Léopold Lambert – Paris on May 22, 2017
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In my current research about the architecture of the five states of emergency declared by the French State since 1955, the October 17, 1961 massacre that occurred in Paris towards the end of the Algerian Revolution is a key event. One thing strikes in the (disproportionally small) memorialization that is made of this event every year: the supposed spatial and temporal punctuality of its occurrence. According to the main narrative, the scenes of extreme violence of French police officers throwing Algerians into the Seine River happened around the Place Saint-Michel at the very center of Paris and manifested itself in the “hot-blooded” moment of suppression of massive demonstrations. What further research reveals on the contrary, is that this massacre occurred in a multiplicity of spatialities and temporalities. This is what this series of maps using aerial imagery of the time (plus/minus 3 years) attempts to illustrate in its descriptions of this event in a similar fashion to the one I had drawn to address the relationship between the city’s physicality and the bloody annihilation of the Paris Commune in 1871 (see these maps here).
In order to understand this event, some historical context is necessary: in 1961, the revolution led by the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) that aims at decolonizing Algeria is seven years old. Initiated in Algiers’ Casbah (see previous post), the decolonial movement spread to the rest of Algeria, as well as in large French cities, where an important amount of Algerians live (350,000 in 1962). Although several administrative institutions dedicated specifically to North Africans residing and working in France have been created throughout time by the French State — see Policing Paris: The Origins of Modern Immigration Control Between the Wars by Clifford Rosenberg (Cornell, 2006) for an account of the 1920s and 1930s in particular — Algerians in France are not administratively considered as colonial subjects, and were virtually entitled to the same rights than any other French citizen, Algeria being considered as a part of France. In reality, the job and housing segregation is manifest, and the police, in particular the Paris one, practices racial profiling on a daily basis. The Brigade des Nord-Africains (BNA) that explicitly targeted North Africans and had provided auxiliary officers to the Gestapo during the occupation (1940-1944) was dissolved in 1945 but, in 1953, a new branch of the Paris police is created to operate on the same logic: the Brigade des Agressions et Violences (BAV). Racial profiling as a colonial and counter-insurrection tactic is never made more explicit than when on October 5, 1961, a curfew solely implemented on Algerians is declared by the Seine (Paris metropolitan area) Prefecture of Police.
One character is central, not only to the October 17, 1961 massacre, but more generally of the French state’s history of violence from the 1940s to the 1980s: Maurice Papon. During the Nazi occupation of France (1940-1944), Papon occupied the position of General Secretary of the Bordeaux Prefecture and, as such, he facilitated the deportation of 1,600 Jews from the South of France to the camp of Drancy (Paris banlieue), before they were eventually deported to Auschwitz. His trial for his participation to the Holocaust only happened in 1998 and, after France’s Liberation, Papon was given numerous executive responsibilities all connected to French colonialism and counter-insurgency — as such, we can think of him as a historical alter ego to Robert Bugeaud (often cited on this blog), who has been active on the counter-insurrection and colonial front both in France and Algeria in the 1830s and 1840s:
– 1945: charged of the vice-direction of Algeria at the Ministry of the Interior.
– 1946: takes part in the Interministry Commission on the French West Indies.
– 1949: is named Prefect of Constantine (Algeria) for the first time.
– 1951: occupies the position of General Secretary of the Paris Prefecture of Police
– 1954: is named General Secretary of the Morocco Protectorate
– 1956: returns to Constantine as IGAME (Prefect with extraordinary powers) to lead the counter-insurrection against decolonial movements in the Northeastern part of Algeria. In 1956 and 1957, records attests of the killing of 18,316 “rebels” [sic] by the French colonial police and army, as well as 117,000 people “regrouped” in camps — see Fabien Sacriste’s text about these camps in the Aurès in The Funambulist 10 Architecture and Colonialism.
In 1958, the FLN in Paris is particularly active in its clandestine political organizing, raising and transferring funds — with the help of French “suitcase carriers” about whom I’d like to write in the near future — also regularly carrying assassinations of its opponents, Algerians they consider as “traitors,” and French police officers. On March 13, 1958, police officers demonstrate in front of the French Parliament to demand more latitude and immunity in their job; the next day, Papon is named Prefect of the Seine and is charged of annihilating the action of the FLN in the Paris metropolitan area, strengthen by his training in counter-insurrectional tactics and practices from his experience cited above. As shown on maps 3 and 4 below, on August 28, 1958, Papon organizes massive rounds up of Algerians that result in the detention of 5,000 of them, including in the infamous indoor velodrome, the “Vel d’Hiv,” where on July 17, 1942, 12,884 Jews had been rounded up before being deported to Auschwitz. In January 1959, Papon creates the Centre d’Identification de Vincennes (CIV) where Algerians can be legally “assigned to residence” [sic] without trials (see map 18 below). In March 1961, he creates a new branch of police under his direct orders: the Force de Police Auxiliaire, composed of harkis (Algerian volunteers in the French police and army in France and Algeria). These officers are given the biggest latitude in their suppression of the FLN and many Algerians suspected to have ties with the decolonial organization — given that the FLN was intimidating recalcitrant Algerians to pay the revolutionary tax, this means almost every Algerians — are arbitrarily arrested and tortured in police stations and other buildings’ basements (see maps 5, 6, and 7 below). Some of those tortured are later thrown into the Seine River, months before the October 17, 1961 massacre, now associated with this atrocious practice.
