In order to travel to Libya, I had to rely on my brothers-in-arms who have been fighting since February in order to topple the regime of the Tripoli dictator. They invited me to go to Libya in order to share with me the great joy which they have been feeling for several weeks. For my part, I was determined to demonstrate my passionate commitment to and support for the war waged against Al-Qadhafi and his regime by paying a visit to the homeland of the Amazigh people in order to express my solidarity with and support for their struggle.
I also took the opportunity to de facto express the solidarity of Tamazgha, an Amazigh organization of which I was a co-founder and within which I have been pursuing a determined struggle for 18 years for the rights of the Amazigh people.
In fact, since December 2010, Tamazgha has been engaged in a fight against Al-Qadhafi’s regime following the arrest of two Amazigh activists, Mazigh and Madghis Bouzakhar, who are also active members of the association. They were arrested by Al-Qadhafi’s regime which was preparing to sentence them to death. Therefore, it was only natural for us to join the 17-February revolution - particularly in the western Adrar n Infusen and Zwara - a revolution which we followed from the association’s headquarters in Paris. Our support from a distance was very important and necessary, but a physical presence with the fighters was even more significant from a psychological point of view.
Personally, the journey has allowed me to be consistent with my principles and beliefs in the sense that I am a staunch supporter of the fight for the liberation of the Amazigh land which is being colonized by Arab-Muslim regimes. In fact, it is only natural for a Berber nationalist to lend his support to the Amazigh activists who are fighting to secure their freedom.
My journey began by the visit of Lalut (Nalut) families who fled to Douiret in Tunisia. The visit was made possible by the Amazigh people of Tunisia who were on contact with the Libyan refugees. I registered a pleasant surprise when an old man, Ahmed Slimane, who seemed to represent the refugees, spoke to me in Tamazight. I was impressed by both his all-round knowledge and convictions with regard to the Amazigh language and culture. Despite the fact that our meeting was brief but it proved to be very fruitful. He, for instance, enlightened me by bringing to my attention that Nalut was the name given by Al-Qadhafi to a town which in fact was called Lalut.
At about 17:00 local time, Dr Fathi Bouzakhar and his son Madghis explained to me the details of my journey to Ifran (Libya). I was informed that I would be accompanied by Mohand and Abdellah coming from Tunisia onboard of a vehicle loaded with goods. In order to be able to reach Ifran (Yafran), Mahmud - the third person - had to abandon his vehicle seat. Then we added to the vehicle’s load my rucksack and 100 Amazigh flags.
After going through the Dhehiba-Wazin border crossing, we found ourselves in a territory under the control of Amazigh fighters. At one of Lalut’s checkpoints I asked my tour guides to pause and get out of the vehicle in order to greet the fighters who control the checkpoint.
The Amazigh greeting word (Azul) was warmly welcomed by the armed fighters who invited me to have a cup of tea with them, an invitation which I politely declined : "No ! Thank you ! I just want to salute and congratulate you for the work you are doing. We are very proud of you", I told them. I obviously asked them whether it was possible to take some pictures with them. They agreed to my request with enthusiasm.
I also took a picture with one of the fighters’ gun which was decorated with the letter “Z” of the Amazigh alphabet (The letter “Z” in Tifinagh script refers to the Amazigh people and is their most important symbol). The fighter handed the gun to me with joy. Our brief discussions were entirely in Tamazight (Amazigh language). It is hard for me to express the emotions which I felt at the time. A feeling of freedom and of simply one’s existence. I was finally in a territory under the control of the Amazigh people.
I naturally discussed the revolution and the Amazigh issue with Mohand and Abdellah. During our long night journey we were listening to songs of (Amazigh Kabyle singers) Oulahlou, Matoub, Idir, Akil D and others.
I stayed the whole day of 26 July in Ifran where I visited several villages. I realized that I was in Adrar n Infusen and I had to enjoy the scenery. On the way, I was able to see the damage caused to the villages of Ifran by Al-Qadhafi’s troops.
