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The Failure Of Integrating Iraqs Kurds History Essay

Despite numerous efforts undertaken by the state, the search for an Iraqi national identity to supercede the primary loyalties of village, tribe, religion, ethnicity, or language has not succeeded. O’Leary and McGarry have articulated an analytical approach to understanding the state’s handling of ethnic conflict that posits a distinction between strategies of elimination and those of regulation. [1] [More] Certainly Baghdad has served the Kurds of Iraq both treatments, as demonstrated by the ethnic cleansing campaigns undertaken during the 1970s and 1980s [2] , as well as the more recent constitutional recognition of a “de facto Kurdistan” that seeks to maintain Iraq’s territorial unity while acknowledging political and cultural pluralism. This new détente represents a radical departure for the Government of Iraq, which has historically exerted tremendous effort to assimilate the Kurds as “Iraqis first”, regardless of the administration in power. One very important tool utilized by the state towards such ends was its dominance in the field of education. As in many states, schools in Iraq were used to “prepare students to become members of a national society” and “promote national development objectives.” [3] In order to better understand the relation between the Iraqi state and its minorities, an examination of state education policies, their underlying ideologies, and the extent to which they successfully integrated the Kurds into Iraqi society is therefore beneficial.

Iraqi society is comprised of an ethnically and religiously diverse population of Arabs, Turkmen, Jews, Kurds and others. The Kurds are the most substantial of Iraq’s minorities, numbering over 4.5 million million according to recent estimates. [4] They inhabit a region known as Kurdistan, which straddles the Zagros mountains and the surrounding area and is divided among Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Their language consists of two major dialects, Kurmanji and Sorani, and a number of sub-dialects which have yet to be standardized and bear relation to Indo-European language of Farsi rather than Arabic. As a figurative characteristic of membership in a community, and as a symbol of national identity, the Kurdish language has been restricted to varying degrees in the states it is spoken. In the early 20th century, both Iraqi Arab nationalists and Kurdish nationalists recognized language and its use in the classroom as an “indispensible tool of national consolidation.” [5] In addition to their language, Kurds will point to a score of other cultural elements such as music, dress, and social custom which they believe makes them distinct from their Turkish, Arab, or Persian counterparts. [6] 

Under the auspices of the Ottoman empire and assorted dynasties based in Iran, the Kurds were used primarily as proxy military forces in defending and expanding the borders of the respective empires, a state of affairs which culminated in a peace treaty in 1639 which more or less solidified the boundary between the Ottoman and Persian domains. [7] What little administration that did remain in Kurdistan was functionally concerned with military or agricultural matters [8] and had little to do with education, which continued to be reserved for the sons of powerful religious or tribal figures. The Kurdish city of Diyarbekir in present day Turkey was a center of Islamic learning as early as the 17th century, though ambitious Kurdish students gravitated towards Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo or Medina to continue their education, naturally in Arabic. [9] During the Tanzimat reform period (1839-1876), Ottoman education facilities which taught in Turkish opened in the cities of Baghdad and Basra. Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876-1909) continued the expansion of public works begun by his predecessors, and by 1906 Baghdad had ten education facilities: four primary schools, two high schools, an industrial school, two preparatory schools and a state military academy which accepted students from all classes, but only those who were of the state’s official Sunni confession. After completing their elementary and secondary education, students would routinely move on to Istanbul to finish their formal studies, as no Ottoman higher center of education existed. Public education was seen as a means to staff an expanding administrative system, advance economic development, and also infuse loyalty to the empire. The vast majority of upper level Iraqi officials between the years of 1921 and 1958 had been trained in the Ottoman system. [10] In 1906 Sayyid Nursi, a Kurd from Istanbul who had helped found the Society for the Propagation of Kurdish Education, called for the extention of Ottoman secular education into the Kurdish areas, so that the tribesmen might become “good Ottoman citizens.” [11] No attempt to expand education in the predominately Kurdish Mosul vilayet occurred however. The chief aim of Ottoman policy in Mosul was to reduce tribal violence to a minimum and to keep the province quiet. [12] 

