When Spain and France divided Morocco in 1906 during the Algeciras Convention and the Rif was occupied by Spain, the Riffians immediately came into resistance. This resistance was led by Mohamed Ameziane. Under his leadership the resistance culminated in the first Rif war. Who was this man?
Mohammed Ameziane, better known as Muḥand Ameẓyan is one of the first Riffian resistance fighters during the Spanish occupation of the Rif. Ameziane means ‘small’ (*) in the Rif Language. According to tradition he was born around 1860. He attended the Koranic school in his native village Azghenghan, after which he studied at the Al-Qaraouiyin mosque in Fez.
Ammeziane was a cattle trader in the Rif, but also worked in the then French colony of Algeria, like many other Riffian seasonal workers. He was known as an honest and helpful man. People who knew him described him as intelligent and as someone who loved his country. He had a good reputation among the Rif tribes. People asked him for advice and help in case of disputes, which he said he often managed to solve.
Around 1902 a Moroccan rebel named Jilali ben Driss Zirhouni al-Youssefi alias ‘Bu Hmara’ managed to bring part of the Rif under his control. At that time he sold Rif mines and raw materials from the Rif to France and Spain. In order to exploit the mines and build railway lines, Spain annexed areas in the vicinity of Melilla, a Rif city that had been in Spanish possession since 1497. Ameziane was one of the first to unmask Bu Hmara’s evil practices and collaboration with the European settlers. He therefore fiercely campaigned against Bu Hmara among the Rif tribes.
In 1909, a Riffian delegation led by Ameziane visited Sultan in Fez (then residence of the sultan) with the request to support the resistance against the Spanish expansion in the Rif. The Moroccan and Alawite Sultan refused to respond. Ameziane decided to organize the resistance himself and managed to unite several Rif tribes to defend their country. This resulted in a direct confrontation with Spain.
Mohammed Ameziane resisted the Spanish invasion and rejected attempts at bribery by Melilla general José Marina Vega’s military director.
On 27 June 1909 a number of Riffian chiefs met to discuss how they could prevent the construction of the Spanish railway line connecting the mountains of Iysan and Iharchwen with the city of Melilla.
This led to the Rif tribes, led by Mohamed Ameziene, fighting Bu Hmara and overcoming him in 1909 when he and his men fled the Rif.
Subsequently, on 9 July 1909, Ameziane gave the order to attack the troops guarding the construction of the Spanish railway line in the Rif. This battle, which lasted until July 27th of the same year, and became one of the greatest Ameziane fought, was called Aghazar Ouchen (Wolves River) by the Riffians. Spain lost many troops during this battle, including General Guillermo Pintos Ledesma. This battle is known in Spanish history as Desastre del Barranco del Lobo.
Spain sent a new army consisting of more than 4000 soldiers and three generals to the Rif. This led to a new battle with the troops of Ameziane, which, according to stories, no longer consisted of 1500 people. This battle took place on 20 September 1909 at Ijeddayen in the area of the tribe Ayt Chichar. Also this battle was lost by the Spanish army. The Riffian warriors managed to capture a lot of weapons and ammunition during this battle.
The Riffian resistance could win these battles because it was well organized, the tribes made a number of their men available to provide the resistance with fighters permanently. They were free to decide if and how they wanted to organize themselves, which and how many men they wanted to make available and possibly replace and/or supply ammunition.
The different tribes and their fighters were able to warn each other of hostile troop movements by lighting fires on the higher mountain tops. Because of these signals, the alternating firing of fires, they were quickly aware of a possible hostile attack and the troops were quickly on the spot to repel it.
Ameziane fought several battles against Spain in which he inflicted enormous losses on the Spanish army. They suffered loss of men, which also killed senior Spanish officers with a rank of colonel and general, but also enormous material losses.
In 1912 this came to an end. On 15 May 1912 he was killed by a unit of Regulares in the region of Ayt Sidal. The Spaniards brought his corpse to Melilla, where it was exhibited as a spoils of war; on the way it was shown to the Riffians to deter them. He was buried in his hometown Azghenghan in the Rif.
* Due to the name Muhammad being used many times in Rif families after the Arabization of North Africa from the 7th century, they add Ameziane (small) or Ameqrane to the names of Muhammad to distinguish them from each other.
Source: Amazigh Informatie Centrum
Translation: Najat M.