Kurdish History Textbooks: Building a Nation-State within a Nation-State

By Kirmanj, Sherko | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Kurdish History Textbooks: Building a Nation-State within a Nation-State


Kirmanj, Sherko, The Middle East Journal


This article reviews the history and social studies textbooks used in Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) schools in terms of their contribution to the construction of the Kurdish/Kurdistani national identity. The article also examines how the KRG's views of the Other are expressed in these textbooks in order to reveal the discourses, categories of differences, assumptions, and views about these concepts, as well as the attempts made through the textbooks to answer the question of what it means to be a Kurd or a Kurdistani. As with nation-building projects elsewhere, KRG school textbooks are part of a strategy to create an "imagined community," and are intended to strengthen the process of creating a Kurdish/Kurdistani nation-state within an Iraqi nation-state.

It is well-established that modern education systems and schooling are among the most important agents of nation-building.1 Since the state commissions the creation of school textbooks in most Arab states and in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the state "controls the ways by which the students' national identity and collective memory is shaped."2 Indeed, within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the education ministry is "responsible for developing education policies for all school levels in Kurd- istan, as well as preparing learning plans, composing learning programs and creating school textbooks including supporting materials."3 Studies of school textbooks are sig- nificant as "it is through the history curriculum that nations seek to store, transmit and disseminate narratives which define conceptions of nationhood and national culture."4 Textbooks are also used as an ideological means to serve the interests of certain classes and social groups.5 The experience of ethno-national groups in Western Europe, for example, confirms that over time, education can serve as a useful tool in overcoming ethnic conflicts, as in France and Germany.6

Since its creation in 1992, and in particular after 2005, the KRG has endeav- ored to use school curriculum as a linguistic, ideological, political, and cultural tool in keeping with the modernist interpretation of nation-building. Modernists perceive centralized governments as having been largely responsible for expanding and re- inforcing the significance of nations; for instance, new public education programs transformed people into citizens of a specific country, such as teaching France's com- moners of various ethnicities to identify foremost as French citizens.7 The modernist school sets mass education as a precondition for the nation-building process.8 How- ever, the ethno-symbolist approach to nationalism and nation-building rejects the modernist emphasis on the state and its institutions in the nation formation process. Ethno-symbolists argue that the nation is only contingently related to the state and that the power of states to regulate populations is fluid and limited.9 Nevertheless, as Amir Hassanpour pointed out, educational systems that are based on memorization rely on textbooks as essential tools.10 The Kurdistan Region is one such system.

Though students in the Kurdistan Region have only been exposed to KRG text- books since 2005, the impact of their messages and values on students is significant. In general, it is difficult to establish the exact role that textbooks play in shaping students' identities when compared to other sources of information, such as digital media. In Kurdistan, as elsewhere, the growing exposure of younger generations to digital media has undoubtedly affected the centrality of school textbooks as instruments of education and unitary sources of knowledge. Although there are alternative approaches to the construction of the "Other" in the process of national identity formation, this article argues that exposure to textbooks is unlike other processes of national identity forma- tion such as electronic, print, and visual media. However, the influence of textbooks is distinct from digital media and the press due to the simple reason that in a modern state, where at least primary schooling is compulsory, nearly all students are exposed to the ideas and discourses contained in school textbooks. …

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