Living multilingualism in Rojava
After the suppression of all identities beyond Arabic by the Ba'athist regime, the Rojava revolution built a system in which all languages are respected, taught and lived.
UNESCO proclaimed 21 February as Mother Language Day in 1999. While this day has only a marginal significance for many people, many whose language and thus also their identity is threatened, persecuted and marginalised see this day as an occasion to protest or also to take stock.
MONISTIC NATION STATE LEADS TO ASSIMILATION AND GENOCIDE
The monist state models of the "Syrian Arab Republic" and Turkey are based on assimilation and, if this is not possible, on the exclusion and annihilation of other identities. This conception of the state resulted in genocides and mass murders of Armenians, Syriacs, Assyrians and Kurds. The Kurdish language was almost extinct when a renaissance began with the PKK uprising in Northern Kurdistan. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan developed a grassroots democratic, multi-identitarian and open model that would break the boundaries of the nation-state. Democratic confederalism first manifested itself in Northern Kurdistan in communal self-organisation. With the revolution of Rojava in 2012, democratic confederalism became a model of self-government that functioned on a large scale and became exemplary globally. Beyond the principle of national liberation, from which new oppressive nation states have always emerged, a model was built in Rojava in which all identities collectively self-organise. This model shook capitalist modernity and represents the first serious alternative to the ruling system. Special value is placed on language as a carrier of culture in Rojava. Thus, democratic confederalism in northern and eastern Syria represents a rebirth of Kurdish, Syriac and many other languages and identities.
THE KURDISH IDENTITY BEFORE THE REVOLUTION
The Baathist regime in Syria suppressed, persecuted and marginalised the Kurdish language for 65 years. In schools, children were literally beaten out of their mother tongue. The "Syrian Arab Republic" was explicitly founded on the basis of one identity, Arabic. Those who did not conform were ostracised and persecuted. Kurds in Rojava were denied citizenship, accused of being migrants from Northern Kurdistan and deprived of basic rights. At the same time, the Ba'ath regime implemented an "Arab belt" policy along the border. Kurdish villages were renamed, an Arab settlement policy was implemented, and the Kurdish population was subjected to countless reprisals.
A SPARK IS LIT
Until the 1970s, there was a feeling of powerlessness among the Kurdish population. In 1979, the PKK began to take root in Rojava. Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK moved in the region and Rojava became an important area bordering Northern Kurdistan. While on the one hand the Assad regime tried to use the PKK as a means of pressure against the Turkish state in its conflict with Turkey, the freedom movement did not allow itself to be instrumentalised and carried out educational programmes in the Western Kurdistan region, which was then called the "Little South". The Kurdish language was spread again by the militants of the freedom movement in the region and the Kurds in the region learned to speak and write in their language again. Countless people in Rojava were shaped by this experience and got to know leading cadres of the freedom movement personally. They tell of the courage and awakening that this phase gave the people, and the deep attachment to the freedom movement that emerged. Thus, the Baath regime's calculation backfired, sowing the seeds of revolution in the region that were to sprout in 2012. The regime was aware of the danger and repeatedly repressed the activists. Countless people disappeared in the regime's torture cells, but the freedom movement could no longer be stopped.
KURDISH LANGUAGE INSTITUTE FOUNDED
With the beginning of the uprisings in 2011, an institute for the development of the Kurdish language was founded in Afrin. In view of its destabilisation, the regime initiated a liberalisation of its anti-Kurdish policies at some points. These sham reforms created the framework in which the institute could be founded even before the revolution.
MOTHER TONGUE ANCHORED IN THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
After the revolution, the now grassroots-governed region of Rojava took a third path and allowed itself to be instrumentalised neither by the regime nor by Turkey and its Islamist mercenaries. Instead, an outstanding social contract was drafted in which the mother tongue is an important cornerstone. The social contract states: "No distinction shall be made between the languages of the democratic federal region of Northern and Eastern Syria. Each person is free to use its language and develop it in the fields of society, administration, education and culture." This represented a revolution within a revolution for the region. No identity is to be excluded.
KURDISH BECOMES THE LANGUAGE OF EDUCATION
Educational institutions and academies were established for the protection, development and study of the endangered Kurdish language. The institutes opened for the training of teaching staff also played an important role in the development of the Kurdish language. With the revolution, the self-administration of Rojava came into being. Based on the paradigm of the Democratic Nation presented by Abdullah Öcalan, the self-administration decided to recognise Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac as official languages in the region. What had begun with clandestine Kurdish courses literally took off. Between 2012 and 2013, Kurdish was introduced as the language of instruction, and since 2014, teaching materials in Kurdish have been offered.
FROM SCHOOL TO UNIVERSITY
The first Kurdish-language school in northern and eastern Syria, the Şehîd Fevzi School, was opened on 6 September 2011 in the Shera district of Afrin. Then, on 26 September 2011, the Şehîd Osman Silêman School was inaugurated in the city centre of Kobanê. After that, other schools were established in many parts of the Cizîrê region. Afrin University was inaugurated on 27 October 2015. On 5 July 2016, Rojava University in Qamishlo opened its doors and Kobanê University followed on 30 September 2017. Departments for Kurdish language and literature were established at the universities and academies.
MUTUAL LANGUAGE LEARNING AS AN EXPRESSION OF CO-EXISTENCE
While the Kurds were learning Arabic in addition to their own language, the Arabs, Syriacs and Armenians in the region also began to learn Kurdish with great zeal. The historical heritage created by the interaction of languages and cultures became a system with the Rojava Revolution. Every person in North and East Syria speaks and develops their own language freely and also learns the language and culture of their neighbours.
TRILINGUALISM IN THE PUBLIC SPACE
The revolutionary developments in the language sector were not limited to education, but quickly reached the public sphere. Trilingualism showed up on the blackboards at shops as well as on traffic signs, notices and announcements. Thus, the break with the rule of the monistic nation-state became visible in every street.
ARMENIANS AND SYRIACS LEARN THEIR MOTHER TONGUE
The Armenians and Syriacs also experienced a renaissance of their language. In Syria, Syriac was only allowed as a liturgical language. Now it has become an official language and there are mother tongue classes. Starting in 2014, a training facility for teachers was established for this purpose in Qamishlo. Institutions followed in Tirbêspiyê, Dêrik and Hesekê.
The Armenians organised themselves under the umbrella of the Armenian Council of North and East Syria and quickly built their own teaching infrastructure as part of self-government. At the moment, the introduction of Armenian as an instruction language is being prepared.
CIRCASSIANS AND TURKMEN ALSO LIVE THEIR LANGUAGE
Circassian and Turkmen minorities also live in northern and eastern Syria. The region around Manbij in particular represents a veritable mosaic of identities. While the Erdoğan regime tried in vain to instrumentalise the Turkmen population for its attack plans, Circassians and Turkmen joined the self-administration and established autonomous councils. The Circassians developed their own language education system through their councils and associations. After the liberation of Manbij on 25 April 2018, the Turkmen set up their own committee and also started mother tongue education within this framework.
834,000 PEOPLE RECEIVE EDUCATION IN THEIR MOTHER TONGUE
The goal of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria is for people to be able to learn in their mother tongue in all subjects offered. This goal has already been achieved to a certain extent. At 4,153 schools, 834,691 pupils are taught in their mother tongue. The list is still headed by the Arab population, followed by Kurds and Syriacs.