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Kurdish Language Education in Iran

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Mother tongue education has been one of the persistent demands of Iranian Kurds. This demand materialized only when the authority of the Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown in the northern parts of Kurdistan and replaced in 1946 by an autonomous Kurdish republic. Republican authorities acquired textbooks from Iraq informally through the cooperation of Iraqi Kurds, some of whom volunteered to teach in the schools. All instruction was in the Sorani dialect. Modern education was extended to the villages for the first time under the auspices of the Republic. Schools were established in larger villages such as Paswe and Kalba Raza Khan. They were, however, closed down by the Iranian government after the overthrow of the republic.

While primary and secondary school instruction in Kurdish was not possible under the Shah's regime, Tehran University's Department of Linguistics and Ancient Languages offered two courses on Kurdish language in the early 1970s. This was obviously a political decision by the government, and the Linguistics Department was not involved. The purpose of the two courses, "Introductory Kurdish Language" and "Advanced Kurdish Language" was, according to the Tehran University bulletin (Rãhnamãy-i Dãnishgãh-i Tihrãn, Academic Year 1353-54/1974-75, Tehran University Publication, n.d., pp. 151¬52), "to protect the Kurdish language from oblivion, since the Kurdish language is one of the genuine (asil) Iranian languages, and to draw the attention of the Kurds abroad to the land of their ancestors, Iran." This statement was in line with official propaganda which considered as "Aryan" and Iranian all Kurds living outside Iranian borders. The course offerings can be explained by the political context of confrontations between Iran and Iraq in the 1970-75 period. By offering financial and military support, Iran was encouraging the Kurdish leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan to reject the autonomy plan proposed by Baghdad. It seems that the Iranian regime needed to back up its anti-Iraqi propaganda by pretending to be mindful of Kurdish rights.

Discouraged by the Islamic regime's vague promises of granting national rights to the ethnic peoples, the Kurds themselves took a number of measures in the field of education in the spring of 1979, when Tehran's authority had not yet been extended to Kurdistan. A committee for the preparation of primary school textbooks was formed in April 1979 in Mahabad. In the same month, a project for establishing a university was initiated. Called "Kurdistan University," the institution planned to use Kurdish as the medium of instruction and one of its four sections, Kurdish Language and Culture, aimed at, among other things, the "enhancement of the standardization process" of the language (for a detailed account of the project cf. Ãyandigãn, No. 3374, June 13, 1979). In Kurdistan, enough land, buildings, funds and other types of material support came forth in support of the project, while in Tehran and elsewhere, the National Organization of Academics of Iran, a non-government group, offered full support, with many faculty members volunteering to teach. The university was about to announce admissions for the 1979-80 academic year, when the government's military offensive against the autonomist movement put an end to the institution.

In centralist states, such as Iran and Iraq, the question of language of instruction often becomes a constitutional issue. The constitution of the Islamic Republic, for example, deprived Kurds and other nationalities of the right to native tongue education. The constitutional document emphasized that Persian was the language of textbooks, although it states that "the teaching of ethnic literature in the schools ... " is permitted (cf. 5.2.2). By 1985, however, the ethnic literature of the Turks, Kurds, Baluches, Turkmens and Assyrians had not been taught in any school in Iran (for information on the change of policy toward Azeri Turkish, cf. subchapter 7.2, Note 6).
In the areas that remained under Kurdish control after the government's second offensive in May 1980, the two largest political organizations, Kornele and the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, introduced instruction in Kurdish in the primary schools of the rural areas. According to the K.D.P, some eight thousand students in 210 schools received instruction in the academic year 1982-83. The main obstacle to teaching in Kurdish was the provision of textbooks. The first grade reader (cf. 8.2.2) was distributed in 1982. First grade mathematic and science and a second grade reader as well as science and mathematic textbooks were ready to go to press by this time, although financial problems and the absence of printing presses in the liberated areas were serious obstacles. The Party appealed to UNESCO for help, but none had been offered by the summer of 1983. The Party's program was to teach in Kurdish only in the first four grades, introducing Persian, alongside Kurdish in the fifth grade (Payãm-i Ãzãdi, No. 20, Tir/April-June 1983, p. 5).

The other Kurdish political organization, Komele, published a first grade Elfûbê (Alphabet) in 1983. According to the introduction of the book, Kurdish was the language of instruction in the schools administered by this organization, and Persian was introduced in the fourth grade. The adult literacy courses were, however, taught in Persian since "in the present conditions, education in the Persian language can better answer the needs of their social life." By 1986, however, the government had extended its control to much of the countryside, and native tongue education was terminated once again.

Source: Dr. Amir Hassanpour, "Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan 1918-1985", 1992.


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