, they called for Charles de Gaulle to become the new president of France.
  • The French National Assembly accepted this proposal and Charles De Gaulle was installed as the leader of France. This received a positive response from both the pied-noirs and the native Algerians.
  • September 1959. De Gaulle declares that Algeria’s freedom is essential as he becomes increasingly convinced that French control is not possible. This announcement shocks and scares the pied-noirs.
  • April 1961. There were prominent generals in the French army who tried to overthrow de Gaulle in Algeria, clinging to the dream of preserving French Algeria.
  • March 1962. The French government declared a cease-fire after negotiations in Evian.
  • March–June 1962. In response to what was perceived as France accepting defeat in Algeria, the OAS mounted terrorist attacks against civilians. Despite this, the OAS and the FLN eventually reached a ceasefire.
  • 1 July 1962. Algeria held a referendum to approve the Evian Agreements, which called for an independent Algeria. Six million ballots were cast. A whopping 99.72% supported independence.

Algerian War Torture

  • In 2018 for the first time, France admitted to its use of torture in the Algerian War, this admission came decades after France’s sustained denial. This torture came in the form of hangings, waterboarding and rape amongst various other methods. Colonialist regimes themselves are rife with occurrences of torture, so much so that its use is viewed as an intrinsic component of colonialism.
  • During the Algerian War a memoir by Henri Alleg an Algerian Jew who was tortured at the hands of the French forces was published. This memoir titled The Question was banned in France, however, this only served to increase its circulation and become one of the most popular books in France at that time. The memoir detailed Alleg’s experiences of being drugged, beaten and burned by French troops during the war, and also highlighted the torture many native Algerians faced.
  • Not only was physical torture routinely deployed by French troops, but psychological torture was often used, this psychological element was heavily observed by psychiatrist and anti-colonial thinker Frantz Fanon during his time in Algeria and served as a reason behind him joining the FLN.
  • The blatant prevalence of violence and torture in the Algerian war serves as a reason as to why this war is considered one of the most brutal battles of the postcolonial era.

Effects of the Algerian War

  • The Algerian War served as a message of hope for those facing rule by colonial powers. And even today it is still regarded as one of the most important wars of the post-colonial era.
  • In the aftermath of the war, hundreds of thousands of pied-noirs fled to France in fear of retaliation from the FLN. This created a large community in France that feels a disconnect with both Algeria and France, and still long for their home in Algeria.
  • Moreover, due to French rule over Algeria and the subsequent war, France and Algeria still don’t trust each other. In recent years, France has also opened up more about the methods they used in the Algerian War and have taken responsibility for the death of a missing fighter of the FLN after decades of denying their involvement.
  • The atrocities of the Algerian War still lie very fresh in the minds of Algerians and this has heavily influenced their policy towards France.

Algerian War – Key takeaways

  • The Algerian War began with the conflict initiated by the National Liberation Front (FLN) in 1954 and ended with the establishment of Algeria as an independent and sovereign state in 1962.
  • France invaded Algeria in 1830. This invasion was very violent and included the massacre, rape, and torture of Algerians.
  • The events of the Battle of Algiers resulted in public disapproval of French rule over Algeria and was the most important event of the Algerian War.
  • The Algerian War serves as a message of hope for those under the rule of colonial powers.
  • Due to French rule over Algeria and the subsequent Algerian War, there is still a relationship of mistrust between France and Algeria.

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