At Ifran, we visited the media centre (At-Yafran Media Centre) which is run by Mazigh Bouzakhar. In addition to the information and communication work provided by the centre, the building which houses the centre also houses a number of offices of civil society organizations and associations of Ifran villages (such as At Ifran Women and Children’s Association, Tanit ; Tira for Amazigh language and culture ; National Association for Amazigh Culture ; Adrar n Infusen Centre for Studies and Historical Research ; Ifri Association for Amazigh Toponymy ; Tiwattriwin for the Emancipation of Women ; and Amazigh Artists’ Association).
The centre also houses the Asiram (hope) Project for Solidarity with At-Yafran as well as the At-Yafran War Museum. At least two newspapers or leaflets are published in Ifran (Tilelli and Tamellult). At least two associations regularly give lessons in Tamazight to the children.
The morale of all the people I met who are responsible for these associations and the people who use the centre is exceptionally high. I was impressed by their commitment and dynamism as well as their determination to quickly achieve their objectives. It is worth mentioning that the Amazigh issue is no longer a taboo in Ifran. It is part of the people’s daily life. As a proof, all documents, literature and signs are in (Tifinagh characters of) Tamazight. Arabic is the second language in Ifran. Sometimes, English is in the third position.
Ifran streets are already decorated in Amazigh colours. Amazigh motifs are everywhere in the town, the letter “Z” can be seen everywhere and Amazigh flags are flying on the roofs of several houses. It was a great honour for me to spend my first night in Ifran in a house on the roof of which our flag was flying.
While I was visiting the town’s old prison, I heard the sound of music of the Kabyle singer Idir who enjoys great popularity in Adrar n Infusen. In fact, nothing would surprise me in this liberated territory but I wanted to understand how the music was being circulated.
Moreover, in a country which is at war we cannot imagine that people have the time to circulate music, even though that was the case in Ifran. My tour guide for the day, Madjer, told me that the music came from Taddart n Tlelli (the Freedom House). So I asked him to take me there. Taddart n Tlelli is one of these buildings which, until recently, were housing Al-Qadhafi regime’s offices decorated with a giant effigy of his infamous Green Book.
At the beginning of the uprising in February, the youths of Ifran besieged the building. They destroyed the propaganda monument and seized the control of the building which is being now turned into a centre for debate and free expression, as, in fact, its name indicates. Inside Taddart n Tlelli there is an exhibition of various weapons used by Al-Qadhafi soldiers in their attacks against the population. Wall paintings tell the story of the events witnessed by the town. A sound system was placed in the garden of the building playing the music of the Kabyle singer Idir.
Madjer is a singer. He is in charge of the Amazigh Artists’ Association and he speaks Tamazight perfectly despite the fact that he only started to learn the language five years ago. In the past he lived in Tripoli where he only spoke Arabic.
As was the case with all the youths of Ifran, Madjer took up arms at the beginning of the uprising. He is an Agrawli (or a revolutionary fighter, as the fighters of Adrar n Infusen are known). Despite his various activities, particularly at the Media Centre, he manages to go the battlefield (Ittefagh) and he looks well after his weapon.
On the streets of Ifran we came across Madjer’s brothers-in-arms - all young - who were glad to meet an Amazigh Kabyle in their village. Quickly they took me in their pick-up in order to visit the town and they recounted, with great enthusiasm, their exploits against Al-Qadhafi’s soldiers.
Later, they took me to visit the Ifran Military Command Centre, which has its headquarters in a sports club. What a pleasant surprise and a joy to see the Amazigh flag flying above this military command centre. It is a former officer of the Libyan army who coordinates military operations in the region from the centre.
The fighters showed me vehicles which had been seized during clashes with Al-Qadhafi’s soldiers. It is hard to see a vehicle which does not carry an Amazigh insignia. This indicates the extent to which the Amazigh culture and identity are entrenched in this region, and the determination of its population to fully assume their identity. Almost all the fighters in Adrar n Infusen wear T-Shirts decorated with Amazigh symbols. Some of the T-Shirts are decorated with the letter “Z”, some with Amazigh flags and others with Tifinagh characters.
Some of the fighters are very young. That is the case of a 19-year old man who came from Zwara (Iwlallan), which is still under Al-Qadhafi regime’s occupation. He came to fight alongside his brothers in this liberated region. When I saw him in the evening of 26 July heading for the battlefield, a shiver went up and down my spine and I nearly burst into tears. He is part of the reinforcements sent from Ifran to the western front where a battle was raging to recover other localities, particularly Ghazayat. On 28 July, while I was back in Paris, I heard that the Amazigh fighters had pushed back Al-Qadhafi soldiers and liberated the locality.
