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Arabization of the Educational System, 1972-85

Arabization on the primary and secondary school levels was carried out in certain areas as early as 1972. The Minister of Northern Affairs, a member of the Kurdish Democra.tic Party's politburo at the time, complained on October 24, 1972 that government authorities in Khanaqin had used intimidation "to force Kurds residing in that province to transfer their children from Kurdish language schools to Arab ones." This accusation led to a bitter controversy between the two sides. In the provinces of Dahok and Nineveh, 110 schools were closed down. The ruling Revolutionary Command Council decreed, at the beginning of May 1973, that teaching in Kurdish should be cancelled at the schools of Ainkawa. Some 904 inhabitants of the town appealed to the ruling Revolutionary Command Council to revoke the decision (K.D.P 1974: 19).

The Iraqi government declared and unilaterally implemented an autonomy law in March 1974 while conducting "a final war" against the autonomists. According to Article Two of the Law (Baghdad Observer, March 12, 1974):

B. The Kurdish language shall be the language of education for Kurds in the area, and the teaching of Arabic shall be compulsory in all stages and institutions of education.
C. Educational institutions shall be established in the area for members of the Arab nationality, wherein education shall be in Arabic and the Kurdish language shall be taught in a compulsory manner.
D. All citizens in the area shall enjoy the option to join the schools for their education, regardless of their mother tongue.
E. Education shall be subject, in all stages in the area, to the general educational policy of the state.

From the Kurds' point of view, this law legalized Arabization in at least three ways. First, the "Autonomous Area" does not include all the Kurdish regions (cf. 5.1. 9); thus, in the Kurdish areas not covered by the autonomy law, schools were automatically subject to Arabization. Second, under paragraph D, students were forced into signing petitions for switching to Arabic. Finally, paragraph D explicitly denies the state-controlled "Autonomous Area" any autonomy in educational policy.

After the surrender of the Kurdish leadership in March 1975, which led to government control of all Kurdish areas, a delegation from Europe was invited by the Iraqi government to visit the Autonomous Area. The delegation head confirmed that the government was conducting a policy of Arabization in the schools. In Khanaqin (a Kurdish town outside the Autonomous Area) several 13 and 14 year-old students were asked by a delegation member if they were being taught in Kurdish. They replied, "instruction was in the Kurdish language until recently when it was changed to Arabic; the Kurdish names of schools were also changed into Arabic names" (Vanly 1975:6). An Arab school teacher explained that "Barzani's treacherous clique had imposed Kurdish as the language of instruction in this town. When the clique collapsed, justice was re-established and education in Arabic was restored." The shopkeepers and passers-by confirmed, however, that they wanted education in Kurdish. The teacher, however, insisted that parents had sent petitions calling for a return to Arabic language schooling (Vanly 1980:195).

In Kirkuk, the following information on the medium of instruction was provided by the Teachers Union:

Table 53. Medium of Instruction
in Kirkuk (al-Ta'mim) Schools, 1975

Source: Vanly (1975)

The president of the Teacher's Union was asked why, given that most of the province's inhabitants were Kurds, with Turkmens as the next largest group, most schools were still teaching in Arabic, and why there were no secondary schools instructing in Kurdish outside Kirkuk city. The answer was that teaching in Kurdish had begun in 1971 and that students who had been taught in Arabic before that date would now continue their studies in Arabic in order to avoid the difficulties of changing the medium of instruction (Vanly 1975:5-6; 1980:196).

Within the Autonomous Area, students and/or their parents were forced into signing petitions in favor of Arabic language teaching (cf., e.g., P.U.K 1977: Annex Two). A single petition would suffice to Arabize a school, on the basis of paragraphs D and E of the Law (cf. above), through the distributing of Arabic language textbooks and the requirement that teachers teach in Arabic.

This led to student protests, especially in Sulaymaniya, where on October 18, 1977 they marched on both the Education Office and the Governor's office and informed the authorities that they would not accept Arabization, at the same time tearing up their Arabic textbooks. In many schools Arabic textbooks were set on fire by protesting students.

Partial Arabization has occurred in schools which continue to teach in Kurdish. In 1977-78, the Ministry of Education decreed that the social and religious studies courses in all schools must be taught in Arabic and that the Arabic reader textbooks must be taught in the first and second grades. The Ministry argued that the language of instruction on the college level was Arabic, and Kurdish students would experience difficulty if they were not well-versed in the language (Hewalnamey Şoriş, No.3, September 1978, p. 15).

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


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