The Kabyle people (Kabyle: Iqvayliyen) are a Berber ethnic group native to Kabylie (or Kabylia) in the north of Algeria, one hundred miles east of Algiers. They represent the largest Berber-speaking population of Algeria and the second largest in Africa.
Emigration, influenced by factors such as the French conquest of Algeria, deportation, and latterly industrial decline and unemployment, has resulted in Kabyle people living in numerous countries. Large populations of Kabyle people settled in France and, to a lesser extent, Canada.
The Kabyle speak the Kabyle language. Since the Berber Spring of 1980, they have been at the forefront of the fight for the official recognition of Berber languages in Algeria.
The Kabyle were relatively independent of outside control during the period of Ottoman empire rule in North Africa. They lived primarily in three different kingdoms: the Kingdom of Kuku, the Kingdom of Ait Abbas, and the principality of Aït Jubar. The area was gradually taken over by the French during their colonization beginning in 1857, despite vigorous resistance. Such leaders as Lalla Fatma n Soumer continued the resistance as late as Mokrani’s rebellion in 1871.
French officials confiscated much land from the more recalcitrant tribes and granted it to colonists, who became known as pieds-noirs. During this period, the French carried out many arrests and deported resisters, mainly to New Caledonia (see: “Algerians of the Pacific”). Due to French colonization, many Kabyle emigrated into other areas inside and outside Algeria. Over time, immigrant workers also went to France.
In the 1920s, Algerian immigrant workers in France organized the first party promoting independence. Messali Hadj, Imache Amar, Si Djilani, and Belkacem Radjef rapidly built a strong following throughout France and Algeria in the 1930s; they developed militants who became vital to the fighting for an independent Algeria. This became widespread after World War II.
During the Algerian war of independence (1954–1962), Kabylie was the area of much fighting due to the maquis, whose resistance was aided by the mountainous terrain, and catalyzed by French oppression. The armed Algerian revolutionary resistance to French colonialism, the National Liberation Front (FLN), recruited several of its leaders there, including Hocine Aït Ahmed, Abane Ramdane, and Krim Belkacem.
Since the independence of Algeria, tensions have arisen between Kabylie and the central government on several occasions. In 1963 the FFS party of Hocine Aït Ahmed contested the authority of the FLN, which has promoted itself as the only party in the nation.
In 1980, protesters mounted several months of demonstrations in Kabylie demanding the recognition of Berber as an official language; this period has been called the Berber Spring. The politics of identity intensified during the 1990s as the regime initiated Arabization due to growing Islamist power. In 1994–1995, a school boycott occurred, termed the “strike of the school bag”. In June and July 1998, there were violent protests after the assassination of singer Matoub Lounes and the law requiring use of the Arabic language in all fields.
In the months following April 2001 (called the Black Spring), major riots — together with the emergence of the Arouch, neo-traditional local councils, followed the killing of Masinissa Guermah, a young Kabyle, by gendarmes. The protests gradually decreased after the Kabyle won some concessions from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.