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Kabylia

KABYLIA

Berber-speaking mountainous area in northern Algeria east of Algiers.

Kabylia, derived from the French Kabylie, is based on the Arabic qabila (tribe; pl., qabail ). The region is traditionally divided into two parts: the Djurd-jura Mountains (highest point 7,565 ft.) separating the Great Kabylia, to the north and centering on the regional capital, Tizi-Ouzou, and the Lesser Kabylia, to the south and east. Population density in this very hilly and not very fertile region is quite high. Though the area produces much of Algeria's olive oil and dried figs, the agricultural economy cannot support the total population. Thus historically the Kabylia has been a region of emigration to the Algerian port cities and the manufacturing centers of France. Although difficult to count accurately, the current Berber (Tamazight)-speaking population of the region is estimated at roughly four million.

Kabyle participation in Algeria's war of independence (19541962) was strong and determined. Upon independence, however, the Arab leadership of the National Liberation Front declared Algeria to be an Arab-Muslim nation. It broke up Berberist organizations and repressed the use of Tamazight, deeming it a threat to national unity. In 1980 largely peaceful, student-led demonstrations protesting the government's suppression of Berber cultural events broke out at Tizi-Ouzouthe administrative, commercial, and cultural center of the regionand then spread to other parts of the Kabylia. Violently repressed by the regime, these events came to be known as Berber Spring. Since then, and despite the strong opposition of Muslim fundamentalists and dominant sectors of the Algerian regime, Kabyles slowly have been able to obtain limited recognition for their cultural traditions and language: Tamazight was recognized as one of the languages of the country in 1989, and a Berber culture curriculum has been developed at the University of Tizi-Ouzou. However, censorship against Berber cultural demonstrations continues at different levels. Kabyles pride themselves in their distinct cultural achievement and traditions, which include poetry, jewelry, and music.

During the events known as the Black Spring of April 2001, Kabyle youth protested the hogra, a Tamazight word signifying the abuse of authority and the violation of citizens' rights on the part of the authorities. Structural unemployment fueled by International Monetary Fund policies, continued Islamist and state-sponsored violence, and lack of prospects for the youth contributed to the revolt.

In March 2002 the Algerian government finally decided to include Tamazight as a national language. Nevertheless, under the slogan "no forgiveness, no vote," the Kabyle citizens' movement called for a boycott of the Algerian legislative elections of May 2002; voter turnout in Tizi-Ouzou was 2 percent. In another concession in 2003, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika agreed to include the Tamazight language in the national education system.

see also berber spring; black spring.


Bibliography


Movement for the Autonomy of the Kabylia (MAK). Available from <http://www.makabylie.info>.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Unıted Natıons Commıttee on Economıc, Socıal and Cultural Rıghts Starts Revıew of Report of Algerıa." Press Release. Available from <http://www.unhchr.ch>.

thomas g. penchoen
updated by vanesa casanova-fernandez

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