Sign In / Up

Add contribution as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Comment as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Login

Not a member Register   Forgot Password
or connect using
 

Email

 

Rudaw

World

Bernard Dorin: Former French Ambassador, Unreserved Friend of the Kurds

By Allan Kaval 22/1/2014
In the course of the 20th century the Kurds would commonly be confronted with indifference, their fate fairly unknown to the international public and world leaders. Few in the West stood for them. Bernard Dorin was among those who did. Photo: institut Kurde de Paris
In the course of the 20th century the Kurds would commonly be confronted with indifference, their fate fairly unknown to the international public and world leaders. Few in the West stood for them. Bernard Dorin was among those who did. Photo: institut Kurde de Paris

PARIS – Venerable Bernard Dorin received me in his Parisian apartment, where he was surrounded by ancient furniture and books. He sat on a vintage armchair that the course of time had moulded into a comfortable shape.

In a lordly, affable way, he invited me to a seat in front of him.  

Numerous pictures stood on a neighbouring shelf. Two among them caught my eyes before I could ask my first question.

The first portrayed a gentleman in the prime of life, standing with presence in a medal-clad official coat of the French ambassadors. The other depicted a younger man with a smiling face and trimmed beard. He wore beige fatigues and a military cap.

The photo diffused in the room the golden light and yellowish colors that the Kurdish mountains assume at the height of summer.

“This one was taken in August 1968, near Rawanduz, when I was with Mullah Mustafa Barzani,” Dorin told me, as I understood that the ambassador, the fatigue-clad man and the elder one who sat before me in a dressing gown were one person.

In the course of the 20th century the Kurds would commonly be confronted with indifference, their fate fairly unknown to the international public and world leaders. Few in the West stood for them. Bernard Dorin was among those who did.

  In the course of the 20th century the Kurds would commonly be confronted with indifference, their fate fairly unknown to the international public and world leaders. Few in the West stood for them. Bernard Dorin was among those who did.  

 

Born in 1929, the French diplomat quit his early career because he refused to endorse a decision that was likely to put the life of numerous Kurdish civilians at risk during one of Mullah Mustafa Barzani’s revolt.

Five years later, having become a prominent staff member of several French ministers, he forwent the tranquillity of the French Republic’s palaces and embarked on a hectic journey to the Peshmarga-held mountains of Kurdistan.

After he reintegrated into the French foreign ministry, Dorin stayed true to the very principles that had gotten him fired a decade before. He kept on following the evolution of the Kurdish issue, as he occupied the most coveted and prestigious position of the French Foreign service in ambassadorial postings to Japan and the United Kingdom.

“Bernard Dorin’s life is utterly original for a French diplomat. His commitment toward causes, his sincerity in defending them and his empathy altogether set him apart,” Gérard Chaliand told me. A writer and geostrategic expert, he met Dorin in 1975. They worked on the publication of “Kurds and Kurdistan.”  The book was partly intended to raise French public awareness about the fate of Iraqi Kurds after the Baathist crushing of the Kurdish resistance movement.

Today, in Paris, Dorin is still a common face at small Kurdish circles and regularly attends any conferences and Newroz celebrations.

“The course of my life met the history of the Kurds one morning of 1964,” Dorin recalled with his usual eloquence.

He was then an assistant to the “secrétaire général” of the French Foreign ministry, Eric de Carbonnel, the second most important man of France’s diplomatic apparatus.

At that time, Dorin had to start each working day at seven by browsing hundreds of diplomatic cables that streamed into the ministry from around the world. His job was to select those worth being submitted to his superior.

“Then one fine day, I happened on a cable our ambassador to London had sent. It read that the British government were soliciting France’s approval on an arms deal with Iraq, involving the United Kingdom selling 30 Hawker Hunter fighter-bomber aircraft with a stock of compatible napalm bombs,” Dorin began to recount as his face went grave.

“At that time I knew little about the Kurds, except that they were engaged in an insurrection against the Iraqi state and were fighting for the recognition of their identity as a nation, being the largest one without a state. As I thought highly of fighters struggling for self-determination, I considered their cause a fair one,” he commented.

  Today, in Paris, Dorin is still a common face at small Kurdish circles and regularly attends any conferences and Newroz celebrations. 

 

Following the 1961-63 revolts and the repression of the Kurdish movement under the Baath government of 1963, the ever-souring relations between the factions of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Marshall Abd al-Salam Arif’s new regime made renewed fighting seem more and more likely as 1965 approached. As a matter of fact, the first skirmishes between the Iraqi army and Barzani’s Peshmargas erupted in December in Chemchemal, Derbendikhan and Khanaqin. All-out war was to start a few months later.

