France returns ‘skulls’ of Algerian freedom fighters who died while resisting French occupation in 19th century

In 2011, Algerian researcher and historian Ali Farid Belkadi located the skulls at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris.

France has returned the skulls of 24 Algerian freedom fighters who died while resisting the French occupation of the North African Muslim nation in the 19th century.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune stated the move on Thursday, and the remains arrived in the Algerian capital, Algiers, on Friday afternoon.

France colonized Algeria from 1830, after capturing it from the Ottoman Empire, until its independence in 1962, after a seven-year war. Still, resistance to the occupation flared up on countless occasions throughout France’s occupation.

Among the remains were those of resistance leader Sheikh Bouzian, the skull of resistance leader Mohammed Lamjad ben Abdelmalek alias Cherif Boubaghla, and the allies of Emir Abdelkader, an Islamic preacher who led a group of tribesmen in a long struggle against French forces.

L’émir Abdelkader in 1852, one of the people decapitated. © AFP

The 24 freedom fighters fought French colonial forces who occupied Algeria in 1830 and took part in an 1849 resistance. After they were decapitated, their skulls and remains were taken to France as trophies.

In 2011, Algerian researcher and historian Ali Farid Belkadi located the skulls at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, across from the Eiffel Tower, and alerted Algerian authorities.

The researcher campaigned for years for their return, and Algeria’s then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika finally launched the formal repatriation request.

French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged in 2018, but bureaucratic obstacles delayed the return until now.

The remains were on public display at the Palace of Culture in the capital on Saturday, and they will be buried in a special funeral east of Algiers on Sunday – the 58th anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France after a bloody war.

In tears, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune presided over Friday’s ceremony, alongside the heads of both houses of Parliament and top military officials.

Historians welcomed the return of the remains, yet say they are just part of Algeria’s history that is still in French hands.

“We have recovered part of our memory,” historian Mohamed El Korso said.

“But the fight must pursue, until the recovery of all the remains of the freedom fighters, which number in the hundreds, and the archives of our revolution.”

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