Commissioning Memorial Reconciliation: The Stora Report and Algeria's Ottoman Cannon in France

Lecture by Susan Slyomovics, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA

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Cover image: “Baba Merzoug” of Algiers. Etching by Jan Luyken (1649-1712), 1698. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries, including the United States, and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or fewer.

You are welcome to watch the recording of Susan Slyomovics' lecture on "Commissioning Memorial Reconciliation: The Stora Report and Algeria’s Ottoman Cannon in France" here on our website or on our YouTube channel. An audio file and transcript of the talk are available further below. The webinar was hosted by UCLA Center for European and Russian Studies (CERS) on May 10, 2022 and co-sponsored by UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES).



On January 20, 2021, historian Benjamin Stora released his report, a Macron government-commissioned document intended to achieve a reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria. This presentation focuses on the report’s proposals concerning a disputed monument, the famous Ottoman cannon known as “Baba Merzoug.” Seized in July 1830, the month France invaded Algeria, and spoliated to Brest, France, it was transformed into a monument renamed ‘La Consulaire’. How does ‘statuomania’ animated by the erection of numerous war memorials operate in France? What is the symbolism of columns as memorializing monuments? How does the Stora Report compare unfavorably with the prior 2018 Macron government-commissioned Sarr-Savoy Report that called for immediate restitution of sub-Saharan artifacts housed in French museums?



Susan Slyomovics is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA. Her most recent book, coedited with Lorenzo Verancini, is Race Trace, and Place: Essays in Honour of Patrick Wolfe (Verso, 2022).

Audio File and Transcript

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Duration: 01:20:31



Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to 

the Center for European and Russian Studies.  

My name is Laurie Kain Hart and I'm 

Professor of Anthropology and Global Studies,  

and Director of the Center for European and 

Russian Studies. I would like first of all  

to thank our co-host for today's presentation, 

the Center for Near Eastern Studies,  

and also to thank our Center's Executive Director 

Liana Grancea, and our Outreach Director Lenka  

Unge for their work on today's event, and so 

much else. As is our custom here at UCLA,  

I would like to acknowledge that we are 

here on the territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples,

who are the traditional land caretakers 

of Tovaangar - the Los Angeles basin  

and the South Channel Islands. As a land grant 

institution, we pay our respects to the Ancestors,  

Elders, and Relatives and Relations past, present, 

and emerging. Today, I am really happy to welcome  

my colleague and friend, professor Susan 

Slyomovics. Professor Slyomovics is a scholar  

I have admired for decades before I knew her. When 

I began to make her acquaintance, and to hear her  

speak, and when I became her colleague here at 

UCLA, I was all the more happy to be able to  

hear and see her more frequently. She is a 

phenomenal and multi-talented scholar. We're  

really lucky to have her speaking to us today. 

She is Distinguished Professor in the Departments  

of Anthropology, and Near Eastern Languages and 

Cultures at the University of California in  

Los Angeles. Her research interests span 

many disciplines and many field areas,  

but focus on the Middle East and North Africa, 

and are largely concerned with reparations,  

truth commissions, economic anthropology, 

human rights, visual anthropology,  

preservation, and heritage, and of course also 

literature in all of its many manifestations.

Her most recent book, co-edited with Lorenzo 

Verancini, is “Race, Place, Trace:  

Essays in Honour of Patrick Wolfe”, and that's out 

from Verso in 2022. And this forms part of her  

larger corpus on colonialism, and post-colonialism, 

and settler colonialism. Her other publications  

include “The Merchant of Art: An Egyptian 

Hilali Oral Epic Poet in Performance” from 1988,  

and then going forward “The Object of Memory: 

Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village”,  

“The Walled Arab City in Literature, Architecture, 

and History”, “The Living Medina in the Maghrib”,  

“The Performance of Human Rights in Morocco”, 

“Clifford Geertz in Morocco”, and “How to Accept  

German Reparations”. So I'll have to stop there in 

terms of her publications, or if I begin to list  

the rest of them, we will be here all day. 

And instead it would be good to hear from  

the scholar herself today. A quick reminder for 

the audience: Please write your questions in the  

Q&A box at any time during the discussion. I'll be 

able to see them and so will professor Slyomovics.  

We will respond to them during the Q&A, so 

write them anytime in the Q&A box. Please don't  

use the chat box, but the Q&A box. The talk 

will be recorded for viewing afterwards via  

Facebook and the website, so with that I will 

turn the podium over to professor Slyomovics  

for today's presentation. Thank you, professor 

Hart. Pleasure to have you across the hall.  

And thank you for this invitation. And thanks also 

to the Center for European and Russian Studies,  

and the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA. 

So on November 28, 2017 - it's kind of blurred  

there, but it took place - President Emmanuel 

Macron visited the University of Ouagadougou  

in the capital of Burkina Faso. He delivered 

a speech on potential returns of artifacts  

looted from sub-Saharan Africa by French imperial 

forces. I sort of outlined that in red -  

he said that it is important to "do 

everything to ensure that they come back".  

So Macron's proffered restitution in this quote 

is provisional. This process of 2017  

relies on reversing accountability for France's 

looted artifacts to Africans, who have to prove  

their capacity to care for the return of their own 

pillaged belongings residing in French museums.  

In response, critic Ariella Aïsha Azoulay

points to the myriad enduring ways  

that this proves that imperialism can 

neither be unlearned or adjudged, when using  

imperialist tools of French museum 

standards that erase an object's provenance,  

the circumstances surrounding colonial-era

extraction and expropriation of goods.

So Azoulay, on behalf of documenting imperial war 

booty housed in European collections - for example  

tens of thousands of objects held by the

Quai Branly Museum in Paris - she proposes that  

plunder is never a concluded event, it is never 

incidental to the lives of the objects and people  

who are implicated in looting - this is for looters 

and looted alike - but it is an ongoing  

process that should entail different items. So 

in other words, following on Azoulay, what is this  

legacy of artifacts from French colonial overseas 

expeditions currently in French museums through  

this dialectic of presence and absence from the 

formerly colonized? So as if responding to Azoulay -

sorry, it's blurred again - a report was commissioned 

by President Emmanuel Macron from historian  

Benjamin Stora. It was issued in January 2021. It 

seeks to institute commissions and commission  

institutions about Algerian artifacts in 

France. So commissions investigate, they  

document, they propose, sometimes they 

effect change, and they have a history.  

