The Amazigh Spring was a turning point and reference in the identity struggle of an entire people

The Amazigh Spring (in Amazigh: ⵜⴰⴼⵙⵓⵜ ⵏ ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵏ or tafsut n imaziɣn) is a memorable revolt in the history of the Amazigh people’s struggle. It refers to a series of uprisings and mobilizations led by the Berber Cultural Movement (see note 1) and the entire population of Kabylia (including in Algiers) from March to June 1980 to demand recognition of Amazigh identity and language.

On 10 March 1980, miscalculating that it would be just another day like all the others in which no one would dare to rise against their routine tyrannical decisions, the authorities of post-colonial Algeria banned a conference on ancient Amazigh poetry, organized by Amazigh intellectuals at the University of Tizi Ouzou and to be presented by Amazigh linguist and anthropologist Mouloud Mammeri. With this event, the ruling political system reaffirmed its immobilism and the continuation of the policy of annulment and censorship against Amazigh identity and popular culture. In turn, the Amazigh cultural movement, at the height of its strong awareness of its own identity and the need to live it normally, projected an unequivocal determination to defend Amazigh identity and tear down the walls of systematic exclusion.

Thus, in the context of pan-Arabist political regimes monopolizing power in North Africa’s centralized nation-states after independence from European imperial powers, the decision to ban an Amazigh literary and cultural conference was enough to ignite the spark and trigger the revolt of the Amazigh Spring. This historic event transcended the University of Tizi Ouzou to spread to the streets and neighbourhoods of Kabylia. During that spring, the authorities responded with cruelty and military and police violence, which led to a spiral of demonstrations and repression. Many men and women, who were witnesses and are still alive, recount the tortures and violence to which those involved and not involved in the mobilizations were subjected. They also talk about the extent of the victims of repression.

The echoes of the events and their mobilizing effect were transmitted to other Amazigh groups beyond Algeria’s borders. Therefore, the success of the Amazigh Spring, in addition to reflecting the Amazigh people’s rejection of the policies of cultural, linguistic and identity elimination, lies in the synergic connection of the other Amazigh movements in North Africa and beyond with the demands of the movement in Kabylia and, thus, the assumption of a common cause for all Amazighs.

Thus, beyond a one-off uprising out of indignation, the Amazigh Spring is the gateway to an ongoing struggle for recognition of Amazigh identity and culture. At the same time, it is the spearhead of a transversal movement, convinced and based on self-organization, since it made it possible to strengthen collective awareness of the cause. The following are some of the main stages of this struggle process, triggered and stimulated by the Amazigh Spring. Without intending to ignore the struggle experiences in Libya and Tunisia or those of the Tuaregs, we limit ourselves to Algeria and Morocco.

In Algeria:

  • The 1991 demonstrations for Amazigh recognition in Algeria.
  • The school strike known as the School Bag Strike (2) carried out throughout the 1994-1995 school year, which led the State to grant national status to the Amazigh language, to start introducing it into the school system, and to create the academic institution of the High Commissariat of Amazighity.
  • The violent mass demonstrations of June and July 1998 in response to the assassination of Kabyle singer-songwriter and activist Matoub Lounes.
  • The Black Spring (3) protests in 2001, which were repressed and ended with more than 100 killed.
  • The leading role and participation of the Amazigh movement in the large-scale demonstrations by the Hirak protest movement (4) between 2019 and 2021, calling for political change, dignity and freedom.

In Morocco:

  • The Agadir Charter on linguistic and cultural rights led by various Amazigh associations in Morocco in 1991. It is considered the first formal collective claim to Amazighness at that time.
  • The events of 1 May 1994, when activists of the Tilelli (Freedom) association in south-eastern Morocco were arrested while demonstrating with banners written in Tifinagh (Amazigh script).
  • The Berber Manifesto for official recognition of Amazighness in 2000, signed by a million followers of the Amazigh cause, including Amazigh Spring demands.
  • The revolt of the Rif Popular Movement (5) in 2016.

