Kurdish student in Iran. Photo: RadioZamaneh
By Fuad Haqiqi
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region— Students in Iranian Kurdistan now have the option of choosing Kurdish as part of their high school and college coursework following a decision to include the language as an elective in schools across the ethnically Kurdish regions of Western Iran.
The University of Sanandaj, one of the largest Kurdish cities in Iran, announced last month a new department will admit students for further studies in Kurdish for the academic year starting in September.
“The new department will be called the Department of Kurdish Language and Literature and will in the first year be able to receive up to 30 students,” said Fardin Akhlaqian, the university chancellor.
Akhlaqian said the new department will also provide students with an optional course in Kurdish which can be included in their overall university credits.
The provision of academic studies in Kurdish follow an earlier move by authorities to allow Kurdish as a separate language at secondary schools in the city of Saqiz, some 200km north of Sanandaj.
“Lessons in Kurdish” (Waney Kurdy) is the name of a 82-page book that is intended to enhance high school students’ knowledge of their mother tongue. With over 5,000 copies sold in a single city, the interest for Kurdish seems to have been higher than expected, local education officials said.
“According to the constitution, the entire curriculum should be taught in Kurdish, and not just one subject,” said Zahid Arami, a teacher in Kurdish language in Iran who sees the new book as a “mere supplement” to the Persian books used in high school.
Although Article 15 of the Iranian Constitution allows Kurdish and other spoken languages in the country to be used as languages of study, it has been increasingly difficult to implement the article since the constitution was approved in a referendum in October 1979.
Iranian President Hasan Rouhani announced as part of his election campaign last year that his government would implement the article. Many believe the new curriculum decision follows a petition signed by 10,000 Kurds which urged the moderate president to fulfill his campaign promise.
“We have prepared materials for Kurdish university studies as of now,” says one university lecturer in Sanandaj who wished to remain anonymous.
“We have asked a number of university professors to prepare themselves for the new academic year,” he said, adding that he feared authorities may “change their minds.”
Sceptics say similar attempts were made in 2005 when then-president Muhammad Khatami tried to support Kurdish studies at university level without success. The courses were cancelled only days before the planned launch.
Iran is home to an estimated 10 million Kurds who live predominantly in the western parts of the country.
Iran’s state TV and radio broadcast in Persian, the official language of the country, with some portions of the programs dedicated to other languages, including Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish.