Anissa Daoudi*

When ‘Algeria’ is mentioned, some people might
have heard of the book Djamila and Picasso, others might have seen the
film The Battle of Algiers depicting Algerian women playing an active
role in the revolution. In the Arab collective memory, Algeria is known
as the country of the three Djamilas, an Arabic name, meaning
‘beautiful’ in referrence to three Algerian women war veterans: Djamila
Bouheird, Djamila Boupasha and Djamila Bouazza, symbols in the fight
against the coloniser during the Liberation War (1954-1962).

What
unites these memories is the Algerian Revolution of the 1st of November
1954. However, Algeria has witnessed another traumatic phase during
which more than 200 000 Algerians lost their lives. This historical
period is what is known as the ‘Black Decade’ of the 1990s. Despite the
atrocities of that period, little is known about what happened and above
all, victims and activists struggle to keep the memory of their loved
ones alive and bring the perpetrators to justice. In an effort to break
the official and public silence, activists and survivors are attempting
to appropriate the symbolic signification of the 1st of November to all
Algerian victims and survivors of both periods: the Algerian Revolution
and the Civil War of the 1990s.  

To that end, the Association
Djazairouna (our Algeria), directed by Ms. Cherifa Keddar, one of the
victims of terrorism, who witnessed the assassination of her brother and
sister at her family home in Blida, organised a two-day conference
titled Our memory, our fight: for the memory of our victims. The
conference was held on the 1st and 2nd of November 2016 at Riyadh al
Fateh, Algiers and Blida.  It was to commemorate those who lost their
lives in the Civil War in the 1990s and to remind the Algerians of the
atrocities which took place in what is known as the ‘Black Decade’. The
theme of the conference falls within the context of my current research
project on the 1990s. 

The 1st of November was chosen
consciously to remember the eruption of the Algerian revolution against
French colonialism in 1954. It symbolises the will of Algerians to fight
against French brutalities and inhuman way in which they were
subjugated. The date also coincides with the International Remembrance
Day, as Cherifa Keddar explains. 

For Zahira Guenifi, a mother who lost her twenty year-old son, Hisham:

the
1st of November is chosen on purpose…I have all the right to use this
day as I want and in the way I want…I was seven years old when the
French killed my father…he is a martyr…that was not the end of that, 296
members of the Mehsen family, from Al Sitara, Beni Staih, near El Melia
(Jijel) were assassinated in one afternoon by the French. This date is
chosen not to steal the lime light out of the 1st November (Algerian
revolution)…It is a date for all Algerians, except the Harkis. The 1st
of November belongs to all Algerians…therefore; we said it is a date to
send a strong warning to our government …to commemorate our victims…a
date for the memory of our sons, husbands, brothers, sisters, all of
those who were hurt, a date to remind us that we are not alone, a date
that might help (not sure of that) us come to terms with our pain, a
date that narrates stories of those who died…a date exactly like the 1st
of November.

Three films were specifically chosen for the event.
The first was l’Heroine (the heroine) by Cherif Agoune. The story goes
back to the 1990s and takes place in a remote village, few kilometres
away from Algiers, where Ashour and his two brothers lived on a farm.
The men of the family are killed either in clashes between the security
forces and the terrorists or by the terrorists. Two women are kidnapped.
Houria, Ashour’s widow and the heroine of the story, was able to escape
and save the children. She is received in Algiers by her family, but
conflicts re-emerge and she finds herself facing another harsh reality
of life. No longer willing to accept her status in her family, she
decides to roll up her sleeves to meet the needs of her children. She
becomes a professional photographer specializing in wedding ceremonies.
She also joins the association of women victims of terrorists. The story
is about survival and the strong will of the heroine to live for her
children and overcome the obstacles of her society.  After the screening
of the film, an actor who played the role of the officer, gave a short
interview in which he said that the film was based on the true story of
one of his patients, when he was the doctor in that town.

In
Memoire de Scènes by Abderrahim Laloui, again, the story takes place in
the 1990s. Azzedine, a professional journalist, prepares an adaptation
of the play Tartuffe by Molière which he wants to stage in the municipal
theatre. The story depicts the daily life of Algerian intellectuals in
the 1990s. Throughout the story, intellectuals like Tahar Djaout, the
francophone writer, as well asmany others are remembered. At the end,
the playwright is killed but the group of actors swear to perform the
play as an act of defiance against the terrorists.

