Nation profile

Amazigh people
Imazighen

General information
Population
Between 22 and 40 million
Area
With no defined borders; their territory spans the whole of North Africa.
Institutions
None officially recognized by states.
Major cities
Tizi-Ouzou, Batna (Bathenth), Tamanghasset (Tamenghest), Agadez, Tombouctou (Tin Bektu), Nador, Melilla (Tamelilt), Al Hoceima, Houmt Souk.
State administration
Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Niger, Egypt, Spain
Territorial languages
Amazigh, which some linguists believe to be one single language and others, several ones
Official languages
Arabic and Amazigh (Morocco, Algeria), Arabic (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt), French (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso), Spanish (Spain)
Major religion
Sunni Islam (majority), Shi'a and Ibadi Islam, Christianity, Judaism
National day
Yennayer, or Amazigh New Year (14 January)

Presentation

The Amazigh people inhabits a territory spanning most of North Africa, from the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts up to the Sahel. Since the 20th century, it also has had a substancial presence in Europe through the Amazigh diaspora.

The traditional territory of the Amazigh people is called "Tamazgha" in the Amazigh language. Many of the region's inhabitants have Amazigh ancestors, but after centuries of Arabization, not all of them have preserved an Amazigh cultural and linguistic heritage. As a result, as of today, those territories of Tamazgha where significant populations recognize themselves as Amazigh do not have territorial continuity, being separated by areas where most of the people consider themselves to be culturally and linguistically Arab, or by mostly depopulated, desert regions.

Thus Rif, Atlas, and Souss (Morocco), Kabylia, Mzab, and Aurès (Algeria), Djerba (Tunisia), Zuwara and the Nafusa mountains (Libya), the Siwa oasis (Egypt) and the Tuareg-populated Saharan and Sahelian regions —including Azawad— spanning Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso can be named among Tamazgha's most prominent territories where a cultural and linguistic Amazigh character has been preserved. In some of those cases, an Amazigh-based political movement has also developed.

Language

Amazigh is a language of the Afroasiatic family spoken in all the regions aforementioned. It has between 18 and 30 million speakers.

The variation in its dialects has led some linguists to consider them as different languages belonging to an Amazigh branch, rather a single language. Other linguists, taking into account their common origin and their essential similarities, consider that Amazigh is fundamentally one single language.

The four major dialectal blocs of Amazigh are Northern, Western, Eastern, and Tuareg. Most Amazigh speakers use one of the main northern variants: Riffian, Tamazight, and Tashelhit in Morocco; Kabyle, Chaoui, and Mozabite in Algeria.

Amazigh has been an official language in Morocco since 2011, and Algeria since 2016. In both countries, however, the official use of Arabic continues to be privileged by state authorities.

National identity

While Amazigh political and cultural movements share a consensus over the cultural and linguistic unity of the Amazigh world, its political unity and the consideration of the Amazigh as a nation is more controversial. A part of the Amazigh movement advocates the concept of the Amazigh people as one single nation living within a more or less defined territory —Tamazgha—, while another part argues that each of Tamazgha's major regions are separate nations by themselves, having their own, distinct political projects —this is mostly true for the Kabyle and Tuareg sovereignty movements. In this latter case, the notion of "Amazigh peoples," rather than "the Amazigh people," is sometimes used.

Politics and government

In the contemporary age, no state has ever existed with a clear Amazigh majority and identity that has consolidated in time or that has received a general recognition from the rest of countries. This does not mean, however, that attempts to create them have not been made. From 1921 to 1926 Riffian tribes proclaimed the Republic of Rif in northern Morocco, at that time a Spanish protectorate. At war against Spain during all its existence, it was liquidated by colonial power. In 2012 a Tuareg- and Arab-led in northern Mali proclaimed the independence of the State of Azawad. The new political entity lasted a few months before being destroyed by a coalition of Islamist armed movements.

The Amazigh people has self-organized in other bodies, apart from those two attempts at state creation. Among the most outstanding today we can mention the following three:

The World Amazigh Congress brings together representatives from countries with Amazigh population, with the aim of uniting their voices in the international arena to promote their political, social, cultural and linguistic rights. It held its first congress in 1997.

In Libya, the Amazigh Supreme Council brings together several Amazigh local councils in the midst of the government’s unrest since the demise of the Gaddafi regime.

The Movement for the Self-determination of Kabylia (MAK) established in Paris in 2010 a Provisional Government in Exile, also known by its Amazigh name, Anavad.

(Last updated November 2020.)