“I was aware that the Hawker Hunter aircraft were used in counter-guerrilla warfare. Moreover, I knew for a fact that napalm bombs were commonly used against civilian populations” Dorin pointed out.

As soon as Mr. de Carbonnel arrived, Dorin raced toward his office and exposed the situation to him.

The secrétaire général resounded blankly that there was no point in scrupling to approve the arms deal.

France had no Kurdish policy. Furthermore, no humanitarian reason was to challenge the unquestionable respect of state sovereignty.       

“I explained to him what I knew of the Kurdish struggle and that the sale of such military supplies to Iraq would doubtlessly pave the way to a genocide,” Dorin recounted.

Sitting up straight in his armchair, the retired ambassador sketched the dialogue that ensued, reproducing with a great deal of detail the words the two had exchanged 50 years ago.

“I told him that France should not be associated with such an operation. He instantly flew off the handle and started yelling at me. He roared that I was nothing but a petty civil servant and that it was not for me to form any kind of opinion on the conduct of the foreign policy of France,” Dorin remembered.

“I answered him that my father was an officer of the French army who strived to instil in me the sense of honor, and that I would never dishonor myself by taking part in genocide. Carbonel gazed at me and told that me, not only will we answer positively to the British, but that I will have to sign the cable myself.  I calmly replied that I would never do such a thing.

“He notified me straight away that it was then no use for me to appear at the office on the following day. I riposted that I’d rather leave at once. I left and reconciled my mind to the idea that my career was over.”

Dorin remained unemployed for a few months, before joining the staff of Alain Peyrefitte, the French minister of information, as a diplomatic adviser.

In the years following his ousting from the French Foreign service, Dorin created the Relief Committee for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, with the support of the French Nobel laureate for literature, writer François Mauriac.

  I explained to him what I knew of the Kurdish struggle and that the sale of such military supplies to Iraq would doubtlessly pave the way to a genocide,  

 

Using his high position in the government, he created a scholarship system allowing Kurdish students to study in France.

He then met the Emir Kamuran Bedir Khan, an exiled Kurdish prince based in Paris, who was active all his life in the Kurdish movement.

“Prince Bedir Khan was an exceptionally broad-minded man. He was wise and realistic, a wholehearted patriot and a man open to the world,” Dorin recalled.

In early summer 1968, Dorin decided to embark for Iraqi Kurdistan. After the student revolts of the spring, wavering and confusion had engulfed France. He felt that this was the moment for him to do something significant for the Kurds.

Dorin was a former drafted officer of the French air force rifles in Algeria. He hoped that his knowledge of counter-guerrilla warfare could be helpful to the Kurds.

“My decision was taken, but meanwhile Robert Galley, the new minister of scientific research, asked me to join his staff. I explained that my plans were already set. Galley was a former Free France Forces fighter. He had served in Syria during World War II. He was aware of the Kurds’ situation. He understood my commitment. He told me that if I should come back alive he would hire me.”

Dorin asked Prince Bedir Khan to help organize his journey to Iraqi Kurdistan -- a remote, unreachable place back then. The Kurdish Emir sent Dorin to his sister, who lived in Istanbul.

She put Dorin in touch with a network of supporters of the Kurdish cause, who helped him cross Turkish territory until he reached the Iraqi border. Then he went straight south to Bagdad, where a well-off, nationalist Kurdish family received him. 

When Dorin arrived in the Iraqi capital, the Baath had just seized power. The relations between the new Iraqi government and the Kurdish movement were in a shaky no-war, no-peace status quo.

Two years before, Mullah Mustafa Barzani had signed a ceasefire. The situation in Kurdistan, however, had remained volatile.

The Iraqi government had been exploiting the division within the Kurdish movement. Hostilities were common. Moreover, in 1968 the KDP was reinforcing its strategic partnership with the Shah of Iran.

Most violence occurred between rival Kurdish factions, but the Iraqi regular army was more and more involved in low-intensity combats.

Also, one could not simply enter free Kurdistan. A kind of internal border was to be crossed.

Dorin had planned to travel to Kurdistan with two French women – a journalist, and a doctor who wanted to supply the Kurdish people with medicines against napalm-induced wounds. At the time, the Peshmarga had only Mercurochrome. 

  Dorin was a former drafted officer of the French air force rifles in Algeria. He hoped that his knowledge of counter-guerrilla warfare could be helpful to the Kurds.  

