by Isiyan Kamo – Rojava
Since 2016, Zaningeha Rojava (Rojava University) has been developing a higher education alternative to the State’s universities under the Baath regime in Syria.
Before the revolution, the only way for young people to follow higher education studies was to travel beyond Rojava to join one of these State universities in Latakia or Damas, to cite examples.
However, from the outset, the self-administration of Northern and Eastern Syria recognised the need to create its own educational system not only for schools, high-schools and colleges but also for universities.
Founded in Qamişlo, Rojava University has extended across Rojava, creating specific branches and campuses in Hesseke, Rîmelan and Amûde. Alongside Kobanê University, created a year later in 2017, it is a place where students from all parts of Syria can come to study a “less-statist but more-true” approach relating to Kurdish culture and history.
Until 2018, students could also go to Afrîn University, the first of all the new universities established in Rojava. It had opened in 2015. However, the Turkish state’s invasion and occupation of Afrîn during the “Olive Branch” operation ended its educational presence. Rojava University now welcomes young students from Cizîrê canton but also student-refugees from Afrîn.
Despite the professionalism of its teachers and administration, the University is still not internationally recognized. This is an issue that the University administration is trying to resolve by slowly building an international network of partnerships that is not only limited to Middle East universities and other educational establishments but also ones in Egypt, the US, Germany and France.
This year, about 1,500 students are studying at the university and almost half of them are women. Students have the choice of studying hard sciences (Mathematics, Chemistry, etc.), ‘human sciences’ (History, Geography, etc.) and/or languages. ‘Kurdish Literature’ is also offered and a Department of Jineolojî (Women’ Sciences) has also been established.
To provide educational opportunities to as many young people as possible, the Education Committee of Cizîre canton has assisted students with accommodation if they come from far away. To improve teaching, competent people from Rojava and overseas have been recruited. The geopolitical situation, of course, presents obstacles to the University but staff persevere and continue to work with commitment and enthusiasm.
Rohan Mistefa, the University co-chair, explains how society must appreciate the benefits of a fair educational system. She draws upon an Abdullah Öcalan quote: “‘Education, education, education’ is a key element in realising real sociological progress”. To Mistefa: “We have to educate people to educate all society and then change the mentality of this society that has been affected during hundreds of years by the dominating mentality. We have to train people to be able to be free”.