Harki (adjective from the Arabic harka, standard Arabic haraka حركة, "war party" or "movement", i.e., a group of volunteers, especially soldiers) is the generic term for native Muslim Algerians who served as auxiliaries in the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962. The word sometimes applies to all Algerian Muslims who supported French Algeria during the war. The motives for enlisting in the Harkis were mixed. They are regarded as traitors in Algeria and thousands were killed after the war in reprisals despite the Évian Accords ceasefire and amnesty stipulations.[1]

A young Harki, French Algeria. c. 1961.

In France the term can apply to Franco-musulmans rapatriés (repatriated French Muslims) living in the country since 1962 - and to their metropolitan-born descendants. In this sense, the term Harki refers to a social group - a fraction of the French Muslims of Algerian descent - as distinct from other French of Algerian origin, or from Algerians living in France.

Paris wanted to avoid their massive resettlement in France. Early arrivals were interned in remote detainee camps and were victimized by endemic racism.[1] By 2012, however, 800,000 Harkis, Pied-Noirs and their descendants over the age of 18 lived in France.[2] French President Jacques Chirac established 25 September 2001 as the Day of National Recognition for the Harkis. On 14 April 2012, President Nicolas Sarkozy recognized France's "historical responsibility" in abandoning Harki Algerian veterans at the time of the war.[3]

Before the Algerian conflictEdit

Muslim Algerians had served in large numbers as regular soldiers with the French Armée d'Afrique (Army of Africa) from 1830 as spahis (cavalry) and tirailleurs (lit. skirmisher, i.e. infantry). They played an important part during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and especially during World War I (1914–1918), when 100,000 died in fighting against the Imperial German Army.

During World War II, after the rearmament of the French Army accomplished by the US forces in North Africa in 1942–1943, North African troops serving with the French Army numbered about 233,000 (more than 50% of the Free French Army effectives). They made a major contribution during the liberation of Southern France (1944) and in the campaigns in Italy (French Expeditionary Corps) and Germany of 1944–45.

Tirailleurs from Algeria, Morocco and West Africa fought in Indochina, as part of the French Expeditionary Force until the Fall of Dien Bien Phu (1954).

Algerian WarEdit

A World War II Harki veteran, French Algeria, c. 1961

With the outbreak of the Algerian War in 1954, the loyalty of the Muslim Algerian soldiers to France inevitably came under heavy strain. Some of the regular units were transferred from Algeria to France or Germany following increased incidences of desertion or small-scale mutiny.

As a partial replacement, the French administration recruited the Harkis as irregular militia based in their home villages or towns throughout Algeria. Initially raised as self-defence units, the Harkis, from 1956 on, increasingly served alongside the French Army in the field. They were lightly armed (often only with shotguns and antique rifles), but their knowledge of local terrain and conditions made them valuable auxiliaries to French regular units.

According to General R. Hure, by 1960 approximately 150,000 Muslim Algerians served in the French Army or as auxiliaries. In addition to volunteers and conscripts serving in regular units, this total took into account 95,000 Harkis (including 20,000 in separate mokhazni district police forces and 15,000 in commando de chasse tracking units).[4]

French authorities claimed that more Algerian Muslims served with the French regular army than with the Algerian nationalist Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). According to US Army data, possibly compiled at a different date, the Harkis numbered about 180,000, more than the total FLN effectives.[5] A 1995 study by General Faivre indicates that by 1961 about 210,000 Muslim Algerians served in the French Army or as auxiliaries, and a maximum of 50,000 in the FLN.[6] A report to the United Nations dated 13 March 1962 gave an estimated total of 263,000 "pro-French Muslims" broken down to 20,000 regular soldiers, 40,000 conscripts, 78,000 Harkis and Moghaznis, 15,000 mobile group commandos and 60,000 civilian self-defense group members. The remaining 50,000 included Muslim government officials and veterans of the French Army.[7]

The French used the Harkis as guerrilla-style units, though mostly in conventional formations. They generally served either in all-Algerian units commanded by French officers or in mixed units. Others were employed in platoon- or below-sized units attached to French battalions. A third use involved Harkis in intelligence-gathering roles, with some reported minor false-flag operations in support of intelligence collection.[8]

