Missak Manouchian enters the Panthéon!

, by Antonios Tashejian

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Missak Manouchian enters the Panthéon!

Mort Pour la France

On 21 February 1944, 22 members of the French Resistance were shot to death by Nazi Germany, through the collaboration of Vichy France, at Mont-Valérien, in the suburbs of Paris. Exactly 80 years later, France has decided to bestow the highest honor possible on a human being by the state: an interment in the Panthéon in Paris for Missak Manouchian and his partner Mélinée. Manouchian was head of the group known as Francs-tireurs et partisans – main-d’œuvre immigrée  (FTP-MOI) from 1943 until his death. It was the “immigrant faction” of the Communist French Resistance.

Missak Manouchian was an Armenian. He becomes the first foreigner to enter the Panthéon. Born in 1906 in the Ottoman Empire, young Manouchian witnessed the death of both of his parents during the Armenian Genocide. In the 1920s, he ended up at an Armenian Orphanage in Lebanon and from there found his way to France where he eventually settled in September 1924. He first lived in Marseille before moving to Paris where he twice applied for naturalization as a French citizen but both applications were rejected. He was therefore killed stateless.

Manouchian was a poet and translator who translated the works of Hugo, Rimbaud and Verlaine, among others, to Armenian. He was an ardent communist since 1934. His political beliefs of anti-fascism were the primary reason he joined the French Resistance.

La Patrie reconnaissante

“[...] I am certain that the French people and all those who have fought for freedom will know how to honour our memory with dignity,” he said in his last letter to his wife, Mélinée.

President Emmanuel Macron announced that Manouchian would be interred in the Panthéon exactly 80 years after he was killed. The ceremony took place on the 21st of February 2024.

For around two weeks prior, museums, cultural centers and media outlets across France honored his memory and that of his companions. For example, the Holocaust Memorial (Mémorial de la Shoah) in Paris is currently holding a temporary exhibit on Manouchian and other “foreigners in the Resistance.”

The ceremony commenced on Rue Soufflot which leads to the entrance of the Panthéon. Named after the prime architect of this grand imposing structure, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, the street was filled with people of all walks of life defying the rain, the wind and the cold to honor a man who fought for our rights to live in a France of freedoms, in dignity and respect.

To the sounds of the duduk, an Armenian musical instrument, and music for Charles Aznavour (Ils sont tombés), Léo Ferré (L’affiche rouge), Gomidas (Grunk) and other French revolutionary songs, the two coffins wrapped in French flags made their way up the Rue Soufflot on the shoulders of members of the French Foreign Legion, marking three symbolic stops: (1) Manouchian’s survival of the Armenian Genocide, (2) his choice to move to France and start a better life for himself, and (3) his activities as head of the “immigrant faction” of the Communist French Resistance and death. Excerpts of poems and letters for Manouchian were also read aloud.

Once in the majestic structure, the Panthéon, President Emmanuel Macron gave a poignant speech in the presence of MPs, Ministers, Ambassadors and even the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his wife. He spoke on the lives of the 23 resistance fighters and at the end exclaimed, “Missak Manouchian [...], a grateful France welcomes you.”

An excerpt from Missak Manouchian’s last letter to Mélinée:

“[...] Bonheur à ceux qui vont nous survivre et goûter la douceur de la liberté et de la paix de demain. [...] Au moment de mourir, je proclame que je n’ai aucune haine contre le peuple allemand et contre qui que ce soit, chacun aura ce qu’il méritera comme châtiment et comme récompense. Le peuple allemand et tous les autres peuples vivront en paix et en fraternité après la guerre qui ne durera plus longtemps. Bonheur à tous ! [...]”

The translation:

“[...] Happiness to those who will survive us and taste the sweetness of the freedom and peace of tomorrow. [...] At the time of my death, I proclaim that I have no hate towards the German people nor against anyone else; each will merit the consequences that they deserve. The German people and all other peoples will live in a spirit of peace and fraternity after the war which will not last long. Happiness to all! [...]”

This commemoration must not only be celebrated in France but also across Europe. Manouchian was a stateless immigrant, an orphan of the Armenian Genocide, a working class worker, a poet, a translator, an ardent anti-fascist and communist believing in freedom and dignity for all. He died for France, but it is all of Europe that must now honor his memory.

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