The break up of the Ottoman empire following the First World War had profound implications for the former vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra and their inhabitants, which were now under British military control and destined to form a unified polity. As for the Kurds, they were divided by the borders of new born states. While they were treated with harsh repression by the Iranian and Turkish governments, they were able to exercise a modicum of influence in Iraq, owing both to their comparative size (estimated at between 17%-23% of the total population) as well as the considerable weakness of the Iraqi government which was girded and propped up by the United Kingdom under the League of Nations mandate system. The appointment of King Faisal al-Hashemi, an Arab from the Hejaz in Arabia, as King of Iraq in 1921 was the culmination of a search for a maleable ruler “who will be content to reign, but not govern,” in the words of Foreign Office official George Kidston. [13] When put before a plebiscite that included Kurds from Mosul, Faisal won fully 96% of the votes cast, a situation that Sluglett describes as a “somewhat comic opera.” [14] Resentment towards the new government and their foreign backers persisted. Many Kurds expressed their demand for separate rule through a series of petitions and revolts during the mandate period of 1920-1932, which over time acquired heavy nationalist overtones. [15] 

Undoubtedly many of the underlying frustrations behind the revolts were compounded as a result of unfulfilled promises made earlier. American President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points (1918) had raised the aspirations of Kurdish nationalists and intellectuals, and were well received due largely in part to Point Twelve which stated that “the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule [i.e., Kurds, Arab peoples, Armenians and some Greeks] should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.” [16] The Treaty of Sèvres between the Allies and Turkey (1920) soon followed which envisaged the creation of a Kurdish state in parts of Turkey and Iraq. [17] The treaty was never enacted however, and in 1922 the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty was signed between the British and the recently appointed king. This agreement established the framework of the new Iraqi government, Article 3 of which stipulated that “the right of each community to maintain its own schools for the education of its own members in its own language, while conforming to such educational requirements of a general nature as the Government of Iraq may impose, shall not be denied or impaired.” [18] Internationally recognized boundaries for Iraq, which included the Mosul vilayet for reasons important to Great Britain, were set down in October 1924 by the League of Nations under the condition that “officials of the Kurdish race must be appointed for the administration of their country, the dispensation of justice, and teaching in the schools, and Kurdish should be the official language of all these services.” [19] The Mosul Commission of 1925 accepted British demands on Iraq’s borders and and the incorporation of Mosul, subject to cultural safeguards imposed on administration, language, and education. [20] 

In addition to the signing of treaties, British mandate authorities and Iraqi politicians in Baghdad routinely acknowledged Kurdish cultural rights, especially linguistic and educational rights, insisting that they were essential to the state’s future and would be protected. Prime Minister Abd al-Muhsin al-Sa’dun declared in 1926 that, “the nation cannot live unless it gives all Iraqi elements their rights...We shall give the Kurds their rights...their tongue should be their official language and their children should learn their own tongue in the schools.” [21] Despite these legal and verbal guarantees, a policy of assimilation was pursued in the education system. According to Batatu, such a policy has two discernable origins. First, the men who ran the government were predominately Ottoman and Sunni and possessed a centralizing instinct. They did not represent the interests of the majority of the country whom they looked down upon in disdain -- the Shi’a, Kurds, Jews, Christians, and others. Second, the circumstances surrounding the mandate system to which Iraq was beholden restricted certain elements of the government while empowering others. Under the British authority the Iraqi government was not permitted to draft an army or regulate its finances, as these were seen in a strategic light, but ministries such as health and education had near unrestricted freedom of movement. [22] The expansion of the Ministry of Education was manifested in quickly growing budgets.

