Interview by Hassan Alaoui
She created and directsFrance-Morocco Memory Associationwhich has become an institution all the more active as it is essential in this difficult exercise of memory. Nouria Zendafou It vibrates organise des «hikes» memorials to enlighten and inform, also to transmit the heritage of Moroccan soldiers who took part in the First World War of 1914-1918 where 1200 Moroccan riflemen perished, in particular at the Battle of the Marne. It should be noted that this brigade of skirmishers from Morocco was led by Charles Péguy, a great French writer who fell like them. mrs Zendafou It vibrateslooks back on this glorious epic. Since this Friday, she has chaired an event that brings together French and Moroccans in the same communion.
– Ces September 2 and 3 at Mworn from the great war ofand the city of Meaux, the Association «Memory France Morocco» that you preside pays homage to the Moroccan skirmishers of the 1time guerre worldwide . Un word on l’importance of this eventment and on your itinerary…
Ces September 2 and 3 is heldt the 14-18 historical re-enactment weekend at the Museum of the Great War in Meaux, which is the largest museum in Europe dedicated to the First World War.
More than 300 «reconstituteurs» of all nationalities will be installed in the museum grounds. The program includes parades, reconstructions, presentations of associations including ours, France Morocco Memory Association. Thus we will hold a stand and we will be accompanied by reconstituteurs of Moroccan skirmishers to convey their journey and their heroic and historical role of this troop (which is also the first foreign troop to intervene in Europe), during the first Battle of the Marne on September 5, 1914.
Our objective is to present our memorial and cultural activities in order to transmit with pedagogy and enhance the commitment of Moroccan troops to the army. fFrance and its allies during the great world wars.
Eleven Moroccan skirmishers in the Great Tomb of Villeroy
This exhibition is the fruit of a memorial work which dates back to 2010, when I was invited by the City of Chauconin Neufmontiers working on a memorial hiking trail project, “In the Footsteps of the Moroccan Brigade» in the fields where the battles of our brave soldiers took place against the German army. In 2011, once this hiking traile realized and inaugurated, I noticed two years later that it was very little practiced and not at all known by the general public. Also, I took the initiative to organize hikes to discover it with my relatives and friends. Over time which was flowingbecause I publicized these outings in social networks, some associations and individuals have asked mee to make them visit these places of memory. So much so that I found myself organizing memorial hikes on the way and combining them with the visit of places of memory such as the Great Tomb of Villeroy where 11 unknown Moroccan riflemen are buried or local museums such as the Musée 14-18 de Villeroy or even the Museum of the Great War in Meaux. The objective is to combine different educational contributions in order to better understand what our men have experienced.
Always with the aim of paying tribute to our skirmishers and recalling their feats of arms, in 2017 we had a stele made which was inaugurated in September 2017 by the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco in France, Chakib Benmoussa and Jean François Copé, Minister of the Economy and Mayor of Meaux. This was an opportunity to recall the important role played by the Moroccan Brigade and its impact on what has been called “The Miracle of the Marne».
From, I organize as much as I can hikes which are at the same time memorial, cultural, societal and sporting moments. I always insist that families participate with their children, because I find it necessary to do this work with them, whatever their origins. In these times when we see racist acts and discriminationtoriesit is relevant to remember at the level of my small scale that our French, Moroccan, Senegalese or other elders fought together, side by side to fight precisely against the hatred of the other and to preserve his freedom and develop fraternity.
– Lhe Moroccan skirmishers participated in all the major battles of the Marne where perishes Charles Pguy who ledt a battle section of the Ourcq , Battle of Artois. Battle of Verdun … What place doeswe have these feats of arms in France and in Morocco and what is the meaning of your fight for the reminder of these facts which cost the lives of thousands of Moroccan riflemen. ?
On September 5, 1914 at 5 p.m., during the Battle of Ourcq, the regiment of 276th regiment which was led by Lieutenant Charles Péguy entered the fields in order to protect the retreat of the Moroccan skirmishers. The lieutenant who was at the head of his troop was killed on the spot. From that day on, the history books basically only talk about this papart of the day as well as the commitment of troopses English on other places of battle. It is very rare to find writings on what our Moroccan skirmishers experienced that day.
1,200 Moroccan skirmishers killed
In fact, a little earlier at 2:30 p.m., the Moroccan skirmishers had received the order to cross the field, barely equipped with a bayonet rifle, to confront the Germans who were based opposite them, well camouflaged in the woods and which on the other hand were equipped with heavy artillery. Thus during more than 2 hours of firing, out of our 4300 Moroccan riflemen, nearly 1200 men were killed on the spot, not counting the wounded. This did not slow down our skirmishers, some of whom reached the level of the woods and fought hand-to-hand with the German soldiers.
This battle was decisive insofar as the AThe Germans did not expect such resistance, to the point of deciding a little later in the night, to retreat in the face of the French troops who were able to have time to mobilize in turn to come against the attack. During the days that followed, Moroccan skirmishers continued to fight relentlessly and courageously. After 4 days out of the 4300 men fresh from Morocco only 800 men survived this first Battle of the Marne.
Moroccan skirmishers took part in all the great battles of the First World War, history books and school books devote very few lines, not to say pages, to the engagement of Moroccan troops, or even colonial troops in general. .
However, in France, in our multicultural society, it is important to show our new generations what was the precious contribution of their elders to liberate France in order to facilitate their identification with the society in which they live. While carrying out my hikes, after the many questions expressed by young and old, I notice each time the expression first of astonishment to learn that Morocco and France ” were already in 1914(to use the wording that I often hear from the young participants especially), unis of feelings of pride, of appeasement, in particular when they learn that the dead soldiers were buried as far as possible according to the rite of their religious practice, that the content of theirrs meals were also respected according to their practice religious already at that time and that there was a real consideration of their specificity at the level of the military authorities.
All these elementsthese feedbacks impact their understanding of who they are, where they come from and also facilitates the acceptance of their dual culture.
– A Oujda you are launching a series of initiatives. What are they and how are they received by young people and the population?
I chose Oujda and more broadly the Oriental region to launch a series of initiativess. It is true that these 4300 men came from tall regions of Morocco but it should be noted that half of this Brigade left Morocco to the what theout 1914 taking the train toOujda (first station in Morocco) to head towards Oran before leaving Africa by boat et reach France.
Thus, in partnership with the Apprentice Training Center ofOcquerre (77) we made steles with the aim of installing them in the areas of the Oujda and Taourirt.
The 4 nNovember 2023, always in the logic of work and transmission of memory, we organize with the University Mohammed 1is in Oujda, a Csymposium on the commitment of Moroccan troops during the 2 Gmany wars world and on the Resistance during the Protectorate.
On November 6, 2023, at Saidia, as part of the anniversary of the Green March, in addition to the Ecological March, a project of La Marche des Tirailleurs is taking shape. It will be an event where we can approach the work of memory through cultural, sporting and touristic actions.
There is of course still my ongoing project of writing a book on the careers of these Moroccan skirmishers, their feats of arms, the dissemination of the names of those who have been identified, as well as the names of their cities, tribes and douars from which these heroes came.
And finally, a documentary is being produced by Didier Pazery on the actions of my Association Memory France Morocco carried out here in France or during my trips to Morocco to meet the institutions and associative actors to whom I wish to convey the message on the need to work and cultivate this memory on the two shores with the younger generations. These projects are very well received on both sides, particularly at the level of the Royal Institute for Research on the History of Morocco a you CCME.
We hope as such that a television channel will favorably welcome this 52-minute documentary. both in France and in Morocco.