The Indigenous people inhabiting Algeria’s northern Kabylia region consider themselves to be under colonial occupation.
Rabat – The European Parliament on Monday heard the condemnation of Algeria’s authoritarian grip on the country’s northern Kabylie region and the regime’s repression of the Indigenous Amazigh (Berber) Kabyle people.
Italian MEP Massimiliano Salini raised the issue of Algeria’s authoritarianism in a June 29 letter to the vice-president of the European Commission and the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
In the letter, Salini describes his perceived “threats of instability and authoritarianism” in the Maghreb amid Turkey’s interference in the Libyan conflict and Algeria’s exploitation of COVID-19 lockdown measures.
“The Algerian Government is increasing its grip and is conducting acts of suppression using emergency lockdown measures,” particularly in Kabylie, “where protests are numerous [because], according to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), [Kabylie] is an ‘occupied territory,’” the letter said.
He added that Kabylie is home to a large Christian population, “who suffer persecution.”
Salini fears the repercussions of Algeria’s “civil unrest and discontent due to limits on freedom of expression and religion” will spill over into Europe, prompting him to inquire if the European Commission has a plan to respond to instability in the Maghreb.
Who are the Kabyle?
The Kabyle people are the largest Amazigh population in Algeria with origins in Kabylie, a region in northern Algeria’s Atlas Mountains, where an estimated seven to ten million people currently live. The population is largely concentrated in Algeria, Morocco, and Libya but also scattered throughout Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, and Egypt.
Kabyle have their own ancestral homeland, language, culture, and civilization, and have for years decried their social, cultural, and political oppression at the hands of the Algerian regime.
The group waged a war for independence in 1963. Despite it being an unsuccessful bid, representatives of the population continue to actively and diplomatically seek autonomy for the ethnic group.
The MAK-Anavad (“anavad” meaning “government” in Kabyle) was formed in 2016 following a merger of the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK) and the Kabyle Provisional Government (GPK).
MAK-Anavad, on its official news site, describes itself as a “movement for the self-determination of Kabylia is the voice of the Kabyle people, in love with justice and freedom. [MAK-Anavad] is carried by the worthy children of Kabylia determined to break the chains of enslavement with force and selflessness.”
With international support for its autonomy claims, MAK-Anavad has made tangible progress in asserting its political legitimacy. The Kabyle Provisional Government issued the first Kabyle passport on June 14, 2020, on the occasion of the Kabyle national holiday, ten years after the circulation of the first Kabyle Identity Card.
MAK-Anavad’s president, Ferhat Mehenni, was the recipient of the territory’s first biometric passport. The cover of the blue and gold book features the iconic Tinifigh letter “yaz” that has come to symbolize the Amazigh people of North Africa, made of olive branches and diamonds. The cover is inscribed with Kabyle transliterated in Latin characters, French, English, and Hebrew, along with Tifinagh letters.
The Kabyle Parliament — or Imni Aqvayli in the Kabyle language — was also officially established as a legislative institution on June 14. Despite the Algerian government’s repression of Kabyle politics, the MAK-Anavad held two Kabyle National Conventions in 2011 and 2014, which served as a prelude to the establishment of the Kabyle Parliament and its legal framework.
Read also: Tifinagh: The Amazigh Alphabet
MAK-Anavad is the only Maghrebian member of the Underrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), an international organization representing marginalized populations in the UN, the EU, and elsewhere.
According to UNPO, MAK-Anavad is the main political body representing Kabyle interests. The Kabyle people “reject the position taken by the government of Algeria to continue exercising authority over Kabylia, as this amounts to the unilateral annexation of the territory of Kabylia to the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Algeria,” UNPO explains in its Kabyle profile.
“The aim of the MAK-Anavad is to regain the independence it lost in 1857 when it was annexed to Algeria. For the past decade, the MAK-Anavad has tried to organize a peaceful resistance and has led the Kabyle people towards a growing, factual independence,” the organization continues.
The UNPO describes “constant political repression” against the Kabyle people at the hands of the Algerian government. Forms of repression include “censorship, persecution, discrimination, killings, violent repression,” as well as attempts to reduce or suppress the ethnic group’s cultural distinctiveness, in part through the Arabization of education, media, and politics.
The Algerian government also denies the political existence of MAK-Anavad and keeps it from holding official elections, denying the Kabyle people the right to self-determination and self-identification.
“Today, Algeria and Kabylia do not recognize each other: Kabylia considers itself to be colonized and part of the population wishes to exercise its right to self-determination,” argues UNPO.
The Algerian government has relentlessly stifled Kabylie’s independence claims for decades, overwhelming its economy with tax policies, blocking economic projects, refusing investment authorizations, and exploiting the region’s natural resources, including oil, lead, zinc, and water.
UNPO also claims the region is facing growing insecurity as scores of Kabyle merchants, CEOs, or their family members have been kidnapped in recent years, driving business owners out of the region, exacerbating unemployment, dissuading investment, and draining Kabylie of its youth.
Algeria is a signatory of the 1989 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169) of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The convention is “based on respect for the cultures and ways of life of indigenous and tribal peoples” and aims to overcome “discriminatory practices affecting these peoples and enabling them to participate in decision-making that affects their lives.”
However, the Algerian government’s repression of the Kabyle people reveals its disregard for its own international commitments.
Algeria and the European Parliament
Salini’s letter denouncing the repression of the Kabyle people is the latest in a string of blows to the Algerian regime by members of the European Parliament, who have repeatedly condemned the North African country’s history of human rights violations.
Over the past five years, the European Parliament has adopted two emergency resolutions concerning Algeria: The resolution of April 30, 2015, on the imprisonment of human rights activists and workers, and the resolution of November 28, 2019, on the situation of freedoms in the country.
Spanish MEP Maria Soraya Rodriguez Ramos raised the November 28 resolution in May, slamming Algeria’s continued discrimination against religious minorities. She called on the European Commission to take action against the Algerian government for preventing the country’s Christians from practicing their religion.
Resolution 2019/2927 revealed that “since January 2018, Algerian authorities have closed several churches, most of which belong to the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), the central organization, legally recognized, of protestant churches in Algeria.”
The resolution demanded “an end to the violations of the freedom of worship of Christians, Ahmadis, and other religious minorities” and called upon Algerian authorities to reopen these places of worship.
The report accompanying the resolution called on Algeria to end the criminalization of dissent, arbitrary arrests, and violations of minority rights, saying, “MEPs are deeply worried about the state of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Algeria.”
MAK-Anavad’s president welcomed the resolution in a letter to the president of the European Parliament. He stressed the importance of “questioning the Algerian military power in the treatment of human rights and freedoms of citizens.”
The political, social, and cultural oppression of the Kabyle people illustrates, above all else, Algeria’s hypocrisy.
While Algeria aggressively backs the self-determination and independence claims of the self-styled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and the militant Polisario in an affront to Moroccan sovereignty, the country is brazen in its failure to diplomatically respond to similar claims within its own borders, instead resorting to censorship, persecution, discrimination, and killings.