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20TH ANNIVERSARY
OF AMAZIGH SPRING:
APRIL 20, 1980 - APRIL 20, 2000

from Algerian Press Review
translated for WAAC by Mokrane Bouakiz


The following article, by Mourad Ait Oufella, was published in French in the daily Liberté on April 19, 2000. The article included a photo of a little girl holding a sign that reads: "Deprived of my mother language, Tamazight, I am a stranger in my own country."


Twenty years later…

No, Mr President, "Tamazight is a Priority!"

The inclusion of Tamazight in the constitution [of Algeria] should be considered in a global vision in the overall framework of the revision of the fundamental law [constitution].

Twenty years after the Amazigh [Berber] Spring of 1980, it is time to pause and assess the results of a half-century struggle: Untold sacrifices, some substantial progress, but much more is left to accomplish to redress this historical injustice. The Amazigh cause advances and the struggle continues with the most pressing goal: the inclusion of the legitimate place of Tamazight language and culture in the constitution and institutions of Algeria. The debate around this question, started in 1995 with the creation of the High Commission on Amazighity [HCA}, the first of a kind official institution in the history of the Maghreb [North Africa], put in charge of promoting this most enduring cultural heritage of the history of North Africa.

The creation of the HCA is a historic achievement but one should be vigilant. The introduction of Tamazight in the preamble of the constitution of 1996 added support to the advance registered in April 22, 1995 (creation of the HCA). However, this is still very little, and the road to full legitimacy of Tamazight in the state institutions is a long and tortuous path. Today, the debate is once more brought forward for a legitimate claim, i.e., the incorporation of Tamazight in the constitution. The hsitorical context favors it, since it is the intention of the president of the republic to bring about a revision of the constitution. This opportunity to correct a historical injustice will require responsibility, determination, and political courage within a serene environment. One needs to impose a rational debate instead of a passionate one, as in the past, in order to advance the resolution of this question. This revision of the constitution provides an opportunity to the head of state, and through him, the whole state power, to undo this injustice and denial of a people's identity that has lasted for so long. This is indeed an occasion to close a sad chapter of the tormented history of post-independent Algeria.

It is time that the government stops this "Apartheid of identity" imposed on a large segment of the Algerian population. The president of the republic declared on Thursday September 22, 1999 in Tizi-Ouzou [capital of Kabylia where the events of 1980 took place] : "I am saying, even if Tamazight should become a national language, it will never become an official language." The president should rethink his approach, if not his political motives. He needs to rectify his target because history might contradict him and push him into a corner. In fact, one should never say "NEVER" because a just cause often ends in achieving its intended final objective. The Algeria of 2000 is not the Algeria of 1970 [reference here to the dictatorship of the Boumedienne regime, under which current president Bouteflika served as its foreign minister], and cannot be. This fact, even the president understands since he reiterated it on many public forums. Regarding the suggestion to subject Tamazight to a national referendum, a suggestion expressed by the head of state during the same speech in Tizi-Ouzou, this is indeed a political adventure with very high stakes and risky consequences. Such a proposition, even in the realm of wishful thinking, has the potential to lead to a most damaging civil war. Pitting two populations against each other, is the same as wanting to divide Algeria, while Tamazight should be viewed as reinforcing a framework of unity in a whole and indivisible Algeria. Obviously, either the president is ignorant about the subject, or he must have received very bad advice to entertain such a discourse. As such, Abdelaziz Bouteflika disappointed the entire region of Kabylia, which had wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. He will benefit greatly if he were to propose an honorable statute for Tamazight in an overall framework leading to the revision of the constitution.

To say that "Tamazight is not a priority," the expression used by the president in his speech in Tizi-Ouzou, is a slap in the face of militants of the Amazigh cause. No, the incorporation of Tamazight in the constitution is a priority. It is even a requirement in the actual conjecture in order to establish peace, the true peace and reconciliation of Algeria and its people with its history. The ideal today is to engage the debate within the appropriate framework, to introduce the role and place of Tamazight in the core body of the constitution and not only in the preamble. What this means is that instead of affixing the "never" and negations of the past to a historical claim, ways and means must be found to allow this element of the national identity to receive better treatment and support by the state. The occasion presents itself to definitely resolve this sensitive issue and declare this century as the one for the recognition and promotion of Tamazight, and the past century as one of struggle, of all the struggles and all the sacrifices. It is in this direction that one should direct the vision, and we shall all make of this 20th anniversary of the Amazigh Spring a new beginning and a new chapter. [Perhaps one should say: a happier chapter for the place of Tamazight in modern Algerian society, if not in all the countries of North Africa].

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