Having noticed my compassion for the heritage which is characteristic of the region, my tour guide, Madjer, related a real voyage of the history of North Africa. He took me to see, from a distance, troglodyte villages. We visited a Jewish village in a state of disrepair, an ancient mosque which is also in a state of disrepair, and a Judeo-Christian temple. We visited an Arjan, an ancient underground dwelling where women and children, in particular, seek shelter when Al-Qadhafi soldiers fire their GRAD rockets which target homes. I was able to visit Taddart n Isalayan, a museum which houses various old tools which are characteristic of the local culture.
Madjer sings Libya
With the exception of the Military Command Centre, I have not seen anybody carrying weapons during my visit. When coming back from the battlefield, the fighters return their weapons to the Military Command Centre. They only recover them when they head for the battlefield again.
On my way to Ifran, I stopped in the Tunisian island of Djerba where I met Libyan Amazigh people, particularly refugees who came from Zwara. I had a long discussion with them. In their imposed provisional stay on the island, they devote their time to contributing to the revolution intellectually.
They showed me the newspaper Tagrawla (Revolution) which they publish in Djerba and then send it to their country. One group of them are working to publish educational books for the teaching of Tamazight. Some books have already been published and others are on the way to be published. Such work and efforts are done with the help of the National Association for Amazigh Culture (Tasetnit n Tadelsa Tamazight). This is a clear indication that Tamazight is at the heart of their struggle.
Tamazight an official language
In Ifran, the Amazigh people are not being fooled. The future Libyan state must decree Tamazight as an official language. Tamazight in the region is de facto the language of work. As an example, all local National Transitional Council (NTC) official documents are drawn up in two languages : Tamazight and Arabic. In anticipation of the constitution which the NTC intends to draft, several meetings have been held to debate it.
The Amazigh issue is naturally the main focus of the debate. For the Imazighen (Berbers) of Adrar n Infusen, it is out of question for Tamazight to be sidelined. Its integration as an official language in the draft constitution must be approved. Six civil society organizations in Ifran have submitted to debate a two-page document (in Tamazight and Arabic) in which they insisted on the need to establish a modern state guided by the principles of democracy and linguistic and cultural pluralism. In the first draft of the document, the six organizations insisted that Tamazight and Arabic are the two official languages of Libya and that they must enjoy the same rights in their use in national institutions.
Negotiations with Al-Qadhafi
For the Adrar n Infusen population, Al-Qadhafi and his family belong to the past and nothing can justify any kind of negotiations with this tyrant and his mercenaries. The Imazighen of Adrar n Infusen wish only for one thing : For Al-Qadhafi to see the country free of his dictatorship and to see Tamazight flourish. Al-Qadhafi has always oppressed and denied the existence of the Amazigh people, let alone their language.
The Kabyles continue to be a reference for all the Imazighen of Adrar n Infusen. I was impressed by the number of young people who told me that they had been to Kabylia. When I told them I was from Kabylia, they almost all asked me which part of Kabylia I came from ! A young man even told me Nekki hudjagh-d di Tawrirt n Musa (I went on pilgrimage to Tawrirt n Musa - the village of the famous Kabyle singer Matoub Lounes who was assassinated on 25 June 1998). This shows the extent of the popularity of late Matoub, and also the popularity of Oulahlou and other Kabyle singers in the region.
An ambiguity, however, needs to be cleared up. Adrar n Infusen Imazighen bring up questions about the profound silence observed by the Kabyles and by Kabylia in the face of the desperate situation they are in. In fact they could not understand why the population of Kabylia has so far failed to publicly express its support for the historic and decisive battle waged by Imazighen against Al-Qadhafi. They were bewildered to find out that the Kabyles did not condemn the position of the Algerian state which supports Al-Qadhafi and his mercenaries.
They are aware of the fact that beyond the support of principle which they could lend to their struggle, the Kabyles could seize the opportunity in order to liberate themselves. I told them it is only a matter of time, and I promised to convey their message to their Kabyle brothers.
