Education System of a Stateless Nation


The Kurdish land, at first, was partitioned between Iran and the Ottoman Empires in 1639 and then, after the First World War, among Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria through international agreements; a population of more than 50 million began to live under the rule of four different modern states. This occupation caused many negative situations in the education system as well as in the socio-economic and cultural life of the Kurds.

The educational institutions of the historical Kurdish life were the “madrasas.” Their first known types of madrasas were established in the early years of Christianity in ancient Kurdish cities such as Urfa, Mardin and Hakkâri. These schools, the shape of whichchanged after the spread of Islam, were reshaped in the 12th century by the great Kurdish Empireand Eyyubis and became the center of a great geography extending from Kurdistan to Africa and Arabia.

These schools, which continued to exist after the emergence of the Ottoman Empire, provided education, especially for princes, medium officials, and clergymen named ulema. During the first quarter of the 1900s, madrasas fell out of power when they were eventually banned;some still continued their education as underground institutions.

In this system, consisting of 10 years of uninterrupted education, students called “feqî” were admitted to the school and all their expenses were covered by the locals in places where madrasas were found. Initially, its curriculum of philosophy, literature, language, astronomy, and mathematics was introduced into the form of teaching the rules of religion in the Ottoman period. Then, the masters called ”Mamosta” were replaced by “Mela”, a lower-level teacher and cleric. As a result, though the Kurdish madrasas were in thousands in medieval times, they were defeated by modern schools and religious educational institutions of sovereign states dominant in four parts of Kurdistan.

Since Kurdistan is not an independent state, even the language of the Kurds, who are deprived of a modern education system in Turkey and Iran, has been banned for a long time. In these two countries, they could only learn their language as an elective course in secondary schools. In 1946, Kurdish schools opened in the Republic of Kurdistan, which was established in today’s Iran. But these schools, like the state itself, could live only for 11 months.

In Iraq, where they now have a federal region, the Kurds were subjected to the multi-dimensional assimilation policies and genocides by the Arabs in the past. But after the Kurdish Kingdom in 1918 in Iraq and the Autonomy Treaty between Kurdistan and the Iraqi Government in 1970, Kurds had schools in their own language. In Syria, where Kurds lived without an identity, Kurdish education has been carried out under very difficult conditions andhas not yet been systematized since 2011 due tothe Syrian Civil War.

In the Federal Region of Kurdistan in Iraq, all education, from primary schools to doctoral programs of universities, is conducted in Kurdish. Compulsory education lasts 12 years beginning from the age of 6in the form of coeducation. The primary, secondary, and high school each consists of a 4-year period. Religious and ethnic minorities have their own schools, and no compulsory religious education exists in Kurdistan. In addition to the state schools, there are also strong private schools in Kurdistan, which use the educational models of UK, Germany, Finland, France, and the United States. University education lasts four years. Unfortunately, the Iraqi Ministry of Education does not approve most of the diplomas given by the Ministry of Education of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Hence foreign private schools in Kurdistan are trying to solve this by giving their students an additional diploma of their own country.


It is still difficult to talk about a Kurdish educational system because Kurds have a political status subordinate to Iraq; the system is unlikely to be realized because of the intervention of the occupying states unless they have an independent state.


By İbrahim Halil Baran

Search in Site