News / Africa

    Monastery a Reminder of Algeria's Bloody Past

    Exterior of the Monastery of Notre Dame of Atlas in Tibhirine, where seven cistercian monks were killed in 1996 by an Islamic group (file photo)
    Exterior of the Monastery of Notre Dame of Atlas in Tibhirine, where seven cistercian monks were killed in 1996 by an Islamic group (file photo)
    Lisa Bryant

    A movie about the lives - and gruesome deaths - of French Cistercian Trappist monks in Algeria has become an unexpected box-office hit in France and has now been released worldwide. "Of Gods and Men" is set during Algeria's horrific 1990's civil war. The Tibhirine monastery where the monks live, serves as a reminder of the country's unresolved past.

    The French Cistercian monastery sits on a small hill overlooking the Algerian village, Tibhirine, a two-hour drive from the capital. It is a large, rambling stone building surrounded by high walls and fields. The view from here is magnificent - the valley and distant hills spread below.

    Fifty-three-year-old Jean-Paul Tissot shows a visitor around. He arrived here from France, last November, to help the Catholic Church care for the monastery.

    Tissot says he wants to prepare the way for a new community of monks to move in. He wants to be proof that living at the Tibhirine monastery is possible - although there are no plans for more monks to come here anytime soon.

    Fifteen years ago, a community of Cistercian Trappist monks did live at the monastery. They kept bees and farmed.

    But in the 1990's, the monks were caught up in Algeria's brutal civil war that pitted Islamist militants against the military-backed government. It killed upwards of 150,000 people. The monks decided to stay. They felt the village needed them.

    In March, 1996, seven of the monks were kidnapped. Two months later, they were killed. Their severed heads were found, but not their bodies. Only two monks, who had been hiding in the monastery, survived.

    A movie about the monks has become a box office hit in France. "Of Gods and Men" won the country's prestigious Cesar award for best movie, last year. It is now being released in other countries.

    Tissot shows the monks' gravestones. They are located in a beautiful, peaceful spot, surrounded by pine trees.

    Tissot has not yet seen the movie. Right now, he feels too close to the events.

    Tibhirine has not forgotten the monks. Village resident Samir Lahmani says the monastery completed their lives.

    Lahmani says the monks were good to the village. They gave money to the poor. One monk, Father Luc, was a doctor who cared for the sick.

    It is still unclear who killed the monks. Was it the Islamist terrorists?  Or was it, as some suggest, the Algerian army, because the monks refused their demands to leave?

    The question of who killed who during the bloody 1990's still haunts Algeria. Some, like Nassera Dustour, have made it their life mission to find out the truth. Dustour is spokeswoman for SOS Disparus, an association representing the families of an estimated 8,000 Algerians who disappeared during the civil war. That includes her son - who would have been 35 years old today.

    Dustour says the Algerian state must investigate the massacres. The killers must be given names. The country must confront its past.

    What is clear is that the monks have left a profound mark in this Islamic country. Visitors from all over Algeria drop by. Tissot gives them a tour of the monastery. Some have read about the monks in the newspapers or heard about them from friends.

    Faiza Ahfir, who drove here from the coastal town, Tipaza, downloaded the movie "Of Gods and Men" from the Internet.

    Ahfir says her family was deeply moved by the film. She says the monks could have left the violence and returned to France. Instead, they chose to stay.

    Should Algerians forget their past?  Bury what people here call "the black decade?"

    No, Ahfir says, absolutely not. Algerians have experienced it all - civil war, terrorism. She says now they must draw lessons from it.

    You May Like

    South Sudan Sends First Ever Official Olympic Team to Rio

    VOA caught up with Santino Kenyi, 16, one of three athletes who will compete in this year's summer games in Brazil

    Arrest of Malawi's 'Hyena' Man Highlights Clash of Ritual, Health and Women's Rights

    Ritual practice of deflowering young girls is blamed for spreading deadly AIDS virus

    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    VOA finds things Americans take for granted are special to foreigners

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora