In April 2001, the Berber region of Kabylia exploded in a series of violent riots that led to the death of 123 civilians and the withdrawal of all the Algerian Gendarmerie forces from the region. Algerian society seemed on the verge of a new destabilizing conflict only shortly after the disarmament of the majority of the armed Islamist groups. The riots spread to Eastern and Western Algerian cities in June 2001. What initially was viewed as an ethnic uprising suddenly took on a socio-political agenda. To what degree was the uprising motivated by ethnic or socio-political concerns? The ‘Kabyle project’ has represented a quest for cultural and linguistic rights in the Kabylia region, but also for the recognition of the Berber identity as the basis for a new and more authentic Algerian identity to replace the state-sanctioned national Arab identity. I analyze how Kabyle political activists have used the demand for an official status for the Berber language, Thamazight, equal to Arabic, within a broader agenda of political change and democratization but also in an effort to influence the concept of ‘Algerian-ness’. I also discuss to what degree the Berberist movement succeeded in nationalizing their cause.I find that in Algeria it is not the divide between ‘Berbers’ and ‘Arabs’ that is the largest issue of contention. The largest political divide is between Kabylia and the regime in Algeria. One conclusion is that the ethnic dimensions of such conflict in Algeria are attempts to challenge the legitimacy of the earlier-established nationalist agenda and the political legitimacy of the state. Furthermore, that the conflict took place in Kabylia due to issues reflected in a regional identity construction – not just cultural as Berbers, but political as national vanguard that opposes central authority. I also find that while the state is moving towards an open discussion about the existence of Berber (and other) aspects in Algerian nationalism, they are sceptical to the role of the Kabyle movement. Kabylia on the other hand is reluctant to compromise. The Berberist movement cling to a Kabyle identity concept, which hinders support from other groups in the country. I therefore conclude that the Berberist movement did not succeed in making a national issue out of their cause, despite raising an increasing awareness. What may be of particular interest for future research on Algeria is the fact that the political climate today allows such a debate to enter the public domain. Algeria is one of the larger Middle Eastern and North African states, and their political and economic processes are carefully watched. The debate on the role of Amazigh culture and language is particularly important for the other Maghrib states that also have Berber groups in their populations.