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Armenian Resistance fighter joins France's Pantheon greats

AFP
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Armenian Resistance fighter joins France's Pantheon greats
French President Emmanuel Macron (2-R) offers flowers at the site where the French resistance fighters were executed during a ceremony marking the 83rd anniversary of late French General Charles de Gaulle's World War II resistance call. On June 18, 2023, Macron also paid tribute to an Armenian resistance fighter who will join France's Pantheon greats. (Photo by Basma BADRAN / POOL / AFP)

An Armenian poet and communist fighter in World War II will enter the Pantheon mausoleum and join an elite group of France's revered historical figures, French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday.

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Known as being "pantheonised", the rare tribute is reserved for those who have played an important role in the country's history.

Missak Manouchian, who arrived in France in 1925 as a stateless refugee after fleeing violence, later joined the communist Resistance during World War II.

He led a small group of foreign Resistance fighters against the Nazi occupation, carrying out attacks on German forces and acts of sabotage in Nazi-occupied France in 1943.

Macron said Manouchian "embodies the universal values" of France and "carries a part of our greatness".

In 1944, the group, which included a number of Jews, was put out of action when 23 of its members were rounded up and sentenced to death by a German military court.

Manouchian was shot by the Nazis on February 21, 1944.

The collaborationist Vichy regime later tried to discredit the group and defuse the anger over the executions in an infamous red poster depicting the dead fighters as terrorists.

Macron paid tribute to Manouchian's "bravery" and "quiet heroism", as well as to other foreign Resistance fighters.

Other major French figures to be reburied in the Pantheon include Victor Hugo, Voltaire and Marie Curie.

READ ALSO: France honours women's rights icon Simone Veil with coveted Pantheon burial

By entering the Pantheon, Manouchian will become both the first foreign and communist Resistance fighter to be awarded the honour.

Manouchian will enter the Pantheon alongside his wife Melinee, who survived him by 45 years and is buried alongside him at the Ivry-sur-Seine cemetery.

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'Quiet heroism'

On Sunday, Macron also decorated Robert Birenbaum -- part of the foreign Resistance fighter group -- at the Mont Valerien site where Manouchian and hundreds of other "resistants" were executed by the Nazis.

Former French resistance fighter Robert Birenbaum (R) receives France's Legion of Honour medal from French President Emmanuel Macron during a ceremony marking the 83rd anniversary of late French General Charles de Gaulle's World War II resistance call of June 18, 1940, at the Mont-Valerien memorial in Suresnes, outside Paris, on June 18, 2023. (Photo by MOHAMMED BADRA / POOL / AFP)

The memorial coincided with the anniversary of the dramatic appeal of June 18, 1940, when Charles de Gaulle made a historic call to defy the Nazi occupiers after making his escape from a defeated France.

The call -- widely seen as the start of the country's resistance movement -- is marked every year at Mont Valerien by French leaders.

On Sunday, Macron and assembled members of the government including Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, listened to the Appeal of June 18 read by French actor Philippe Torreton, before holding a period of reflection at the site.

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The pantheonisation of Manouchian had been long called for by the French left, particularly the Communist Party.

The party's national secretary in France, Fabien Roussel, said on Twitter that Manouchian symbolised a "certain idea of France: a political nation, made up of citizens of all origins, united by universal values".

Since 2017, Macron has pantheonised three others including the French-American dancer and rights activist Josephine Baker, who became the first black woman to be honoured at the site.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: France honours Josephine Baker at the Pantheon

Baker was also just the fifth woman to be honoured with a place in the secular temple to the heroes of the French Republic, which sits on a hill in the Left Bank of Paris.

The move followed years of campaigning by her family and admirers for her place in French history to be recognised.

The tribute on Sunday also marks part of a long series of memorials leading up to the 80th anniversary of the end of World War II, which are set to continue next year with events to commemorate the liberation of Paris.

 

 

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