Erdogan rebuked again by Algeria on exploitation of French colonial past

The Turkish leader faced similar Algerian backlash in 2011.
Wednesday 05/02/2020
Not for exploitation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan laying a wreath to Martyrs' Memorial in Algiers, January 26. (AFP)
Not for exploitation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan laying a wreath to Martyrs' Memorial in Algiers, January 26. (AFP)

TUNIS - Algeria delivered a stinging rebuke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his attempt at exploiting the painful memories of the 132-year-long French colonial rule in the North African country.

Trying awkwardly to counter the criticism by French President Emanuel Macron France of Turkey’s military intervention Libya and the historical accounts of massacres of Armenians by Ottomans, Erdogan quoted Algerian President Abdelmejhid Tebboune as assailing France’s colonial record.

“Algeria is astonished by statements of Turkey’s president over an historic issue involving Algeria,” said the Algerian Foreign Ministry.

Erdogan claimed that  Tebboune told him during a closed-door session in Algiers, January 26, that a total of 5 million Algerians perished in massacres during France’s occupation of Algeria (1830-1962).

“The Algerian president told me that the French had massacred 5 million people. I told him ‘if you send me the documents about these massacres, we will be happy to receive them,’” said Erdogan.

“We have known all along that millions of Algerians had been killed but I would have never imagined their numbers totalled 5 million,” added Erdogan.

Algeria’s Foreign Ministry said, “the words attributed to President Abdelmajid Tebboune were lifted out of their context.”

It is the second time that Algeria has taken to task Erdogan for his insensitive exploitation of the gruesome memories of French colonisation.

Erdogan had raised French colonial legacy in Algeria in 2011 when he was Turkey’s prime minister after France’s parliament passed a law imposing stiff penalties on any person in France who denies the genocide of Armenians by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1917.

“It is estimated that 15% of the Algerian population was massacred by the French since 1945. It is genocide,” Erdogan has said then.

Erdogan added as he addressed the French president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy: "If the French president does not know that a genocide occurred in Algeria, he can ask his father, Pal Sarkozy, who was a legionary in Algeria during the 1940s.”

“I’m certain that he (Pal Sarkozy) has many things to tell his son about the massacres carried out by the French in Algeria,” Erdogan had added.

The Algerian government reacted angrily then to Erdogan’s delving in the country's history and reminded him that Turkey was a NATO ally of France during Algeria’s bloody war of independence.

“No person has the right to use the blood of Algerians as his business asset. Turkey was a NATO member during the independence war of Algeria and it is now a member of that military bloc,” it said.

“Turkey lent its military resources to France for its war against Algerians. This included the bombs dropped on Algeria and the bullets fired on Algerians,” the government added.

Lasting resentment is still running high among nationalists in the Maghreb against Turkey whose colonisation of the region for four centuries of Ottoman rule drained the North African countries of their social and economic energies and left them by the 19th century an easy prey to Western colonial powers.

But Turkey’s today’s political, military and economic role in the Maghreb finds strong support among the region’s Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and their sympathisers as they see Ankara as offering the hope of the revival of an Islamic Caliphate.

Analysts said Erdogan stumbled again last month on the issue of France’s colonial past despite Algeria’s strong reaction nine years ago. The Turkish president seems to have miscalculated that he would get away with it this time amid frosty ties between  Tebboune and French president Macron after the latter’s failure to congratulate the Algerian leader after his election December 12. But the words flew back on his face.

“The complex issues of memories are tied to sacred national values and evoke exceptional sensitivities for the Algerian people.  Such words (of Erdogan) do not serve the efforts deployed by Algeria and France to resolve the questions related to past legacies,” said the  Algerian Foreign Ministry in its rebuke of Erdogan.

In venturing into the treacherous territory of Algerian-French history, Erdogan also did not take into consideration Macron’s gigantic efforts towards making amends to Algerians towards appeasing the tormented memories of both nations. Macron was the first French president to shred some of the colonial period’s veil of secrecy when he officially acknowledged for the first time that the French state had carried out systematic torture during Algeria’s independence war.

Macron admitted France‘s responsibility for the torture and killing of a communist activist in Algeria in 1957 during the Battle of Algiers. Maurice Audin, 25, was working as a mathematician at the University of Algiers when he was arrested in 1957 and disappeared.

Macron said Audin had either been tortured to death or tortured and executed during French colonial rule.

The French president jolted French society and angered the right and far-right political groups by comparing France’s brutal war against Algerian independence fighters and the repression of past memories to the experience of the Holocaust.

Macron referred to the savage seven-year-long independence war of Algeria that ended in 1962 saying last month that “the Algerian War is today absent from our political memory and the subject of a conflict of memories like the Holocaust was.”

“We don’t talk about this. We crush it,” he added in an allusion to the cover-up of France’s war crimes during its colonial era of Algeria.

Erdogan accused Macron of ignoring the past horrors of colonisation.

“Of course, the French carried out massacres not only in Algeria but also in Rwanda. Several countries in North Africa experienced similar French massacres during their history. The French President Emmanuel Macron does know that,” said Erdogan.

Erdogan eventually found himself pitted in a tussle with Marcon over Turkey’s intervention to back the Islamists in Libya in their conflict with the Libyan National Army.

Macron criticised  Turkey's actions in Libya that include the dispatching of Syrian mercenaries and weapons.  "We have seen during these last days Turkish warships accompanied by Syrian mercenaries arrive on Libyan soil. This is an explicit and serious infringement of what was agreed in Berlin. It's a broken promise,” Macron said January 29.

It is the second time that Erdogan has been rebuked in the Maghreb. According to media reports, Tunisian President Kais Saied refused a request by the Turkish leaders to allow him the use of Tunisian territory in order to intervene militarily in Libya.