So before going on to the Stora Report of 2021, 

on the subject of Algerian colonial afterlives  

of artifacts in France, there was another report 

that preceded Stora's and it's called the  

"Sarr-Savoy Report" of 2018 authored by

Bénédicte Savoy, Felwine Sarr - French and Senegalese  

academics respectively. And it followed directly 

on my first slide of the promise of restitution  

pronounced in Burkina Faso. So other 

European nations, such as Germany,  

the Netherlands, and Belgium have followed through 

in 2020-2021. And all of these countries agree - 

outside of France - that the clearest case for 

restitution were objects deemed spoils of war  

that resulted from punitive imperial military 

expeditions. In fact, the Sarr-Savoy Report very  

clearly recommended that requests for restitution 

concerning objects seized in military context be  

the most favorably received, despite the legal 

status of military trophies before the adoption  

of the 1899 Hague Convention codifying laws of 

war. But the thrust of all of these commissions  

was further commissions, institutional 

procedures, and documentation of imperial loot

in French museums. So the Sarr-Savoy Report focused 

on sub-Saharan Africa - meaning not the Maghreb - 

calculating from approximately 90,000 objects removed 

to France. 70,000 are in the Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac

in Paris, which was inaugurated in 2006.

These numbers exemplify what anthropologists  

Arjun Appadurai has observed - that you need the 

two together: exoticization and the numeration.  

Those are a single colonial project. So following 

Appadurai, the quantification of colonial violence  

visited on exotic objects endures in all of 

these reports. And two key concepts are used to  

assess imperial artifact removals on behalf 

of a potential return. How do you tabulate plunder?  

How do you determine provenance? So what does 

tabulation mean? It means you have to identify  

spoils of war, you have to identify restitution 

claims addressed to the plundering nations,  

numerical visibility is extremely important. On 

top of that, the Sarr-Savoy Report mentions that  

less than 1,000 of the 70,000 objects are actually 

publicly exhibited at any one time in the Quai  

Branly Museum. Most are in storage, which could 

be defined as hoarding in a place of containment  

for colonial violence. They are long-hidden from 

public view, and they are 90% of African heritage  

housed outside the African continent in major 

world museums. The second part of what they ask for  

after enumeration is provenance. And again that's 

restricted to documenting and authenticating  

artworks according to origins, but that too of 

course is a problem because it's hidden through  

multiple chains of transfer - you have the military 

officer, the scholar, the priest, the tourist, the  

trader - they all share this responsibility for 

artistic removals between France  

and Algeria. The other thing of course is 

anthropology's role - ethnographic museums,  

Marcel Griaule's famous two-year Dakar-Djibouti 

collecting expedition, Christian missionary  

acquisitions, private settler and merchant 

collectors - all of this is characterized by  

widespread practices of pillage. So this nexus 

of enumeration, tabulation, provenance is found  

in the report which lists the staggeringly massive 

scale of material dispossession from sub-Saharan

Africa, in what often amounts 

to a dynamic of appropriation that   

Sarr-Savory claim is still poorly understood. So what 

are solutions to undo colonial plunder? This led  

them to object repatriation and they called it 

important because it restores a concealed memory.

In sum, I suppose, the Sarr-Savoy Report proposes 

selective, not total object restitutions as a means  

to reconstruct stolen memory for France's formerly 

colonized populations. Now, there are direct  

outcomes of the Sarr-Savoy 2018 Report. So 

the most famous, of course, is 128 years after  

France looted the Kingdom of Dahomey and official 

Senegalese requests for restoration were first  

launched in 1994. So here you see one example 

of a restoration, which originally was a loan.  

Sorry, I went ahead too fast there. In 2020, 

the French Senate approved the bill to restitute  

but the Benin Bronzes are a flashpoint  

for African debates on European museum restitution. 

And they transformed the loan of the sabre of  

Hadj Omar Tall from the Army Museum in Paris, and 

it's now a permanent return to Senegal. 

Now, this 2020 Senate bill - French Senate 

bill - is exceptional. It's a case-specific  

legal moment and it was publicly advertised that 

way. So otherwise it becomes a problem, because  

collections and archives in France - public, not private 

ones - doesn't matter what their provenance is, are  

what's called "inalienable". They are absolutely 

non-transferable even if the possessor agrees  

on a return. And what this means and 

what's been happening is that each new item  

slated for restitution requires a lengthy process 

to pass new subject, new object-specific laws. And  

since 2020, France's Minister 

of Culture Roselyne Bachelot

gave a speech saying that Quai Branly and Army

museums should be lauded for preserving  

and exhibiting the Benin Bronzes and Senegal's 

sword to the public. I'm just going to quote her.  

It's really kind of interesting. She says in 

one of these Élysée forums that are online: "It is  

not a question of repentance or reparation, but an 

act of friendship". Besides diminishing hopes for a  

legal recurrence of object or archive 

restitution, this statement - that these are acts of  

friendship - actually foreclosed of course

repentance/reparation terminologies, even the normalized  

state-to-state diplomatic languages of scripted 

contrition, apologies, and acknowledgements. In many  

ways, Bachelot's wording is very close to the Évian 

Accords of 1961 - these documents that regulated  

the end of the Algerian War of Independence 

after a 7-year brutal war of decolonization.  

So there is a pattern of disavowal that 

promoted amnesties and barred acknowledging  

these so-called infractions committed while 

maintaining order in the Algerian colony.

And this is part of the history of amnesties 

after the Algerian War, which are institutional  

amnesia vital to pillage and spoliating. Official 

French pronouncements to Algeria are formulaic,  

limited, they are belated 

speech acts of acknowledgement,  

they are rarely what anybody

would call a repentance.

