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Why are Kurdish authorities shutting down dozens of private schools in northeast Syria?

A decision earlier this week by the Kurdish-led Self-Administration in […]

A decision earlier this week by the Kurdish-led Self-Administration in Syria’s northern Al-Hasakah province effectively shut down dozens of privately run schools operating outside the official Kurdish-language curriculum—but students and parents say the move prioritizes politics over education.

Announced on Monday, the decree severely limits the activities of small, private schools within the “Jazirah Canton,” an area of Kurdish autonomous control encompassing much of Al-Hasakah province. 

Previously, a handful of private “centers” had served as a legal loophole for parents who were unwilling to send their children to learn in Kurdish-run schools, where the mandated curriculum has been taught almost exclusively in the Kurdish language since 2015.

Monday’s decree closes the loophole, forcing most of the existing private schools to close, compelling students in the Jazirah Canton to enroll in public schools under the official Kurdish curriculum.

A Self-Administration education spokesperson, who withheld their name, told Syria Direct on Wednesday the closures were meant to protect students from the “exorbitant tuition costs” of the private schools.

Students and teacher demonstrate in Qamishli on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Local and Military News Network of Qamishli.

But for Fatima Madmouh, herself a former schoolteacher in the city of Qamishli, the new decree still isn’t enough to persuade her to enroll her own two children in Kurdish-run schools. She taught Arabic language at a local regime-funded school until 2015, when the Self-Administration began enforcing its own Kurdish-language curriculum. Her school was forced to close, after refusing to take on the new regulations.

“Kurdish is my language and the language of my ancestors,” she told Syria Direct’s Alaa Nassar on Wednesday. “I’m proud of that, but I’m also realistic.” She used a pseudonym, for fear of professional repercussions.

Madmouh worries that diplomas granted to her sons at the Kurdish-run schools will not be officially recognized outside the local Kurdish government.

“They will end up on the street if the Self-Administration doesn’t stop making [educational] decisions wrapped up in politics,” she says. “Why would I give my children such a fate?”

Q: As a teacher, and someone from a Kurdish background, do you support the closure of the private schools?

As a Kurdish teacher, I see the policy as misguided. It won’t succeed, because it serves no linguistic merit for a Kurdish student to learn from a curriculum in which he doesn’t known most of the terminology.

The teaching staff entrusted with the task is lacking in capability in this context. They don’t have enough experience teaching in the Kurdish language, or even qualifications in the language itself.

Speaking as a mother, I reject and denounce the closure of private schools, where I’ve resorted to sending my children, because this [policy] will lead to a dead-end future for our children.

Q: Do you intend to send your children back to Kurdish schools if the Self-Administration does not reverse its decision?

No, but that’s not why I’m opposed. On the contrary, Kurdish is my language and the language of my ancestors. I’m proud of that, but I’m also realistic.

Neither the Kurdish language, nor a Kurdish-granted diploma, are recognized on a local or international level. Why would I give my children such a fate? [This decision] will destroy an entire generation. They will end up on the street if the Self-Administration does not fix this, and doesn’t stop making educational decisions wrapped up in politics.

Q: Tell us more about your background as a schoolteacher. How has the education system in Al-Hasakah been impacted over the course of the war?

I used to work for Al-Hasakah’s department of education until the Self-Administration released the decree that officially forced the Kurdish curriculum, and announced that it would close any previously regime-run or private school in order to carry out the decision.

So the school that I taught at was also closed because it did not adhere to the Kurdish-language decision, making me a teacher in name only. I go once or twice a month to the school so that I can sign a form saying I was there. All of my coworkers and I do this. I’m afraid of being dismissed, or that I won’t be able to take home my monthly salary anymore, which provides for my family.

With regards to my sons, I started teaching them myself after the private schools that I enrolled them in were shut down. Its license had been revoked and it was closed for not following the Kurdish curriculum.

Q: Hundreds of students and teachers in Qamishli reportedly protested the Self-Administration’s recent decree on Sunday. Could you talk more about what happened?

I took part in the sit-in, which was organized by students and parents who rejected the decision. We hoped that our demands would be met in light of the recent decisions imposed by the Self-Administration, and the policy of separating politics and education. But the PYD’s militia broke up the sit-in by firing shots. They arrested a large number of the students participating, though some of them got away.

Q: Is it correct that Arabs study the Arabic language and Syriac Aramaic alongside the Kurdish language in Self-Administration schools?

In regards to Aramaic, it’s usually taught once or twice a week to Christian students, especially in private schools run by Christian administrators. As for Arab Muslims, they don’t [learn Aramaic]. As far as Arabic, Arabs—neither Christian nor Muslim—are taught Arabic in schools belonging to the Self-Administration.

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