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Title: Harkis  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Algeria, Charles de Gaulle, Demographics of France, Algerian War, Auxiliaries, Immigration to France, Tirailleur, Colonial troops, Georges Frêche, Military history of Algeria
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Harki (adjective from the Arabic harka, standard Arabic haraka حركة, "war party" or "movement", i.e., a group of volunteers, especially soldiers) is the generic term for Muslim Algerian loyalists who served as Auxiliaries in the French Army during the Algerian War from 1954 to 1962. The phrase sometimes extends to cover all Algerian Muslims who supported the French presence in Algeria during this war. In France, the term is used to designate the Franco-musulmans rapatriés ("repatriated French Muslims") community living in the country since 1962, and its metropolitan born descendants. In this sense, the term Harki now refers to a distinct ethnocultural group, i.e. French Muslims, distinct from other French of Algerian origin or Algerians living in France.

As of 2012, the harkis and their descendants represent around 800,000 people in France.[1]

On April 14, 2012, President Nicolas Sarkozy recognized France's "historical responsibility" in abandoning Harki Algerian veterans.[2]

Before the Algerian conflict

Algerian Muslim regular soldiers had served in large numbers with the French "Armée d'Afrique" (Army of Africa) from 1830 as spahis (cavalry) and tirailleurs (lit. skirmisher, i.e. infantry). They played an important part during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and World War I (1914–1918).

During World War II, after the rearmament of the French Army accomplished by the US forces in North Africa in 1942–1943, North African troops serving with the French Army numbered about 233,000 (more than 50% of the French Army effectives). They made a major contribution during the liberation of Southern France and the campaigns in Italy (French Expeditionary Corps) and Germany of 1944–45.

Tirailleurs from Algeria, Morocco and West Africa fought in Indochina, as part of the French Expeditionary Force, until the Fall of Dien Bien Phu (1954).

During the Algerian War

With the outbreak of the Algerian War that same year, the loyalty of the Algerian Muslim soldiers to France inevitably came under heavy strain and some of the regular units were transferred from Algeria to France or Germany, following increased incidences of desertion or small-scale mutiny. As a partial replacement, the French administration recruited the Harkis as irregular militia based in their home villages or towns throughout Algeria. Initially raised as self-defence units, the Harkis, from 1956 on, increasingly served alongside the French Army in the field. They were lightly armed (often only with shotguns), but their knowledge of local terrain and conditions made them valuable auxiliaries to French regular units.

According to General R. Hure,[3] there were by 1960 approximately 150,000 Muslim Algerians serving in the French Army or as auxiliaries. In addition to volunteers and conscripts serving in regular units, this total took into account 95,000 Harkis (including 20,000 in separate mokhazni district forces and 15,000 in commando de chasse tracking units). It was a recurring claim by the French authorities that more Algerian Muslims were serving with their forces than with those of the nationalist Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). According to US Army data, possibly compiled at a different date, the Harkis numbered about 180,000, more than total FLN effectives.[4] According to recent research by General Faivre, there were by 1961 about 210,000 Muslim Algerians serving in the French Army or as auxiliaries and a maximum of 50,000 in the FLN.[5]

Harkis were used as guerrilla style units, though mostly in conventional formations. Harkis served either in all-Algerian units commanded by French officers or in mixed units. Other uses included platoon or below sized units attached to French battalions. A third use involved Harkis in intelligence gathering roles, with some reported minor pseudo-operations in support of intelligence collection.[6]

The motives of the Harkis were mixed. The FLN targeted both collaborators and rival nationalist groups and some Algerians enrolled in the Harkis to avenge the deaths of relatives. Others were defectors from the FLN rebel forces, who had been persuaded by one means or another to change sides. A major source was from families or other groups who had traditionally given service to France. Others presumably supported Algeria's union with France over independence out of simple preference. From the viewpoint of Algerian nationalists, all were traitors. However, at independence, guarantees were given by both signatories of the March 1962 cease fire ("Accords d'Evian" signed by France and the Algerian FLN), that no one, Harkis or Pieds-Noirs (Algerian-born Europeans with French nationality) would suffer reprisals after independence for any action during the war.

After the war

In 1962, orders were initially given by the French government of Charles de Gaulle to officials and army officers to prevent the Harkis from following the example of the Pieds-Noirs and seeking refuge in Metropolitan France. However, some officers of the French army disobeyed and tried to assist the Harkis under their command, as well as their families, to escape from Algeria. On the other hand, the OAS far-right terrorist group initiated a campaign of bombings following the Evian Accords, and tried to block the Pieds-Noirs population from leaving the country. About 91,000 Harkis (including family members) were able to find refuge in France. As feared, there were widespread reprisals against those who remained in Algeria. It is estimated that at least 30,000 and possibly as many as 150,000[7] Harkis and their dependants were killed by the National Liberation Front (FLN) or by lynch mobs in Algeria, sometimes in circumstances of extreme cruelty.[8] In A Savage War Of Peace Alistair Horne writes: "Hundreds died when put to work clearing the minefields along the Morice Line, or were shot out of hand. Others were tortured atrociously; army veterans were made to dig their own tombs, then swallow their decorations before being killed; they were burned alive, or castrated, or dragged behind trucks, or cut to pieces and their flesh fed to dogs. Many were put to death with their entire families, including young children."

By contrast, regular Muslim troops (who had the option of continuing to serve in the French Army) were only occasionally subject to reprisals. Some leaders of the new Algerian Republic were themselves veterans of the French Army, which had prior to independence provided one of the few avenues for advancement open to the Muslim majority.

