Rojava authority’s efforts to provide Syriac education met with resistance

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By Rudaw
Syrian Christians wave flags of the party during a protest organized by the Syriac Union Party on August 30, 2013 in Qamishli. Photo: Benjamin Hiller | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The efforts of the Northern Syrian Federation and its allied Syriac and Christian parties and organizations to preserve their language have been met by people, labeled the fifth column of the Assad regime, with opposition.

“One of our goals, we the Syriac Union Party, is to establish our cultural rights constitutionally and for the Syriac language to become a national language that is used in all fields, especially in teaching our offspring through their mother tongue,” read a statement by the party on August 23.

The party argues that the identity of their people, their culture and their language, have been “assimilated” in the last 60 years due to the education curriculum, aimed at Arabization, imposed by the Baathists.

“This made the personality of our people lack creativity, growth, and the values and will that our forefathers had,” added the party.

The party, however, wants the Syriac language to be more than a ceremonial language, “rather the student has to learn his heritage, culture, history and symbols through these curriculums and with the Syriac language,” the party argued.

The party, alongside the Syriac Cultural Association, has been working on this goal since the foundation of the self-administration authority of Rojava to implement such curriculums in the private schools.

However controversy arose on Tuesday, when the Democratic Self Administration authority tried to introduce its curriculum into the private schools. Demonstrations by priests and Arab tribes started.

The official Syrian state media reported that “hundreds” went out to protest against the Asayesh (Kurdish security forces) “raiding a number of schools, taking control of them, and imposing curriculums different from the curriculums of the Syrian Ministry of Education,” reported SANA on Wednesday.

SANA claimed that Christian clergymen, tribesmen and the political council of the Arab Tai tribe claimed it was an effort to “obliterate” the Arabic identity.

The Assyrian Policy Institute, a pro-Assyrian news outlet based in the United States, reported that “militiamen” of the YPG and Sutoro, an Assyrian militia in the Syriac Military Council allied with the YPG, had entered private Assyrian schools and expelled their administrators and teachers.

The putative schools are run by the Syriac Orthodox Church Diocese, according to the institute.

Authorities of the self-administration and allied Syriac organizations; however, have rejected the protests and the accusations, arguing they are trying to implement a Syriac language curriculum, while accusing the protestors of being the fifth column of Assad’s regime.

The Co-Presidency of the Education Authority of the Jazira Region rejected the protests, calling them an attempt by the Syrian regime to “cause chaos.”

The co-presidents added that they had attempted to start the education process for Syriac speakers, but were met with the attempts at chaos by the Syrian regime.

“What happened in Qamishli on August 28, 2018, is absolute evidence that these schools are directly and indirectly run by the regime with the goal to continue its curriculum, and some who claim to belong to the church are under the influence of the Regime and are executing its wishes,” added the co-chairs.

They continued that such actions are designed to “destroy” the independence of education and its “correct path.”

“We on our part reiterate that we will defend whatever we can to revive the original language and culture,” added the co-chairs.

The authority wasn’t the only one to push back. The Syriac Cultural Association and Olaf Taw Organization also released statements, saying they merely are trying to implement a Syriac curriculum and don’t support the closure of schools.

“On Tuesday, Olaf Taw, the education organization which prepared the Syriac syllabus, has sent its teachers to the Syriac schools in order to meet the management of the schools and discuss the way of applying the new Syriac syllabus which is one of our existential issues,” the two organizations stated on Tuesday.

“We also assure that we absolutely reject closing the schools. We strongly approve that the schools should stay open and keep teaching knowledge and enlightenment. Thus, we hope that the schools teachers can coordinate with us and keep teaching,” added the joint statement.

The ruling authority of Rojava has tried to change the curriculum of education in the Northern Syrian Federation in a system taught in the Kurdish dialect of Kurmanji. The Syriac Union Party is a member of TEV-DEM and their party members have joined the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are dominated by the armed wing (YPG) of the mostly Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).