The Harkis had mixed motives for working with the French. Unemployment was widespread amongst the Muslim population, especially in rural districts. The FLN had attacked members of rival nationalist groups as well as pro-French Muslim collaborators; and some Algerians enrolled in the Harkis to avenge the deaths of relatives who had been political opponents of the FLN. Others defected from the FLN rebel forces, persuaded by one means or another to change sides. Many Harkis came from families or other groups who had traditionally given service to France.[9] A principal motive for fighting on the side of the French was to provide for family and protect property, rather than strictly a patriotic devotion to France.[1]

From the viewpoint of Algerian nationalists, all Harkis were traitors; but at independence, the signatories of the March 1962 cease-fire ("Accords d'Evian" signed by France and the Algerian FLN), guaranteed that no one, Harkis or Pieds-Noirs (Algerian-born Europeans with French nationality), would suffer reprisals after independence for any action during the war.[10]

After the warEdit

In 1962 the French government of Charles de Gaulle originally ordered officials and army officers to prevent the Harkis from following the Pieds-Noirs and seeking refuge in metropolitan France. Some officers of the French army disobeyed and tried to assist the Harkis under their command - as well as their families - to escape from Algeria. About 90,000 Harkis (including family members) found refuge in France.[11]

On the other hand, the OAS far-right terrorist group initiated a campaign of bombings in Algeria following the Evian Accords to block the Pieds-Noirs population from leaving the country.

As feared, widespread reprisals took place against those Harkis who remained in Algeria.[12] It is estimated that the National Liberation Front (FLN) or lynch mobs in Algeria killed at least 30,000 and possibly as many as 150,000 Harkis and their dependents, sometimes in circumstances of extreme cruelty.[13] In A Savage War Of Peace, Alistair Horne wrote:

Hundreds died when put to work clearing the minefields along the Morice Line, or were shot out of hand. Others were tortured atrociously; army veterans were made to dig their own tombs, then swallow their decorations before being killed; they were burned alive, or castrated, or dragged behind trucks, or cut to pieces and their flesh fed to dogs. Many were put to death with their entire families, including young children.

— Alistair Horne[14]

Regular Algerian Muslim troops (who were offered the option of continuing to serve in the French Army) were only occasionally subject to reprisals. Some leaders of the new Algerian Republic were veterans of the French Army, which prior to independence had provided one of the few avenues for advancement open to the Muslim majority in colonial society. By 1961 there were about 400 Algerian Muslim officers in the French Army, although only one had achieved promotion to the rank of general.[15]

The French government, concerned mainly with disengagement from Algeria and the repatriation of the Pieds-Noirs, disregarded or downplayed news of the massacres of Harkis. Charles de Gaulle appears to have been indifferent to the plight of the Muslim loyalists according to Horne, who reported that the president remarked to one of their spokesmen "Eh bien ! vous souffrirez" ("Well then — you will suffer").[14] On 19 March 1962 the responsible Minister of State Louis Joxe ordered attempts by French officers to transfer Harkis and their families to France to cease, followed by a statement that "the Auxiliary troops landing in the Metropolis in deviation from the general plan will be sent back to Algeria".[7]

The French government did not plan for the Harkis after independence, and for some years it did not recognize any right for them to stay in France as residents and citizens. The Harkis were kept in "temporary" internment camps surrounded by barbed wire, such as the Camp de Rivesaltes (Joffre Camp) in Rivesaltes outside of Perpignan and in "chantiers de forestage" — communities of 30 Harki families on the outskirts of forests which the men maintained. The French government has since enacted various measures to help the Harki community (notably the 1994 Romani law and the 2005 Mekachera law); although in the views of community leaders these laws are often too little, too late.

