Moroccans were known as some of the fiercest fighters among the troops of right-wing General Francisco Franco in Spain’s 1936-1939 civil war.
But 70 years later, Moroccan campaigners see Franco’s “Moorish troops” as victims and seek an investigation to establish “the truth” about their fate.
Moroccans who fought for Franco were often recruited by force, says Abdesslam Boutayeb, president of the Moroccan Center for Common Memory and the Future (CMCA), which is trying to raise the issue with Spain.
Spanish historian Maria Rosa de Madariaga questions such views, saying Moroccans joined Franco’s troops voluntarily.
When Franco set out to topple Spain’s republican government, he launched his uprising from Morocco, the north of which was a Spanish protectorate at the time.
An estimated 80,000 Moroccans were recruited to fight alongside Francoists in the war, which claimed about 500,000 lives.
The Moroccans had a savage reputation and were greatly feared, as was Franco’s personal Moorish Guard after the war.
Francoists spread stories about the Moroccans’ cruelty to frighten their opponents, Moroccan researcher Boughaleb El Attar wrote in the Spanish daily El Pais.
The stories, which El Attar sees as having a racist component, contributed to a negative image of Moroccans that still lingers in Spain to this day.
Franco’s Moroccan soldiers were usually poor inhabitants of the northern mountainous Rif region, who joined the general’s troops to be fed and to get a salary, according to testimonies of war veterans.
Despite Catholicism forming an important part of his nationalist ideology, Franco did not hesitate to recruit Muslims to whom he presented his uprising as a joint Christian-Muslim fight against godless “reds.”
The Moroccans joined a foreign war the real causes of which they knew nothing about, El Attar writes.
Many were recruited against their will, Boutayeb said.
The CMCA wants to take advantage of Spain’s 2007 Law of Historic Memory, which seeks to restore the dignity of Franco’s forgotten republican victims.
Measures include support to groups digging up remains of republicans from mass graves.
The mass graves are also believed to contain bones of Moroccan soldiers, tens of thousands of whom went missing in the war, according to figures given by Boutayeb.
The CMCA has the backing of the National Rally of Independents, one of the main parties in Morocco’s coalition government.
Emilio Silva represents the Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory, the biggest group exhuming republican remains from mass graves.
The Moroccan soldiers “supported a coup” against Spain’s legal government, and “came here to kill people,” Silva said.
“They were given pensions, while the republicans got nothing,” he complains.
Most observers, however, agree that the pensions now received by about 2,000 Moroccan war veterans or widows are miserably small.
Although the Franco regime fixed the level of the pensions in an “irrevocable” decision, it would be fair for the Moroccans to get the same — higher — amount of pension money that Spanish war veterans get, de Madariaga wrote.
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