Algerian minister denies NYT' 'skulls claims', promises 'more details' soon

Algerian minister denies NYT' 'skulls claims', promises 'more details' soon
NYT said only six of the skulls returned to Algeria were clearly identified as those of resistance fighters, with the rest belonging to imprisoned thieves and three Algerian infantrymen who served in the French Army.

3 min read
26 October, 2022
"This noise is just targeting the Algerian state," said the minister as he promised reporters of further explanation in the upcoming days. [Getty]

Algeria's minister of veterans of the Liberation Revolution Eid Rabiqa denied mistakes had occurred in identifying the skulls of Algerian fighters received from Paris last year, in the first official response to the New York Times' investigation.

"The identification of the skulls of the Algerian fighters before they were transferred from France to Algeria was carried out according to recognized scientific standards and at the highest level," the minister told reporters on Monday evening.

"This noise is just targeting the Algerian state," added Rabiqa as he promised reporters of further explanation in the upcoming days.

Last week, the New York-based newspaper shared an exclusive investigation titled "France Returned 24 Skulls to Algeria. They Weren't What They Seemed."

In 2020, Algeria received 24 skulls of resistance fighters who were decapitated during colonial France's conquest of the North African country and had been lying in storage at the Museum of Man in Paris for 150 years.

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Both nations celebrated the gesture as a milestone in their efforts to rebuild ties.

According to NYT, only six of the skulls returned were clearly identified as those of resistance fighters, the rest belong to imprisoned thieves and three Algerian infantrymen who served in the French Army.

Besides being handed over to Algeria, all the skulls have reportedly remained France's property, added the US newspaper.

In a statement to the Times, Paris' Foreign Ministry said that the list of the returned skulls had been "approved by the two parties," while Algeria refused to comment at the time.

As the skull scandal remains open to different theories, several historians are pointing out that the restitution of the 24 skulls, whether or not they belong to "resisters" sheds light on "the horrors of the French colonisation."

"How to distinguish between the conscious anti-colonial political resistance fighter, killed with arms in hand, and the bandit opposed to colonisation? The boundary between the two is extremely thin," Benjamin Stora, a French historian and the author of the report on the memory of colonisation and the war in Algeria, told the French daily La Libération.

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For its part, the Algerian website Jeune Indépendant quoted an expert "who has worked on this file," saying that the skulls in question were catalogued and well identified, adding that the New York Times article "is full of approximations."

Nevertheless, the historical dilemma might cast a shadow on the delicate Franco-Algerian relationship and revive mistrust between the states, according to le Matine d'Algérie media.

More than a century of colonisation horrors has always intoxicated the post-independence Algerian ties with Paris, especially as the latter insists there were 'both sides' to violence in its history of colonisation in the country.   

President Macron's leaked comments on "the rewritten Algerian history", which he claimed aims to seed "hate against France" and put salt on Algerian's open wounds, driving the North African state to cut ties diplomatic with Paris.

Since the start of this year, Macron's administration has been endeavouring to open a new page with its former colony, built on a common understanding and constructive conversations of the countries' shared history.

Paris does not hide its hopes of benefitting from the friendship of Algeria, a country with 159 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves (2017), in ending France's energy crisis.