Although the references I have been using for this article (see below) are quite precise and comprehensive in the descriptions of the October 17, 1961 massacre and its historical context, they surprisingly fail to indicate an important contextual element: on April 21, 1961, four generals of the French colonial army in Algeria, Maurice Challe, Edmond Jouhaud, Raoul Salan, and André Zeller, attempt a coup against the President, Charles De Gaulle, who is negotiating the Algerian independence with the Temporary Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA). On April 23, the state of emergency is declared in France and on April 26, the generals are arrested and the coup is effectively a failure. The state of emergency however remains operative to prevent other attempts of the kind, or terrorist actions by the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS) in favor of French Algeria. Although this state of emergency that lasts until October 9, 1962 (one month after the Independence of Algeria) is not oriented against Algerians in essence, it makes only little doubt that the extra executive powers it legally allows has a lot to do with the way Papon acts in the second part of 1961.
As mentioned above, one particular measure of exception taken by Papon consists in a curfew specifically targeting Algerians on October 5, 1961. This measure motivates the FLN in France to organize massive demonstrations in Paris on October 17. All Algerian men are asked to join the demonstrations unarmed — any person found with a knife risks to be severely punished by the FLN — in the center of Paris in evening in order to form three corteges protesting the curfew in particular, and French colonialism in general. What the maps above and below attempt to demonstrate is the difficulty for Algerians living and working in Paris’ banlieues to access the center of the city in order to join these demonstrations — and here a broader point can be made about Paris’ segregating centrality still operative today as regularly discussed here. Bridges and subways stations are particular sites of violence, as their narrowness allows a tight and systematic control by the police (see maps 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 below). On many of them, Algerians are arrested, systematically beaten with batons, and even sometimes shot and thrown in the Seine River (see maps below for more details). Although, Papon is not known to have given direct orders for the massacre to occur, he was in present in the command room of the Prefecture of Police, only meters away from the bloodbath of Saint-Michel (see map 12), and the absence of any order to prevent the violence and killings, as well as the false rumors on police radio that some officers had been killed by Algerians, makes him the effective responsible commander of the massacre — something for which he will never be prosecuted.
This is even truer when one looks beyond the “hot-blooded” murderous suppression of the demonstrations. Later that night, and in the following days, systematic beating and even killings continue in the improvised detention centers of various sizes — the largest ones being the indoor State de Coubertin (1,800 detained, see map 16), the Parc des Expositions (6,600 detained, see map 17), and the CIV itself (860 detained, see map 18) — and in the police operations on bridges at the gates of Paris (see map 19), and against the demonstrations of Algerian women and children organized by the FLN on October 20 (see map 21).
The figures of Algerians killed or injured this dreadful week of October 1961 are still unclear, in particular because of the way the Police archive have been accommodated to reflect a much lower number of casualties than reality — some people who had been killed were on the list of people deported to Algeria — but it is estimated that from 200 to 300 Algerians were killed by bullets and/or in detention, and that from 70 to 84 additional ones were killed after having being thrown in the Seine River. These deaths took years to be acknowledged, on the contrary of the nine victims of the February 8, 1962 massacre, killed by Papon’s police at the Charonne subway station during large demonstrations of French people against the OAS and the suppression of Algerians. These nine French people were members of the main worker union (CGT) and of the Communist Party and they were commemorated by 500,000 people in the streets of Paris four days later, thus contrasting with the absence of massive protest following the massacre of Algerians. Finally, in 2001, a memorializing plaque is set up in Saint-Michel to commemorate the “memory of the numerous Algerians killed in the bloody suppression of the pacific demonstration of October 17, 1961.” As often when it comes to the memorialization of colonial crimes in France, those responsible are not directly cited making it a crime with no criminals and, as explained at the beginning of this article, such a narrative also significantly reduces the spatial and temporal scope of the massacre itself. For this reason, one might value more another official plaque setup in Saint-Denis (Paris banlieue) in 2007: “On October 17, 1961, during the Algerian War, thirty thousand Algerian men and women of the Paris region pacifically demonstrated against the curfew that was imposed on them. This movement was brutally suppressed on the order of the Prefect of Paris. Demonstrators were killed by bullets, hundreds of men and women were thrown into the Seine River and thousands were beaten and imprisoned. Dead bodies were found in the Canal Saint-Denis. Against racism and forgetting, for democracy and human rights, this plaque has been inaugurated by Mayor of Saint-Denis Didier Paillard on March 21, 2007.” Nevertheless, here again, the broader context of colonialism remains shut, illustrating one more time that France has never fully engaged with the structurally racist and colonial violence of its past, let alone of its present, which operates in the direct continuity of this violence.
More than 27% of France’s current population was alive in 1961, and many actors of the October 17 massacre, Algerian demonstrators and French police officers, still carry its memory, its traumatic wounds (for the former) and its immune responsibility (for the latter). History often forgets to mention the way perpetrators and victims have to live together in societies indifferent to (if not in denial of) the violence of the way their relation came to be. In this regard, the genealogy of this violence is not solely perpetuated through family generations, but also through the racialization of French society ruled and controlled by an overwhelmingly white political class and police — the Brigade Anti-Criminalité (BAC) created in 1971 from the colonial logics of the BNA and the BAV, and particularly active in the banlieues, is the most blatant example — and, at the other end of the spectrum, racialized subjects whose lives are often territorially, socially, and economically segregated from their privileged counterparts. Paris being a city that did not structurally changed since the second part of the 19th century, the weaponized spatiality showed on the maps above and below remains fully operative today.
REFERENCES USED IN THE MAKING OF THE MAPS ///
– Jean-Luc Einaudi, La bataille de Paris, Seuil, 1991. — In 1999, Einaudi was sued by Papon for defamation. After presenting his extensive research to the court, he won his trial.
– Linda Amiri, La bataille de France, Laffont, 2004.
– Mathieu Rigouste, “The Colonial Genealogy of the French Police,” in The Funambulist 8 (Nov-Dec 2016) Police.
– Laurent Maffre and Monique Hervo, Demain, Demain, Actes Sud BD, 2012
– Jacques Panijel, Octobre à Paris (film), 1962.