The International Day to Protect Education from Attack is celebrated on 9 September. It was established last year by a unanimous decision of the UN General Assembly in order to raise awareness of the plight of millions of children living in regions affected by conflict.
Children living in north Syria are among those affected by the ongoing tensions and conflicts in the region and since 2018, when Turkey and Turkish backed militias took control of the Kurdish populated districts of Afrin (Efrîn), Tell Abyad (Girê Spî) and Ras al-Ayn (Serêkaniyê), there have been initiatives aimed at changing the demographic structure of the areas by expelling Kurds. Kurdish students in these areas have been deprived of an education in their native Kurdish language.
In Afrin, where 90% of the residents were Kurdish before 2018, the demographics have been changed. Many Kurdish families were forced to flee Afrin and are now living in refugee camps in Shehba, controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The families of Turkish affiliated militias have, meanwhile, settled in the district. As kidnapping, rape, and looting have become routine in Afrin, Kurdish place names have been changed to Turkish.
The ‘provisional government’ in Afrin, established by groups backed by Turkey, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Kurdish National Council (ENKS) have removed Kurdish lessons from the curriculum in the schools in Afrin. The decision was taken by the Ministry of Education of the Provisional Government. Accordingly, Kurdish lessons will now be offered only on an elective basis in schools in Afrin.
Ednan Murad, who has been teaching in Afrin for five years said, “There used to be two hours of Kurdish lessons a week, but now it has been removed from the curriculum. Of course, the responsibility falls on the Turkish government and secondly, on the provisional government of the Syrian opposition.”
The issue of Kurdish being offered theoretically as an elective course has also raised concerns, as students and their families fear potential consequences should they take it in this context. Given the current intimidating environment where Kurdish is being targeted through place name changes and signage changes, many Kurdish students are fearful of choosing Kurdish as an elective course. Ednan Murad says, “No one can choose Kurdish out of fear.”
The situation in Tell Abyad is also not very different. ANHA has reported that students are being forced to use Turkish language materials in schools and Turkish language education programmes are being promoted in schools.
Students are given promises that they can become teachers if they complete the Turkish educational programmes.
Meanwhile, students living in regions close to districts controlled by Turkey and its sponsored and backed militias are also deprived of the right to education due to the continuous attacks against the region by Turkey and its allied forces.
Ebdulrezaq El Kinêhir, co-chair of the Tell Tamr Schools Administration, spoke to ANHA and said 18 schools were targeted by Turkish-controlled “gangs.”
“They deliberately target schools. All the walls of the El Kozeliyê School were destroyed by the bombardment. In addition, Bab el Xêr, Abuş, and other schools in Zirgan were targeted,” he noted.
“Due to continuous attacks, families are not able to send their children to school,” he added. Ebdulrezaq El Kinêhir also stated that despite their continuous appeals over this matter, UNICEF has not responded to any of their demands and urgent appeals.
“We have been calling on UNICEF” to act “since the attacks on educational institutions. We have asked for a delegation to be sent to the region to investigate and report on the attacks carried out by Turkey. They have turned many schools into military bases. All of this is a crime under international law,” he stated.