Origins of Algeria

Prehistory: Bones were discovered in various areas of Algeria, which indicate that human presence in this part of Africa date back to more than 500,000 years.

Ancient Civilizations: The Iberomaurusian (10,000 BC) and Capsian (5,000 BC) civilizations were the earliest civilizations known to have inhabited the north (region of Constantine), east, and south (Sahara) parts of Algeria.

The Berbers: The Berbers are most likely the descendants of the above civilizations. Their rock drawings in Tassili N'jer (3,000 BC) clearly show that they were hunters and cultivators who have tribal social structure.


From Carthage to Rome

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The Phoenicians: Around 814 BC, the Phoenicians, navigators coming the eastern parts of the Mediterranean regions (Lebanon, etc.), built the city of Carthage, in current Tunisia. The Carthaginians established territories in the coastal towns of Algeria (such as Annaba, Skikda, Algiers, etc.). The exerted their economic and political domination upon the local Berbers.

Numidia: Masinissa, a numid (Berber) chief and ally of Rome, made Cirta (Constantine) the capital of his new empire. This empire extended all the way to the western region of current Morocco. After a long reign (203-148 BC), Masinissa died, left his kingdom to be divided amongst his children who remained loyal to the Romans. But the youngest son of Masinissa, Jugurtha, refused the control of Rome and revolted in 111 BC. His actions cost him not only his freedom but led to the roman occupation of Algeria in 105 BC.

The Romans: Under roman control, Numidia and Egypt became "the grain of Rome", providing wheat and other vital substances such as olive oil for the roman empire. In the 4th century AD, while roman troops were called upon to defend the declining empire, Numidia claimed its temporary independance through the less known "donatist" religious cult. The Berber population, mostly Christian by then, followed and supported this Christian sect and thus were persecuted by the Romans. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, the Berber tribes (who are located in the mountain areas of Algeria), unlike their coastal brethren refused to adhere to the Christian faith and continued to resist the roman occupation until the invasion of the Vandals.

The Vandals: During all this chaos, the Vandals, Germanic people, invaded north Africa and established a kingdom in 429 AD. But their occupation of Algeria was limited only to the coastal areas, while the mountain areas remained resistant to the foreign occupation. In 533 AD, the Vandals were eventually chased out by the armies of the Byzantine emperor, Justinian I, who dreamed of reviving the roman occupation of Algeria. His armies were only able to occupy the eastern regions of Algeria and not for very long either.

The Muslim Dynasties

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The Muslims: In 647 AD , the Arabs, carriers of a new religion, Islam, entered north Africa for the first time ever. In the east, the Ouress mountains, the Berbers under the leadership of two chiefs, Kusayla and Kahina (a prophetess) attempted a resistance movement but were not very successful. After the beginning of the VIIIth century AD, all the remaining Berber tribes converted to Islam. The Berber chiefs who led the earlier uprisings, such as Musa ibn Nusayr, eventually became well known leaders of the Muslim armies that crossed the sea to start the occupation of the Iberian peninsula.

The Muslim Berber Kingdoms: After 740 AD, the Berbers decided to secede from the eastern Muslim kingdoms (the Abbassyd Khalifa) and make their own western Muslim kingdoms.

* Rostemids, created in 777 AD in Tahert (Tiaret).

* Fatimids, ruled Algeria since 911 AD and they were supported by the Kabyles, well known eastern Berber tribes.

* Almoravids and Almohads, two Berber dynasties, ruled the whole region between the XIth and XIIIth century AD.

* In 1269 AD, Almohads had to fight the Christians over their Algerian ports. These wars eventually led to the decline of the Almohad dynasty and the creation of three new Berber dynasties: the Merinides in Fes (Morocco), the Abdelwadids in Tlemcen (Algeria) and the Hafsids in Tunis (Tunisia).

The Spaniards: Starting from the late XVth century AD, after the Spain came under the control of Christian kings, the Spaniards started attacking and eventually occupying some of the coastal towns of Algeria (Mers el-Kebir, Oran, Bejaia). The Abdelwadids officially gave in to the Spaniards' demands to occupy the rest of the country and accepted the Spanish control but the local population resisted the capitulation by engaging in piracy against Spanish and other European ships. In 1518 AD , Algiers and many other ports were under constant Spaniard siege. Algerian, then called upon the Turks, who are Muslims, to help them.

The Turks: The Turks under the leadership of the two Barberousse brothers came to the rescue of the Algerians. Khayr al-Din, the youngest of the Barberousse brothers became the first beylerbey (official ambassador of Soliman the Magnificent in the Algerian territories) in 1554 AD. Due to the fact that north Africa was very far away from Constantinople, the Ottomans in Algeria enjoyed greater freedom in running the country than their counterparts in other Turkish provinces. Algeria remained basically Ottoman politically until its occupation by the French.

Modern History of Algeria

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The French Occupation: In 1827, using a silly event that occurred between the dey Hussein and the ambassador of France at the time as a pretext, Charles X ordered a naval blockade against Algiers. The French troops consisted of 37,000 men, entered Algiers in 1831 and occupied part of the country south of the city. Algerians in other parts of the country started mounting attacks against the French forces. In the Oran region, l'émir Abd el-Kader, called for Jihad in 1839. His brisk attacks created problems for general Bugeaud and slowed down the occupation of the Algerian west by France. In 1847 his efforts were finally squashed and the western regions of Algeria became part of French occupation. The same happened to other leaders of the resistance in the east and the south. The complete occupation of Algeria only started in 1857 after the south and Kabylie surrendered to the French forces. But France claimed Algeria as its own territory since the year 1848!

The Rise of Algerian Nationalism: In the beginning of the 1920s Algerians started the first successful movements that would eventually lead to the liberation of Algeria once and for all from the French occupation, which was one of the longest and most brutal the country has ever encountered.

* Ahmed Messali Hadj, founder, in 1926, of the North African Star party.

* Ferhat Abbas published "the Manifest of the Algerian People" in 1943.

* Abdelhamid Ibn Badis founded the "Jam3iyat Al Ulama" and his fellow party member, Tewfiq al-Madani (1932), published his book "The Book of Algeria" in which he declared: «Islam is our religion, Algeria is our country, Arabic is our language»

* In 1945, the revolts in Setif and Guelma led to the death of more than 8,000 Algerians led to the creation of more radical and war oriented parties.

*In 1946, Ferhat Abbas founded UDMA and Messali Hadj the MTLD.

* Militants from MTLD, among them Ahmed Ben Bella, Hocine Ait Ahmed, Mohammed Khider, created, in 1954, the CRUA which later became the FLN. This party was the one that eventually started the war of November 1st, 1954 which lasted until July 5th, 1962; Independence Day of Algeria!

Author: Taoufik Nadji

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