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In Syria's Civil War, Kurds Enjoy Language Freedoms

Students learn the Kurdish language at a local school in Amude, Syria, in August 2015. (Photo courtesy of Bedirxan Committee for Teaching Kurdish)
In Syria's Civil War, Kurds Enjoy New Language Freedoms
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Syria's civil war and the rise of militancy have left Syrian Kurds with a chance to control areas in the north and northeast part of the country. This has given the Kurds time to exercise and promote their culture.

For years, the Kurdish language was banned in Syria under the rule of President Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad.

Now, with almost no presence of Syrian government forces, Kurdish groups say they are free to learn and teach their language to a new generation.

"It's a great thing that is happening now," said Ismael Omar, a Kurdish-language teacher in the town of Amude. "We just graduated 31 students. We've been doing this since the start of the Syrian Revolution."

Before the fighting started in 2011, Arabic was the language of education throughout Kurdish areas in the country. Syrian Kurds were successful at preserving the use of their language at home. Yet they never had the chance to study it in schools.

Samira Hajj Ali is the head of the education commission in the city of Qamishli. She said that under the new Kurdish administration, the official languages are Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac.

"In the coming school year, we will have textbooks designed for elementary schools," said Abdulselam Mohamad, who teaches at a public school in Qamishli. "All math and science textbooks are in Kurdish,” he said.


Many people are critical of the new education system. They say that students are not yet ready to be taught entirely in Kurdish.

Private schools, which teach in Arabic, are not a choice for all parents.

"We're not against teaching our kids Kurdish," said Nesrin Malla, a mother of three. "Kurdish is our mother tongue and we love it, but thrusting all those Kurdish textbooks on children at once is counterproductive," she said.

Language experts share these concerns.

"There has to be a gradual process in which Kurdish is introduced to students slowly," said Omar, a teacher. "You can't just teach them in a language they have never been exposed to in their education, and then expect them to succeed academically."

One problem is differences between the Kurdish and Arabic alphabets. Kurdish is an Indo-European language that uses a Latin script in some Kurdish dialects. Arabic is an Afro-Semitic language that uses the Arabic alphabet, and is written from right to left.

"This might seem like a minor issue," Omar said. "But it is actually problematic, given that students have to switch everything to the Latin script." He added that it would take a long time for students to understand and accept the new lettering.

Local Kurdish groups say that they are prepared to continue pushing for their language to be recognized in all aspects of life.

I’m John Russell.

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Sirwan Kajjo reported on this story for John Russell adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

promote – v. to make (something) more popular, well-known, etc.

commission – n. a group of people who have been given the official job of finding information about something or controlling something

elementary school – n. a school for young children ( also called grade school, grammar school, primary school)

textbook – n. grade school, grammar school, primary school

alphabet – n. the letters of a language arranged in their usual order

script – n. the letters of a language arranged in their usual order

aspect – n. a part of something