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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid