The Kurdistan Region of Iraq takes great pride in fostering a society where all religious and ethnic communities have the right to life without discrimination. Among the many factors contributing to this unique coexistence is the right to study in one's own language, a practice that has been widely embraced in the region. As a result, various communities, including the Turkmen and Syriac, cherish the opportunity to preserve their mother tongue and enrich the fabric of Kurdish education.
Sabah Salih, Head of Turkmen Education in the Ministry of Education of the Kurdistan Regional Government, highlighted the significance of education in the mother tongue, calling it a fundamental right outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to Salih, the first Turkmen school was established in 1993, following a decision made by then-President Masoud Barzani. This decision was an essential step towards providing Turkmen children with an education that honors their cultural identity. “We are very happy that our children are educated in their mother tongue and learn to decide freely and enthusiastically which language to study,” Salih stated. He further emphasized that the curriculum in Turkmen schools is the same as the Kurdish curriculum, but thoughtfully translated into Turkish to ensure an inclusive learning experience.
Similarly, the Syriac community has been empowered by the Kurdistan Region's commitment to promoting its language and heritage. Sabah Anton, head of Syriac primary and secondary education in the Ministry of Education of the Kurdistan Regional Government, expressed gratitude for the exclusive Syriac education process offered in the region. “What has been done for us here has not been done for us in any other country in the region,” Anton remarked.
He highlighted the significance of mother tongue education, stating, “Mother tongue is a legitimate right of every nation. We are happy that our children are studying in their mother tongue here. This is why the Syriac language remains alive as an ancient nation of the Kurdistan Region.”
Ivan Jane, a father and head of the Assyrian Cultural Center in Diyana district, Erbil province, expressed immense joy that his children are educated in their mother tongue. “It is scientifically proven that children should learn in their mother tongue from childhood, so that they can comprehend as much information as possible,” Jane stated.
Reflecting on the past, he noted the oppressive practices imposed by previous Iraqi regimes, forcing the Syriac community to learn Arabic, which led to cultural disconnection. However, in the Kurdistan Region, Ivan Jane finds hope and inclusivity, stating, “What is happening in the Kurdistan Region is that we have no problems. We have never felt treated differently.”
Multilingual education reinforces coexistence
The spirit of coexistence in the Kurdistan Region is celebrated as unparalleled, where children from different linguistic and religious backgrounds often study side by side. Sabah Anton shares a heartening example, revealing how many Kurdish Muslim children in Ankawa also study in Syriac and fluently speak the language. “The history of this coexistence goes back thousands of years in the Kurdistan Region. This is a sign of mutual acceptance,” Anton remarked. He further expressed appreciation for the KRG cabinet's respectful approach towards other ethnic groups and religions, fostering an environment of harmony and acceptance.
In the Kurdistan Region, the multilingual education system stands as a beacon of inclusivity and harmony, empowering each community to embrace and preserve its rich cultural heritage. The region's unwavering commitment to linguistic diversity not only enhances the lives of its inhabitants but also sets an inspiring example for the world. Here, education in mother tongues fosters a celebration of coexistence, mutual respect, and a shared dedication to pluralism, making Kurdistan a truly exceptional corner of the world.
This exceptional approach to coexistence and the right to education in one's mother tongue holds profound significance, especially when contrasted with the challenges faced by the Kurdish nation in other parts of Greater Kurdistan, where speaking in the mother tongue has been met with great obstacles. In the Kurdistan Region, this right is not only valued but nurtured, creating an environment that honors and empowers other nations within its borders, granting them the precious gift of linguistic freedom and cultural preservation.
Mohammad Dargalayi is a journalist and photographer with 13 years of experience. He is a member of IFJ Global.