At the center of this expansion was the first Iraqi Director-General of Education between the years of 1921 and 1927, Sati al-Husri, an Ottoman Arab from Aleppo, and “the father of Iraqi education.” Al-Husri had been a prominent educator in the Ottoman territories and eventually became a close confidant of the king, and he was also to have an enduring influence in Iraqi education. In view of his reputation, he received an indefinite appointment as Director-General and was able to orchestrate the national curriculum, whereas the customarily Shi’i Ministers of Education who were appointed to placate sectarianism came and went with frequency. [23] He replaced the British colonial official Henry Bowman, who had earlier warned his superiors that, due to a lack of suitable jobs, the creation of a literate class of Iraqis would ultimately lead to discontent and instability. Following Bowman’s advice, the British kept the education budget of the three vilayets to a minimum, reaching only 1.9% of the total civilian budget in 1919. [24] For a nationalist educator such as al-Husri, such an approach was derided as “cosmopolitan” and roundly rejected. Education must be disseminated among the populace, but in a phased process, seeking “the cultivation of the enlightened and ruling class on the one hand, and the attempt to spread education among all the nation's classes on the other, in the knowledge that the latter could not be achieved before the former.” [25] During his tenure as an Ottoman civil servant, al-Husri had probed for explanations as to why the empire was in decline in relation to Europe. He concluded that disparities in national sentiment and unity were fundamental to the problem. On assignment in Macedonia in the early 20th century, al-Husri was able to witness first hand the power of linguistic indoctrination in schools in the fermenting of national feeling. [26] The writings of European authors such as Johann Fichte, who stressed a uniform language, history, and education, also greatly impressed al-Husri. He became an advocate for educational reform and propagation, writing in one of the reviews which he edited as president of the Ottoman Teacher’s College that “The Ottomanism of the future will be provided in the schools of today.” [27] The nation, and not the individual, became the ultimate object of education, and for that reason any curriculum was necessarily to be based upon elements which encouraged a feeling of membership, and indeed a love for the nation. Like many of his Arab Ottoman colleagues, al-Husri reevaluated his Ottoman loyalties after the First World War, and in Syria he became an advocate of a expansive version of Arab nationalism, declaring, “I am an Arab to the core, and I profess the religion of Arabism with all my heart.” [28] 

Working closely with the two other important pedagogues of the period, Sami Shawkat and Muhammad Fadhil al-Jamali, al-Husri began a process of centralizing the Iraqi education system with the fundamental goal of fostering emotional loyalties to the new territorial entity. A general expansion was viewed as necessary. Between 1921 and 1927 the number of students in governmental secondary schools more than trebled to 1,722. The Teacher Training College in Baghdad was enlarged. [29] The primary schools also saw a dramatic rise in the number of their students, increasing from 6,743 in 1921 to over 30,000 in 1929, including girls. The funds allocated for education increased to 3.30% of the total civilian budget in 1921, 4.59% in 1925, and to 6.42% in 1929. [30] A paramilitary youth organization called the Futuwwah (Courage) was established by Shawkat in the early 1930s, an act which al-Husri, by that time dean of the Law College, approved of as an important socializing tool that complemented education. [31] Many Iraqis welcomed these developments and the opportunities that they promised. However, the Ministry of Education and the office of the Director-General also aroused sectarianism, primarily for two reasons. First, al-Husri made no efforts to contextualize education according to the needs of Iraq’s various communities. He saw no distinction between rural and urban education systems which antagonized farmers uninterested in a “national consciousness.” [32] Social reformers were dismayed that he gave little regard to the problem of illiteracy, which was rampant. [33] Nationwide illiteracy might have been as high as 99.5% in the 1920s, according to one estimate. [34] Al-Husri also viewed non-governmental schools with deep suspicion, thinking that communal beliefs would be prevalent, especially in the Shi’a, Jewish, and Christian religious establishments. He consequently limited their financial and curricular independence, and tried to incorporate them into the state system. [35] Second, the curriculum that he launched was blatantly based on the doctrines of Pan-Arabism, which stressed uniformity in language and the understanding of history. In al-Husri’s mind, these were the essentials that distinguished one nation from the next, and were therefore necessary to “spread faith in the unity of the Arab nation,” irrespective of minority sentiment. He wrote in 1961, “The foundations for creating the nation and building nationalism are unity of language and history. This is because unity in these two spheres leads to unity of feelings and inclinations, unity of sufferings and hopes, and unity of culture, thus making the people feel that they are the sons of one nation, distinguished from other nations.” [36] 

