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Last modified: 2004-02-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: berber | amazigh | imazighen |
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Courrier International #549 (10 May 2001) has a series of articles on the recent riots in Kabylia (Algeria) and gives additional information on Berber peoples

The Berbers are a group of peoples who have been living in Northern Africa since 3000 BP and speak different dialects related to a common Chamito-Semitic language, Berber, or Tamazight.
The Berbers call themselves Imazighen (Free Men). The name Berber was derived from Barbarian during the Greco-Roman period. The Tuaregs have kept the original Berber alphabet, the tifinagh. Other Berbers use either Latin or Arabic alphabet to write Tamazight.

According to a map from the Dictionnaire des Peuples (Larousse), reproduced in Courrier International, there are more than 20 millions of Berber-speaking people scattered over Northern Africa:

  • Morocco: 12 millions (40% of the country population). Rifains live on the northern coast, Imazighens and Chleuhs in the center and south of the country.
  • Mauritania: 12 to 25,000 Zenagas, living south of Nouakchott, close to the border with Senegal.
  • Algeria: 6 millions (20-25% of the country population). Kabyles live in the north of the country close to Algiers, Chaouis close to the border with Tunisia, Zenets and Mozabits more in the south. Tuaregs are nomadic Berbers.
  • Tunisia: 60 to 90,000 people.
  • Libya: 300 to 550,000 people.
  • Egypt: 10 to 20,000 people, living in the oasis of Siwa and speaking Tasiwit (including 40% of the words taken from Egyptian dialects).
  • Another 2 millions of Tuaregs are scattered over Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Ivan Sache, 29 May 2001

Flag proposed by the Amazigh World Congress (1997)

[Berber flag, AWC]by Jorge Candeias

Here is what I got from the Amazigh World Congress (Congrès Mondial Amazigh):

"En ce qui concerne le(s) drapeau(x) amazigh(s), il en existe quelques uns mais celui qui semble faire l'unanimité est celui qui a été présenté par les Canariens lors de notre dernier congrès à Tafira (août 97). Il est constitué de 3 couleurs horizontales (bleu, jaune, vert) sur lesquelles vient s'inscrire un grand "z" de couleur noire. C'est celui par exemple que l'on voit maintenant dans les manifestations berbères.

Cela étant dit, imazighen (les Berbères) ne se sont pas encore officiellement donné un emblème commun reconnu par tous et ce, pour diverses raisons. N'oublions pas qu'ils appartiennent à une dizaine d'Etats diffÈrents."

"Several Amazigh flag(s) do exist, but the one which seems to be unanimuously accepted was presented by the Canarians during our last congress in Tarifa (August 1997). It is made of three horizontal stripes, blue-yellow-green, on which is placed a big "Z" letter in black. This flag is now commonly seen in Berber demonstrations.

This being said, the Imazighen have not adopted an emblem acknowledged by all as yet, for miscellaneous reasons. We must not forget that they belong to about ten different countries."

Thanh-Tam Le, 17 October 1998

This Berber letter is the central character of the word amzigh, though in Berber only the consonants M Z G are written, word that means "free man". Imazighen are the free men (it's the plural of amazigh), and this is the way all Berber peoples refer to themselves.

Antonio Cubillo, President of the CNC and General Secretary of the MPAIAC, in written communication to Jaume Ollé, 25 April 1998

The flag is not only used by Kabyles, but also by the Rifians, and other Berbers.  I don't know exactly what the colours represent, but I have heard it said the blue is for the Blue Men of the Desert, the "Touaregs", the yellow for the desert (also the colours of the ancient Numidia), the green for the mountain vegetation, and the sign "aza" of the Tifinagh alphabet of the Tamazight language (the sign of the free men, the Berbers) in red for the blood of our ancestor Berbers (Barbarians) in the multiple wars in "Tamazgha", the lands of the Berbers

Lunis, a Berber of Kabylia, 28 August 2001

Variants with a red symbol

[Variant with a red symbol]by Jaume Ollé

From time to time, several variants have been spotted of the Berber flags.  These mostly appear in demonstrations, and may or may not be flags that are commonly used.  Some may be homemade versions.

About the central letter in the flag I believe that different artistic renditions or font patterns exist. Jose Luis Cepero give the red and rounded version, that was published in Gaceta de Banderas [gdb].

Jaume Ollé, 25 December 1999

Variants with vertical stripe and a red symbol

The electronic version of Spanish newspaper El Païs illustrated on 14 June 2001 the news about the demonstrations in Algiers with a photograph showing two flags being carried by demonstrators.
The flags are vertically (not horizontally) divided blue-yellow-green (or the other way round, since the flags were carried on a horizontal plane, so it is difficult to say what side goes up) with a red, squarish Tifinagh letter Z on the middle stripe.
On one flag the long axis of the Z is parallel to the hoist and fits inside the middle stripe. On the other it is at a right angle to the hoist and overlaps a bit on the blue and green stripes.

Santiago Dotor, 15 June 2001