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Information on Berber Movement and military service in Algeria

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 September 1989
Citation / Document Symbol DZA2185
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Information on Berber Movement and military service in Algeria, 1 September 1989, DZA2185, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The Algerian Armed Forces, known as the National People's Army, numbers a total of approximately 170,000 persons, mostly conscripts [World Defence Almanac 1986-1987: Algeria, (Bonn: Monch Publishing Group, December 1986), p. 247.] Regarding military service, the sources presently available to the IRBDC give contradicting information: one source indicates a six-month service for both sexes has been compulsory since 1969 [The Middle East and North Africa 1989 (London: Europa Publications, 1989), p. 323.] while another [Africa Contemporary Record 1986-87, (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. B510.] states conscripts must serve for 18 months. A new Constitution, which reportedly introduced major changes in most governments institutions, including the military, was approved by referendum on 23 February 1989. [ Europa Year Book 1989, (London: Europa Publications, 1989), p. xix.] Unfortunately, a copy of the new constitution is not yet available to the IRBDC, and information regarding its changes, if any, in military service requirements could not be found among the sources presently available to the IRBDC.

Regarding the Berber movement, please find attached a number of documents which provide background and current information on the movement. In addition to the information contained therein, other reports indicate protests and demonstrations against the suppression of Berber language and culture occurred in Algeria throughout the 1980's, particularly in the Kabyle region (Kabyle being synonymous of Berber), which is regarded by the government as having separatist intentions. [The Middle East and North Africa 1989, p. 299.] President Chadli has described Berber demands as a threat to national unity. [ Ibid.] In 1981, a "Cultural Charter" considering the Berber culture as part of Algeria's national heritage was proposed but not approved, and was abandoned amid outbreaks of violence. [ Ibid.]

The government has made concessions to the Kabyle, as explained in an attached response on the issue dated 4 May 1989, including recognition and participation of Berber faculties in universities and creation of radio programs. [ Ibid.] A government-owned radio station, Radio Chaine II, was reportedly created in 1962 and transmits programs in Kabyle. [L'Information dans le Monde, (Paris: Seuil, 1989), p. 27.]

In 1985, lawyer Oman Menouer formed an Algerian League for Human Rights (other associations with similar names have been created, according to various sources), reportedly associated with the Kabyle or Berber cultural movement. [ Africa Contemporary Record 1986-87, (New York/London: Africana Publishing Company, 1988), p. B509.] However, a 1989 news article which reports the legalization of two Human Rights associations in Algeria, does not mention this particular one. ["Alger autorise une deuxième ligue des droits de l'homme", in Libération, 9/10 September 1989.]

Algeria is currently undergoing significant changes in its political life. A new Constitution, which departed from explicit references to socialism and gave way to a multi-party system, was approved in February of this year. [ Europa 1989, p. xix.] Ruling-party Secretary General Abdehamid Mehri, recently acknowledged the constitution of new parties, but rejected separatist attitudes, reportedly referring to the Berber movement. [ Africa Research Bulletin, June 15 1989, p. 9311.] Political changes, however, may allow Berber leader Hocine Ait Ahmed to return to Algeria, but his participation in politics is reportedly uncertain. [ Africa Confidential, 26 May 1989, p. 7.] Information on Hocine Ait Ahmed, then exiled in Switzerland, and re-surfacing of his Front for Socialist Forces is contained in the attached copy of Africa Research Bulletin, 15 May 1989, p.9250. Another reference to the Berber movement and its newly-formed Assembly for Culture and Democracy is contained in the attached copy of Africa Research Bulletin, 15 March 1989, p. 9181.

In July 1989, a new electoral law was passed and more than 30 parties were registered. Their compliance with the legal requirements and their official recognition will be announced by the end of this month. [ Africa Research Bulletin, 15 August 1989, p. 9343.]

The other attachments include:

-Revolutionary and Dissident Movements, (London: Longman Publishing Group, 1988), pp. 6 and 7;

-"The Berbers of North Africa", in World Minorities, Volume One, (U.K.: Quartermaine House, 1977), pp. 23-27;

-La Force des Faibles, (Paris: Larousse, 1987), pp. 302-304;

-"La Question Berbère en Algérie", in Le Devoir, 24 September 1985.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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