In formatting his curriculum, Al-Husri took into account that there was no cumpulsory education in Iraq and that attrition was widespread, and planned accordingly. Simon, citing Akrawi, states that the basic structure was lifted from the 19th century French system which presented to pupils a nationalist narrative that was built upon as the student progressed, to the neglect of more practical subject matters. This was to ensure that the maximum number of students were exposed to the national doctrine. History was taught with a strict emphasis on Arab primacy, geography introduced students to the Iraqi territory, a list of 28 exemplary “heroes” was generated, and civics courses were endured by students in which the correct answers to questions such as “what is the nation” had to be memorized. [37] As the primary vehicle towards social membership in a nation, language was given still further prominence. Arabic replaced Turkish in all education facilities [38] and was taught according to the classical method, demanding of students correct vowelization and grammar. [39] Even the word “Arab” acquired new connotations -- in Iraqi vernacular it had previously referred to bedouin until al-Husri instructed teachers to use the word strictly as a thing “which we ought to glory.” [40] His other linguistic contributions included the refinement of nationalist terms, such as al-Jinsiyyah (legal citizenship) and al-Qawmiyyah (nationalist sentiment). [41] In brief, Al-Husri’s philosophy of a particular brand of Arab exclusivity alloted no distinction in the education of underrepresented groups and minorities. One Egyptian writer who toured the country in the late 1920s recognized the dangers of such an ideology, writing, “This Husrism which we have seen in Iraq weakens the Iraqi entity itself...since it looks on the Kurds with some hatred.” [42] 

In the Kurdish areas, the curriculum during the years of al-Husri’s directorship differed only slightly quantitatively and qualitatively in comparison with the general Iraqi education. While the Kurdish language was supposed to be used in primary schools, there was a widespread lack of qualified teachers. There was also a lack of teachers qualified in Arabic in the former Ottoman territories. In response to this problem, al-Husri imported Arab teachers from outside Iraq [43] many of whom had only a minimal knowledge of Kurdish, if any at all. Textbooks in Kurdish were not introduced until 1927, and these were of substandard quality. Of the time spent on the teaching of languages, Arabic occupied 75% of the primary school curriculum, and 25% of the child’s entire primary education. [44] Courses on civics, morals, geography, and history all emphasized the Arab or Iraqi component, and made up another 25% of primary education. [45] Religious courses were also included, but emphasized Islam’s role as the state religion. [46] In sum, Arab-centric coursework comprised over 50% of the curriculum, and what Kurdish language education students were exposed to was likely to be poor. The learning of unfamiliar histories and concepts was done by rote, in a language that was not their own, and stood little chance of inculcating a love for the new nation. [47] In Iraq as a whole, less than 3% of primary students continued into secondary education. [48] The situation could not have been much better in the Kurdish regions. The funding necessary to ameliorate many of the difficulties inherent to education in non-industrialized areas was not provided. According to the statistics published by the legislative body the Chamber of Deputies in 1928, Kurdish schools only received 4.4% of total education funds, while they represented around 1/5 of the population. [49] In 1925, there were a total of 190 primary schools for boys in Iraq, but only 24 in Iraqi Kurdistan. [50] During the period of 1923-1930, the proportion of Kurdish schools never exceeded 11.4% of the total. Secondary education was exclusively taught in Arabic.

Many Kurdish leaders felt that such a situation clearly contravened earlier guarantees, especially those regarding native tongue education, and in June of 1928 seven Kurdish members of the Chamber of Deputies formally petitioned the Government of Iraq and the mandate authorities. Their petition carried in it a list of six proposed solutions: the establishment of a translation committee able to produce textbooks, increased funding for facilities and teachers, the formation of a Kurdish education directorate, the introduction of Kurdish as the primary language of primary and secondary education, the creation of a Kurdish Teacher’s Training College, and the provision of schools for females. [51] The negative response from the mandate authorities to all of the Kurdish proposals attracted criticism from Kurds [such as the historian Zaki] and some British officials, albeit quietly. In a private memo C.J. Edmonds, a British official specializing in Kurdish affairs, wrote that if the Iraqi government were to defer to Kurdish educational and linguistic demands, the nationalist grumblings might be tempered and the Kurds would turn “into the most stable element in the Iraqi State.” [52] The British Inspector General of Education Lionel Smith proposed that many of the problems could be overcome through the standardization of the Kurdish language and the establishment of new secondary facilities in Sulaymaniya and Arbil. [53] Many of their colleagues were opposed to their recommendations.

