Kurdish Education in Republican Iraq

The 1958-61 Period

Education expanded rapidly under the new republican regime. By the academic year 1961-62, the number of primary schools in Iraq had increased by 94.5 % (3,963 schools) over 1957-8. Similarly, schools in Sulaymaniya recorded an increase of 84.4% (232 schools), Arbil 130.7% (240 schools), Kirkuk 173.6% (342 schools), and Mosul 84.7% (449 schools). The language of instruction is not indicated in the statistical sources (figures based on Iraq Republic 1959:17 and 1961-62:14).

The 1958-61 Period

Education expanded rapidly under the new republican regime. By the academic year 1961-62, the number of primary schools in Iraq had increased by 94.5 % (3,963 schools) over 1957-8. Similarly, schools in Sulaymaniya recorded an increase of 84.4% (232 schools), Arbil 130.7% (240 schools), Kirkuk 173.6% (342 schools), and Mosul 84.7% (449 schools). The language of instruction is not indicated in the statistical sources (figures based on Iraq Republic 1959:17 and 1961-62:14).

Kurdish demands for mother tongue education were formulated in great detail and presented to the authorities on several occasions. Leaving aside the details, these demands were essentially the same as those which had been voiced under the Mandate and monarchy-I.e., the use of Kurdish as the medium of instruction at all levels of education and in all parts of Kurdistan.

Kurdish educational demands were raised by the press, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the newly-formed student and teachers unions, other unions, and individuals. In the first week following the overthrow of the monarchy, seven Kurdish teachers submitted a memorandum to the authorities demanding the introduction of Kurdish at all schools, the formation of a directorate general of Kurdish education, and the teaching of Kurdish language and literature in all schools and in the university (Nariman 1983:23). The government reacted by closing down the Arabic language paper al-Bilad which had published the memo on July 26, 1958. Two days later, the Kurdish delegation sent to Baghdad to congratulate the Prime Minister on the victory of the "Revolution" repeated the demands, which had gained enormous popular support (Ibid; Nebez 1976: 16-7).

In May 1959, a Directorate General of Kurdish Studies was established as part of the Ministry of Education. In September, the first Congress of Kurdish Teachers submitted a number of recommendations to the government, among which were teaching in Kurdish in all parts of Kurdistan and in secondary schools, and the establishment of a teacher training college in which Kurdish would be the medium of instruction (Abdulla 1980: 158).

These recommendations were largely ignored. Indicative of negative official attitudes was the government’s authorization of the convening of the teachers’ congress on condition that it be called a "local" rather than "Kurdish" congress (Vanly 1970:348 note 4). A few months later, the government emphasized the importance of the Arabic language by requiring students in Kurdish primary schools to obtain a passing grade of 50 instead of 40.

The Second Congress of Kurdish Teachers (1960) had become the mouthpiece of Kurdish cultural demands. Delegations from all Kurdish towns, prominent literary figures and political groups participated in the event. Indicative of its significance was the attendance of the Minister of Education who received several memoranda from various delegates. Various committees on education, language and literature, history, translation, publishing and compiling, and literacy drew up recommendations which were unanimously approved by the congress. Resolutions on the use of Kurdish in education included the following (synopsis):

* Native tongue education in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and in all Kurdish areas including the qadhas of Aqra, Shaikhan, Dahok, Zakho, Amadiya, Tel Afar and Sinjar [all in Mosul liwa] and for the Kurds of Diyala, Kut, Baghdad, ‘ Amarah and Khanaqin.
* The establishment of a college of education in a region of Kurdistan and its development into a Kurdistan University.
* The formation of a chair of Kurdish language and literature at
Baghdad University.
* The use of Kurdish in the existing teacher training schools and the establishment of another school in a Kurdish region with Kurdish as a medium of instruction.
* The formation of a committee of experts on language in order to compile a dictionary for use in school.
* The teaching of a few Kurdish language courses in Arab secondary and higher schools to strengthen Arab-Kurdish unity (Hetaw, No. 185, September 18, 1960, pp. 1,21-42).

The Congress recommended a step by step plan for de-Arabization of schools in Kurdish areas, for the gradual introduction of native tongue education into secondary schools and for the eradication of illiteracy. Teachers unions and student unions in all Kurdish towns presented separate memoranda in which similar demands, together with regional demands, were raised.

Although the Iraqi officials gave an indication that they would adopt Kurdish on the secondary school level, they did not act accordingly. A Bachelor’s program in Kurdish language was, however, instituted at Baghdad University. Innumerable petitions were despatched to Baghdad asking for the implementation of the resolutions of the Congress. Xebat (January 24, 1961, p. 2, 4), organ of the Kurdish Democratic Party, wrote: " … facts indicate that the decisions of the two congresses of Kurdish teachers, which represent the main cultural demands of the Kurdish people, are buried in the Directorate [General of Kurdish Studies] files."

