Felt across the Mediterranean on August 4th, 2020, some 2,750 tones of ammonium nitrate stored in the port of Beirut exploded, killing at least 190 people and injuring at least 6,500, resulting in an estimated $10–15 billion USD in property damage, and leaving an approximately 300,000 people homeless. The ammonium nitrate gas had been stored in a warehouse without proper safety measures in place for the previous six years, after having been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from the cargo ship MV Rhosus that had docked in Beirut and been declared unseaworthy. The official cause of the detonation is under investigation. Yet the ruling elites’ failure to address the presence of the material in the port and the subsequent explosion perhaps signifies the apex of political corruption and public negligence.
In addition to daily disruptions in terms of social service provision, public inefficiency and corruption, the global financial crisis and the rise in influence of Hezbollah, investment, aid, and remittances has starkly declined. This has been coupled with enhanced sanctions against Hezbollah from neighboring Gulf states and the United States, making future investment in Lebanon unattractive at best. Months prior to the protests, Lebanon itself was also inching towards an economic collapse. The economy grew a meager 0.2% in 2018, possessing the third highest public debt burden in the world. Its credit rating was downgraded earlier this year, and unemployment had reached 20% according to the IMF, which also noted the systemic corruption in Lebanon and the government’s inability to implement reforms. By late September, the circulation of US dollars plummeted, with people unable to withdraw USD from Lebanese ATMs, seriously impacting companies importing gas, wheat and medicine, “all of which needed to pay in dollars but sold their goods for Lebanese pounds.”
Buckling under these pressures, on October 17th of 2019, Lebanon erupted into a series of demonstrations, increasingly known as the October revolution, amassing somewhere between 1-1.5 million protestors in the streets and mobilizing Lebanese expats in 35 countries around the world in 90 cities.These protests are believed to have been triggered by the state’s failure to adequately put a stop to the worst wildfires in decades, which burned large swathes of the countryside on October 15th, as well as a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls, and the impending economic crisis. The movement mobilized Lebanese citizens of all sectarian backgrounds, ages and classes across the country, beyond typical locations of social contestation (primarily Beirut), demanding the removal of the political elite, an end to rampant corruption and, for the first time an overhaul of the entire political system.
In a structure of governance characterized by traditional alliances of patronage and clientelism, bolstered by sectarianism, corrupt practices have thrived. Existing literature largely attributes this dynamic to the sectarian power-sharing system governing Lebanon since its independence. Yet, corruption appears to have reached levels in the post-civil war era that is unmatched, at least in the perceived experience of Lebanese. The revolutionary movement exhibited narratives surrounding corruption that highlighted its linkages to other forces in the system, offering alternative explanations. The events of October 17th provide an opportune moment to interrogate the mechanisms that have allowed corruption to reach the intolerable levels one observes in Lebanon today. In studying the response of Lebanese citizens to the current uprisings, we can begin to understand why Lebanese citizens now refuse to tolerate it in its the current state.
Structural inequalities and the spark
After years and years of swelling corrupt political practices, economic exploitation and the marriage of these two forces, signs of a potential dollar liquidity crisis began to materialize in September of 2019. The looting of state funds created conflict, not between rich and poor but rather generated a reaction against the perceived predatory behavior of the political and economic elite in rent-seeking. In addition to the very real concerns for survival and ensuring their livelihoods, the driver for many Lebanese was a call to restore their dignity. The theft and ensuing deprivation had reached unprecedented levels. The crony neo-liberal and the confusion of public and private sectors facilitated corruption and sectarianism, which was also reproduced by these mechanisms. Echoed in many of the discussions and interviews I conducted while carrying out research Lebanon in December and January of 2020, the lack of access to basic services and the consistent interruption of quotidian life compounded by long-term, structural social inequality pushed some to drop political clientelism and go down in the streets. Therefore, this movement triggered a struggle to reclaim basic fundamental rights surrounding daily needs and by extension—dignity. Anger over the hi-jacking of this dignity manifested itself in the discourse surrounding the ever-increasing brain drain, personal status laws, citizenship laws, youth unemployment, increasing emigration and declining remittances. Consequently, a popular campaign expressed throughout the movement was جنسيتي كرامتي or “My nationality, my dignity.”