When the League of Nations’ Permanent Mandates Commission in Geneva became aware of the situation in 1929, the British mandate authorities were asked whether bilingual higher education facilities could be instituted in the Kurdish areas. The response from the British representative was that Arabic was useful for the Kurds as the official language of the central government, and would continue as the language of instruction. [54] Sluglett suggests that the mandate authorities’ defense of Ministry of Education policies stemmed from a desire to support the central government, as well as a general indifference to Kurdish protests. [55] A dilemma that the British faced at the League of Nations was crucial on both accounts. Many of the pledges made to the League regarding cultural rights remained unimplemented and had the potential to stymie Iraq’s acceptance as an independent state at the League of Nations, as well as embarrass Great Britain. Any indication of secession, such as the mound of Kurdish petitions collecting in Geneva in 1930, had to be challenged. The mandate authorities publicly stood by the Government of Iraq. Kinahan Cornwallis, advisor to Faisal, wrote in 1930, “It is the wish of His Britannic Majesty’s Government to see the eventual unification of all the elements which go to make up the population of Iraq into a stable and homogenous state.” [56] The Anglo-Iraqi treaty of 1930, which outlined the conditions for independence from the British by 1932, made no mention of any specific rights for the Kurds. [57] However, a number of eleventh hour concessions were made at the behest of Great Britain to the Kurds. The Local Languages Law of 1931 officially recognized Kurdish and provided that primary schools should use the mother-tongue in instruction, but the content had been diluted; Kurdish speakers, not Kurds themselves, would be appointed to administrative and teaching positions, in contravention of guarantees made during the drafting of the law. [58] As Iraq headed towards independent status, the policy seemed clear - assimilate the Kurds into the majority Arab society and prevent the contagion of Kurdish nationalism into the neighboring states.

Iraq entered a period of growth during the independent monarchical era (1932-1958.) It emerged from the dependency of the mandate authority and the unity which it had enforced, and embarked on national life with substantial questions regarding the nature of the community. The state became a cen [!!!!]. The alliance of tribal land-holders and former Ottoman officials that had negotiated lucrative settlement laws sought to protect the status quo and further instill national fervor through state mechanisms. Many opposition elements saw in the state the best means to challenge the landed elites and to restructure society. The planning and implementation of social services was encouraged by both. As regards the Kurds, they remained discontented with the government’s failure to implement the cultural safeguards from the mandate period, such as the Local Languages Law of 1931. Kurdish nationalism, long a tribal affair, became more widespread during the 1930s, especially among educated Kurds who had instigated the first Kurdish urban riots in Sulaymania following the signing of the Anglo-Iraq Treaty of 1930. [59] While modernization began to reduce some long-standing social customs and distinctions, such as that of urban and rural, it also brought to the fore the disparate perspectives of the Iraqi society. [60] 

Bashkin describes Iraqi education as being divided into two phases during the independent monarchical period: the first (1932-1941) as being dominated by Pan-Arabism, and following the overthrow of the Rashid ‘Ali government by the British in World War Two the second (1941-1958), in which American trained educators exerted influence. [61] While this divide is certainly reflected in the curriculum, a uniting characteristic of the era was the influx of students and funds. The number of primary students grew from 8,001 in 1921 and 89,482 in 1941 to 437,660 in 1958. More advanced education was also becoming more common: there were 1,086 secondary students in 1927, 13,959 in 1940, 24,000 in 1948, and over 70,000 by 1958. The state colleges enrolled 99 students in 1921, 1,218 in 1941, and over 8,500 by the monarchy’s fall in 1958. [62] This was a dramatic increase in students relative to Iraq’s population, which grew by an estimated 118% between 1922 and 1958 to 6,488,000. [63] The efforts of al-Jamali to decentralize education to some degree were fundamental to the spread of education, especially among the rural and Shi’i communities. [64] The migration from the rural areas to the cities in order to escape exploitative landlords also contributed to the influx of students, as the urban centers contained more than 60% of Iraqi schools. [65] The government increased the education budget as a result, reaching 10% of the total civilian budget in 1935, 8.6% in 1948, 14% in 1950, and 20% in 1958, all in an era of growing state revenues. [66] 