By the summer of 1961, relations between the Kurds and the government had grown tense and the Kurdish Democratic Party complained to the Prime Minister about, among other things, deprivation of secondary school students’ constitutionally recognized right to mother tongue education (Vanly 1970:96). The outbreak of war in Kurdistan in September put an end to all these expectations.

The 1961-74 Period

The question of native tongue education, as a major demand of Kurdish nationalism, had been tied to the autonomist war since its outbreak in 1961. During the early stages of the conflict, the Ministry of Education added two Kurdish lessons to the primary school curriculum and made Kurdish a compulsory subject of study at teachers colleges (aI-BUM, October 31, and al-Akhbar, October 31, 1961).

The first Ba’th government, which ruled the country after the fall of Qasim, promised, during negotiations with Kurdish leaders, to make Kurdish the medium of instruction in primary and intermediate stages, with Arabic taught as a second language. It was emphasized that the language of the secondary schools would continue to be Arabic (text of Iraqi Government’s proposals in Adamson 1964:208-11).
Under Abd al-Salam Arif’s rule, Kurdish negotiators despatched to Baghdad were informed of the government’s views, one of which was: "The language of instruction in districts with Kurdish majorities is to be local until the intermediate level or as desired" (al-Jumhurtyya, March 22, 1965; text translated in Khalid and Ibish 1965:33).

No progress had been made by July 1968 when a coup d’etat put the second Ba’th government in power. The new regime promised to respect the June 1966 accord, and on August 4 a decree was promulgated to put some of its articles into practice. Among these were the founding of a Kurdish Scientific Academy in Baghdad and a university in Sulaymaniya. The latter, consisting of three colleges (Engineering, Sciences and Agriculture), was opened during the academic year of 1968-69.

A breakthrough was the March 11, 1970 agreement which prescribed "that the Kurdish language be taught in all schools, institutions and universities, teachers training institutes, the Military College and the Police College" (Iraq Republic 1974: 12). It was also decreed that the

Kurdish language shall be the language of institutions in these areas [populated by a majority of the Kurds]. The Arabic language shall be taught in all schools where teaching is conducted in Kurdish. The Kurdish language shall be taught elsewhere in Iraq as [a] second language within the limits prescribed by the law (Ibid., p. 15).

It was agreed that these and other stipulations of the agreement would be implemented within a period of no more than four years, i.e., by March 11, 1974. In a paper dated April 14, 1972 the Kurdish Democratic Party explained in detail "what has and has not been implemented in the historic 11 March agreement" (K.D.P 1972). The Party considered most of the stipulations in the field of education to have been implemented:

The Primary Stage

Prior to the 11 March Agreement Kurdish was the language of education in the governorates of Sulaymaniya and Arbil, which was later extended to Dahok without much difficulty.
In only 202 schools out of 476 in Kirkuk is the teaching in Kurdish, and another 100 schools could be opened as there are adequate staff and facilities.

In Nineveh (Mosul) Governorate there are, so far, 93 schools  teaching in Kurdish and there has been no difficulty in this respect at Akra, Shaikhan. But problems have centered in Sinjar and the Zimar Nahiya because of the political circumstances. As to Diyala, 60% of the schools in Khanaqin and those of the Qoratu and Miran Nahiyas are taught in Kurdish. A few schools have been opened in Jalawla and Sa’adiya, and one school in Mandali.

Kurdish teaching in these areas, however, is subject to continuous pressure.

The Secondary Stage

Teaching in Kurdish for the secondary stage has been initiated since 1970-71, in Sulaimani and Arbi1 Governorates; at 18 intermediate and secondary schools in Kirkuk; and at 5 schools in Khanaqin. Kurdish language and literature are taught in secondary schools in the areas designated for Kurdish teaching. Also a simplified form of the Kurdish language is taught in certain secondary schools throughout Iraq.

The University Stage

There are two university departments for Kurdish language: the first in Baghdad University and the second, which was opened this year, in the Sluaymaniya University, whose latest charter allows the teaching in Kurdish. We have been informed that the University has decided to allocate two subjects-Kurdish language and literature-for all the Kurdish students at the University. Kurdish language is taught to non-Kurdish students in a simplified form.

On the whole the principle of implementing Kurdish studies can be considered to be relatively successful; although it is still facing many problems, such as the problem of dialects, neglect, organizational problems related to the system of Kurdish studies which we shall discuss later, and finally the political problems of several areas (text in English, slight changes introduced).

Thus, demands for mother tongue education on all educational levels and in all parts of Kurdistan were realized for the first time in Iraq’s history. Relations between the government and the Kurds were deteriorating, however, and Arabization had begun even before the resumption of war in March 1974.

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