The French government of the time, concerned mainly with disengagement from Algeria and the repatriation of the Pieds-Noirs, disregarded or downplayed news of these killings. Charles de Gaulle himself appears to have been indifferent to the plight of the Muslim loyalists, according to Alistair Horne remarking to one of their spokesmen "Eh bien! vous souffrirez" ("Well then—you will suffer"). Nothing had been planned for the Harkis, and the government refused to formally recognize their right to stay in France for some years. They were kept out of sight in "temporary" internment camps surrounded by barbed wire, such as the Joffre Camp in Rivesaltes (outside of Perpignan) and in "chantiers de forestage"—communities of 30 Harki families on the outskirts of forests that the men maintained. The French government has since enacted various measures to help the Harki community (notably the 1994 Romani law and the 2005 Mekachera law); however, as the Harki community claims, these laws are often too little, too late.

Recently, the French government of Jacques Chirac has acknowledged these former allies and public ceremonies have been held to commemorate their sacrifices, such as the September 25, 2001 Day of National Recognition for the Harkis. There are hundreds of active Harki associations in France working to obtain further recognition for what is still a somewhat neglected and unassimilated refugee minority. For its part, the Algerian government still does not recognize the Harkis as French citizens and has not permitted them to visit their birth places and members of their families left behind in Algeria.

Harkis are often considered in France as "Français par le sang versé" ("French by spilled blood").[9][10]

Since Algerian independence, "Harki" has been used as a derogatory expression within Algeria, or amongst some of the Franco-Algerian community, equating to "collaborator". However, according to Algerian historian Mohammed Harbi, a former FLN member, comparison between harkis and traitors or "collaborators" is not pertinent as, according to him, fighters during the Algerian War and those who opposed the French resistance to collaborators cannot be compared.[11]

Other references

During the Algerian Civil War of 1991–2002 the Islamic fundamentalist insurgents used "harkis" as an abusive term for government police and soldiers.[12]

In 2006, French politician Georges Frêche incurred controversy after telling a group of Harkis in Montpellier that they were "subhumans". He later claimed he had been referring to a specific individual in the crowd, but was fined 15,000 Euros for the statement. Frêche was later excluded from the Socialist Party for his verbal attacks.[13]

Harkis should not be confused with the Évolués, which in this context refers to the sub-group of Francized Algerians (it also refers to similar groups in other colonial possessions). Here, the term Évolué indicates an Algerian or North African who assimilated closely to French culture through education, government service, language and so on. The Harkis by contrast, were mostly culturally Algerian, speaking limited French, and largely indistinguishable from the majority of ordinary Algerians except for their service in French auxiliary military units. While many of the Évolués migrated to France during the Algerian Revolution or at independence in 1962, some remained in independent Algeria after 1962 and even rose to positions of prominence, such as the former President, Ferhat Abbas.

See also

Algeria portal



  • A Savage War of Peace: Alistair Horne 1978 ISBN 0-670-61964-7
  • The Algerian Insurrection 1954–62: Edgar O'Ballance 1967
  • The Algerian War 1954–62: Martin Windrow ISBN 1-85532-658-2
  • Fatima Besnaci-Lancou, Benoit Falaize et Gilles Manceron (dir.), Les harkis, Histoire, mémoire et transmission, préface de Philippe Joutard, Ed. de l'Atelier, septembre 2010.
  • Fatima Besnaci-Lancou et Gilles Manceron (dir.), Les harkis dans la colonisation et ses suites, préface de Jean Lacouture, Ed. de l'Atelier, février 2008.
  • Fatima Besnaci-Lancou et Abderahmen Moumen, Les harkis, éd. Le cavalier bleu, collection Idées reçues, août 2008.
  • Isabelle Clarke, Daniel Costelle et Mickaël Gamrasni, La blessure, la tragédie des harkis, Ed. Acropole, septembre 2010.
  • Tom Charbit, Les harkis, Edition La découverte, Collection Repères, mars 2006.
  • Vincent Crapanzano, The Harkis :The wounds that never heals, pub. University Of Chicago Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-226-11876-5.
  • Guy Pervillé, Le Drame des harkis, revue Histoire, avril 1988
  • Jean-Jacques Jordi, La Réécriture de l'Histoire, actes du colloque du Centre universitaire méditerranéen de Nice, 1998.
  • Mohand Hamoumou, Et ils sont devenus harkis, éd. Fayard, 1994 (réédité en 2001, épuisé).
  • Mohand Hamoumou et Jean-Jacques Jordi, Les Harkis, une mémoire enfouie, Autrement, 1999.
  • Elise Langelier, La situation juridique des Harkis (1962–2007), préface d'Emmanuel Aubin, éd. de l'Université de Poitiers, collection de la Faculté de Droit et des Sciences sociales de Poitiers, décembre 2009.
  • Régis Pierret, Les filles et fils de harkis – Entre double rejet et triple appartenance, préface de Michel Wieviorka, Éditions L'Harmattan, Collection : Espaces interculturels, décembre 2008.
  • Michel Roux, Les harkis, les oubliés de l'histoire, éd. la découverte, 1991.
  • Abderahmen Moumen, Les Français musulmans en Vaucluse 1962–1991, Installation et difficultés d'intégration d'une communauté de rapatriés d'Algérie, Editions L'Harmattan, Collection Histoires et perspectives méditerranéennes, juillet 2003.

External links

  • Review of Le silence des harkis
  • Letter of the FLN to the Harkis
  • (French) : AJIR association (Association Justice Information Réparation pour les harkis).
  • (French) : "Harkis et droits de l'homme" Association.
  • (French) "Coalition nationale des harkis et des associations de harkis".
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