The spark for the popular reaction can be found in the uncontrolled forest fires and the WhatsApp tax proposed in the days leading up to October 17th. The Lebanese are no strangers to taxes with this scale of impact. However, the proposed tax on WhatsApp calls reverberated throughout the country for both its symbolic significance but also the timing of its discussion.
Following these fires (which the state was unable to address due to its failure to carry out maintenance of the required emergency helicopters), and as the WhatsApp tax was announced and discussions ensued, a post on social media circulated that perhaps best embodies the larger meaning imbued in the reaction to the tax. In the post, an individual speaks of his experience as a young Lebanese living abroad in the diaspora. He recounts how his mode of communication with his family and friends in Lebanon is primarily through WhatsApp, common for the vast majority of Lebanese. He speaks of a bitterness for being unable to participate in this turning point that is the result of “decades of culminated degradation.” Family and friend WhatsApp group chats are often the most effective window into both daily life back home, but also understanding current events on the ground as many do not trust traditional media outlets. Photos and videos of solidarity protests across the diaspora are all sent back through these chats in support. The individual who authored the text describes families scattered across the world, as well as a friend, a recent graduate working in Dubai out of necessity rather than choice. He goes on to add that the nation is “fragmented due to the sectarian divides maintained by politicians who have more interest in money laundering and less in public affairs.” He asserts that this political fragmentation transcends to the familial and social level, citing the lack of sufficient telecommunication infrastructure (i.e. results of political disputes) preventing Lebanese from calling their loved ones abroad as a prime example. Significant life events, achievements and memories have been reduced to digital communication, and yet even this option was threatened on October 17th. Therefore, he concludes that this is not about “protesting a WhatsApp tax; (they) are protesting all the factors that have resorted (their) feeling of belonging to the realm of virtual reality.”
The ties that bind
This testimony situates this moment of social contestation in a context of meaning beyond the tax itself. As argued by Erica Simmons, threats to norms and values in a society leave room for the possibility to mobilize across typical points of division. Therefore, the implications of the WhatsApp tax relate to their larger meaning as a threat to an imagined community and the failure to protect this community. In addition to the added cost the tax would impose, it signifies the greed of the political class. First, this tax and its invasive nature into Lebanese daily life reminded citizens of financial decadence of the political class and their inability and incompetence to find alternative methods of extracting state revenue that would not punish or burden the working class. Rather than investigating theft, corruption or inflated public salaries, the elites turned immediately to further dispossess their own people. It also illustrates the way in which the political class continues to overstep and exploit without facing significant consequences. Secondly, this proposed tax symbolized both total control over the destiny of the citizen and the complete indifference on the part of the political elite to the plight of their constituents. The most basic right to communicate with one’s community, family and the larger world was instantly threatened and devalued. Even on the precipice of economic collapse, with thousands forced to leave the country in search of a better life, the audacity of the powers responsible for this crisis attempted to sever one of the only tools remaining that connects individuals to their home. Therefore, the tax highlighted more broadly the violation of fundamental principles that are consistently denied to the Lebanese citizen, which infringes upon their dignity and welfare that is carried out with callousness and disregard.
