Amid a Berber Reawakening in Libya, Fears of Revenge

By: C.J Chivers
In the evening, as the searing desert temperatures subside, the residents who have returned to this rebel-held city near the front lines appear on the streets. Some of them carry cans of paint, and begin to decorate murals with the characters of an ancient language that had been forbidden by the government of Col.Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The language is Tamazight, the tongue of the Amazigh, or Berbers, who, after decades of oppression in Libya are re-emerging as a political force.

As rebels have chased the Qaddafi military from much of the arid highlands in Libya’s west this spring and summer, Yafran has become the easternmost outpost of a cultural and linguistic reawakening that has expanded across the map, and it is expected to expand more.

Overlooking the Libyan desert plain, the city shows signs of a nascent sense of self-determination — a step, the Amazigh hope, toward full national and regional recognition.

In Yafran, Libya, a Berber, or Amazigh, boy decorated a government building being turned into a revolutionary exhibit.

“Before we were in darkness — we were invisible,” said Osama Graber, 36, an Amazigh mechanical engineer who is now an opposition fighter. “And now we can be seen, and are tasting freedom.”

No sooner had the Qaddafi forces pulled back from this city than its residents began reasserting their standing, even as the Qaddafi military lingered just beyond rocket range.

They followed a model seen in other traditionally Amazigh cities — including Nalut and Jadu — that have already broken free of the government’s grip. And they hope to build on gains realized by Amazigh people elsewhere, including in Morocco, which gave official standing to the language in June.

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