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Syrian opposition allows Kurdish language course at university in northern Syria

A colleague films a lesson by Kurdish language teacher on April 4, 2020 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images]
A colleague films a lesson by Kurdish language teacher on April 4, 2020 [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images]

The Syrian opposition has allowed the Kurdish language to be taught at a university in northern Syria, in a move both criticised and hailed as a step towards greater rapprochement between Kurds and Arabs in the liberated areas.

The Free Aleppo University in the northern Syrian city of Azaz announced the programme last month, and will run the two-month course through its Higher Institute of Languages. According to a statement on the university's Facebook page, 90 male and female students have, so far, enrolled in the programme.

The university, which is affiliated with the Syrian opposition's Interim Government, also stressed the importance of the Kurdish language programme in regard to the presence of numerous Kurdish civilians and students in northern Syria.

According to the news outlet, Al-Monitor, the Dean of the university's Higher Institute of Languages, Ahmed Al-Omar, told it that the primary aim of the programme is to teach contemporary languages existing in northern Syria – one of which is Kurdish – especially as the Institute already runs a number of other language courses including English, German, Persian and Hebrew.

"The Kurdish-language program comes as part of the Higher Institute of Languages goal to allow native speakers to master their languages and to teach [new] languages to those who wish to learn them," Al-Omar said. "Kurdish is the language of a wide segment of society, and we must help these people to learn their language academically."

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One of the key drivers for the programme was reportedly the demand of Syrian activists in the area for the inclusion of the Kurdish language courses and, after hiring new staff, the university then approved of that demand and announced the addition in mid-August.

Reactions have been mixed and the move has proven to be a controversial one, with many criticising it as a step to accept or tolerate the Syrian Kurdish militias such as the People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Those militant groups have been rivals to much of the Syrian opposition, have committed abuses against some of the Arab population, and have appealed to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and its Russian and Iranian allies numerous times over the years.

Others, however, see the programme as a positive step towards rapprochement and the building of trust between the Arab and Kurdish communities throughout northern Syria. Among them is the local council in Afrin city – affiliated with the Kurdish National Council (KNC) – which issued a statement praising the move as "a practical step to consecrate national cohesion and consolidate the culture of coexistence". Thanking the university's president, officials, and staff, the KNC stated that the step would be "a catalyst for subsequent similar steps".

Even Turkiye has reportedly not opposed the programme, with some predicting that it is seeking to counter claims by Kurdish groups and others that Ankara is attempting to initiate demographic change in northern Syria and remove Kurds from the areas.

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