The Guardian • Issue #2090

‘Reparation’ as Resistance fighters recognised by French state

Marching with coffins.

Photo: Sam T.

Communist partisans from the Second World War have been honoured in a national ceremony, eighty years to the day after their execution by Nazis.

Missak Manouchian was interred into the crypt alongside his late wife Mélinée in a ceremony held at the Panthéon in Paris on Wednesday 21 February.

Missak was the military commissioner of the (Parti Communist Francais) PCF’s armed wing in World War Two during the Nazi occupation of France. Those who fought and died alongside Missak in this group were mainly Jewish and foreign fighters.

National Secretary of the French Communist Party, Fabien Roussel told L’Humanité that there are many great figures of the Resistance in the Panthéon but until now this has excluded communist figures.

“It is a reparation for our history,” Roussel said.

“The Resistance built the French nation. It was made up of different strains of thought which were able to unite in service of the Republic. Many paid for it with their lives.

“That the communist Resistance is now represented in the Pantheon by an Armenian foreign worker and poet is an honour for the French Communist Party. [During WW2] the PCF built an armed wing, the FTP-MOI, which was made up of foreign immigrant activists. It is an extremely strong symbol, representative of our fight.”

Missak Manouchian was born in 1906 in Armenia but was orphaned by the Armenian genocide of 1915 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire. In the 1920s, he moved to France where he would later meet and marry Mélinée Assadourian, who was also left orphaned by the genocide.

Adèle Sarret-Coquet, Secretary-in-Training of the Paris Federation of the Mouvement Jeunes Communistes de France, told the Guardian – The Workers’ Weekly that the occasion is important for young communists.

“The pantheonization of Missak and Mélinée Manouchian and, with them, of communist and foreign resistance fighters is particularly important for young communists, as it closes a gaping hole in national memory.

“In France, the dominant memory of the resistance during the Nazi occupation of France is mainly Gaullist, and no Communist resistance fighter had been pantheonized before this.”

Sarret-Coquet said the event was also an opportunity to educate youth in France more broadly about the history of anti-fascism and fascism, which she believes is not something many are aware of nowadays.

“The pantheonization of the Manouchians was an opportunity for hundreds of children to learn about the figure of Missak Manouchian in school.

“It’s hard to believe that today’s young generations in France know enough about the history of anti-fascism, and it’s equally hard to believe that they know the history of fascism itself and are capable of explaining its roots.”

Sarret-Coquet said France’s President, Emmanuel Macron was forced to recognise the role of these fighters after much campaigning by a coalition of activists, members of Armenian associations, and PCF members.

“This should not blind us to the fact that Macron’s government is pursuing a class-based, deeply anti-communist, anti-social and anti-democratic policy – in other words, one that runs counter to the values and vision of society defended by the Manouchians and their comrades.”

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