Algeria: 35 years on, 'Berber Spring' still an open wound

1980 uprising called for recognition of cultural roots

03 April, 15:59

    Thousands of Berbers stage a march in Tizi-Ouzou in Algeria Thousands of Berbers stage a march in Tizi-Ouzou in Algeria

    (by Diego Minuti) (ANSAmed) - ROME - Thirty years before the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and the bloodshed of Egypt's Piazza Tahrir uprising, Algeria had its own 'spring'.

    The uprising has been almost entirely forgotten outside of the country, but many deaths remain unaccounted for.

    The 'Berber Spring' broke out in 1980 and lasted for only a few weeks in its most acute and bloodiest phase. However, this was long enough to make Kabylie - the region where it started - into a painful symbol of how a revolt can begin from the ferocious determination of wanting to defend cultural roots and the freedom to consider oneself Berber even more than Algerian. Kabylie, which is still known for being a troubled region loath to passively accept whatever is decided in Algiers, in 1980 rebelled against what the government was doing to move steadily towards a new type of country that - as President Chadli Bendjedid put it - was ''Arab, Muslim and Algerian'', and where ''democracy does not mean anarchy''. Berbers, which account for over 30% of the population, did not agree to the forced Arabization of society, which began in the public administration and schools, where the Berber language Tamazight was rejected, thereby severing the roots of an ancient, refined and proud civilization. On March 10, 1980, Algiers' decision to call off a conference in Tizi Ouzou of the Kabylie poet Mouloud Mammaeri sparked the rebellion. Protests followed and on April 7 security forces put down one in Algiers using violent means. The peak of the tension was on the night between April 19 and April 20, when police attacked the Tizi Ouzou university (that had only been founded in 1977 and that became a hotbed for the protest) to clear out the students and teachers that had barricaded themselves inside. In the following hours the crackdown grew more violent and spread to hospitals and factories, isolating Kabylie from the rest of the country. The unofficial death toll stood at 126, with thousands injured, but the protest led to a slow process pf opening up to the Kabylie and its culture. Now some MPs make their parliamentary addresses in Tamazight, which has become one of the country's official languages. It was a revolution compared with the past, but not nearly as much as the Berbers want. (ANSAmed).

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