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Rudaw

Kurdistan

Knowledge of Arabic Fading Among Iraq’s Autonomous Kurds

By Kira Walker 22/11/2013
After the creation of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 1991, assertions of nationalism and feelings of animosity toward Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime led to disinterest and neglect toward learning Arabic among Kurds.
After the creation of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 1991, assertions of nationalism and feelings of animosity toward Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime led to disinterest and neglect toward learning Arabic among Kurds.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—The number of Iraqi Kurds who speak Arabic fluently has declined significantly since the 1990s, even though Arabic is the second official language in Kurdistan and the primary language of Iraq.

The result is a generation where most people under the age of 35 cannot communicate in Arabic. The language gap, largely a result of past Arab-Kurdish tensions, may well end up creating a new sort of tension in the coming years: The inability to communicate with each other.

After the creation of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 1991, assertions of nationalism and feelings of animosity toward Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime led to disinterest and neglect toward learning Arabic among Kurds.

Dashdi Nouri, 28, works for a security company in Erbil and does not speak Arabic.

“I didn’t learn Arabic because I only went to school for four years. My family was very poor and I had to work to help support my family,” Nouri explained.

Nouri said studying and learning other languages was not considered as important then as it is now, but regrets that he cannot speak Arabic because of its importance in so many different aspects of his life.

Ala Ismail, a 24-year-old from Erbil, has similar regrets about never learning Arabic.

“Even though course materials were given to us in Arabic, the teachers would translate everything for us and we were allowed to answer in Kurdish. I didn’t learn because I was always given an easier alternative and was never forced,” Ismail explained.

Ismail’s friend, Khorshid Hawezy, a 24-year-old lawyer fluent in Arabic, is an exception for his age.

“Only five percent of my friends speak Arabic,” Hawezy noted. He initially began learning Arabic at home and said he did not learn much in school.

“My relatives spoke it at home, which motivated me to practice and continue learning at home,” he explained.

Hawezy said it was at university, where he studied law, that he really became proficient in the language.

“Students were told to answer in Arabic if they knew it, but if not, their work would be translated to Kurdish,” he said.

Hawezy thinks that negative sensitivities against Arabic among Iraqi Kurds have faded by now.  “I’m proud to speak Arabic and the generation that doesn’t will face problems. People will be forced to learn as otherwise they won’t be able to communicate.”

In recent years, particularly since the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, there has been a renewed interest in the language among today’s younger Kurds, largely at the urging of teachers and parents.

Nadham Omar, a teacher at Shahid Kochar Public School in Erbil, has taught Arabic for 20 years.  He said students these days do not have negative associations with the language, but do find it difficult to learn.

“It’s important for students to learn Arabic because all of our historical and scientific books are in Arabic,” Omar noted, adding that Arabic is also critically important for both business and religious purposes in Kurdistan.

Studying Arabic has always been compulsory in both public and private Kurdish schools, but the age at which lessons begin and the intensity of instruction differs from school to school.

“Students here are encouraged to learn all languages equally. Arabic plays a huge role in life and is absolutely important to their education,” said Farrah Matty, director of Erbil’s Classical School of the Medes.

These days, most Kurdish speakers of Arabic belong to the older generation who received their education prior to 1991, when the three northern Kurdish provinces were under Iraqi jurisdiction. This generation also had stronger ties with Baghdad through education, work or the formerly mandatory military service in the Iraqi army.

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Xelil | 22/11/2013
Kira Walker thats one of the baddest articles. First of all 99% of the Kurds don't like arabic, but you just show those who talk positively about this occupation language, why, what is your goal? And why is Kurdish not compulsory in iraqi schools, like arabic is in Kurdish schools? Kurds should not learn the language of our occupiers.
Darin | 23/11/2013
I don't believe what I read!!! why in the hell if the kurds can't speak arabic in their homeland Kurdistan "may well end up creating a new sort of tension in the coming years"? nonsense, just nonsense. The arabs live in Kurdistan the land of the kurds and the arabs visit Kurdistan not vise versa so they should learn kurdish. I don't really understand what this funny teacher Nadham Omar means when he says “It’s important for students to learn Arabic because all of our historical and scientific books are in Arabic”? First of all If all your historical and scientific books are in Arabic that is your and your kurdish government fault because all these historical books not in the kurds favor but in the arabs favor and most of them are telling lies, and all scientific books the arabs were translated them from other languages such as greek and latin. Don't you ask your self why it is so, Why your historical and scientific books are not in english or french or any civilized nation? And even if they are in arabic can't you translate these books to Kurdish? Why to speak arabic is "critically important for both business and religious purposes in Kurdistan."? Kurds do not need arabic to do business not even the arabs either, if you visit Dubai you will see the arabs in this emirate do all their business in english. And regarding religion, the kurds do not have to learn arabic to confirm they are muslims, they can read Quran in kurdish and they can translate religious books from any language to kurdish as all nations in this world do.
Ramal | 23/11/2013
"Arabic plays a huge role in life and is absolutely important to their education" How does arabic play a huge role in a Kurdish way of life? Soon Kurdistan will be a country. Our youngsters must learn a unified Kurdish language. Kurdish and English must be compulsory. arabic, german, french etc must be optional. We will not forever remain within the boundaries of the failed states of iraq, syria, iran and turkey. I recommend Nadham and Farrah to firstly improve their native language by learning the other Kurdish dialects rather than being "proud" to speak arabic.
Dastan | 23/11/2013
Darin, this article doesn't say that Kurds should learn Arabic and forget their own mother tongue. It says that it is crucial to know Arabic especially if you have political dispute with them. It never hurts to know another foreign language, especially that of a people you consider your adversary. China and South Korea now send their students to the UK, Canada and Australia to learn English not because they love the English or hate their own language, but because they are in competition with the West and therefore want to know their language and mentality well. Kurds will succeed better if they speak Arabic, Persian and Turkish while preserving their own language and identity. Emotions will get you nowhere.
Darin | 23/11/2013
@Dastan, you are absolutely not kurd, I guess you are a drug addicted persian. The chinese and South koreans learn english because english language is the world number one languge, it's the language of science, it's the language of business, its the language of art and civilization, english is the worlds language, not only the chinese and south koreans learn it the whole world learn it. Not like the languages of the brutal occupiers of our sweet homeland Kurdistan the land of the KURDS. Arabic, persian and turkish are languages of uncivilized, retarded, brutal, inhumane and terrorist people. Arabic, persian and turkish are languages of the killers and oppressors of the kurdish nation and kurds if they want to succeed better they should absolutely don't spend a single second in learning the languages of their agression enemies. The should learn much from the croatians, they dropped every single serbian word from their dictionary because the serbs were occupied their land Croatia and oppressed them, so they are not only don't learn the language of their enemy Serbia they don't use any single serbian word neither.
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