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Berbers

Imazighen

Last modified: 2012-05-01 by ivan sache
Keywords: berber | amazigh | imazighen | letter: ezza | bessaoud (muhend aarav) |
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[Berber flag]

Most commonly used Berber flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 2 January 2009


See also:


Presentation of the Berbers

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, aka Tamazight.
The Berbers call themselves Imazighen (The Free Men). The name Berber was derived from Barbarian during the Greco-Roman period. The Tuaregs have kept the original Berber alphabet, the tifinagh while other Berbers use either Latin or Arabic alphabet to write Tamazight.
According to the Dictionnaire des Peuples (Larousse), there are more than 20 millions of Berber-speaking people scattered over Northern Africa as follows:

  • 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: 12-25,000 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: 60-90,000 people;
  • Libya: 300-550,000 people;
  • Egypt: 10-20,000 people, living in the oasis of Siwa and speaking Tasiwit, a Berber language including 40% of words taken from Egyptian dialects;
  • Another 2 millions of Tuaregs are scattered over Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Source: Courrier International, #549 (10 May 2001)

Ivan Sache, 29 May 2001


Most commonly used Berber flag

Flag description and specifications

The flag most commonly used by the Berbers is horizontally divided blue-green-yellow with a red ezza letter in the middle. While not unanumuously accepted by all Berbers, this flag is now manufactured and widely used.
Colour specifications are given as:
- Yellow: C 0 - M 5 - Y 95 - K 0
- Green: C 35 - M 0 - Y 95 - K 0
- Cyan: C 90 - M 10 - Y 0 - K 0
- Bright red: C 2 - M 95 - Y 90 - K 0.

Most sightings of the Berber flag come out of North Africa, where the flag is not really welcome by the Algerian and Moroccan governments. Here is a list of recent sightings available on the Internet:
- Parade for the National Day of Québec, undated (2002?)
- Celebration of the Berber New Year in Rosny-sous-Bois (near Paris, first celebration of the Berber New Year in France), 11 January 2004
- The flag rehoisted over the seat of the Tamazgha association in Paris, 30 July 2004 (following its nightly vandalization on 7 July 2004)
- The militant Abdallah Sedik "Azenzar" with the flag in front of the sports center of Agadir (Morocco), 21 September 2005. Azenzar was arrested by the police because of the flag.
- A Berber table flag, between Moroccan and Algerian table flags, during the signature of an agreement between the Chambers of Commerce of Nador (Morocco) and Tizi-Ouzou (Algeria), undated (2005 or 2006)
- Flag waved by fans of the musician Takfarinas, Central Park, New York, 18 June 2006
- Australia-Italy match in the football World Cup, Kaiserslautern (Germany), 26 June 2006
- Kabyle meeting on Bastille Square, Paris, 28 April 2007
- Parade for the National Day of Québec, Montréal, 25 June 2007
- Kabyle meeting in Paris, 25 November 2007
- Touaregs' support meeting on the Trocadéro Square, Paris, 15 December 2007
- Celebration of the Berber New Year on the Trocadéro Square, Paris, 10 February 2008
- Demonstration in Bgayet, Algeria, 20 April 2008.
- Meeting to the memory of Amziane Mehenni, Aubervilliers (near Paris), 15 June 2008
- The Algerian singer Zaho draped in the flag, concert with Idir and Manu Chao, held at Bondy (near Paris), 21 June 2008.

