Azawad: Why Is It That…
by Gerald A. Honigman
In the Middle East and its environs, for most of the world, if you’re a native but non-Arab people who actually pre-date the Arab imperialist conquest and colonization of your land by millennia, you deserve not only no political rights but no basic human ones as well? And while your cause is routinely ignored by the “progressive,” self-proclaimed enlightened powers that be, that of your Arab oppressors is unabashedly proclaimed loud and clear in academia, the mainstream media, halls of government, and so forth?
The newest, non-perfect nation struggling to be born is in North Africa…even newer than the still fragile Republic of South Sudan in the same general vicinity. In the latter, black Africans were slaughtered, enslaved, and so forth by the millions by the Arab and Arabized north and at long last gained a tenuous freedom in July 2011. The blood keeps spilling, however…not to mention Sudan’s other genocidal problems with Darfur and the Nuba.
On April 6th of this year, a coalition dominated by the Touareg (the people–not the Volkswagon SUV named for their strength and adaptability), a so-called “Berber” people of North Africa–took control of Timbuktu and other major towns and declared independence for Azawad in the northern part of Mali, a huge area double the size of California. Oh yes, like South Sudan’s Abyei border area, it too has oil….
Like many other scores of millions of native, pre-Arab conquest Imazighen/ Berber peoples (“Berber” is actually a pejorative term imposed upon them by invaders), the Touareg were left at the mercy of others, largely due to the machinations of French colonial rulers after World War II. Recall that Africa, as a whole, had borders for its future states arbitrarily created by Europeans in the late 19th century (with no native African input) for the sake of their own interests.
As some forty million other Kabyle and Amazigh people were deemed non-deserving of independence in the new age of nationalism erupting in the region, the fate of the native Touareg was likewise tied to others’ aspirations.
With Arabs in control of much of the region’s oil deposits, a decision had been made to not ruffle their feathers as much as possible. So, as scores of millions of Kurds (and the oil of their own region) were sacrificed earlier on behalf of Arab aspirations; likewise done to black Africans in the Sudan and elsewhere; most of the Mandate of Palestine turned over to Arab nationalism as of 1922; and so forth, it should also come as no surprise that the various Amazigh peoples would suffer a similar fate. This favorite, important quote speaks volumes on this subject…
In Algeria, Berbers were forbidden to use their own language, Tamazight…riots erupted, reported in France but ignored elsewhere in the West…America, of course, had been sufficiently subject to ARAMCO (the Arabian American Oil Company) propaganda, a payoff to the Saudis by Big Oil, to allow the latter to produce and market Arab oil. So, ARAMCO’s message to America was that there is just an Arab world in this region in which there are no Copts, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen…and, of course, no Berbers and no Jews–they all came to Israel, you see, from Europe for everyone in this region is just Arab (New English Review, January 17, 2008).”
Thus, at the same time that American State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, was chastising Israelis for allowing Judeans–Jews– to once again live on millennial Jewish soil in Judea and Samaria (aka, the “West Bank”–this time in the towns of Recehlim, Bruchin and Sansana–on non-apportioned state, not private Arab, lands–where all residents of the original Mandate were/are allowed to live), not a word was uttered about the rights of scores of millions of a truly stateless people in the region. There will be no support from the State Department for the first, long overdue, Amazigh state. The Foggy Folksopposed President Truman on the rebirth of Israel for largely the same reasons.
Indeed, there has been nothing but hostility towards the Touareg since their move to independence.
Besides threats coming from the black Africans in the south of Mali from whom they broke away, the French and the European Union are upset as well. Having long been neglected and mistreated, when the Touareg dared to ask for the same independence that black Africans and Arabs in the region were at long last achieving, over a half century ago the French denied them this right and forced them to be tied to the south instead. This is the same treatment some forty million other Amazigh people received courtesy of the French throughout the rest of North Africa…in Algeria, Morocco, and so forth.
Recent reports coming out of the area are conflicting.
On the one hand, it appears that the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), bolstered by arms arriving from Qaddafi’s Libya (which employed some Touareg fighters), still has control of the situation in the north.
On the other hand, there seems to be an attempt to undermine any potential support for the MLNA by others claiming that Islamists tied to Al-Qaida are really now running the show.
Regardless, there is no doubt that an independent “Berber” state of Azawad sends jitters up many other folks’ spines–both outside and inside the region–for a number of reasons.
For players like the French, it upsets and destabilizes their neocolonialist schemes for still pulling the strings in their former colonies.