 

In order to cross anonymously the line between the Iraqi-controlled area and Kurdish-held lands, they disguised themselves as Arab women in full black Islamic veils that disclosed their eyes only.

Dorin would go first. A Kurdish friend was to drive him north from Baghdad in the back of his car. The Frenchman was supposed to pretend to be asleep – hidden in his veil - at the moment they would reach the Iraqi lines.

“I quickly realized that some spy had leaked our plan to the army. The military was searching each and every car on the road,” Dorin recalled.

When he noticed the same, the driver had the presence of mind to make a U-turn immediately. He scampered full speed ahead toward Bagdad.

“He left me at the airport. I took the first plane to Iran.”

In Tehran, the French ambassador to the Shah arranged a meeting between Dorin and the Iranian army chief of staff.    
      

“I explained to the general that joining the Kurdish guerrillas was a personal initiative, and that the French government was unconnected. He did not trust me. He thought that I was an envoy, which was untrue.”

Nevertheless, given the thriving ties between Iran and Mullah Mustafa Barzani’s KDP, the high-ranking officer put an Iranian military plane at Dorin’s disposal. After a stopover in Tabriz, Dorin went by road to the Kurdish town of Mahabad.

“We arrived at the foot of the Zagros Mountains on a jeep and finally crossed the Iraqi border on horseback. Barzani’s Peshmargas, wearing their distinctive red-and-white shashiks, welcomed me on the other side of the mountain range. They made me kiss the ground of the free Kurdistan. It was very moving.”

  If the Iraqis were to find me, I knew that they did not keep prisoners, 

 

Dorin was led to Mullah Mustafa Barzani’s headquarters. There, a French-speaking Christian Peshmarga was designated as his translator and guide.

During several weeks he followed various KDP katibas in the Rawanduz area. There, he shared the austere, dangerous life of the Peshmargas, and once took part in a horse charge.

“The Kurds wanted to capture a piece of artillery protecting the Iraqi-held town of Rawanduz. We were 40 horse riders armed with Kurdish swords. When our chief gave us the signal our mounts departed at once. I felt no fear, but a strange feeling of elation. We took the enemy battery within minutes.”

He also experienced the unmitigated camaraderie existing between men exposed to a shared danger and driven by the same cause.

“As my stay was reaching its end, two Iraqi brigades started chasing our group of fighters. We had to flee into the mountains. My comrades were all seasoned hikers. They were getting around easily in the heights. I had a hard time following them, since I brought to Kurdistan my European shoes that were of no use in the mountains. My feet were covered with bleeding wounds. I could not walk anymore. I collapsed. If the Iraqis were to find me, I knew that they did not keep prisoners,” Dorin remembered.

“One of the Kurdish fighters noticed, however, that I had gone missing. He backtracked at the peril of his life, gave me his soft Peshmarga shoes and, barefoot on the sharp edge rocks, he helped me walk up the hill.”

Once he left guerrilla life in the Kurdish mountains to return to his position in the high sphere of the French Republic, Dorin stayed loyal to his Kurdish friends.

Indeed, something he had seen haunted his memory.

“When I was in Kurdistan the Iraqi air force would regularly use napalm bombs on military positions and villages. The aircraft jettisoned those very bombs I had failed to prevent from being sold to Baghdad. One day, I entered a cave turned into a field hospital. There was a young girl lying there. Her face was nothing but burnt flesh. Napalm. Only her eyes were alive, staring at me with a look of blame. She had understood that I was coming from the West, from where the wicked weapon which turned her innocent life into a torment had been designed, manufactured and sent.”

Dorin’s commitment toward the Kurdish issue continued after he was reintegrated into the French diplomatic service in 1972.

  One of the Kurdish fighters noticed, however, that I had gone missing. He backtracked at the peril of his life, gave me his soft Peshmarga shoes and, barefoot on the sharp edge rocks, he helped me walk up the hill. 

 

As a French ambassador to the UK, in the 1990’s, he waved the Kurdish flag in front of his embassy when he officially received Massoud Barzani.

Since retiring, Dorin takes part in countless conferences on Kurdish issues, continues to follow the day-to-day evolution of the situation and gives the support he can to the Kurdish movement, regardless of party affiliations.

Several times, Dorin received Fidan Dogan -- also known as Rojbin – before she was murdered in Paris one year ago. along with Leyla Sölemez and senior PKK member Sakine Cansiz.

