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Geographically there are 2 Kabylie, the Grande Kabylie or "Djurdjura" and the Petit Kabylie or "Babors".

The events that concern us here are those that took place in the Djurdjura, the region of Algeria that submitted last to French rule.

The terrain is difficult; snow covered mountains, forests and inaccessible gorges. A territory that not even the Romans ventured into.

Between the time they first debarked at Sidi Ferruch and the final submission of the Grande Kabylie the French were to wait 27 years.

The stages of the march of conquest were marked with symbolic place names; Tizi Ouzou, Souk-El-Arba, Icheridene.

In 1857 the submission of the Djurdjura tribes put Algeria fully under French rule.

On the nineteenth of May 1857 Marechal Randon had taken command of the troops at Tizi-Ouzou and used this as a base for his operations into the heart of the Kabylie.

Randon was determined to strike a major blow and planned an offensive against the Beni-Raten, the most powerful tribe in the Kabylie.

The campaign was short and bloody. By the 25th of May the Beni-Raten surrendered. The cost had been heavy, Randon's column had suffered 600 men killed or wounded. The Beni-Ratan had lost 500 men killed in action and 800 wounded.

The first phase of the operation had ended successfully and Randon now saw the need to establish a fort in the middle of the Kabylie from which he could exert control over the area. A road would also be needed from the new fort to Tizi-Ouzou.

After the engineering corps had studied the terrain it was decided that the best location was at Souk-El-Arba.

From this point on the construction of the fort proceeded rapidly. 3 days after the decision to build at Souk-El-Arba had been made General Chaboud-latours"s surveyors had traced the borders of the fort. Within 18 days the engineers had built a road 25km long and six meters wide from the fort to Tizi-Ouzou.

On the sixth of June the foundations were started and on the fourteenth of July the first stone was layed.

It was decided to name the fort "Fort Napoleon".

Fort Napoleon was at a height of 961 meters, an imposing structure with a majestic panorama at its feet.

Settlers began to arrive from the first day and under the local military commander Souk-El-Arba became a pretty and very modern village.

Based on the Vauban fortress design the walls had a length of 2261 meters. It had a citadel and three detached block houses. The construction took place
from 1857-1871.

During this period the territory of Fort Napoleon was under the command of the fortress commander, a colonel who acted as mayor of the village as well.

A number of shopkeepers arrived and installed themselves close to the military post. Bit by bit a European village centre was formed.

Vineyards were planted on the plateau and slopes around Souk-El-Abra, in 1900 they were to cover 8,700 hectares and produce 30,000 litres of wine.

In 1865 Empreur Napoleon III visited the fort. He wanted to see the progress Marechal Randon and his men had made in the Kabylie.

In Europe the clouds of war were gathering as tensions between Germany and France increased.

In July 1870 the 4,000 men of the Zouave garrison left for France to join the Army of the Rhine. Arriving from France were 472 aging members of the home guard/Militia of the Garde Mobile de la Cote d'Or who were to garrison the fort and surrounding area for the duration of the hostilities in Europe.

In view of the coming events it was to prove a bad miscalculation on the part of the French.

In spite of the submission of the Kabylie there were still elements within the region who actively worked to gain their independence. The Franco Prussian War weakened the French hold on Algeria for a period of time and the locals did their best to profit from this state of affairs.

Marshall MacMahon had alerted the French Government in June 1869, that "The Kabyles still stay restive until the moment they see a possibility to chase us from their country". In the months leading up to the insurrection "Tijmaain" took place. These meetings, forbidden by the French, occurred in many of the villages. The insurrection broke out on the sixteenth of March 1871. Mohammed Amokrane ("El Mokrani") and Sheikh Aheddad ("El Haddad") were at the head. The whole region was up in arms and the south and east of the Grande Kabylie fell under their control. The insurrection lasted 10 months and cost the life of 20,000 insurgents. The French Army raged a pitiless war. Admiral Gueydon had 100,000 men and all the supplies he needed. It was more than Randon had had in 1857. Not only the insurgents but also the population was targeted; villages were wiped out, families decimated. Land was confiscated to be redistributed to settlers. Thousands of captives were deported to Cayenne and New Caladonia where the captured communards were to settle. Some captives were press ganged for service in Madagascar.

On the eleventh of April 1872 El Mokrani, the head of the insurrection, sent El Haddad to Ait Idjeur where he made a speech in the market place calling for an insurrection to get rid of the French oppressors.

All the villages of the Fort Napoleon sector rose in revolt. It was the debut of the hostilities and the beginning of the siege of Fort Napoleon. The siege was to last 62 days, part of the fort falling to the rebels.


Left: The Porte du Djurjura, Eastern entrance of the fort

In the twelfth of May Si Lounis, who had stayed loyal to the French, arrived at the entrance of the fort with 50 men. He carried a message written on the thirtieth of April from General L'Allemand announcing that he was leaving Tizi-Ouzou and heading for Fort Napoleon. On the 24th of June L'Allemand and his column were underway. It was the anniversary of the 1857 battle of Icheridene.
The Kabylie tribes were routed in spite of their large numbers and defensive positions. Once again the tribes submitted to the French Army. The relief column was able to leave Fort Napoleon and return to its bases on the 20th of July 1871.

While these events were underway the French Army in Europe had been beaten by the Germans. With the surrender of the Emperor at Sedan a Republic was proclaimed. On the 11th of September 1871 Fort Napoleon was renamed Fort National.

During this time the Hotel de Ville was built and a Justice of the Peace installed.

Fort Napoleon had begun to lose its strategic and military importance. The military command relocated to Dellys and the "Ecole des Arts et Metiers" which had been destroyed during the siege was rebuilt there as well.

A monument to the "Pacification and Civilisation" of the region by the Army was built at Tamazirt. Another monument containing the remains of the French soldiers killed in action between 1857-1871 was built at Echeridene.

A brigade of Gendarmerie was created on the 31st of January 1891. Stationed at the Fort National it was responsible for the fort and the surrounding villages in the Djudjura.

The body of this text is based on a French article by Marcel Hauteja.  

Above: The Medaille Coloniale document to the ex Soldat Barault who served in the Garde Nationale Mobile de la Cote d'Or during the siege.

To return to the page on the medaille Coloniale go HERE
 
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