The Question of Kurdish Language Textbooks

Textbooks are important linguistic, ideological, political and cultural creations. Moreover, they functioned as essential tools in the Iraqi educational system, which was based on memorization. Schools had been without Kurdish textbooks until 1927 when the first text, translated from Arabic, was printed. Arabic books had been in use and Kurdish had been used only as a medium for explaining the text.

Textbooks are important linguistic, ideological, political and cultural creations. Moreover, they functioned as essential tools in the Iraqi educational system, which was based on memorization. Schools had been without Kurdish textbooks until 1927 when the first text, translated from Arabic, was printed. Arabic books had been in use and Kurdish had been used only as a medium for explaining the text.

The absence of textbooks had always been used as an argument by the government against the introduction of native tongue education in Kurdistan. In response to the recommendations of the League of Nations, the Iraqi government promised, in early 1926, to set up a Translation Bureau which was to translate laws and prepare school textbooks. According to the confidential official correspondence of the time, this and other pledges had not been honored by 1929 (Sluglett 1976: 185, 187).

The government had left the preparation of textbooks to the initiative of the individuals, who were expected to present their translations or compilations to the Ministry of Education for authorization. The lack of adequate printing facilities, together with the financial risks inherent in personal undertakings, made the problem almost impossible to solve.

The Ministry of Education used "authorization" as a means of obstructing native tongue education. Zarî Kirmancî reported a number of compilations awaiting authorization. The manuscript of an arithmetic textbook was sent to the editor of the magazine to be published (No. 12, September 14, 1927, p. 20), while another book, Objects Lesson (Durûsî Eşya), i.e., natural science, had been translated by a teacher. The magazine asked the Ministry to encourage other intellectuals to compose books, and to diffuse education by authorizing the textbooks (No. 12, January 25, 1928, p. 15). When the authorities refused to authorize T. Wahby’s grammar in 1929 (cf. 8.2.1), Zarî Kirmancî (No. 19, May 26, 1929, p. 1) hinted that the book’s rejection showed that Kurds did not have a say in administering their own education.

The government’s refusal to solve the textbook problem led to complaints in the Chamber of Deputies. Seven Kurdish Deputies petitioned the Minister of Education (cf., arguing that the formation of a Translation and Compilation Committee could achieve a great deal in a short period of time. They also asked for the offer of financial rewards to translators and compilers of Kurdish textbooks. When a Kurdish Deputy complained (June 1929) about the state of education in Kurdistan, the Prime Minister answered that a committee had been set up to translate textbooks. Zarî Kirmancî (No. 20, August 7, 1927, pp. 17-18) asked, "where are the products of this committee … ?"

According to confidential correspondence from 1930 (Sluglett 1976:189, 224 Note 35), by August the Translation Bureau had not been instituted. The official reports to the League of Nations, however, continued to declare more progress in the provision of textbooks (G.B. 1926: 129; 1927: 157; 1928: 132).

According to the only bibliographic sources on Kurdish textbooks (Cumberland 1936: Minorsky 1930-31), fourteen volumes had been prepared by individual translators and authors by December 1930:

1927 [Kurdish] Reader, Vol. 1 (59 pp.), Vol. 2 (90 pp.)
1928 [Kurdish] Reader, Vol. 3 (76 pp.)
Objects Lesson, Vol. 1 (104 pp.), Vol. 2 (240 pp.)
General History (240 pp.)
Arithmetics (187 pp.)
Religious Knowledge (175 pp.)
Brief Grammar of Kurdish (76 pp.)
Lessons in History (113 pp.)

1929 First Geography Book (143 pp.) Objects Lesson
(III pp., cf. Fig. 27) Lessons in Geometry (122 pp.)
1930 Lessons in History (88 pp.)

According to the yearbook of the Ministry of Education for 1928-29 (quoted by Abdulla 1980: 112-13), seventeen books had been prepared by this time. Except for the grammar book, all the volumes were translations from Arabic.

