Assyrian Education Curriculum Suspended
BET-NAHREN, Iraq (AINA) - With the establishment of the UN Safe Haven in northern Iraq immediately following the Gulf War in 1991, the Assyrian and Kurdish communities became free of central governmental control and were finally able to establish their own schools. For the Assyrians, it marked an historic first where eventually over 5000 students were being taught an entire school curriculum in the Assyrian language. English, Arabic, and Kurdish were also taught as secondary languages. The implications for reviving an otherwise previously repressed language, culture, and identity were immediately felt and Assyrians throughout the world rallied to the support of our new schools.
Now after six years, these students have completed their primary education and are awaiting the beginning of the next intermediate level. Whereas the Ministry of Education had previously certified the Assyrian primary schools, the Ministry now has refused to allow Assyrians to continue their Assyrian curriculum into the intermediate level. Beginning October 1, 1998 Assyrian students are now compelled to continue their education in an all Kurdish language curriculum. Closing our Assyrian schools at this critical time would destroy the single greatest Assyrian educational achievement in recent times. It would be a devastating blow to maintaining our language and culture in an area where the Assyrian language has been routinely oppressed. In addition, having had only introductory classes in the Kurdish language, closing these schools would place Assyrian students at a distinct disadvantage vis a vis their Kurdish counterparts and would make their advancement to higher education nearly impossible.
Assyrian Americans are deeply concerned that the Ministry of Education's refusal to approve Assyrian schools marks yet another example of Kurdish attempts to block Assyrian cultural expression. Kurdish officials have reportedly stated that the decision not to approve Assyrian schools is political and aimed at limiting Assyrian cultural aspirations. Unfortunately, there has been a longstanding pattern of Kurdish attacks against the Assyrian language. Tragically on May 12, 1996 in Ankawa, Iraq Kurds killed two Assyrians in an attack against Assyrian students resisting a previous attempt to Kurdify the curriculum.
Assyrian schools are of vital interest to the existence of the Assyrian culture in Iraq. In addition, these are the fields where pro-Western, democratic ideals are cultivated. Assyrian Americans are proud of the courage their fellow Assyrians have shown in northern Iraq in providing for their own education. They urge their representatives to remind the Kurdish authorities that democratic ideals necessitate a free educational system. They also urge them to remind the Kurds that the United States will not condone Kurdish oppression of Assyrians but rather the United States demands equal and democratic treatment of all of the communities in Iraq. Because the academic year has begun on October 1, 1998 this issue is extremely time sensitive.
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