What is its significance for the Amazigh people?

The Amazigh Spring has strong symbolic significance for the Amazigh, for breaking the taboo of questioning the central power and expressing explicitly Amazighist demands through direct protest. Beyond the Kabyle linguistic variety, the Amazigh Spring defended Amazigh linguistic diversity, even including popular Arabic varieties. In this way, it proposed a pluralist society model and denounced the anti-democratic line of a single language and religion. The feedback and affiliation of other North African Amazigh groups in the same struggle showed that the Amazigh Spring made the cultural and ethnic diversity of the Amazigh people visible. It also contributed to spreading the notion that North Africa’s cultural and historical background is Amazigh.

It is also worth highlighting the value of youth in the process of Amazigh people's identity and cultural liberation, as it is their driving force. The Amazigh Spring is described as “a popular explosion in which young people rose up against the anti-democratic stance of the central power” (Yassine, 2009: 156). Indeed, young Amazighs continue to be at the forefront and the revolts demand change towards democracy, justice and freedom, as there is widespread awareness among Amazigh communities that, without these conditions and principles, there is no path to full recognition of the Amazigh fact.

For this reason, most Amazigh mobilizations over the last 40 years—starting with the Amazigh Spring—have been marked by the intense presence and significant protagonism of young people. This reality is motivated by the need to overcome the identity and psychological inferiority complex that has been sown in the Amazigh unconscious for a long time. At the same time, it is the result of the impact of the systematic repression and social precariousness that most affect this generational group.

Not only that, but the Amazigh Spring recalls the influential role and power of Amazigh women. Kabyle women played an effective and specific role in the revolt. Not only were they active in cultural and linguistic demands but, as Kabyle journalist and activist El-Kaissa Ould Braham conveys about the Black Spring, “10,000 women walked through the Kabyle capital Tizi-wezzu to call out their anger at the repression of youth. One of the slogans was 'Don’t touch our children’” (Castellanos et al., 2018: 56). Through identity, the Amazigh Spring raised numerous barriers by being a living reference for normalizing, defending, and demanding rights and values such as gender equality, secularism, freedom of association, and plurality.

While youth and women endowed the Amazigh Spring with the dynamism and vitality needed for the movement to bring its demands and issues out of the shadows, the structures of traditional Amazigh social and political organization were the guarantee for the organization of the movement and the Kabyle population around those demands. Thus, the councils of the archs (confederation of tribes) and tajmaat (people’s assembly), popular Amazigh ancestral bodies and institutions, facilitated democratic decision-making, consensus, and the development of actions during the Amazigh Spring mobilizations. The spirit of this organization is still active in many Amazigh communities. This is evidenced by the examples of the struggle of the people of the Imider commune (southeast Morocco), from 2011 to 2019, against the extractivism of the largest silver mine in Africa, and the mobilizations of the Popular Movement of the Rif, launched in 2016 against social marginalization in this territory.

Special reference should be made to the relevance of the Amazigh Spring for the Amazigh movement. It carries political significance in the Amazigh people’s memory. For this reason, the movement makes the annual commemoration of the event a tool for political awareness-raising and identity rights. If Innayr (the Amazigh New Year) is a cultural manifestation, the symbolization of the Amazigh Spring is more politically-oriented and vindicatory: around 20 April every year, it takes the form of protest actions and mobilizations, such as the marches organized in Kabylia, or towards Paris in the case of the Amazigh diaspora in Europe.

What achievements?

In terms of goals, the general view among the Amazigh movement is that the achievements of cultural recognition so far do not meet the needs and aspirations of this indigenous, diverse, and widespread people across North Africa. They are considered insufficient, given the historical and enduring resistance, resilience and effort of Amazigh women and men, as a result of which the Amazigh language and culture are still alive among millions of people and groups in the vast territory stretching from the Mediterranean to the sub-Saharan Sahel and from the Atlantic to the western shore of the Nile Delta. And, above all, these achievements still do not recover and repair the linguistic and cultural destruction, discrimination and inequality caused by exclusion and forced assimilation over centuries, carried out by powers and ideologies that came from abroad to subjugate and dominate the Amazigh in their own land.

