Independence for Azawad
The Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. They live in an around the Sahara desert and in the Atlas mountains, in Morocco and Algeria, all the way up to the Mediterranean coast. The Tuaregs, the “blue men of the desert” – named after the color of their headgear, which sometimes rubs off on their skin – are Berbers too. The Berbers are semi-nomadic, combining the tending of goats and sheep, with some farming and trade, and for hundreds of years the Tuaregs were in charge of the caravans that traded with Timbuktu in the kingdom of Mali and beyond. When the Arabs arrived in the seventh-century, the Berbers were not defeated as much as incorporated into the elite. Two of the kingdoms that ruled Spain were run by Berbers, and the last of the four original caliphates, the Fatimid caliphate, 909–1171 CE, was at least initially heavily dominated by Berbers. 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 preserved, and festivals, such as the tbourida, the equestrian horse show, attract large audiences. Berber music, with musicians such as Bombino and Tinariwen, has received world-wide attention. Famous people of Berber descent include Saint Augustine, the traveler Ibn Battuta, the French footballer Zinedine Zidane and the Swedish singer Loreen.
There are also demands for political rights. Some Berber people want independence for “Amazigh,” the name of their homeland, which they regard as occupied, and mismanaged, by Arabs in the north and 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 Tuareg to escape with their weapons to Mali where they began a guerrilla war against the government of Amadou Toumani Touré. In April 2012, after Touré was overthrown in a military coup, the guerrilla movement, the MNLA, declared independence for “Azawad,” on a territory which comprised some 60 percent of northern Mali. The city of Gao was named temporary capital, with Timbuktu to become the permanent capital. Disappointingly, Azawad received no official recognition from other states.