They are rarely a repentant request 

for a pardon. There's actually an online  

site that tracks political apologies and 

if you look under France's apologies to Algeria,  

there are very few occasions. So in 2003 - here 

we have another blurred slide of Jacques Chirac  

giving a speech to the Algerian Parliament, handshakes

with two senators, Zohra Drif and Saadi Yacef,

both former political prisoners in France, and 

of course the Battle of Algiers -

heroic figures of that 1957 battle. Another one is 

when the French diplomatic corps - this is in 2005 -

they regretted the inexcusable tragedy of 

the Sétif massacres of 1945 on May the 8th.

The commemoration was two days ago. Very 

differently commemorated in France and Algeria.

French forces along with settler allies killed an 

estimated 8,000 Algerians in military collective  

punishment operations after victory in Europe. 

Marches by combat veterans from Algeria who had  

served in France turned into an anti-colonial 

uprising. There's more. In 2012,   

François Hollande admitted France's profoundly unjust 

and brutal colonial rule, but again no apologies.

Macron himself is added to this small 

list about apologies, mainly directed  

to residents in France. So in 2021, he asked 

forgiveness within the framework of colonial  

deeds for France's abandonment of the Harkis - this 

is some 200,000 Algerian Muslim soldiers, those are  

the colonial terms - who fought on the French 

side during the Algerian War of Independence.

Then again in 2021, he placed a wreath, observed a 

minute of silence on the Paris Bridge in memory  

of Algerian victims of police brutality drowned 

in the Seine River during a protest held in 1961  

during the war years in support of the 

FLN. And Macron laid the blame on then-Paris  

police chief Maurice Papon, who 

has already been tried and convicted.

So in contrast to all of these efforts on behalf of

sub-Saharan - below Maghreb - African artifacts,  

Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia 

are treated separately. And the Sarr-Savoy  

Report rules out any consideration of 

Algeria and Egypt in a single footnote,

acknowledging though that there are long-standing 

claims to restituting Algerian archives. 

So certainly on the African continent, the case of 

Algeria has been part of intensive negotiations  

since 1962. And there have been movements of 

restitution after small independence, and also  

in the case of Egypt. Now, these are considered 

to be very different contexts of appropriation  

and demanding different legislative 

outcomes than sub-Saharan Africa.

So the Sarr-Savoy Report does allude to diplomatic 

exchanges, but these are gifts, objects that flow  

from the French head of state since Algerian 

independence. So you have the return of - this is  

under Macron in 2020 - 24 skulls of 19th century 

Algerian resistance fighters, their body parts  

to the Musée de l'Homme, the anthropology museum, for 

the scientific study of human remains as a result  

of decapitation and shipment. So as yet, unlike 

the Sarr-Savoy Report which has been an attempt  

to provide an overview, there is no overview of 

Algerian artifacts, manuscripts, weaponry, objects,  

and archives held by the French 

state, and of course even less information on the  

provenance of Algerian materials in non-state 

hands. And there's a great deal of that, too.

So instead, Macron commissioned a report from 

Benjamin Stora. I can say one conclusion:

The Stora Report is not the Sarr-Savoy Report. It 

came out in January 2021. It departs from the  

exactitudes of the Sarr-Savoy Report. There 

are no artifact inventories, and it is about  

affective reconciliation of memory between France 

and Algeria. And of course, there was a huge amount  

of responses from the two countries, but 

my presentation is actually singlin out  

one of the Stora Report proposals for what 

he terms memorial reconciliation.

So this is specifically the example of an Ottoman 

cannon named "Baba Merzoug" in Algeria, "La Consulaire"  

in France, and it is uncontestably military 

spoils, which is defined as the seizure of weapons  

from defeated enemies for the purpose of a 

public triumphal exhibition. So just add to  

the mess on this discussion, Macron - and this 

started another huge argument - he characterized  

Ottoman Algeria or pre-colonial French Algeria 

as Turkey. And he claimed it to be a comparable precursor  

to colonization. The Ottomans were, in 

his view, no different from the French

occupation. This is a map of the Ottoman 

Empire. So the Latin word "spolium"   

actually means an animal skin. It's a 

pelt that's been flayed from a dead creature,  

and the word evolved to denote stripping 

weapons from a defeated enemy, robbing a  

person, plundering a place. And this has been, 

you know, from antiquity to the present. It  

encompasses all sorts of things: importation, 

material research, reuse, purposeful artistic  

re-installation. And imperial looting certainly 

existed in ancient times. And Napoleon Bonaparte,  

whom you saw in the previous slide, systematized 

state art confiscations, because he himself  

relied on a commission - the 1794 Commission that 

followed Napoleon's peace treaties that were  

imposed on defeated regions by his army. 

Napoleon was an innovator, because he included  

artworks in his list of requisitioned objects. 

And he legally formalized French pillage,  

securing enormous transfers to what was the 

recently created Louvre Museum, formerly the palace  

of French monarchs, which was transformed 

during the Revolution. So the Louvre since 1793 -

the French Revolution - has always been linked 

to spolia since its founding. It was the main  

repository for looted artifacts from church 

properties, or from French disgraced aristocrats.  

So you have a foundational royal collection, 

that became enhanced by revolutionary pillage,  

and then by Napoleon beyond France's border. 

Now, Napoleon's art confiscations were only  

halted when he was defeated. And this is 

the Congress of Vienna treaties of 1850,  

which is one of the first that we have in France 

that mandates the return, or partial return,

of what Napoleon and his armies pillaged. So 

the Latin etymology of spolia returns to the  

notion of forcibly captive materials. This is 

embodied in an intentionally plundered Ottoman  

weapon purposely reconfigured into a French 

colonial war memorial. In fact, this particular  

military monument is different from other 

typical war memorials - in French "monuments aux morts" -

that are all over the French landscape. And French 

historian Antoine Prost classifies these war  

memorials, many in the shape of a simple column, as

"lieux de mémoire" - that paradigmatic site of memorial  

heritage that is intermediary between 

the living and the dead. So in this case, spolia  

became consecrated as a site of memory for both 

conquest of Algeria, and the war dead. So you have  

a naval war memorial in Brest. It was once called 

Baba Merzoug. This is its Algerian Arabic name.  

from the 16th century until the French conquest  

in 1830. By all accounts, it was locally fabricated, 

supposedly, not supposedly, but actually, I believe,  

or historically is assumed, at the command

of Hassan Agha, khalifa of the Algiers Regency.

