PARIS — Outside of the former offices of Charlie Hebdo is a plaque listing the names of the 12 victims who died one year ago.
On Thursday, Parisians left bouquets of flowers and lit candles to mark the anniversary of the grisly terrorist attack that killed 12 journalists. The shooting sparked three days of gunfire exchange between terrorists and police.
Charlie Hebdo commemorated the anniversary of the attack on its headquarters with a cover that garnered international headlines.
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It features a drawing of a blood-stained, bearded man, carrying a rifle slung over his shoulder. The man is a portrayal of God, according to reports. The headline reads, “1 an après: L’Assassin court toujours” or “1 year later: The assassin is still out there” or “the assassin is still running.”
One million copies of the special edition were released Wednesday. Typical circulation for the newspaper is about 1,000.
The cover story drew the ire of the Vatican state’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. In its commentary, it suggests the cover is disrespectful to all religions.
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“Behind the deceptive flag of uncompromising secularism, the weekly is forgetting once more what religious leaders of every faith unceasingly repeat to reject violence in the name of religion — using God to justify hatred is a genuine blasphemy, as Pope Francis has said several times,” the commentary read.
“In Charlie Hebdo’s choice, there is the sad paradox of a world which is more and more sensitive about being politically correct, almost to the point of ridicule, yet does not wish to acknowledge or to respect believers’ faith in God, regardless of the religion,” it said.
Following last year’s attacks, the newspaper issued a cover, depicting the Prophet Mohammed, holding up a sign that read, “Je suis Charlie.” The phrase took hold at vigils around the world and on social media.
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Dr. Aurel Braun, a University of Toronto professor specializing in international affairs and foreign relations, says the phrase brought solidarity, a joint defiance against those attacking freedom of speech.
While some may find the Charlie Hebdo covers distasteful or attention-seeking, they may still stand by the newspaper’s choice to publish its content.
“If I believe in democracy and rights, I defend it even if I don’t approve of [the content]. It’s part of this notion of defying intimidation — you do not get to set our agenda, you do not get to determine what we can say, or draw, or sing, or believe in,” he explained.
“That is our test of genuine tolerance,” he suggests.
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Following the Nov. 13 attacks across Paris that killed more than 130 people, the newspaper released another controversial cover that showed a man, peppered with bullet holes, drinking champagne.
“Ils ont les armes. On les emmerde, on a le champagne” or “They have guns. F—k them, we have champagne.”
Champagne oozes out of his wounds instead of blood.
That issue struck a chord with Parisians, who were still picking up the pieces from the brazen shootings across the city.
In the newspaper’s defense, the editor-in-chief said humour was the only answer it had in response to the tragedy.
“Without realizing it, Parisians in 2015 have become like the Londoners of the 1940s, determined not to give in to fear no matter what,” Laurent Sourisseau wrote.
“It’s the only response we can show the terrorists,” he said.
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Guillaume De Langre, a Frenchman who’s lived in Paris for the past 12 years, says the attacks on Charlie Hebdo hurt the nation in two distinct ways: it was an attack on the liberty of the press and it was the country’s first clear-cut act of terrorism.
“The symbolic nature of these attacks, the fact that they attacked journalists in such a surgical way. They knew exactly what they were doing and planned everything out. It made it look like a commando operation,” De Langre said.
“It was people bringing war to our city. Until now, France had been shielded from a lot of this [terrorism],” he said.
WATCH: French president honours Charlie Hebdo victims, newspaper reveals front page anniversary issue. Jeff Semple reports.
He’s heard critics of the newspaper who allege that the publication was “asking for it” because of its cheeky content.
While he doesn’t read the newspaper, he says that response upset him.
“It really annoyed me because freedom of speech is not contingent upon the content of the speech. Freedom of speech can only be if it’s an absolute thing.”
French President Francois Hollande unveiled the first plaque outside of the newspaper’s former offices on Tuesday. More plaques were unveiled at other shooting sites during the three days of gunfire.
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On Saturday, a fourth plaque will be revealed in Montrouge, a suburb on the outskirts of the city. By Sunday, officials are slated to plant a 10-metre oak tree in Place de la Republique to commemorate those who died in the attacks.
France is still under a state of emergency, prohibiting mass gatherings but a public event in the square is scheduled.
Dr. Jill Scott, a Queen’s University professor who studies mourning and conflict resolution, says these commemorations are a double-edged sword.
They bring the city together, but they also act as reminders about what happened in the past year.
“Every anniversary, these kinds of symbols, they are gigantic on meaning and can become very, very paralyzing. People react in a variety of ways — some people shut everything out and other people feel a need to connect in any way possible,” she said.
“It’s not necessarily what you saw, or didn’t see, or who you lost or didn’t lose. Everyone reacts differently so someone who was tangentially affected by what happened in Paris could be deeply affected. With these two attacks, things compound,” she said.