The curriculum’s Pan-Arabist influence was amplified during the 1930s in particular. Some examples include the addition of Arab nationalist textbooks from Syria and Palestine to the curriculum, as well as the narrowing of the “heroes” list in 1936 and 1940 to be Arab-exclusive. [67] Equally important as the refinement of al-Husri’s original curriculum was the retainment of a number of Pan-Arab intellectuals and teachers who had been invited from throughout the region during the mandate period . They disseminated their views in the classroom, and also played an important role in the establishment of the Iraqi Pen Club and the famous Muthanna Club, two important centers of Pan-Arabism which advocated a monolingual Arab union in mimicry of Germany or Italy. [68] The Futuwwa youth organization, a version of which was later emulated by the Ba’th, was enlarged in order to promote fitness and instill a soldier’s sense of sacrifice among the students. This was consistent with the increased role of the military in political and social life, and the introduction of conscription. The organization was subsequently penetrated by Nazi agents in the late 1930s. [69] 

In the aftermath of the war, many Pan-Arabists were purged from the Ministry of Education and replaced with left-leaning, American trained appointees. The curriculum focused more on Iraqi elements, rather than a uniform vision of the Arab nation. [70] Still, the Arabic language retained its important position, consuming over 25% of class time, in both Arab and Kurdish schools. Though the Kurdish nationalist movement was fragmented and in disagreement over what form autonomy would take, Kurdish nationalists were consistently able to rally around education and linguistic rights. Hourani states that the Kurdish uprising of 1943 was undoubtedly connected to neglect of this type. [71] In 1944, a new petition was presented to the monarchy requesting the appointment of a Director-General of Kurdish education and increased investment, which was denied. [72] Hassanpour states that by 1957, as a result of governmental policy, only three schools used Kurdish, and that some teachers who had insisted on using the language had been removed. Students who progressed through the system were often more competent in Arabic than their native tongue. [73] 

In 1932 a commission headed by American educator Paul Monroe of Columbia University examined the Iraqi education system. Among Monroe’s criticisms was a warning: “We have conserved a clear idea that the increase of young people with higher education is dangerous to political stability in any country. This is the situation now in many Eastern nations.” [74] A number of works on Iraq discuss the emergence of an educated middle class, the effendi, and its effect on Iraqi political and social life. [75] Their education, pervaded by doctrine but lacking in technical knowledge, likely did not correspond to the needs of the country. Due to a lack of development, government jobs were highly sought after, yet scarce. Perhaps the key contribution of the educated class during the 1940s and 1950s was its ability to absorb political thought deemed subversive and articulate it to the growing legions of urban poor. This included the ideology of leftists, the rather new Arab nationalist Ba’th (Renaissance) party, and others. [76] Batatu’s comments are especially prescient on this matter: “Ironically, the monarchy continued to add to the ranks of the stratum that had become most hostile to its existence, that is, to the ranks of the educated and semi-educated class...The monarchy, by differentiating more and more Iraqis from the unlettered mass, was giving them middle class status without assuring them of a middle class income.” [77] This awakening occurred among educated Kurds as well, many of whom gravitated towards the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). In fact, the majority of Kurds known to be involved with the ICP between 1949-1953 were students. [78] In 1957, the United National Front was established, consolidating the ICP, Istiqlal party, the National Democratic Party, and the Ba’th in anti-monarchy opposition.


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