Today marks fifty years since a massacre swept the streets — not in the maghreb region of north Africa, but in the streets of Paris:
A number of events were held on Monday to remember the violent deaths of up to several hundred anti-war demonstrators in Paris 50 years ago.
The peaceful march of between 20,000 to 30,000 demonstrators by the Algerian national liberation front (FLN) on October 17th 1961 had been organized to protest against a curfew that had been imposed on October 5th during the fight for independence in Algeria.
The demonstration became a scene of carnage after the Paris police chief at the time, Maurice Papon, gave orders for the demonstration to be halted.
Police beat and opened fire on protestors with many bodies being thrown over bridges into the river Seine. Other demonstrators were rounded up and taken to detention centres where they claimed of being subjected to torture and starvation.
The first official estimate was of three deaths and 64 injured. A report in 1998 however put the number of deaths at a minimum of 32. Many historians believe the true figure is more likely to be between 50 and 200, perhaps even more.
The massacre is one of the better known events in the Algerian War. It still amazes me how many wars of liberation have been fought in the past one hundred years and how many nefarious political agendas have led to bloodshed.
Yet what bothers me more is that it is terribly easy to forget these tragedies (particularly if you weren’t alive during the era). Perhaps that’s why one of my favorite films is The Battle of Algiers, an Italian production that shows the Algerian revolution from both sides and was made only four years after the war. It’s eerily realistic and truly poignant. It brings the worst of both sides to light.
On a happier note, I’ll be debating education policy tomorrow evening at Cornell. Michelle Rhee ’92 will be around the campus. Any questions for her?