The mobilization was by no means consistent across different social stratifications in Lebanon. As the weeks went on, it became evident that two types of individuals either possessed the privilege or the imperative to revolt. The former is able to protest due to privileges such as not having children, their age, or possessing a foreign passport. The latter is so poor that they no longer have anything to lose. As a result, the majority of those I observed participating as the movement progressed were youth (typically unemployed), students, activists and individuals from the poor, working classes. Those residing between these two segments may or may not have expressed sympathies towards the revolution. However, either due to their own savings or family that face the risk of a chaotic transition or threat to their position in society, the consequences of upheaval did not seem worth upsetting the secure, status quo. However, the two segments visible in the street possessed similar grievances and demands, both frequently speaking of theft and stolen money. They also highlighted the need for the removal of the ruling political elite, the need to fight corruption and push for an independent judiciary and technocratic government, calling for the fall of the sectarian regime. Whether compelled by poverty or the dearth of viable futures for graduates and the youth, both linked these grievances to what one artist and activist would label as the political elite maintaining a façade masking what is really “neo-liberal sectarianism” driven by greed and corruption. It seemed that those who refused to support the movement or were unable to participate were partially motivated by fears surrounding escalation and violence, due to very recent memories of civil war traumas. However, the generations born after this era and those with nothing to gain from the status quo proved to be liberated of this apprehension. In this case, the significance of the infringement on virtual communication is two-fold: for the working poor, this serves as the final blow after decades of mismanagement, underdevelopment and neglect. For youth, this tax reminds them that if they are forced to leave, their bonds will be tested, and the political class is failing to entice them to ever return.
The movement and reactions to this social mobilization also revealed resilient generational divides. Older generations with more recent memories of conflict were quick to take stock in conspiracy theories, mistrust of the movement and a victimization narrative regarding foreign interference. In one interview, a participant highlighted how older Lebanese often trace roots of corrupt practices to the deeply rooted Ottoman and French style kinship-based structures in the Levant, which ultimately serves as another form of exoneration of current leadership. During the clashes between security forces and protestors in downtown Beirut in the “week of rage,” I had a conversation with a woman from Jounieh, who upon observing the protestors fighting more forcefully with the security forces and damaging property, lamented what she saw as the demise of the revolution. Disturbed by the violence she was witnessing, she quickly placed blame on “Muslim Brotherhood” extremists coming from Tripoli to infiltrate the protests. This claim evolved into a critique of the Sunni leadership more broadly, specifically Hariri and the Future movement. These examples in which people divert responsibility to other religious communities or political dynasties other than their own or consistently across the entire political class illustrate an infantilization of the generations affected by the height of sectarian politics—violent conflict along religious lines. I argue this infantilization is carefully crafted by the ruling elite as a means of maintaining their hold on their respective constituents. However, through a new, common struggle, younger people in particular began to shed this mentality, instead adopting an outlook of increased autonomy to seize and claim their rights. Efforts to shed this mentality appear to signify foundations for new-found trust between citizens, but also in the institutions laid to waste during the civil conflict. Calls to end foreign interference from all external powers categorically is a departure from the rhetoric of previous generations. Additionally, though not universal, there was an emergence of a budding political consciousness.
The clientelist bargain
The mobilization, particularly of the two segments most active indicate an alteration of the sort of bargain Lebanese citizens are bound by in the consociational, post-Taif system. In this bargain, the citizen is forced to pledge allegiance to the Zaimor respective political leader representing their community or sect. This leader promises protection to his community in what he portrays as a treacherous political arena, in which their position will be precarious without his leadership. In return for loyalty and submission, citizens will have access to social services and connections depending on their level of demonstrated allegiance. This relationship calls on the citizen to overlook or disregard corruption and impunity in their own political community due to the lack of any viable alternative in the political and social system where these connections are essential for survival. Additionally, some citizens have internalized a narrative of infantilization and genuine fear of the chaos that would ensue if they deviate from their Zaim. This bargain in recent years proved to no longer benefit most citizens, leading many to social mobilization, triggered by the WhatsApp tax. Daily life had become so unbearable in terms of basic needs not being met but also the repeated violation of peoples’ dignity visible in social injustice. Therefore, the payoff no longer outweighed the corruption inherent to this relationship. Such a reaction to the sparks (WhatsApp tax, the fires) perhaps underscores a struggle for dignity and pride in citizenship, that is universal, as such factors do not possess sectarian dimensions, but threaten the lives of all.