Ivan Sache, 31 December 2008


Flag symbolism and origin

The most comprehensive interpretation of the flag is to be found on bladi.net, 19 August 2006. The text seems to have been copied from another, uncredited source.
The flag is said to have been designed by the Berber Academy (Agraw Imazighen).
Blue (amidad) represents the Mediterranean Sea, whose shores have been inhabited by the Imazighen for millenaries.
Green (azegzaw) represents the green land, which has been cultivated by the Imazighen since the Prehistoric times.
Yellow (awragh) represents the Sahara, as the Tuaregs' domain, but also joy and gold.
Accordingly, the three colours represent North Africa, from its Mediterranean shore in the north to the Sahara desert in the south, and the attachement of the Imazighen to their land.
The Imazighen red emblem represents both the eternal life and the blood shed by the martyres. As the symbol of the free men defending their culture, it watches and enlightens Tamazgha, the Imazighens' country (the whole of North Africa and the Saharian immensity).
The flag represents the harmony of the human beings with their land.
The anthropomorphic emblem has been known since the Prehistoric times. Its modern meaning, as the symbol of the Imazighen people, is to be credited to Muhend Aarav Bessaoud, founder of the Berber Academy in 1966. The emblem can be worn on a medal, on a ring or on a bell clasp to express support to the Imazighen cause.

The Berber flag was the subject of a thread started on 9 May 2002 on kabyle.com, no longer online.
Here again, fhe flag is said to have been designed by the Berber Academy under the guidance of Muhend Aarav Bessaoud. The creation date is given as "early 1978". A contributor ot the thread says that Bessaoud has modernized the meaning of the colours, which were originally parts of the Kabyle jewelry, the three stripes as enamels and red as coral cabochons. The original meaning of the colours is said to be the following.
Blue represents water from the sky and yellow the sun heath; the combination of these two natural phenomena allows agricultural production.
Red represents the night star, that is the moon and, in the Berber symbolics, the woman. Indeed the woman is cooking (and cooking requires magic) on the family holy fire.
Another contributor claims that the flag has been used since millenaries and the times of the great Berber chiefs. He further adds that the flag was used during the negociations that led to the Évian agreement (18 March 1962) and the end of the independence war in Algeria. Krim Belkacem, responsible of the Kabylian zone during the war and leader of the FLN delegation at Évian, was welcomed with two flags, the French flag and the Berber flag. The contributor says he is 24 years old, therefore he could not have been an eyewitness at Évian. I have not found any other record of a Berber flag used at Évian.

According to an interview of Ould Slimane Salem, the Berber Academy was created in 1966 by young Berbers, most of them being Kabyles, to restore the use of the Tifinagh language and propose a standardized alphabet. Renamed Berber Assembly (Agraw Imazighen) in 1967, the movement was suppressed in 1978 by the French authorities upon pressure by President of Algeria Houari Boumediene. It seems thatBessaoud was involved in violent acts and, maybe, racket against supporters of the FLN in Paris, which was a convenient pretext to get rid of him and of the Berber Academy.
Muhend Aarav Bessaoud (1924-2002), appointed officer in Kabylia during the war of independence, struggled against the new rulers after the independence, from 1963 to 1965, and exiled to France in 1966, where he created the Berber Academy. After the suppression of the Academy, Bessaoud was expelled to England and was prevented to return to Kabylia until 1997. Bessaoud is considered as the spiritual father of Berberism.

Ivan Sache, 31 December 2008


Variants of the flag with horizontal stripes

[Flag with a red symbol]

Variant of the Berber flag - Image by Jaume Ollé, 25 December 1999

Several variants of the Berber flag with a red ezza letter have been spotted in demonstrations, which may or may not be flags that are commonly used. Some may be homemade versions.
There are different arrangement of the colours and different artistic renditions of the central letter on the flag. Jose Luis Cepero reported a green-yellow-blue flag with a rounded letter, which was published in Gaceta de Banderas [gdb].

Jaume Ollé, 25 December 1999


Variants of the flag with vertical stripes

The electronic version of Spanish newspaper El Païs illustrated on 14 June 2001 the news about Berber demonstrations in Algiers with a photography showing two flags being carried by demonstrators.
The flags are vertically divided blue-yellow-green (or the other way round, since the flags were carried on a horizontal plane, so it is difficult to say which side goes up) with a red, squarish ezza letter in the middle stripe.
On one flag the long axis of the letter is parallel to the hoist and fits inside the middle stripe. On the other the letter is at a right angle with the hoist and overlaps a bit the blue and green stripes.

