Resistance fighter dies, 101

Resistance fighter dies, 101

Famed French resistance fighter Arsene Tchakarian, the last survivor of the Second World War Missak Manouchian group, has died aged 101.

The last surviving member of the immigrant workers who resisted the Nazi occupation of France, Tchakarian was a tailor of Armenian origin who died near his home in Vitry-sur-Seine outside Paris.

Tchakarian arrived in France in 1930, when his father accepted a coal-mining job. He was conscripted into the French army in 1937 but was demobilised after France surrendered to Germany in 1940.

He eventually became a member of a small group of foreign resistance members who carried out attacks on German forces.

The Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazis, attempted to discredit the group after anger surfaced over the executions, denouncing the fighters as “the army of crime”.

The government’s “affiche rouge” (red poster) focused on the foreign and Jewish origins of the group as part of efforts to turn the population against the resistance.

A film, Army of Crime, was made about the group in 2009.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that Tchakarian was “a hero of the resistance and tireless witness whose voice resonated strongly to the very end”.

He was a member of a small group of foreign resistance volunteers led by Armenian poet and communist Missak Manouchian that carried out attacks and acts of sabotage in France during 1943.

In 1944, the group, which included several Jews, was crippled when 23 of its members were caught and sentenced to death by a German military court.

The Vichy regime depicted them as terrorists and a foreign criminal gang.

After the war, Tchakarian said the guerrillas were “not heroes”, but had “resisted because we could do it: we didn’t have families or jobs.

“And we resisted because we loved France. It had adopted us.”

Tchakarian, who was born in Turkey in 1916 while the Armenian genocide was being carried out by the Ottoman Empire, managed to avoid arrest and escaped to Bordeaux, where he remained active in the resistance until France was liberated in August 1944.

Tchakarian received multiple medals for bravery but was only granted French citizenship in 1958.

After the war, the father of six became a campaigner for the recognition of the slaughter of Ottoman Armenians during the First World War as genocide. Turkey continues to deny the allegations.

The slaughter and deportation of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks remains a highly sensitive issue in both Armenia and Turkey.

Turkey claims that Armenians died in much smaller numbers and because of civil strife rather than a planned, systemic campaign by the Ottoman authorities against the Christian minority.

At least 23 countries, including France and Germany, recognise the killings as genocide.

In 2012, Tchakarian received the Legion of Honour, France’s highest distinction.

France still struggles with its wartime history. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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