Independence for Azawad
The Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa who lives in and around the Saharan desert. The Tuaregs, the “blue men of the desert” – named after the color of their headgear – are Berbers too. The Berbers are semi-nomadic, combining the tending of goats and sheep with farming and commerce. For hundreds of years the Tuaregs were in charge of the caravans that traded with Timbuktu in the kingdom of Mali and beyond. Two of the kingdoms that ruled Spain were run by Berbers; the last of the four original caliphates, the Fatimid caliphate, 909–1171 CE, was at least initially heavily dominated by Berbers. [Read more: “The Muslim caliphates“]
Today there are between 25 and 30 million people who speak the Berber language, most are Muslims, but some are Christian and a small minority are Jews. For the past couple of decades, there has been a strong revival of Berber culture. Berber arts and crafts are taught to younger generations, the language is revived, and festivals such as equestrian horse shows attract large audiences. Berber music, with musicians such as Bombino and Tinariwen, has received world-wide attention.
There are also demands for political rights. Some Berber want independence for their homeland which they regard as occupied, and mismanaged, by Arabs in the north and by black Africans in the south. The political instability of countries such as Algeria and Libya has provided opportunities to realize these aims. The overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya in the fall of 2011 allowed some Tuaregs to escape with their weapons to Mali where they began a guerrilla war against the government. In April 2012, once the president of Mali was overthrown in a military coup, the guerrilla movement, the MNLA, declared independence for a country they called “Azawad,” with Gao and Timbuktu as its main cities [Read more: “The libraries of Timbuktu“]
In order to achieve its goal, the MNLA cooperated with Ansar Dine, a guerilla movements with links to Al-Qaeda. For about ninth months Ansar Dine established a fundamentalist dictatorship in Azawad, destroying religious monuments and ancient books. In 2013, Timbuktu was recaptured by the Malian government, supported by international troops. The dream of an independent Azawad is once again postponed.
In Our Time, “The Almoravid Empire”