“Fidan would often call me, asking me for advice and support. The last time I saw her, she was in the very armchair you are sitting in,” Dorin told me with sorrow in his eyes.

“The slowness of the investigation is unacceptable. I will do whatever I can as a former ambassador to obtain information on the prosecution.”

Before I left, Dorin recalled a last memory of his time in Kurdistan.   
  

“The night after one of the Peshmargas saved my life by giving me his shoes, a poor, hoary man welcomed me to his house. A single picture hung on the whitewashed wall. It featured a dead man, lying on the ground. Three Kurdish villagers surrounded him. The man was my host’s father. Someone had taken the picture after he was killed in a bombing of the British Royal Air Force. I told the old man that his father looked like my own grandfather. The old man told me that this photo was his last treasure, the last thing he cared for. The photo reminded him of the youth he spent hunting and horse riding with his beloved father.

“The Peshmarga woke me up in the morning. We had to get higher in the mountains in order to lose our pursuers.  I was about to say goodbye to the old man, when he unhooked the picture and held it out to me.

“I was overwhelmed. I tried to refuse, but he said: ‘Take it! You see! My hands are shaking. I cannot hold a rifle anymore. Otherwise, I would have been in the mountains with the Peshmargas. I am an old man. If the Iraqis spare my life today when they enter the village on your trails, God will make me die tomorrow. Nevertheless, I can do one last thing for Kurdistan. I give you this photo. You will talk of my people’s struggle in your country.’

“That is what I’ve been doing ever since.”

 

Comments

 
Bakir Lashkari
Bakir Lashkari | 22/1/2014
This is the most incredibale and fantastic story which I have had ever read about who the foreigners are thinking of the Kurdish case. However I believe that there more and more people like Dorin who can understand the Kurdish destiny. I have the most respect for this man to go to Kurdistan to see what he saw before that the arms were going to be used against the Kurds, which he saw it by his own eys and he experieced the real life situation in Kurdistan too. The key question is how long does it take to get rid of these Kurdish enemies and establish the State of Kurdistan? What do we expect to get the full freedom and establish our own State, one or two generations? Who knows? Why not strike while the Iron is hot or very hot! I mean when our enemies are so weak and strike with a full swing and spead with any hesitataions and delay to say, let us just do it!
Schkak | 22/1/2014
A moving story of a noble man,friend of Kurds.His memoires are like a treasure which enriches us as humanbeings.Merci monsieur Dorin.
probarzani | 22/1/2014
long live the barzani family dynasty
Simko | 22/1/2014
A brave and a just man.This gentleman deserves our respect and sincere appreciation for his loyalty to the Kurds over half a century.I would kindly suggest that he writes his memories,which will shed light on an important part of our history.This report well written by Allan Kaval is a source of inspiration.A deseved tribute.
Alan Saeed | 23/1/2014
A very honorable man with a noble soul, who supported our cause during our harshest days, when only the mountains were our friends.
Tags :
11285 Views

Be Part of Your Rudaw!

Share your stories, photos and videos with Rudaw, and quite possibly the world.

What You Say

A Kurd | 11/20/2018 3:17:30 AM
This is a complete lie and fabrication. It is a made up propaganda by the mullahs. There is NO, absolutely no sanctions on any type of drug or food;...
Tigran Hakopian | 11/20/2018 8:04:02 PM
See the comments of these so called opressed people: Hate and anger towards Iranian children, Iranian mothers and citizens of Iran. Poor Assyrians...
Cancer medication scarce due to US sanctions on Iran
| yesterday at 04:58 | (4)
SAVE THE KURDS | 11/20/2018 7:51:07 PM
President Trump has always recognized the bravery of the Kurds and he consistently describes them as his allies and has most recently said that he...
PKK's Murat Karayilan brushes off $5mn US bounty on his head
| 4 hours ago | (1)
FAUthman | 11/19/2018 5:03:25 AM
This is a very useful report by Rudaw with a lot of very important quotes here. T.U.
FAUthman | 11/20/2018 5:00:51 PM
A key quote from the US side: “That’s what we’re here to do and once we feel that’s complete ( ISIS defeat ) and our partners (SDF) are taken care...
US forces visit Syrian border villages after Turkish shelling
| 18/11/2018 | (2)
pre-Boomer Marine brat | 11/20/2018 3:58:49 PM
This will be utterly ineffective -- It would have spine if the EoCHR said, unless Demirtas is released within 24, the EU will immediately place a...
European court rules for Demirtas’ pre-trial release
| 12 hours ago | (1)

Elsewhere on Rudaw

0.297 seconds