Indigenous peoples in Algeria

The Amazigh, the Mozabite and the Tuarega are the indigenous peoples of Algeria, as well as of other countries of North Africa and the Sahara. The Amazigh are also known by the name “Berber”, which derives from the Roman term for “barbarian”, a name given to anyone who did not speak Latin.

Amazigh (plural Imazigen) means “free man”. They have been present in these territories since ancient times , according to the historian, Malika Hachid, their presence in the region dates back more than 10,000 years and “Berber as an identity and culture was forged in the lands of North Africa and nowhere else”.

Language

The indigenous population can primarily be distinguished from other inhabitants by their language (Tamazight), but also by their way of life and their culture (clothes, food, belief ect.). Urbanisation and the policy of Arabisation are, however, increasingly destroying the characteristic features of the Amazigh.

After decades of demands and popular struggles, the Amazigh language was finally recognised as a “national language” in the Constitution in 2002. Despite this achievement, the Amazigh identity continues to be marginalised and folklorised by state institutions.

Officially, Algeria is still presented as an “Arab country” and anti-Amazigh laws are still in force (such as the 1992 Law of Arabisation).

No Recognition of Indigenous Peoples in Algeria

The Algerian government, does not recognise the indigenous status of the Amazigh. Because of this, there are no official statistics concerning the number of Amazigh in Algeria. On the basis of demographic data relating to the territories in which Tamazight-speaking populations live, NGOs estimate the Tamazight-speaking population at around 11 million people, or 1/3 of Algeria’s total population.

Living areas

The Amazigh of Algeria are concentrated in five large regions of the country:

  • Kabylia (Kabyles) in the north-east
  • Aurès in the east (Chawis)
  • Chenoua, on the Mediterranean coast to the west of Algiers (Chenwis)
  • M'zab in the south (Mozabites)
  • Tuareg territory in the Sahara

Several thousands Amazigh also live in the south-west of the country (Tlemcen and Béchar) and in the south (Touggourt, Adrar, Timimoun).

Furthermore, large cities such as Algiers, Blida, Oran, Constantine, etc., are home to several hundred thousand people who are historically and culturally Amazigh but who have been partly Arabised over the course of the years, succumbing to a gradual process of acculturation.

Legislation Concerning Indigenous Peoples

Despite the recognition of the Amazigh language in the Constitution in 2002, Amazigh identity continues to be marginalised and folklorised by State institutions, and Arabic remains the country's only official language.

There has to date been no law ensuring protection and promotion of Amazigh political, economic, social cultural and linguistic rights in Algeria.

Consequently, State resources remain entirely directed at promoting the Arab-Islamic identity of Algeria while the Amazigh identity remains concealed or relegated to an inferior position. 

Internationally, Algeria has ratified the main international standards, and it voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.

However, these texts remain unknown to the vast majority of citizens and, thus, not applied, which has led to the UN treaty monitoring bodies making numerous observations and recommendations to Algeria in this regard.

At the same time anti-Amazigh laws remain in place and new ones have been enacted.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Algeria to learn about major developments and events during 2015.

 

The Amazigh are also known by the name “Berber”, which derives from the Roman term for “barbarian”, a name given to anyone who did not speak Latin. Amazigh (plural Imazigen) means “free man”. The Amazigh are the indigenous people of Algeria, as well as of other countries of North Africa and the Sahara, and have been present in these territories since ancient times. According to the historian, Malika Hachid, their presence in the region dates back more than 10,000 years and “Berber as an identity and culture was forged in the lands of North Africa and nowhere else”. The Algerian government, however, does not recognise the indigenous status of the Amazigh. Because of this, there are no official statistics concerning the number of Amazigh in Algeria. On the basis of demographic data relating to the territories in which Tamazight-speaking populations live, associations defending and promoting the Amazigh culture estimate the Tamazight-speaking population at around 10 million people, or 1/3 of Algeria’s total population. The Amazigh of Algeria are concentrated in five large regions of the country: Kabylia in the north, Aurès in the east, Chenoua, a mountainous region on the coast to the west of Algiers, M'zab in the south, and Tuareg territory in the Sahara. A large number of Amazigh populations also exist in the south-west of the country (Tlemcen and Béchar) and also in the south (Touggourt, Adrar, Timimoun…), accounting for several tens of thousands of individuals. It is also important to note that large cities such as Algiers, Blida, Oran, Constantine, etc, are home to several hundred thousand people who are historically and culturally Amazigh but who have been partly Arabised over the course of the years, succumbing to a gradual process of acculturation.

The indigenous population can primarily be distinguished from other inhabitants by their language (Tamazight), but also by their way of life and their culture (clothes, food, beliefs…). Urbanisation and the policy of Arabisation are, however, increasingly destroying the characteristic features of the Amazigh.

After decades of demands and popular struggles, the Amazigh language was finally recognised as a “national language” in the Constitution in 2002. Despite this achievement, the Amazigh identity continues to be marginalised and folklorised by state institutions. Officially, Algeria is still presented as an “Arab country”", anti-Amazigh laws are still in force (such as the 1992 Law of Arabisation) and, when Amazigh identity is mentioned, it is always in a stereotypical manner.

Internationally, Algeria has ratified the main international standards, and it voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. However, these texts remain unknown to the vast majority of citizens and, thus, not applied, which has led to the UN treaty monitoring bodies making numerous observations and recommendations to Algeria in this regard.


Malika Hachid. 2000. Les premiers Berbères, entre Méditerranée, Tassili et Nil. Editions Edisud-Ina Yas, Alger-Aix en Provence.