A University for the Kurds of Syria — Global Issues

Just another day in the main hall of the Qamishli campus. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza / IPS
  • by Karlos Zurutuza (qamishli, syria)
  • Associated Press Service

This is the campus of University of Rojava in Qamishli (700 km northeast of Damascus), an organization that opened its doors in October 2016, amid the still-wielding war.

“The lessons in Kurdish are one of our hallmarks,” Rohan Mistefa, the former dean, told IPS from an office on the second floor. In addition to the language of instruction, significant differences from other Syrian universities are also visible in the curriculum.

“We removed subjects like the Idea and History of the Baath Party (in power in Damascus since 1963) and replaced it with Democratic Culture,” explains this Kurdish woman in her forties. . The establishment of the Science Committee for Women (Jineoloijin Kurdish), she added, is another major milestone.

The University of Rojava has approximately 2,000 students at three campuses. However, there are two other active universities in the northeast of Syria: Kobani, working since 2017, and Al- Sharq in Raqqa. The latter has been operating since last year in a city that was once the capital of the Islamic State in Syria.

“Unlike the universities of Kobani and Rojava, in Raqqa they study in Arabic because most of the citizens there are Arabs,” said Mistefa, who is today co-ordinating between the three academies. said.

Mustefa has been closely associated with the organization since its inception. She helped found the first Kurdish university in Syria in her native Afrin district in 2015. That pioneering initiative had to close in 2018: territorially disconnected from the remaining part of Syrian Kurdish territory, Afrin was taken over by Ankara-backed Islamist forces. Militia. It is still occupied to this day.

“Many people ask us why we opened schools and universities in the middle of the war. I always tell them that our culture is to build up, not destroy, our neighbors and their allies,” said the Kurdish woman.

The Kurds call “Rojava” (“west”) their homeland in northeastern Syria. Following the uprising known as the “Arab Spring” across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, the Kurds opted for what was then known as “Third way”: both with the government as well as with the opposition.

Twelve years on, the Kurdish minority in Syria coexisted with Arabs and Syriacs in the so-called Autonomous Administration of North and Eastern Syria (AANES). It is located in this corner of Syria, which shares borders with both Turkey and Iraq, where a network of such universities has been built. It now competes with the institutions of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic.

A “huge mission”

After opening the first Kurdish schools In the history of Syria, the University of Rojava is another step in the revolution that places education at its core.

It consists of nine faculties that offer free academic training in various branches of Engineering, as well as Medicine, Law, Educational Sciences, Administration and Finance, Journalism and of course, Kurdish Literature.

“I chose Literature because I like to write poetry in Kurdish; I love folklore, literature… everything related to our culture,” Tolen Kenjo, a sophomore from neighboring Hasaka city, told IPS.

The 19-year-old still remembers being punished at school whenever she said a word in her mother tongue. For more than four decades, Syria’s Kurdish language ban has been just another chapter in an ambitious assimilation plan that has included displacing the country’s Kurdish population and even disenfranchising thousands of people. tens of thousands of them.

Today, the walls of the university are covered with posters: climate maps, photosynthetic cycles, quotes from Russian classics. For the first time in Syria, all in the Kurdish language. The corridors were packed with students during breaks between classes, often amid laughter from a group of students playing volleyball in the yard.

At the Department of English Language and Translation, we found Jihan Ayo, a Kurdish woman who has taught here for more than three years. Ayo was one of more than 200,000 displaced people (United Nations figures) who arrived from Serekaniye in 2019, when the Kurdish region was invaded by Islamist militias under Ankara’s wing.

“Turkish attacks or attacks by Islamic State cells are still a common currency here,” Ayo told IPS. When it comes to lessons, she points to a “huge assignment.”

Work is still underway to translate teaching materials into Kurdish – in order to train not only students but also those who will become their teachers. Among other things, Ayo recalls 18 “very difficult” months in which the pandemic forced lessons to be halted.

“We tried to deal with things Online; we got help from volunteer teachers from all over the world, but of course, not everyone here has a means of connecting to the Internet…”

She also faces a fight to win the trust of many local citizens, towards an unrecognized educational network outside this corner of Syria. Although the Kurdish government administers the area, the “official” schools – in the area run by Damascus – continue to operate and, of course, they stick to the pre-war curriculum.


In perfect way Report published in September 2022 on the university system in northeastern Syria, Rojava . Researcher Information Center (an independent press organization) emphasizes the importance that international recognition can make an institution more attractive to students.

“While the quality of education received at these universities is in itself comparable to other educational institutions in the region, the lack of recognition abroad can make it impossible for students to continue. study outside Syria, find work abroad, or even have their technical knowledge recognized by companies and organizations not tied to AANES,” the report warns.

It also states that the University of Rojava maintains cooperation agreements with at least eight foreign universities, including Washington State University (USA), Emden/Leer University of Applied Sciences (Germany) and University of Applied Sciences (Germany). study Parma (Italy) ..

It’s only a ten-minute walk from campus to the headquarters of the Democratic Unionist Party (PYD), the dominant political party of the Kurds in Syria. From his office, PYD co-chairman Salih Muslim wanted to emphasize the role of universities as “providers of the cadres needed to build and develop the places where they belong and come from”.

“Our universities are willing to cooperate and exchange experiences with all universities and international organizations to gain more experience and they are very welcome to do so,” Muslim told IPS.

Though not internationally recognized, academic life takes place in this corner of Syria. Noreldin Hassan arrived in Afrin after the 2018 invasion and is today preparing to fulfill his dream of graduating in Journalism. The 27-year-old told IPS that his university is “working in the right direction” to achieve international recognition. However, he chose not to wait for his degree to start his career, and he has been a reporter for eight years now.

“Getting a diploma is important, but, at the end of the day, journalists learn by sheer practice while finding stories and reporting on those things,” the young man insisted.

The last story he mentioned? One about women forced to marry Turkish mercenaries. What story does he want to tell the most? No surprises here:

“The day when the Kurds in Afrin can finally return home.”

© Inter Press Service (2022) – All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service

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