The third film
was El Manara by Belkacem Hadjadj. The film revolves around three
characters, namely: Fawzi, Ramdan and Asma, who have been friends since
childhood. The two men and the woman lead a happy life in the old city
of Cherchell. Their relationship is complex; it includes a combination
of friendship and romantic love. Their world is shaken and slowly torn
apart as they become overwhelmed by events around them: the popular
riots of 1988, the military heavy-handed response to the riots, the
initiation of the democratic process and its abrupt dissolution, and
then the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The abduction of two female
characters and their rape constitute the climax of the story and reveal
the systematic sexual violence against women. Alongside the theme of
violence, the film tackles the issue of the ‘new’ Islamic concepts which
started to make their way in the Algerian society, such as the
abolition of festivities such as the celebration of the prophet’s
birthday, known as El Manara festivity, aiming to highlight the
foreignness of this ‘new Islam’.

The audience was mostly
victims/survivors of terrorism, who were crying and shouting out phrases
in approval throughout the films. “Yes, it was like that during the
nineties!” would be heard in the room. The survivors were happy that
those films were produced. “These films say what we cannot express, they
document to the coming generation what we have seen and above all, help
us feel a sense of belonging to a group, particularly that the official
narratives do not recognise that the 1990s existed,” one of the
survivors said. During the debate, the film makers said that their works
were not shown on national television. Similar voices were heard on the
second day of the conference. Voices which called for remembering of
victims and, most importantly, calling for justice to take place.  All
of the survivors, with no exception, stressed that they were against the
Amnesty Law (1999, 2005) and that they want to bring to justice the
perpetrators.

Mr. Ali Bouguettaya, President of the National
Coordination of Resistance, talked about their role in restoring
security, particularly in the villages most badly hit by terrorism. He
mentioned that 5000 paramilitary men (patriotes, also called Civil
Defence) died and 11000 were left handicapped. In his testimony, Mr.
Farid Asslaoui, a retired official who worked closely with the victims
of terrorism, referred to nine magistrates killed on the same day, as
well as intellectuals (he cites Djilali El Yabes), journalists (e.g.,
Tahar Djaout) and many others. He adds that it was not possible to go to
their families to pay tributes for fear of being identified by the
terrorists.  As for rape, he classifies it in terms of space and time,
in other words, where and when it happened.

Dr. Amira Bouraoui, a
doctor and an activist discussed how she lived the Black Decade as a
child and as a daughter of a doctor who worked in the military hospital
of Ain Naadja. She described the daily atrocities she and many of her
generation had witnessed. Prof. Cherifa Bouatta, an academic and a
psychologist worked closely with survivors throughout the Black Decade,
and explained her role as someone who had not only witnessed the
atrocities but also as a professional known to most of the survivors in
the room.  In a moving testimony, Fatima Zahra Keddar described how her
brother, sister and mother were shot in the family home. Similalry, Ms
Nadjia Bouzeghrane, a journalist who was exiled to France described her
feeling of being away from her loved ones and hearing news about the
death of colleagues and people she left behind.  Prof. Fadhila
Boumendjel-Chitour, founding member of Réseau Wassila, and niece of the
martyr Boumendjel, stressed the need to mend the social linkages and
rebuild the collective memory. Mr. Mohamed Boudiaf, the son of the late
president Boudiaf also talked bitterly about the assassination of his
father and condemned the terrorists who “have no relation to Islam” as
he says.  

What was clear from the event is the determination of
the participants to continue their battle towards justice. Moreover, it
shows the strong bonds between survivors, professionals such as
psychologists, jurists, activists and doctors as a product of a long
lasting combat by people who share similar memories. These men and women
from different backgrounds and political opinions came together in
opposition to the president’s charter for peace and reconciliation.
Djazairouna represents the place to remember, to mourn and to get
support. Through it they launch their call to make the 1st of November
their day of remembrance too, a day that unites all Algerians and
symbolises the fight against colonialism and terrorism at the same time,
a day which denounces violence and puts forward notions of humanism.
_________________
Anissa
Daoudi is a lecturer in Arabic and Translation Studies at the
University of Birmingham. She is head of the Arabic section and
specialist in the Translation Studies (Arabic-English-Arabic) programme.
She recently won the Leverhulme Fellowship for her project: narrating
and translating sexual violence in Algeria in the 1990s.

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