However, without the Amazigh Spring, the Black Spring and the cross-cutting struggles of the Amazigh communities for Amazighness and against denial politics, no academic institutions or university departments exclusively for Amazigh research and studies would have seen the light of day. Nor would Amazigh be taught, albeit in a non-generalised form, in schools in some North African countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Libya. Much less would we see Amazigh as an official language in Algeria or Morocco’s constitution today. Although these are symbolic achievements—despite the legal texts that grant it official status—, the Amazigh movement, with its different cultural, linguistic, social and political branches, shows enough organizational capacity and experience to continue its struggle for progress in the achievement of collective rights and the recognition of the identity of Amazigh communities.


(1) The Berber Cultural Movement (MCB) is a powerful movement with a political and cultural soul born from the circles of Amazigh-speaking intellectuals and students in the 1960s and 1970s when the Algerian state opted for a reductive linguistic policy of denying the existence of the Amazigh language, with the aim of reinvesting the Amazigh question and which, starting with Amazigh Spring, will generate an important associative network of interest in Amazigh culture and the demand for the recognition of Amazigh as its own official language (Ahmed, 2002).

(2) The School Bag Strike was a strike organized by the Berber Cultural Movement from the beginning of the 1994 school year until May 1995. It boycotted schools in Kabylia for a school year. Strikers demanded official recognition of the Amazigh language by the Algerian authorities and its introduction into school and university teaching (Mémoire d'un boycott, 2008).

(3) The Black Spring (in Amazigh
Tafsut Taberkant) refers to the demonstrations staged by Kabyle activists in Kabylia in 2001, which were met with repressive police reactions. These demonstrations were triggered by the arrest of student Massinissa Guermah and his death inside the Algerian National Gendarmerie.

(4) The Algerian Hirak is the protest movement in Algeria that mobilized in February 2019 against the fifth mandate of sick and limited president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and opposed a political system of predatory political and military elites. The protest expressed itself in terms of freedom and dignity; it organized weekly mass demonstrations—on Fridays—, destabilized power, and led to Bouteflika's resignation (Thieux, 2023).

(5) Mass movement that emerged in Al-Hoceima following the atrocious death on 28 October 2016 of fish seller Mouhcine Fikri, crushed to death by a municipal waste collection truck. The movement has spread to the rest of the Rif's territory and the diaspora. It is popular, encompassing, and peaceful. Like the 20F Movement, it repeatedly calls for 
Freedom, dignity and social justice, and summarizes its social demands in employment, education, and health (Castellanos et al., 2018).

Bibliographical sources

Ahmed, M. (2002). La dynamique associative de kabylie pour le dévélopement de la langue berbère. [article en línia]. Linguapax. <https://www.linguapax.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/CMPL2002_T4_AhmedZaid.pdf>

Castellanos C., Chaker S. i Tilmatine M. (2007), Actes de la rencontre Cabylie-Catalogne. Paris: Edition Berbères.

Castellanos, C. et al. (2018). El Poble Amazic a Catalunya. CIEMEN-Barcelona: Col·lecció Drets Col·lectius, num. 5. <https://www.nationalia.cat/documents/coldc_18_19_poble_amazic_catalunya.pdf>

Yassine, T. et al. (2009), Els amazics avui, la cultura berber. Lleida: Pagès editors.

Mémoire d’un boycott [documental] (2008). Chérif Messaouden (dir.) França: Kaïna Cinéma (28 min).

Thieux, L., (2023). «La nueva Argelia» después del Hirak: discursos y estrategias de legitimación ante sus socios europeos. Revista CIDOB d’Afers Internacionals n.º 135, p. 115-141. <https://www.cidob.org/es/articulos/revista_cidob_d_afers_internacionals/135/la_nueva_argelia_despues_del_hirak_discursos_y_estrategias_de_legitimacion_ante_sus_socios_europeos>