Santiago Dotor, 15 June 2001


Berber flag proposed by the Amazigh World Congress (1997)

[Berber flag proposed by AWC]

Berber flag proposed by the Amazigh World Congress (dubious) - Image by Jorge Candeias, 17 October 1998

Quoting a communication 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 trois 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.

Among the few existing Amazigh flags, the one that seems to be unanimuously accepted was presented by the Canarians during our last congress in Tarifa (August 1997). The flag is made of three horizontal stripes, blue-yellow-green, on which is placed a big ezza letter in black. This flag is now commonly seen in Berber demonstrations.
However, the Imazighen have not adopted yet an emblem acknowledged by all, for miscellaneous reasons. We must not forget that they belong to about ten different countries.

Thanh-Tam Lê, 17 October 1998

However, several other sources say that the flag adopted during the Congress is horizontally divided blue-green-yellow with a red letter ezza, that is, the "common" Berber flag. These sources quote a WAAC (World Amazigh Action Coalition) website gone extinct long ago.

The AmazighWorld website shows a photo of the flag presented to the First Amazigh Congress in the Canary Islands. The flag is in apparent proportions c. 4:5, horizontally divided blue-green-yellow, with the green stripe thinner (2:1:2) and the red letter ezza overall. The letter is narrower than on the "usual" flags, which are probably all made after a single template. The flag is said to have been proposed by Solidaridad Canaria, with the following notice (which does not include a description of the flag):

[...]
Our struggle needs to fortify our bonds and symbols of unity in all corners where Imazighen are found. For and by them, we propose at this First World Amazigh Congress, the creation of a flag that identifies us. A flag that makes of our struggle a common defense, under which our children will grow freely, under which we feel together with our society, with our people (be we immgrants, continentals, or islanders). A flag which will be the symbol of a reawakening, a password for all Imazighen, wherever they are found. A symbol whose colors and design are drawn from our past, and at the same time guides our destiny, guaranteeing that our children will hoist it permanently wherever a brethren arrives.
[...]

The First World Amazigh Congress took place in Grand Canary on 27-30 August 1997. Therefore, all sources refer to the same congress, and it can be concluded that the written report given above is erroneous. The 1997 design is quite similar, except the width of the green stripe, to the design credited to the Berber Academy some 20 years before.

Ivan Sache, 2 January 2009


Flag with a yellow background

[Berber flag]

Another Berber flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 2 January 2009

On 21 February 2008, ten Berbers were sentenced to 2-6 years in jail by the Court of Warzazat (Morocco). They had been involved in the uprising Tagerts n imazighen that took place in villages of the valley of Dades on 8 January 2008.
As reported by the ADN agency (with colour photos), 22 February 2008, Some 200 Berbers gathered in front of the court to support the sentenced militants. They waved the "usual" Berber flag" and another Berber flag, yellow with the black Tifanigh letters "m", "z" and "gh" (ⵎ ⵣ ⵖ for "Amazigh"; in the classic way of writing Berber languages, only the consonants are written) surrounded by a black oval.

The same flag appears on a photo taken in the Canary Islands (undated), shown on the AmazighWorld website; the flag is presented as "an older Amazigh banner, found througout Tamazgha ".

Ivan Sache & António Martins, 2 January 2009


The ⵣ (ezza) letter

Letter (ezza, or yaz) consists of a vertical line with two aditional lines intersecting it orthogonally, bent or curved: the upper one upwards and the lower one downwards; when not italic/cursive, this letter has two symmetry axes, vertical and horizontal; it is identical (even in its variations) to the (unrelated) Runic symbol for 18, ᛯ. All romanizations render it as "z" (as well as its "harpoon" counterpart, ⵤ); its sound is usually [z].

António Martins, 30 June 2008

The Berber ezza letter is the central character of the word Amazigh, though in Berber only the consonants "M", "Z" and "G" are written; Amazigh means "free man". The Imazighen (plural of Amazigh are the free men), and this is the way all Berber peoples refer to themselves.

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