The Shia population in Lebanon has historically been the most disadvantaged, despised and deprived. After decades of political activism by Musa Sadr and the Amal movement and in recent years through Hezbollah, this community can obtain services and social support through these entities. This provision comes at the price of authoritarian and mafia like behavior in asserting control in these areas and demands for unwavering loyalty, at times through coercion. In Tripoli however, the historically privileged Sunni populations during the Ottoman era have not been afforded the same sort of bargain. With over half the population living below the poverty line and infrastructure crumbling, the city exemplifies state neglect and indifference, despite possessing some of the wealthiest political representatives in the country. This city also became infamous for political violence and recruitment into extremist organizations, due in part to the impact of the Syrian conflict. Naturally, the call to rise on October 17th reverberated strongest with citizens of Tripoli.
The bargain is broken
Consequently, social grievances and the absence of strong institutions or an independent judiciary were highlighted frequently throughout the demands of the protest movement in and beyond Tripoli. With the economy on the verge of collapse, no one individual outside the core political elite can run or hide from the disruption of basic routines by unbridled corruption. One interviewee went so far to say that this sort of bargain between the Zaim and the citizen illustrates an abusive relationship with the state. The polity endures the abuse because it is convinced of the need for its partner to protect them. The state or political elite act as this protector, all the while extracting and exploiting more and more. At a certain point, this dynamic becomes so unbalanced that the abused—the people—snap in defiance demanding their dignity and humanity. In the discourse regarding the movement, corruption was discussed and perceived as part and parcel of the economic system and vice versa. As a result, a common reverberation of anger over these forces led to the empowerment of the individual, but also mass mobilization. The individualization of political agency and the mobilization of society marks a rearrangement of trust in individual leaders or political parties to trust in a more widespread and diffused social community, but also in stronger institutions in the future. Though increasingly compelling for only certain segments and classes in society, for those galvanized to enter into the streets, the fear of consequences associated with such calls had virtually disappeared. Renouncing the tax and state policies in recent months and years, consequently, symbolizes the delegitimization of the system and the status quo that is unable or refuses to ensure basic rights to its citizens.
 Sullivan, Helen, et al. “The Making of Lebanon’s October Revolution.” The New Yorker, www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/the-making-of-lebanons-october-revolution.
 “The Lebanese Revolution – Reporting the Lebanese Revolution of 2019.” The Lebanese Revolution – Reporting the Lebanese Revolution of 2019, www.lebaneserevolution2019.com/.
 Deutsche Welle. “Lebanon Faces Race against Time to Avoid Financial Collapse: DW: 01.10.2019.” DW.COM, www.dw.com/en/lebanon-faces-race-against-time-to-avoid-financial-collapse/a-50655866.
 Civil marriage is not recognized in Lebanon, and family courts are left to the respective religious sect of the community in question. These courts often put women at a disadvantaged in regards to marriage, divorce, the custody of children, and inheritance. “Lebanon: Laws Discriminate Against Women.” Human Rights Watch, 2 Jan. 2019, www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/19/lebanon-laws-discriminate-against-women.
 As the law stands, Lebanese woman are unable to pass their citizenship on to their children. “Lebanon: Discriminatory Nationality Law.” Human Rights Watch, 14 Nov. 2019, www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/03/lebanon-discriminatory-nationality-law.
 Jounieh is a coastal town 16 km from Beirut. The greater area is overwhelmingly Maronite Catholic, the home of the Patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church and Harissa, a shrine of Mary and pilgrimage site called Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon.
China-US and the Iran nuclear deal
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province. Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.
A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.
During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.
The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said:
‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’
The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.
During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.
The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC, Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.
In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.
Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.
The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.
Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?
“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!
The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force!
Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.
The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.
Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.
The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.
The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.
The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.
Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility
Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.
Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.
This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.
The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.
IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”
And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.
In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.
IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).
The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.
The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.
Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.
Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).
And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).
There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.
But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions.
Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.
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