It is thought to have been the work of a Venetian 

cannon-maker and it had a range of three  

miles, which it aimed at invading vessels. And it 

made Algiers and its Ottoman fortifications into a  

powerful military, architectural, and cultural 

assemblage. Algiers was "al-mahrusa", the well-protected -

It was re-baptized. Now, here's where this slide  

comes into play. There were two French consular 

officials. One was Jean Le Vacher, a vicar sent by  

the order to minister to enslaved Christians 

in the Barbary States, and there was also a  

second - André Piolle, a businessman. Both were executed

in this fashion that you see before you, but Le Vacher  

captured the European imagination. So this is a 

widely reproduced lithograph by a Dutch engraver  

and he's depicting the exact violent moment, when 

Le Vacher was tied to the front of the cannon and blasted  

to pieces, his body and human cannonball 

aimed at the French navy, then circling  

the bay of Algiers. And the story that's told - 

there's lots of hagiographies - is that he professed  

his Christian fate and he refused the possibility 

of life through conversion. Now, this was of course  

the fear of the French military 

forces fighting the Barbary Coast -  

this terror at forced mass conversion to Islam. So 

what you see here is a shrieking hapless consul.

It's kind of the focal point of 

the lithograph. He's balanced by the  

towering figure of an imagined, beturbaned 

Ottoman ruler gesturing furiously: Execute!  

So July 5th, 1830, the date France 

invaded Algiers, 1,500 cannons were seized. 

Some were installed in the Army Museum in Paris. 

Quite a few were melted down. They fashioned, 

one of them in particular, the bronze 

equestrian statue of the Duke of Orleans, and  

that was installed in the Central Square of 

Algiers. So you melt, you recreate. It's triumphal.

So the cannon was transported to Brest. That's 

France's second military port after Toulon.  

It's the home to the French Naval Academy. It's 

still there. Its removal to Brest was at the  

behest of the Admiral Guy Duperré. And he 

wrote a letter, which we have available online. And  

he said, I'm quoting or translating (my translation): 

"As admiral commanding the naval army,  

I dare to claim in the monarch's name, this trophy 

of the French navy. As maritime prefect of Brest,

I ask for more, that the donation be made to this

port, whose ships played such a large part in the

Algiers campaign. It is the share of the prize to 

which the army attaches the greatest value." So this  

speech is actually part of the proof that this is 

military spolia. So you have a kind of  

systematic violent nature, which encompasses the 

ritual character of looting trophies. You send  

a message to the victims, to the

perpetrators, and even to more distant

audiences. It's almost as if you have a kind of 

stream of consciousness in the French colonial  

mind. So another written justification was by 

a French military officer. And these are really  

important for possible restitution. His name was 

Auguste Préaux. He was a witness to the capture and  

re-installation of Baba Merzoug as La Consulaire. And his 

description is even more emotionally intense  

about what it means to put a recognizable 

Ottoman cannon by 1833, three years later,  

into the port of Brest, and how it 

became a vertical French war memorial. 

It's very clear that the issue is revenge for Préaux. 

And he writes: "The observer is struck by the sight  

of this beautiful object of a cannon, opposite the 

flags of port control, near the administration."  

He says: "How many memories it recalls! It is a 

trophy of glory for the armies of land and sea.

It was from Brest that the vessels 

left - that supplemented the naval  

forces to which the conquest owed -

it is the port that should obtain this  

award. And it is attached to the locality of Brest."

Then he writes: "As for me, I circle the pedestal  

on which La Consulaire, the consular, to rekindle 

my ideas of the glorious memories of a campaign,  

where 27,000 sailors, 37,000 soldiers were 

handed over to the devastating possibilities  

of the elements, the climate and war." So 

you have an entanglement of conquerors' emotions,  

expressions of imperial power that amplify 

this structure described by Préaux, which is a  

war monument, is implacably solid when placed 

in the naval compound of buildings, the arsenal,  

there's a hospital, and a port. So you have 

these emotions that are mapped onto the cult  

of war memorials already in place 

in village and urban centers.

So to loot and to memorialize looting at an actual 

site of memory required textual justification,  

but it also required these new French art 

inscriptions for the cannon's impediment. So

there is this ferocity of feeling that 

brought and still keeps it in Brest despite  

a variety of Algerian entities that have made 

claims for restitution. For Préaux, for the navy,  

it is considered a trophy of glory, which are 

words that can bite them back as military spolia.  

The name change from "Baba Merzoug" to

"La Consulaire" can stand for, in some ways, all the

renaming of Algerian towns, streets, even individual 

people's names during the French occupation.  

Préaux goes on to describe the inscriptions, 

the release that serve as explanatory texts,  

museum-like labels to provide new context for the 

implantation in France. So two of the four sections  

retrace the attributes of, this is Préaux

describing it. There's Neptune and Bellona.  

There's another relief - that's the one we're 

looking at here. It depicts the seated, bare-breasted  

black woman. In Préaux's words, it represents 

Africa delivered, animated, enlightened  

by the blessings of French civilization at the 

hands of a crowned, fully dressed male personage  

surrounded by radiating civilizing sun's rays. 

So the main inscription reframes  

provenance by focusing on conquest and emplacement. 

There are no competing historical sources.

I don't know why everything's blurred. This 

is terrible. When the Algerian Ottoman cannon  

became a French war memorial column, it's also a 

phallic sculpture. According to Henri  

Lefebvre: "A rampant, erect verticality produces 

psycho-sexual spaces that symbolize force, male  

fertility, masculine violence. Phallic brutality 

is not abstract," he writes. "It's the brutality  

of political power, constraint police, army and 

bureaucracy." So there is a long history  

in imperial conquest of removing many more phallic 

sculptural pieces for metropolitan urban displays.  

So you have Italy looting the Ethiopian 

Axum obelisk in 1937, which it returned in  

obelisks found in European city squares,

and even though Napoleon's ill-fated, 

brief expedition to Egypt went awry,  

that didn't stop the French

engineer Apollinaire Lebas

from undertaking this incredible feat 

of transporting this obelisk  

to Paris, where it was installed in 1836. And it's 

part, of course, of Napoleon's two-decade era of art  

pillages throughout Egypt, throughout Europe also. 

