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Culture

L’Armée du crime: An Interview with Arsène Tchakarian

Former member of the Manouchian Group

Translated Thursday 8 October 2009, by Kieran O’Meara and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Arsène Tchakarian, at ninety-three years of age, the last living member of the Manouchian group, along with Henri Karahian, comments on the new film L’Armée du crime.

What do you think of Robert Guédiguian’s film?

Arsène Tchakarian. We had met three years ago, I told him everything I knew about both the Manouchian group, which I took part in, and about the era itself. I believe the film is faithful to what really happened and brings the atmosphere of the time back to life: it’s a beautiful artistic success despite its modest budget.

The film’s release has brought an old saw back to life: the one where the Communist Party betrayed the group and handed them over to the Nazis...

Arsène Tchakarian. In 1985, on Antenne 2, head to head with Stéphane Courtois, I refuted that lie: no document exists supporting the idea that they were betrayed. I told Courtois that his so-called proof came out of the dustbins abandoned by the Nazis. Knowing how resistance networks work, it is impossible that such a betrayal could have taken place. But as Goebbels once said: "When you tell a lie, part of it always sticks."

Could you give us some details about those networks?

Arsène Tchakarian. Today one speaks of the MOI (Mouvement ouvrier immigré - Immigrant workers movement) for the sake of convenience, I have no problem with that shorthand. As it happens, immigrants were grouped together in national fronts on the basis of their respective nationalities: Armenians, Jews, Hungarians etc. Under the command of Missak Manouchian, they were part of the FTP (Francs-tireurs partisans- the Communist Resistance), therefore forming part of the larger French Resistance, along with the Gaullists in particular. Effectively, only Communists and Gaullists resisted the occupation: 35 of the 40 members of the Manouchian group were Communists. In 1943, our group carried out 150 operations, of which at least two were commanded by the British secret services in cooperation with General de Gaulle. The PCF proper was on the outside - how could they have handed over members of the MOI? We operated like the secret services: we knew each other only by pseudonyms - mine was Charles -, without any reference to our origins. If I became involved in the struggle against fascism, it’s because I was a communist. How could I have remained one to this day if I had had the slightest doubt about the period? I have a large number of documents in my possession that anyone who wishes can consult.

Why do you think that this film might be important today?

Arsène Tchakarian. One should know history so that the memory of what happened is not lost. That’s why I have already visited nearly 220 schools and given dozens of lectures, so that people might know the historical truth and can make it their own. An educational film, in the making of which I was involved, concerning the part played by emigrants in the resistance, is ready for release and will be shown in schools and colleges.


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