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Τετάρτη, 23 Μαΐου 2007

SIDI MEROUAN: THE GREEK-CORSICAN COLONY IN ALGERIA - SIDI MEROUAN: LES GRECO - CORSES EN ALGÉRIE

In 1874 many Maniot families of Cargese moved to Sidi Merouan in Algeria (occupied by France). At first they prospered there but after the Algerian Revolution which took place some decades later the Maniots were forced to go back to Corsica and France. In Cargese a drastic fall of Greek numbers took place in 1874–1876, when a fifth of the population left Cargèse for the colony of Sidi Merouan in Algeria. Sidi Merouan dealt the Greek population of Cargèse the final demographic blow. Assimilation accelerated there after, and all Greek families of the village eventually intermarried with Corsicans and increasingly spoke Corsican.
The 1874–1876 settlement of 41 families was Greek, except for a few Italians and Frenchmen already married to Cargesians. Despite the links between the Greeks and Corsicans in Cargèse, the Sidi Merouan Greeks considered themselves apart from other Corsicans, and from the Latin rite. The secretary general of Constantine prefecture commented on the colonists’ rare sense of solidarity and religiosity. What this entailed became apparent in 1880, when the Sidi Merouan colonists refused to admit Latin rite settlers. Τhe few Latin rite colonists in Sidi Merouan were obliged to follow the Greek rite, and those colonists returning to Cargèse entered the Greek rite congregation.
So even in Algeria, the colony managed to assimilate its non-Greek members to a Greek religious identity. However, Blanken reports that by 1931, when the population had fallen to 125, the village was no longer Greek-speaking, and the Greek rite church of the village was closed; the priest Nicolas Frimigacci, still a native Greek-speaker, had moved to Constantine.

Dawkins reported Frimigacci as still ministering to the Sidi Merouan parish, though the expectation was that he would soon replace Coti in Cargèse; Dawkins confirms that Greek had already disappeared in Sidi Merouan.
So the Sidi Merouan community fiercely guarded its Greek identity in 1880; yet fifty years later, Greek was no longer spoken in Sidi Merouan.
Justine Voglimacci found it noteworthy that her grandfather Theodore returned from Sidi Merouan with his Greek intact; and one of the first colonists to abandon Sidi Merouan was the Greek teacher Pierre Ragazacci Stephanopoli, once the position of Greek teacher in Cargèse opened in 1880. The rapid language death of the Greeks of Sidi Merouan was not caused by demography: there is no evidence that the Greeks intermarried or mixed with the Arabs. The second generation of Sidi Merouan colonists married women from Corsica as well as from the colony but the bride Bartoli mentions was from Piana, and possibly Greek. So unlike Cargèse, marriage did not provide the impetus for assimilation in Sidi Merouan: the Latin rite members of the colony were too marginal to impose their identity on the other colonists, and instead were themselves assimilated. Language shift rather was already underway in Corsica, as Lear and Tozer had noted before the colonists departed.
The colonists were for the most part young families, and semi-speaker of Greek; while the colony leader Pierre Petrolacci Stephanopoli was in his sixties, the elders fluent in Greek and able to impose a conservative influence were absent from the colony. (Petrolacci himself abandoned the colony in 1877).
Language shift continued even in the absence of Latin rite neighbors, and was reinforced once brides arrived from Corsica: even if they adhered to the Greek rite, they were probably already monolingual. The colony included Greeks from Piana, Vico and Ajaccio, which were assimilated to a greater degree than the Cargèse Greeks. Moreover, the entire community was fluent in Corsican from the outset. In 1879 the French administration appointed Dominique Versini as Corsican interpreter for the region, including Sidi Merouan. As in Cargèse, the major determinant of Greek identity was the church rather than the language. The Greek rite church closed down as this element of identity faltered as well.

The colony of Algeria was a special case: it had institutional support for not mixing with the surrounding population. But by that time assimilation in Corsica itself was well under way; and though the Greco-Corsicans were still able to shut the door on Latin rite Corsicans in 1880, within fifty years Sidi Merouan had run out of Greek rallying points (church and school), and was fast running out of colonists.

By Nick Nicholas

Village, qui a la particularité d'avoir été créé uniquement par des familles Corses grecques, toutes originaires de Cargèse ou de Piana. Leur histoire est tout à fait bien décrite dans les guides de la Corse, qui font même allusion à ces 80 familles qui partirent créer Sidi Mérouan en 1874.
Appuyé par l’un des leurs, établi à Constantine, M. Stephanopoli, un groupe de 33 chefs de famille arriva en pionnier, pour établir les fondements de la colonie, munis des charrues, herses, outils, semences, mulets et chevaux nécessaires.Les enfants et le reste de la colonie suivront entre 1875 et 1877.
Désormais, ne pouvant plus retourner, ni en Corse, ni à Itylon, les voilà avec leurs nombreux enfants confrontés à toutes les difficultés de la mise en valeur dans un milieu hostile, de lots exigus, envahis de figuiers de Barbarie et de lentisques. Comme les autres colons, ils sont exposés aux fièvres paludéennes en raison de la proximité d'un marais, aux ophtalmies, à la sécheresse, aux invasions de criquets, aux incursions des pillards et surtout au manque de moyens de financement.
La concession type qui leur est attribuée comprend un lot dit « urbain » un jardin, un lot à vignes, et 2 lots de culture situés en dehors du bourg projeté, soit 130 à 150 ha au total.
Les Gréco-Corses, tout en mettant en culture leurs exploitations, vont construire leurs maisons sur le modèle de Cargèse, à étage, avec un escalier extérieur et des fenêtres étroites pour se préserver de la chaleur et pouvoir se défendre si besoin est.
Le plan du village est très rectiligne, il se construit de part et d’autre d’une rue principale montant vers le « bordj », petit fortin avec réservoir d’eau, construit à l’origine pour protéger la population. Y furent incluses l’église et l’école. Le village fut construit sous la direction de Thomas Rocchiccioli et Philippe Casta.
Les Gréco-Corses étaient venus avec un prêtre uniate de Cargèse. Leur culte fut reproduit à Sidi-Merouan jusque dans les années 1930 (baptême par immersion, signe de croix inversé, processions, offices, chants et prières en grec ancien. Saint Spiridion protégeait ses ouailles.
Les travaux publics, eux, mirent plus de temps à suivre.

ALGERIA: SIDI MEROUAN AS IT LOOKS TODAY

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