Textbooks must, however, be distributed and used in the schools. The government was in a position, as printer and distributor, to obstruct teaching in Kurdish by refusing to distribute the books. Zarî Kirmancî reported that textbooks sent to Arbil liwa had not been distributed. Neither did the editor himself find any at Shaqlawa. In Rawandiz, all the song books in Kurdish had been taken away from the students and torn to pieces after the visit of an inspector from Mosul (No. 22, April 30, 1930, p. 4). The holding up of books is also confirmed in confidential official correspondence; Edmonds wrote,

we are told that there are no books but not only is no serious effort made to produce them but the books which are submitted are held up … My strong feelings on this question are not prompted only by an old fashioned feeling that promises are to be kept. Iraq seems to be making of Southern Kurdistan not a Scotland or Wales but an Ireland. (Edmonds to Holt, D.O.S.A. 232, 9 May 1928. Delhi, BHCF, Events in Kurdistan, File 13/14, Vol. V.; emphasis added)

Little progress was achieved during the Monarchical period. A reader of Runakî (No.5, January 16, 1936, pp. 7-8) noted that the government had financed the preparation of all Arabic textbooks through the Ministry of Education’s "Committee for Compilation and Translation and Publishing" whereas similar assistance had not been extended to the Kurds. Moreover, Kurdish authors had been regularly discouraged by the Ministry’s refusal to authorize their books (e,g., one grammar and two arithmetic books) or by delaying authorization -e.g., Sa’id Fahim’s Elifba (Alphabet) had been waiting for three years, Hamid Faraj’s Elifba for three months and Shakir Fatah’s Xöndinewe had also been awaiting distribution.

During the last year of the monarchy (1957-July 1958), 28 primary school textbooks were in use (Iraq Republic 1959:204):

Except for the first grade alphabet book, all the texts including "Kurdish" Readers were translations of Arabic textbooks. One of the two authors of the second grade reader, Matta Akrawi, had recommended in his Ph.D. dissertation (Akrawi 1942) that the curriculum in Kurdish schools needed to be adapted to local conditions. The government’s policy was, however, to carefully avoid giving the Kurdish language any distinct status in the textbooks. According to a study on nationalism and education in Iraq, the curriculum "revealed a clear absence and a lack of appreciation of the history and culture of minority groups comprising the Iraqi society" (al-Rubaiy 1972: 182). It must be noted also that Kurdish grammar had been omitted from the curriculum in the 1950s.

The fall of the monarchy made it possible to introduce slight changes in the textbooks and in the curriculum. Although readers continued to be translated from Arabic, considerable original writing and poetry were incorporated in them. The sixth grade reader (second printing, 1962), for example, was prepared by a group of four one of whom was the poet Goran. It included essays, which touched upon Kurdish nationalist feeling, for example: "Love your own language!," "Arbil" (adapted from the magazine Hîwa), "The Battle of Dimdim Fortress," and several poems including "Kurdistan" written by Goran and "Newroz" (New Year) by Piramerd. The essay about the Kurdish language encourages the students to contribute to the progress of the language by becoming literate enough to either write and compose in Kurdish or read and thereby promote Kurdish writing.

The main change in the curriculum was the re-introduction of grammar and a reading course to each of the last two grades of primary school. The Directorate General of Kurdish Studies appointed a committee to compile and translate textbooks on grammar, reading, geography and sciences for the first two years of secondary school (al-Bayan, April 29, 1960 quoted in Oriente Moderno, 1960, p. 339). This program apparently came to an end after the worsening of relations between the government and the Kurds.
The 28 primary school textbooks continued to be reprinted throughout the 1960s. In 1969-70, the number of printed copies reached 245,000. The General Directorate of Kurdish Studies has been charged, since the early 1970s, with the sole responsibility for translating and compiling textbooks. Its Director, Ihsan Fuad, said in 1983 that the primary textbooks were all translated from Arabic except for the first grade reader and fifth and sixth grade grammars (Fuad 1983:30). Thus, there has been no change in the curriculum policy since the early 1960s.

Intermediate and secondary school textbooks were gradually translated in the 1970s and, by 1983, a total of 86 titles (primary and secondary) had been prepared. The books and other publications of the Directorate are all printed in the office’s press at Arbil. The authorities have admitted, however, that the copies of their journal Perwerde w Zanist and children’s books have been stockpiled and were neither distributed among teachers and students nor made available to bookstores (Ibid.). By 1985, textbooks on all subjects from the first grade of primary school to the last year of secondary school, were available in Kurdish except for the subjects of English, Arabic and religion (Bimar 1986:287). The total number of textbooks reached, according to Nariman 1986:95),225 titles by 1984. Of these, 15 were published in the 1920s, 14 between 1930 and 1950, 23 in the 1950s and 20 in the 1960s, making for a total of 72 titles. The remaining 153 titles were published after 1970 (Ibid.).

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