Chaabane a Kabyle hero in Zwara
During my stopover in Djerba I met a group of Zwara inhabitants who hold Chaabane in great respect. Chaabane, who is in his 40s, is a Kabyle who lives in Zwara. He took up arms with the fighters as a Berber (Amazigh). He is known by everyone in the region. The Libyan fighters had urged him to return to Kabylia but he refused and insisted on staying on the battlefield. He is somehow our Kabyle representative at the front line.
Even if the youths of Adrar n Infusen listen to Kabyle music, Oulahlou in particular, this does not mean that there are no singers in Tamazight in Adrar. If you visit the At-Yafran Media Centre you will discover a compilation of five Libyan Amazigh singers (the editorial staff of Tamazgha.fr will spare no effort to post this compilation on the internet). In this article, I suggest you listen to the song "D Imazighen alamma neemmut” (We are Amazigh till we die !) written and sung by Ali Ftis. The song reinforces the idea about the extent of the commitment to the Amazigh cause in Adrar.
It is hard for me to sum up everything I have witnessed during my brief stay in this Amazigh homeland. My objective, however, is to try to share with the Tamazgha readers some of the joy I felt during the three days of my stay in this fantastic region and to contribute in highlighting the situation in which the Imazighen of Adrar n Infusen live while they are fighting to end Al-Qadhafi’s regime.
I came back from this trip with a determination to continue my struggle, together with Tamazgha activists, and to redouble efforts to urgently convince other Imazighen to become aware of the historic opportunity which we must seize for the sake of our future and that of Tamazight. History will not forgive our indifference and silence. There is a need to raise the awareness of as many Imazighen as possible both in North Africa and in Europe, particularly in France.
Adrar n Infusen Imazighen need our support as much as we need them. What they are achieving is crucial for the future of the Amazigh struggle. By helping them, we will improve our chances to achieve a victory in an environment which does not hide its hostility to Amazigh identity. If we abandon them, we will be severely judged by history.
As for me, I have promised to go back as soon as possible. I cannot resist the desire to live in a free Amazigh homeland and I cannot remain indifferent to the calls of all these free and very determined fighters to maintain the dignity of Tamazight.
I cannot end this testimony without expressing my gratitude to all the people who made my journey possible. I feel eternal gratitude to Dr Fathi Bouzakhar - who is based in Tataouine, in Tunisia - for organizing my trip and for taking charge of the entire logistical and material arrangements. My heartfelt thanks to Youssef Amrou who welcomed me in Djerba and who offered me valuable advice. He particularly convinced me to purchase a mobile phone which, I must admit, proved to be very useful during my trip.
My sincere thanks go to Kamal Boucetta who particularly made arrangements for my stay in Djerba. My warmest thanks to Imad Benyahiatene, of At Ursighen village, who scheduled a visit to some wonders of the Amazigh island, particularly the village of Iqallalen.
Genuine thanks to Nouri Nemri of Metmata. I also seize this opportunity to thank Mahmud who was forced to stay three days in Tataouine so that I would be able to visit Ifran. I profusely thank Mohand and Abdellah with whom I made the journey from Tataouine to Ifran.
I express my profound gratitude to the brothers Madghis and Mazigh Bouzakhar who encouraged me to visit Ifran. My heartfelt thanks to Madjer who was my tour guide in Ifran on 26 July and with whom I learnt so many things.
Finally, I would like to thank all the Libyans who welcomed me as their brother.
Translation by : Mohand Salah TAHI
A house on which Amazigh flag is flying
With youngs fighters of Ifran
On a street in Ifran
With a young fighter
Belqacem, the man in charge of "Taddart n Tlelli"
Crossroad in Ifran
A 19-year old fighter from Zwara
Ifran Military Command Centre
At Ifran Military Command Centre
At Ifran Military Command Centre
At Ifran Military Command Centre, with fighters
In a district of Ifran
With the singer Madjer (on the left) and Mazigh Bouzakhar
With Kabaw fighters at a checkpoint
With Abdellah at Dhehiba-Wazin border crossing
At Wazin border crossing
At a Lalut checkpoint
At a Kabaw checkpoint
Ifran : Ancient troglodyte homes
Published on 31 July 2011.