In Egypt even though there was a failed French  

occupation there. Lebas actually gave a 

reason for why he removed the obelisk, the engineer.

He said that there was a competition 

for sculptural acquisitions to embellish  

Paris. And of course what's 

always added is to safeguard the monument.  

Of course it deteriorated during this removal 

and it was badly damaged, but there you go.

So this monument was really important because for 

Napoleon, for Lebas, it belonged to the French nation

to match the Roman power, which enhanced its glory 

through taking pharaonic obelisks. And Lebas said: "Rome's

streets and squares have obelisks and columns 

thanks to caesars, popes. Now, Paris has one, too."

So what became of this column, La Consulaire?

On my right - it's topped  

by this ubiquitous "le coq gallois", Gallic rooster,

crowing at the summit, while a globe rests beneath its claw.  

So I'm saying that La Consulaire evokes similar 

phallic imagery found in many other French war  

memorials. We have the column, the cock, and 

the globe, ritually mourning the dead killed  

in battle far from France. And of course there's 

a fair amount written about this French crowing cock. 

It's supposed to possess mythic 

iconographic origins. If you look up online  

what it's supposed to be, it's related to François I,

and the heroic French past, which is recast  

visually and textually to the Algerian cannon,

which is tamed, tagged, upended, and appropriated  

into something beyond mere war booty.

And it's weighted with symbolism. It is  

the focus of military commemorations of the 1830 

conquest. Obviously, it is never the 1962 defeat  

of the French at the hands of the Algerians. 

Now, historian Todd Shepard has written really  

interesting material on obsessions 

with the loss of French Algeria.  

And he talks about how there are projections 

through the prism of pervasive sexualized  

discourses about the violent hypervirility

of the North African Arab man,  

which perhaps, following Shepard, might account 

for the ways in which fraught Franco-Algerian  

relations found an admirable match-up 

in this typology of a defanged, castrated  

Maghrebi phallic weapon made to look like the 

familiar European phallic "monument aux morts", war memorial.

Now, erecting columns was part of the military 

exercises during the French occupation of Algeria.

General Rubeaud set up a 56-foot tall 

memorial column in cut stones at Beni Mered

both to honor the sacrifice of one sergeant, 

Blandan - he was the emblematic lowly foot-soldier  

valorized in the accounts of France's conquest 

of Algeria - and of course, to stamp former native  

Algerian lands with a marker, because this became 

the center for a settler agricultural village.

Here's another one. Another example. This is the marble "colonne Randon". It was set up in 1842  

as a commemorative stele. This was to mark 

the route from Annaba, which was then Bône,  

into the Kabylia forests. So of 

course, it was erected by General Randon, 

and he was later the Governor General of Algeria. 

And this column represented the incremental  

expansion of French territorial conquests through 

military-sponsored projects of infrastructure, like  

building a road through the forests, and 

the destruction of the forests of Kabylia.  

I saw this 14-foot Randon column in the 

French Foreign Legion Museum in Southern  

France in Aubagne. It's behind a protective 

glass. It's part of a very strange exhibit,  

in which an Algerian column is flanked by cannons, 

but these are cannons from French Indochina  

or Vietnam. So you have this incontestably 

phallic constellation of objects on display,  

and of course there's no museum text that 

tells you about the provenance, or the transfer.  

So there are documents from the 1970 UNESCO 

Convention that mandate the return of these  

kinds of illegally acquired objects, but at the 

same time that all of this is going on, French  

state commissions are actually still trying to 

comply with World War II restitution of Nazi-era  

loot. And there is in 2008 a new commission to 

restitute stolen property of French Jewry  

under Vichy rule, most of which were housed 

in the French national museum and library systems.  

So back to the Stora Report and a kind 

of conclusion based on Frantz Fanon.  

So the Stora Report is very modest. All it asks 

for is a Franco-Algerian commission of historians  

responsible for determining the history of the 

cannon, whether you call it Baba Merzoug or La  

Consulaire. This commission is to share proposal 

for its future. And here I'm quoting Stora.

While maintaining a respectful consideration 

for the memorial burden it carries on both  

sides of the Mediterranean, the Stora Report 

does not discuss restitution, it doesn't deal  

with any of the solutions applied elsewhere, 

either in the Sarr-Savoy Report or anything  

else, like new exhibitions, explanatory signage, 

anything that's done in critical museum studies.  

So even the thought of a 3D high-quality 

replica is of course rejected - the point is to  

actually, you know, physically have the artifact 

and 3D technology is very costly - so other  

possibilities are mentioned there: cooperative 

agreements for extended loans, long-term leases,

rental markets, facsimiles... The source of Sarr-Savoy 

Report gives you lots of possible solutions, but  

the Stora Report does not. It merely mirrors the 

unequal power relations whenever the commission  

uses the vocabulary, a weaker vocabulary of

memory studies, in which you talk about  

mutual consultations, another cycle of instituting 

commissions to commission institutions.   

So a kind of conclusion would be for the moment: 

France and its military hold fast to Baba Merzoug-La Consulaire.

What the Stora Report does minimally, you know 

if I'm looking for that, is that it proves that  

historical reversals can be discussed, 

but the fixity of La Consulaire  

in Brest proves that restitution for looted 

material objects is not easily reversible.  

So Frantz Fanon's epigraph is apt here. He assumes 

that reconciliation is deployed by the former  

colonizer to calm down the natives of Algeria.

It may be that these authorized commissions  

do the same labor for Macron's state and museum 

elites. The Stora Report is enmeshed in  

restituting, even though it doesn't quite mention 

that word really, but the Sarr-Savoy Report  

does talk about restituting a small amount 

of what France determines as indigenous,  

authentic African artifacts, but so far that 

status is denied to the Algiers Ottoman cannon.  

So I'm done! I'll stop sharing. Let's see if I can do 

this. Thank you! Thank you so much, professor Slyomovics.  

We have a couple of questions to start out with, so 

I'll start with the guest questions. Ceren Abi,  

I think I'm probably pronouncing that wrong. 