For Arabs in neighboring North African states, it establishes a real nightmarish precedent…
With France’s cooperation, the Arabs of the Maghreb were able to proclaim the entire area as solely part of their own alleged greater “purely Arab patrimony.” To this end, scores of millions of native, pre-Arab/non-Arab people (both in North Africa and beyond) had their very cultures and languages periodically outlawed to speed up the forced integration, pacification, and Arabization process.
If you have not seen her work yet, Anna Mahjar-Barducci is an interesting and careful Moroccan-Italian journalist. An Amazigh friend, whose comments grace the jacket cover of my own book (http://q4j-middle-east.com), alerted me to her recent account of this situation in the Israeli-newspaper, Haaretz http://www.haaretz.com/print-e…..t-1.426801
Here’s some extensive excerpts from her analysis…
Now that Azawad has become a reality, it is clear that North Africa can no longer (simply) be “Al-Arabi,” as it now includes a state that is geographically and culturally part of the Maghreb but declares itself Berber. That is a situation that is unacceptable to Arab countries.
Azawad’s independence provokes additional fears. Neighboring countries are actually alarmed that the new state could inspire a “Berber spring” across North Africa, with other Imazighen asking for equal rights and/or independence…
Arab governments are hence joining forces with Mali to fight the MNLA and to “wipe” Berber Awazad “off the map.” One of the main means for doing this is by spread of disinformation.
When the independence of Azawad was declared, some international media outlets reported that the MNLA was an Islamist group that had relations with Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. This baseless rumor was soon debunked. The MNLA is actually a secular movement with no religious agenda.
Next, the disinformation machine spread a rumor that the MNLA had lost control of all of Azawad, and Al-Qaida, jihadists and Salafists had taken over the region…
About the same time, the French magazine Jeune Afrique published an interview with the leader of Ansar Dine, Iyad Ag Ghaly, who denied that his movement was in Gao. He also specified that he is not interested in independence for Azawad, as he recognizes only Mali and Sharia law. The same disinformation was at work elsewhere, as well…
There is…a serious risk of destabilization if Azawad isn’t officially recognized, and soon. All the neighboring countries have an interest in seeing Azawad descend into chaos, so that the international community will support reunification with Mali. Azawad and the MNLA will hence be left to fight jihadist groups on their own, when what they need is the help of neighboring countries.
In the meantime, Mali, which is now ruled by a transitional president after a coup in Banako, the capital, has threatened “total war” against the MNLA. Mali, which systematically repressed the Tuareg and other Azawadi minorities, is now indiscriminately arresting and killing “red-skinned” Berbers within its reduced borders. France, the old colonial power, is forcefully opposing Azawadi independence and calling for a “compromise”: autonomy for the region. Autonomy, though, is not the solution, as it would not guarantee an equal division of the area’s resources, which include oil and access to budgets that would allow it to fight droughts. France and the international community would do better to support the struggle for self-determination of the Azawadi people as they have done for other nations. Only independence will ensure stability.
Whenever the dust finally settles, however, one thing will remain certain…
The so-called “Arab Spring” must work to usher in a new age for other peoples too. I addressed this quite some time ago in Berber Autumn (http://kabylia.wordpress.com/2…..er-autumn/). And that Arab Spring is not looking too well these days.
For justice to truly come to this volatile region of the world, the injustices of the past will have to finally be addressed.
And justice in the realm of man–as I often point out–must be viewed in relative, not absolute, terms.
The same French and European Union, so quick to condemn the non-Arab Berber Touaregs’ quest for a slice of the justice pie, are also the same folks demanding the birth of a 22nd Arab state whose idea of “peace” with Israel is getting the latter to commit suicide. Some forty million subjugated, stateless Amazigh people are thus still deemed unworthy of the same rights Europe and others have no trouble granting to their tormentors.
While Arabs, basking in their own imperialist Caliphal past, may still have delusions that via centuries of forced Arabization, there really is no one else in “their” region with legitimate claims but themselves, in an age in which other people are still struggling for basic human–let alone political–rights, such an abusive, oppressive, self-centered mindset must not be allowed to continuously prevail.
Despite its imperfections (what nascent country–or long-standing one for that matter–does not have them?), the quest for long-overdue justice by this new Touareg nation of Azawad must be supported.
Addressing any real concerns regarding such things as Islamist influence should be part of this support–not used as an excuse to squash the hopes for freedom and independence of this first Amazigh/Berber state.
The militant Islamist nature of Hamas, Hizbullah, and others does not prevent the world from demanding the creation of yet another Arab nation. That factor should certainly play no role in determining the fate of scores of millions of predominantly Muslim, but anti-Islamist Amazigh people as well.