While the Coronavirus pandemic affects millions of people in a negative way, the COVID-19 era also gives many people new opportunities.
Similarly, in Rojava, the lockdown measures have been imposed due to the pandemic like any other country. People due to coronavirus stay isolated from each other. Consequently, universities and public schools have begun to give lessons via TV channels and people have alternatively launched online initiatives to access the education and Kurdish language classes.
“We wanted to propose a new and modern perspective on teaching methods and on Kurdish Studies in general,” says Professor Dr. Ibrahim Seydo Aydogan from National Institute of Eastern Languages and Civilisations INALCO in France who established a Kurdish online university in order to provide remote support to the University of Rojava and develop academic and Kurdish studies.
“This project is envisaged to help Rojava University, in order to raise future researchers and teachers in Rojava,” Dr. Aydogan said.
“Because in Rojava, one of the serious problems is the lack of specialists in academic fields, there are very few people who hold university qualifications. With the sudden global lockdown, we have decided to propose a complete syllabus in Kurdish Studies, especially in sociology, linguistics, literature, psychology, anthropology, and methodology,” says Dr. Aydogan.
Kurdish is composed of four main dialects: Upper Kurdish (Kurmanji or Badini), Central Kurdish (Sorani), Lower (Southern) Kurdish, and Zazaki-Gorani. As Kurds are divided between four countries (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria) the authorities have banned the Kurdish language for a long time.
However, Kurds can only learn and teach their own language officially in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the autonomous region in Northern Syria/Rojava following the establishment of Kurdish language centers and schools. In Turkey, the Kurdish language was officially banned until 1991.
Many Kurdish academics and researchers have been making efforts to support the university in Rojava despite the ongoing war.
“We think there is a much greater need to advance Kurdish Studies. Today, the majority of analyses are obsolete, especially in the field of linguistics and most of the key topics need to be revisited. Kurdish grammar books, in my opinion, are incomplete. We still use the grammar books of Celadet Bedirxan and Roger Lescot,” Dr. Aydogan added.
The consequences of almost a decade of civil war in Syria have caused millions of people to be displaced. Those settling in camps have struggled to access formal education. After Turkey invaded part of northern Syria/Rojava last October, thousands more were displaced in schools. Consequently, the insecure situation within this long-lasting war created a huge threat and impeded the development of academia and learning in Rojava.
Before the Syrian civil war began in 2011, the Baath party prohibited teaching the Kurdish languages in public schools. Nevertheless, Kurds maintained their mother tongue through the family sphere with children learning the language at home.
Additionally, many Kurdish activists managed to teach adults the language secretly despite intimidation and risk of arrest by the Assad regime.
Furthermore, there were no universities in the Kurdish regions in northern Syria.
“Due to the war, we never had the chance to develop education in Rojava. It is a very valuable and significant step for Rojava,” said Sima Ibrahim, a Kurdish teacher from Rojava and a participant of the online Kurdology project.
“At this critical time where we are struggling for our existence, education is a major we pay efforts for. This is worthy to build the capacity and qualification for the next generation, who via the online university can support the university of Rojava. We will ultimately need new professors knowledgeable about internationally accepted methodologies and models and could use the same methods at the University of Rojava.”
The Online Kurdology project (By INALCO) was launched on the 8th of April. It is a short-term project. The online classes are taken throughout Zoom every day two sessions.
Every lecture normally takes two hours and during the last 20 minutes, participants can join the discussions and raise questions. On the other hand, participants are provided with academic and journal materials for each discussion. Every course is recorded on video for the university archives at INALCO, Rojava University, Nawroz University in Duhok.
As a forbidden language for many years, Kurdish has been facing difficulties as well as challenges. Dialect diversity, standardising the language has always been a challenge. The Kurdish language has different alphabets whether written in Latin or Arabic letters. However, Kurdish is a resource-scarce language, which is essential in the evaluation of Information.
These differences are a major issue in terms of standardising a unified alphabet.
‘The online Kurdology gives each of us a chance to share our ideas,’ says Prof. Dr. Michael Chyet, who is an American linguist that speaks Kurdish fluently, and has published a Kurdish dictionary.
“I am talking about standardising the Kurdish language (Sorani/Kurmanji) and lexicography. I am talking about how to make a language dictionary and what sort of information you need to provide for each word.”
People all over the world are participating in the classes: in Kurdistan, Europe, North America, Australia. It is a very special time and this will be a pleasant memory when we all look back on the COVID-19 era.”
Indeed, online Kurdology is not limited to Rojava and has a wide range of participants all over the world such as Europe, Canada, and southern Kurdistan, Turkey, and Iran. Prof. Dr. Aydogan claims there is a high demand to participate in online classes.
Saswar Mame from Sulaimani, who is participating in the program, says “it is a big opportunity for me to learn more about Kurdish linguistics and literature research methods. I am always curious about academics and researchers to get to know them better, their studies, and which method they use for Kurdish studies. Many experts have done great work on the Kurmancji dialect.”
The program will be continued until the 15th of May, the date of the anniversary of the first Kurdish magazine Hawar in 1932.
“At the end of this program, students will present short research work according to the methodology of Kurdish studies. We would like to make these works into a book of Kurdish Studies in the form of conference proceedings which future generations can also benefit from. It would serve as an inventory of Kurdish Studies and as proposals for future subjects to study,” Dr. Aydogan concluded.