The government of Jacques Chirac subsequently acknowledged these former allies, holding public ceremonies to commemorate their sacrifices, such as the 25 September 2001 Day of National Recognition for the Harkis.[16] While active Harki associations in France continue working to obtain further recognition and aid in integrating into the society; they are still a largely un-assimilated refugee minority. For its part, the Algerian government does not recognize the Harkis as French citizens. It does not permit them to enter Algeria to visit their birth-places or family members left behind in that country.[17]

Harkis are sometimes described in France as "Français par le sang versé" ("French by spilled blood").[18][19]

Since Algerian independence, "Harki" has been used as a derogatory expression within Algeria. Amongst some of the Franco-Algerian community, Harkis have been likened to collaborators in France during the German occupation in World War II. Algerian historian Mohammed Harbi, a former FLN member, believes that comparison between Harkis and traitors or "collaborators" is not pertinent.[20]

In July 2020, president Emmanuel Macron commissioned the French historian of Algerian-Jewish heritage Benjamin Stora to write a report and make his recommendations concerning the "memories of colonization and the Algerian War".[21] This report was delivered to the French government in January 2021.[22] In September 2021, Macron asked for "forgiveness on behalf of his country for abandoning Algerians who fought alongside France in their country's war of independence" and that France had "failed in its duty towards the Harkis, their wives, [and] their children".[23]

Other referencesEdit

During the Algerian Civil War of 1991–2002, the Islamic fundamentalist insurgents used "harkis" as an abusive term for government police and soldiers.[24]

In 2006, French politician Georges Frêche generated controversy after telling a group of Harkis in Montpellier that they were "subhumans". He later claimed he had been referring to a specific individual in the crowd, but was fined 15,000 Euros for the statement. Frêche was later expelled from the Socialist Party for his remarks.[25]

Harkis should not be confused with the Évolués. In this context, the latter term refers to the sub-group of Algerians who became closely identified with the French and their culture (it also refers to similar groups in other colonial territories). Here, the term Évolué indicates an Algerian or North African who assimilated closely to French culture through education, government service, language and so on.[original research?]

By contrast, the Harkis were mostly culturally Algerian, speaking limited French, and largely indistinguishable from the majority of ordinary Algerians except for their service in French auxiliary military units. While many of the Évolués migrated to France during the Algerian Revolution, some remained in independent Algeria after 1962.

See alsoEdit

Similar organizations:


  1. ^ a b c Naylor, Phillip C. (6 August 2016). "A practical guide to French Harki literature". The Journal of North African Studies. 22 (1): 153–156. doi:10.1080/13629387.2016.1216732. S2CID 147769533.
  2. ^ "Les harkis montrent les dents", Le Point, 24 January 2012
  3. ^ Sarkozy admits France abandoned Algerian loyalists, France 24, 14 April 2012
  4. ^ General R. Hure, L'Armee d'Afrique 1830–1962, Lavauzelle, 1979
  5. ^ Major Gregory D. Peterson, The French Experience in Algeria, 1954–62: Blueprint for U.S. Operations in Iraq, Ft Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Military Studies, p.33
  6. ^ General Faivre, Les combatants musulmans de la guerre d'Algérie, L'Harmattan, 1995, p.125
  7. ^ a b Stora, Benjamin (2004). Algeria 1830-2000: A Short History. p. 101. ISBN 0-8014-8916-4.
  8. ^ John Pimlott, "The French Army: From Indochina to Chad, 1946–1984," in Ian F. W. Beckett and John Pimlott, Armed Forces & Modern Counter-Insurgency, New York: St Martin's Press, 1985, p.66
  9. ^ Horne, Alistair (1978). A Savage War of Peace. pp. 254-255. ISBN 0-670-61964-7.
  10. ^ Edgar O'Ballance, page 195 "The Algerian Insurrection 1954-62", Faber and Faber London 1967
  11. ^ Ghosh, Palash (2 April 2012). "France-Algeria: 50 Years After Independence, What Happened To The Harkis?". International Business Times.
  12. ^ Sheehan, James (2010). The Monopoly of Violence. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-571-22086-1.
  13. ^ John Keegan, page 55, A History of Warfare, ISBN 0-09-174527-6
  14. ^ a b Horne, Alistair (1978). A Savage War of Peace. p. 537. ISBN 0-670-61964-7.
  15. ^ Edgar O'Ballance, page 192 "The Algerian Insurrection 1954–62", Faber and Faber Ltd London 1967
  16. ^ "Chirac hails Algerians who fought for France", The Telegraph 26 September 2001
  17. ^ "French 'Reparation' for Algerians". BBC News. 6 December 2007.
  18. ^ "Aujourd'hui, le mot harki doit être un terme de fierté et de respect, un terme honoré par l'ensemble des citoyens français. Il doit l'être car il est porté par des citoyens français qui ont donné leur sang pour cela. Oui, être harki aujourd'hui c'est pouvoir dire : "je suis Français par le choix et par le sang"..."", Nicolas Sarkozy, Discours du 31 mars de Nicolas Sarkozy Candidat à la Présidence de la République à l’occasion de sa rencontre avec les représentants de la communauté Harkis, 31 March 2007
  19. ^ "harkis, Français par le sang risqué et par le sang versé", Louis Aliot, Harkis : le véritable scandale est ailleurs ! Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine, National Front, 5 February 2010
  20. ^ Mohammed Harbi, « La comparaison avec la collaboration en France n'est pas pertinente » in Les Harkis dans la colonisation et ses suites, Les Editions de l'Atelier, pp.93–95
  21. ^ "Report by Benjamin Stora". French Foreign Ministry. 19 February 2021.
  22. ^ Bryant, Lisa (25 February 2021). "Report on France's Colonial Past in Algeria Spurs Criticism, Little Action". Voice of America.
  23. ^ "Macron apologises for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters". France 24. 20 September 2021.
  24. ^ "Nightmare in Algiers", Time International, 14 June 1993
  25. ^ "L'exclusion de Frêche soulage son homologue de Poitou-Charentes", Le Figaro, 29 January 2007


  • Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace, 1978 ISBN 0-670-61964-7
  • Edgar O'Ballance, The Algerian Insurrection 1954–62, 1967
  • Martin Windrow, The Algerian War 1954–62 ISBN 1-85532-658-2
  • Fatima Besnaci-Lancou, Benoit Falaize et Gilles Manceron (dir.), Les harkis, Histoire, mémoire et transmission, préface de Philippe Joutard, Ed. de l'Atelier, septembre 2010.
  • Fatima Besnaci-Lancou et Gilles Manceron (dir.), Les harkis dans la colonisation et ses suites, préface de Jean Lacouture, Ed. de l'Atelier, février 2008.
  • Fatima Besnaci-Lancou et Abderahmen Moumen, Les harkis, éd. Le cavalier bleu, collection Idées reçues, août 2008.
  • Isabelle Clarke, Daniel Costelle et Mickaël Gamrasni, La blessure, la tragédie des harkis, Ed. Acropole, septembre 2010.
  • Tom Charbit, Les harkis, Edition La découverte, Collection Repères, mars 2006.
  • Vincent Crapanzano, The Harkis: The Wounds that Never Heal, pub. University Of Chicago Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-226-11876-5.
  • Guy Pervillé, "Le Drame des harkis", revue Histoire, avril 1988
  • Jean-Jacques Jordi, La Réécriture de l'Histoire, actes du colloque du Centre universitaire méditerranéen de Nice, 1998.
  • Mohand Hamoumou, Et ils sont devenus harkis, éd. Fayard, 1994 (réédité en 2001, épuisé).
  • Mohand Hamoumou et Jean-Jacques Jordi, Les Harkis, une mémoire enfouie, Autrement, 1999.
  • Elise Langelier, La situation juridique des Harkis (1962–2007), préface d'Emmanuel Aubin, éd. de l'Université de Poitiers, collection de la Faculté de Droit et des Sciences sociales de Poitiers, décembre 2009.
  • Régis Pierret, Les filles et fils de harkis – Entre double rejet et triple appartenance, préface de Michel Wieviorka, Éditions L'Harmattan, Collection : Espaces interculturels, décembre 2008.
  • Michel Roux, Les harkis, les oubliés de l'histoire, éd. la découverte, 1991.
  • Abderahmen Moumen, Les Français musulmans en Vaucluse 1962–1991, Installation et difficultés d'intégration d'une communauté de rapatriés d'Algérie, Editions L'Harmattan, Collection Histoires et perspectives méditerranéennes, juillet 2003.

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