I think there is a lot of curiosity about the  

apology website and the nature of these apologies, so 

so a technical question: What is the website that  

tracks apologies? And maybe if I could broaden that 

out and simply ask you to, you know, say more about  

the circumlocutions of these apologies, or 

the way in which for example do you see  

differences between not only the number of 

apologies France may or may not have offered  

compared to other European countries for example, 

but also in the quality, and nature, and rhetoric  

of those apologies. I'm just curious if you have 

more to say on that. Thank you! Hi, Ceren!  

Ceren graduated from UCLA and works on these issues 

of cultural heritage, apologies, restitution in  

Turkey, especially when it was colonized by all the 

Great Powers when the Ottoman Empire fell, right?  

Wonderful dissertation articles. So the website 

is the Institute of Human Rights.   

They list all of the apologies, and you can go 

country by country. So I looked at all the ones  

between France and Algeria, and I don't have it 

here with me. I just found out this morning that  

this article is going to be published. It's been 

accepted at the Journal of Modern and Contemporary  

France - a special issue on the 60th anniversary 

of Algeria's independence - with a bunch of other  

articles, including more on the Stora Report, so 

it's in the footnotes, but I'll certainly send it  

to you. Oh Lord, that caused a huge amount of 

writing on both sides of the Mediterranean. It is  

kind of outrageous from the Algerian perspective 

to imagine, at least in relation to French colonial  

dispossession, that Ottoman rule in Algeria 

is exactly structurally  

the same as French colonial rule. There was a 

wonderful response by historian Mohamed Oualdi,  

who discussed all of the differences, the short 

nearsightedness of it, and the fact that  

Macron called Ottoman Algeria Turkey, which 

is a country that was formed, you know, after  

World War I and the fall of the Ottoman 

Empire. So those kinds of comparisons are seen  

as bad faith, bad scholarship, and the context 

of it was, I believe Macron was speaking to  

children, high school kids or college 

kids, when he made that kind of comparison.

So it's an assault on the education 

system, too. And the responses were many.

I'm wondering in the context of these recent 

reports in France - again a kind of a comparative  

question: Has the European Union made any 

declarations or moves on kind of general practice  

or ethics with reference to these objects? I mean 

the particular subject of your talk is kind  

of twofold. And maybe my question 

needs to be split in terms of two things, but  

because there are specifically the questions that 

hover around these war monuments, and then those  

are a subsection, or maybe not a subsection, maybe 

a different section from the question of other  

artifacts that are art objects, that are for 

example in the Quai Branly, you know.  

So I am wondering. I guess the first 

question is: Are there any general EU or European  

kind of statements or approaches to this? And the 

second question really is a more specific one  

on, you know, the specificity of the war monuments.

There's something about the tenacity,

as you describe it, of this particular monument 

that is so tied to the question of the heroism  

of war, or the claimed heroism of war, so 

that's the second domain of questions.

Thank you, Laurie. Feel free to write in 

French. I don't know if you can do it in Arabic,  

but you can do the Q&A in any way you want. 

It's more the United Nations that has done any  

number of documents for it. There's the famous 1970 

UNESCO Agreement, which clearly states restitution, 

especially things that are taken by force. And 

the Ottoman canon just struck me as the absolute,  

perfect example. You can't get a better one. We have the documentation how it was  

taken, why it was taken. It was clearly spoils of 

war and plunder. Other things are harder to trace.

Provenance, you've got traitors, you have 

missionaries, you have gifts, you have replicas that  

are commissioned, so you know, actual artifacts are 

hard but this one, there's simply no way to look  

at it any other way. So you have the 1970 UNESCO 

Agreements. Of course, if you want to really go  

further back, I mentioned the 1815 Congress of 

Vienna, where following the defeat of Napoleon,  

the right of conquest and the right to plunder 

under conquest is completely denied. Half of the  

artifacts he stole, pillaged, or the army 

took, had to be returned, but not all of them were.

At least half of them are still there. That's the 

general understanding. Then really importantly, in  

France and the United States are all signatories.

Then there's something called UNIDROIT.

U-N-I-D-R-O-I-T. It's an inter-governmental,  

international, independent association. It gets 

money from the United Nations and it was actually  

set up in 1926 by the League of Nations in 

order to, in some sense, harmonize and standardize  

commercial law. And of course, the League of Nations 

falls apart. So it was reestablished in 1946  

after, of course, World War II. And all of this is 

to harmonize international law across individual  

nations, because artifacts are held in museums.

At least in Europe, unlike the United States, 

the majority of them are not private. They 

are national museums. So then you have the  

state having to regulate it. Let's see.

In 2008, the other important  

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

And there's the famous article 11 that states that  

restitution has to be implemented if the artifact, 

the artwork is taken violently and without consent.

But you know, these United

Nations documents 

need to be supported by the state, and that's 

not happening in France. It is happening  

more in Germany, which has a long history of 

restitution of Nazi-looted objects, and  

a long history of paying reparations, so 

it wasn't that hard to fit it into their  

statutes, to add this colonial dispossession onto 

everything else they did to Europeans during  

World War II. The British are immovable. They 

won't even restore the Benin Bronzes. The  

French have given 26. Americans have given them. 

The Smithsonian Institution just, I think three  

weeks ago, passed a new policy. This is our national 

museum, but we are outnumbered by private museums.

And they just passed a policy of  

automatic restitution with  

the minimal kinds of exchanges, that the French 

demand of sub-Saharan Africa, let alone Algeria.

And the artifacts, if you want to look at it 

comparatively, that the Algerians are demanding,

what they really want are their archives. And 

that is much, much more forceful than the cannon.  

The cannon is important, but the real fight is 

over Algeria's archives, which were of course  

brought to France. And you have to go to the 

overseas archives in Aix-en-Provence - if you  

have the money, the means, the visa - if you are

an Algerian, to get yourself there, and do the work.

That's an interesting question, because you would 

think that with archives it would be easier,

presumably to arrange replication, which would make 

them accessible to people, although obviously not  

in their charismatic original. So you would 

think the discussion would be slightly shifted  

for such things, but no. It's extremely similar.

