Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Algeria's Bloody Years

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Algeria's Bloody Years

Article excerpt

Algeria's Bloody Years. A film directed by Malek Bensmafl, produced by Patrice Barrat with the BBC. New York: First Run/Icarus Films, 2003. Color, 59 minutes. $390; $75 rental.

The documentary "Algeria's Bloody Years" chronicles the history of that nation since 1988, focusing primarily on the violent civil conflict between government forces and armed Islamic fundamentalist groups that has killed more than 100,000 Algerians since 1992. The documentary's real strength lies in its mix of shockingly honest interviews with army generals and the leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), brutally graphic scenes of the aftermath of massacres in tiny villages,1 and archival footage of such crucial turning points in the nation's history as the assassination of President Boudiaf, which was televised live throughout the country in June 1992. This triple-pronged approach allows director Malek Bensma'il to recount Algeria's complex recent history quickly and powerfully. In the span of a few minutes he traces the beginnings of the violence triggered by the army's suppression of massive labor strikes in 1988, the rise in popularity of the fundamentalist FIS party during the brief period of relative freedom from 1988 to 1991, and the military's cancellation of national elections and assumption of power in 1992, once FIS victory at the polls seemed inevitable.

The bulk of the film details the rise of competing armed guerilla fundamentalist groups, who quickly turned from the targeted assassination of policemen and soldiers to the killing of pro-democracy journalists, intellectuals, and white-collar professionals and then to the wide-scale massacre of common villagers throughout rural Algeria in attempts to ensure local loyalties. In addition Bensma'il depicts the military's equally brutal record of indiscriminate arrests, torture, and vengeful reprisals. Finally, "Algeria's Bloody Years" recounts the death of the vestiges of democracy during the 1990s-a decade when military generals working through the puppet civilian government ruled by decree, without regard for the constitution and only the slightest pretense of legality. Throughout the film, interviews highlight the intransigence of key figures on both sides of the fight, as well as the tragic impotence of the millions of average Algerians caught in the middle. Interview clips include Minister of Defense General Khalid Nezzar's unrepentant contention that there was "no alternative" to the army's shooting of several hundred labor protesters in 1988, and exiled FIS leader Mourad Dina's explanation that "intellectuals of the left should have the courage of their convictions: they should say 'we are at war and some of us will pay with our lives'" when asked about the fundamentalist group's assassinations of Algerian journalists, doctors, and university professors. …

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