Well, you also have the framework. It's  

extremely difficult to access French archives. They 

keep changing the laws. The number of times I have  

asked for archives, I use the military archives in Paris,

the Château de Vincennes, which has spoliated  

artifacts, and in fact there was a depot for a lot 

of these statues. And each time - I get it, it's  

classified. And you don't know it till you go there, 

and you ask for it, and your number is called up  

on this big board, and you go there, and you get 

a note saying it's classified. Then you have to  

go through a system. I mean French historians have 

also, everybody has complained. And it waxes and wanes  

in accessibility, so you know that's the frame 

of just using French archives. They're not well  

computerized. And the recent computerization, as 

far as I can see, of the colonial archives which I  

was last in before COVID, made it worse. I could no 

longer access it without having some archivist or  

librarian next to me to tell me how to input all 

of the access points, that are not obvious to you.

I could go on at great lengths about the French digital archives.

But the digitization is, first of all, it's expensive.

Who pays for it? You know, we're talking 600 tons 

alone in X, huge numbers of them. Many of them  

should not be there, because there was an agreement 

to separate the archives, or at least an imposed  

agreement, but you keep finding things there. I 

find them badly catalogued, difficult to use. The  

Head of the National Library in Algeria said: Sure, 

we'll take the originals, you take the digitization.

A further question about French popular 

reaction. The implication was in relationship  

to Brest. That the French state is

claiming a strong - in significance of this  

monument to the city, to someone, some constituency 

in Brest, and to the constituency of France as a  

whole. And I'm wondering about those two things.

One, is there a constituency in France as a whole,  

or is this an obsession of the state, kind of 

in its own self-conception? And also  

is there a popular reaction, either pro or against, 

such a monument in Brest? Is there, you know,  

a radical left trying to take down, you

know, this cannon for its phallic and  

its imperial resonances? And is there a contrary 

defense of the phallic and imperial in Brest?  

Well, it's kind of interesting. There was 

a Breton priest, who seemed to launch the  

request, at least in so far as we can tell

on the French side, who believes in restitution.

And he did this in 2005,

because that was the year  

where it fortunately didn't go through, but French 

schools were supposed to teach the positive side  

of colonialism in the French schools. If you 

remember, it was vetoed. But it 

it roils the waters all over again. And a 

French Breton priest said as a result of this 2005  

possible law, we need to restitute the Baba 

Merzoug to Algeria. So that's, you know, it's not a...  

Let's just say there are different 

possibilities. But I think what your question  

points to, which is really I think fascinating 

and interesting, and you ask the best questions, is  

if you take a settler 

colonial studies approach and  

which my co-author Lorenzo Verancini wrote 

about in a 2011 article on, I can't remember  

the exact title, it had something like telling 

the story, telling the ends of settler colonialism  

story. And one of the things he believes and I've 

come to believe too, is that the presence of former  

European settlers from Algeria in France makes 

it almost impossible to transform these over 60  

years of claims, counter claims, justifications. 

And he makes a general comparative point,  

which I think is really powerful. And he 

says: When decolonization takes the form  

of a mass, a collective exodus of settlers - 

it happened in Algeria, it happened in Kenya,  

it happened in the Portuguese colonies of 

Angola and Mozambique, it happened in Zimbabwe,  

Namibia - that decolonization, that political 

decolonization of territory is never matched  

in any way whatsoever by an attempt to build 

decolonized relationships. In fact, he goes even  

further. He has this notion, which I love: A winner 

takes all of the settler colonial frame of mind.  

Settlers' sovereignties are going to rule, whether 

they're in the colony, or when they go back to the  

metropole. And what you have is, even with this 

rupture, breakage, the fall of a settler colonial  

regime, the fact of this mass departure of 

settlers creates structures, creates circumstances  

where there's no way you can imagine 

a relationship between equal subjects.

That's a really powerful statement. And as you 

say, it applies to many circumstances and gives  

us a lot to think about what the possibilities of 

real decolonization are. There's a further question  

from Roii Ball. Thank you for the fascinating 

talk, as always. These are really interesting  

intersections with other issues that you are 

working on regarding settler colonialism. I was  

wondering how do you see these different kinds 

of artifacts together within the context of  

particularly settler post-colonialism. War 

pillage objects of war in triumphal display - 

even if the middle of a car park -

are here deformed, reformed, and displaced. They  

could be very different from

museal objects of everyday life,  

whose majority is hidden in museal storage. 

And documents are indeed yet another kind of  

object with the potential to include sources 

for even more claims on the French state.  

Thank you! It's a wonderful question and 

Roii Ball is another UCLA PhD graduate.

Baba Merzoug - I'm going with the Algerian name,

you know, it doesn't look like one anymore - it belongs to  

the Ministry of Defense. It doesn't belong to the 

national museums of France, which have their own  

ways of top-down ordering things. It's out there. 

It's phallically out there, erectly out there, and  

you can see it from anywhere in Brest. And the 

Ministry of Defense did their own - what would  

you call it, commission du patrimoine - heritage 

commission for the navy and for all maritime  

property. And they stated in their commission 

report, this is in 1996: Under no circumstances  

will they part with it. It is their patrimoine, 

it is their heritage, it belongs to them.

So you can make claims of time. It's been there 

since 1833. It was actually erected then even though  

it was taken in 1830. There's time you can 

make claims on memory, on meanings, on war memorial.

Whatever the claims that are made by sailors and 

soldiers, are not the same claims that are made by  

museum curators and museum people. In many 

countries, for example I mentioned that Britain  

will not give back the Benin Bronzes, but one of 

the best books written about the British Museum is  

called the Brutish Museum, where a curator in one 

of these museums is pushing for the restitution  

of all of it, or some of it, but any part of it, 

which up to now the British don't agree to. So  

it has to do with the power of a museum curator in 

what I would call a pyramidal system in France.  

Unlike here, it's a little bit more horizontal 

because of the large amount of private museums, so  

individual museums can make different choices. 

And the Smithsonian has led the way three weeks  

ago to make these kind of changes. And

this artifact, besides the fact that I like it -  

it's beautiful. I like all the cannons 

on the, you know, Admiralty  

jetty of Algiers. I mean this is really imposing 

stuff. But some of it is intentionally  

bizarre - that something would go from here 

to here, and I haven't added the other stuff.  

I forgot what it's called. There's this knob 

that you put at the other end of the cannon,  

and it allows you to tie the cannon with a rope, 

because there's is incredible blow-back every  

time you shoot a cannonball. And these have become 

artifacts that the French have created and added  

them onto other cannons in Brest. And 

in one of them, there's a head of a so-called "Turk",  

so every time you're shooting off the canyon, 

you're pulling at the head of the Turk. I mean  

cannons in and of themselves, besides being phallic, 

people name them, right? Their anthropomorphize  

them. They become attached to them,

and they become symbols of sovereignty.

Just like the Egyptian government has 

often asked for their obelisks back. It's  

right there. How can you miss it? It's not 

in storage somewhere. I wonder if you could  

tell us a little bit more about the claim 

on public space that such monuments make in,  

you know, we've been talking about them  

as artifacts and, you know, in a kind  

of object-based way, but they are situated in 

particular places. And I'm wondering is that part  

of what constitutes this unwillingness to let them 

go, let them leave? How significant are  

the ritual and ceremonial activities that these 

things anchor? And would they be similarly situated  

on return? Would there be an equal 

and opposite in some sense ritual emplacement  

of those objects? Do you imagine in their return? 

Well, the French did return 26 skulls of  

Algerian resistance fighters decapitated, and that 

was found by an anthropologist with help from,  

inside help I'm assuming, at the museum. And the 

ritual of return was extraordinary. They flew on  

an Air Algeria flight, that sovereignty in the 

air, there was a red carpet, each one of them was  

in a casket even though all you had was the skull, 

and there was a very moving ceremony where people  

came to visit the closed caskets. You don't have 

open caskets. And then there was a very ceremonial  

burial of the 26 of them. They were named. 

Each one of them was named and announced.  

And it was, you know, I watched it. You know, this is 

in the middle of COVID, and I found it quite moving.  

So the rituals of return are rather 

important, but in terms of the war memorial,  

there's a kind of a training for the French in 

terms of the war memorial. There are 36,000 of them  

in France alone, that have been counted by

Antoine Prost and other historians in France. And they  

have written about them in Pierre Nora's "Les Lieux

de Mémoire", typologies of them, rituals about them.  

The fact that some of them are pretty cheesy, a 

column ordered from a particular catalog, or some  

of them are five very famous sculptures. It doesn't 

seem to matter. They're always emplaced either in  

cemetery, which people visit regularly, or in 

the center of a small town, next to the church,  

the town hall, the mairie, the gendarmerie. It's 

part of the emplacement of a small-town village  

that's been written about as lieux de mémoire. Now, 

the interesting question for me, which I won't go  

into, but this is what I'm much more interested in, 

is what happened to the thousands of war memorials  

in Algeria? What have the Algerians been doing with 

this legacy? Because keep in mind that in World  

War II, the Algerian colonial troops have been 

considered to be almost half of the colonial army,  

or half of the free French army. They were of 

significant importance to the liberation of France.  

I mean. Charles de Gaulle went to Brazzaville, then Algiers to 

reconstitute in opposition to occupied France.  

Same thing in World War I. Algerians are the 

only ones who were conscripted, so many memorials,  

war memorials in Algeria, will list all the 

names. And some of them will list them separately,  

the natives on one side, the settlers on the other. 

Some of them will do it alphabetically. So that  

doesn't seem to be the case of who remembers, and 

who doesn't. But the most beautiful war memorial  

of all in Algeria, as far as I'm concerned, is in 

Constantine. And it has been preserved beautifully.

If there are no more audience 

questions, then I'll just ask  

Susan a final question, which is: Could you just 

tell us where things are now? I mean it's been a  

couple of years, so to speak, since the Report. Is 

this a live issue for anyone in France? Do you anticipate  

any new developments? I'm also wondering, in 

answering that question, if you might tell us  

about - was there dialogue between the, let me 

get my names right, dialogue between the Sarr-Savoy  

Report people and the report by the state? 

I'm just wondering whether there was an actual  

out-and-out debate, where they talked about the sort 

of uselessness, so to speak, of the state report? 

I don't see any overlap between the two. The  

Sarr-Savoy in 2018, the Stora came out in February 2021.  

And that's, you know, just a little over a year 

ago. Perhaps it's COVID. There hasn't been that  

much movement yet. There has been movement 

for the sub-Saharan artifacts. The Sarr-Savoy  

Report really was like a bomb going through the 

museum world. And people are taking seriously,  

beginning with things like the Benin Bronzes, 

or the requests that have come from Senegal,  

which are long-standing and even requests from 

obviously other countries. The French were in  

Korea, so were the British. They're manuscripts. 

It's a worldwide phenomenon that the Sarr-Savoy  

Report really launched. The Stora Report hasn't 

seemed to have done anything. My understanding  

is there are now what a dozen or two dozen 

visas for Algerian scholars to go to France.  

You know, that's what? Nothing. So 

I don't see much movement yet, 

but I'm hoping to get to Algeria, and see how 

they're thinking about it. There seem to be some  

constant battles, like over the... There were major 

battles over the rehabilitation of the Casbah,  

when the Algerian government hired a

French architect Jean Nouvel, who did  

Pompidou Center, I think. And the Algerian 

Architectural Association said, you know, we have  

fantastic architects here, why are you getting 

him, and paying him, and not paying us? So  

Franco-Algerian, on a high level, sort of state-mandated

level of exchanges, it's going slowly.

Some of the restitutions that I've 

seen, that Algeria has demanded  

successfully, have gone through Interpol. And when 

I was there, the FBI was helping them get back  

archaeological remains, that had been stolen 

from sites in Algeria, and are sitting in the  

United States, Tunisia, other places like that. So 

there's an Interpol website, where you can look  

at the status, or you can upload something that's 

missing. So I follow these websites all the time.  

But no, it's hard to say. I 

don't want to be pessimistic,

but you know, I'm sure there will 

be more attempts. How about that?

Well, I'm semi-cheerful.

I want to thank you so much, professor Slyomovics, 

for your wonderful lecture, and thank our audience  

for their presence and participation, 

and look forward to seeing you back at a  

Center for European Russian Studies' talk soon. And 

I'll leave it there for today. Thanks so much, Susan!

Duration: 01:20:31