Recurrent Nightmares for Not Being Punished for Not Talking Kurdish in School

By Dr. M. Koohzad

Generally speaking, all of the years at my elementary school were filled with joys of learning, positive energy, and good people. I am now an old retired professor. I advise my grandchildren to try hard to “enjoy learning.”  Yet, there was a sad story that I have to tell in the middle of all those happy days. We were not allowed to speak our mother tongue of Kurdish, at school, period. No buts or ifs. It was an order imposed on the Kurdish minority by the government that occupied Kurdistan. The funny part of the story is that our local Kurdish teachers were implementing the law. Our teachers spoke their mother tongue of Kurdish right in front of us, but not the little kids who even did not master the occupier’s language, a foreign one. 

In Turkey, it is illegal to be a Kurd. Ataturk was the first to commit genocide against the Kurds. Since then, every successive regime in Ankara has never stopped killing Kurds. Now, the Turkish Tyrant President Erdogan has killed the largest number of Kurds in the 21st century. Only Saddam Hussein killed more Kurds than the sick Semi-Sultan Erdogan. The Turkish Tyrant is the only head of state who can simultaneously kill Kurds in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.   

Erdogan attacked Rojava’s Afrin region in Syrian Kurdistan in January 2018. First, they destroyed a Kurdish mythical national symbol. A statue of Kurdish hero Kawa, the Blacksmith, a symbol of resistance against oppressors, was torn down. Then began their looting, raping, kidnapping for ransom, ethnic cleansing, and imposing the Turkish language at newly built Turkish schools. In October 2019, with Trump’s blessing, Turkey invaded Syria to create a so-called “safe zone” with its trained jihadist terrorists that Erdogan used for killing Kurds and for ethnic cleansing. 

In Iran, young Kurdish teachers who dare to teach Kurdish to their students will be imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Almost daily, Kurdish Kolbars or border porters transporting goods on their backs between Iraq and Iran, are shot by the Islamic border guards. These killings, atrocities, and abuse against the Kurds were carried out with the forthcoming assistance from Western powers. When Obama’s ISIL terrorists were busy killing Yazidi Kurds, the United Nations was busy finding out who the Yazidis were. When Erdogan was showing the map of his safe zone in the UN, nobody said that Syria still was a sovereign state, and Ankara’s plan was ethnic cleansing.    

We would have been disciplined even if we accidentally mentioned a single Kurdish word in the school. Therefore, I was adamant about avoiding Kurdish. I even deliberately avoided my sister at the same school, so I did not have to say anything in Kurdish habitually. Later, when I had to speak in three different languages fluently, I always made sure not to mix them. I knew nobody was there to punish me, but my childhood experience was still on my mind. The penalty for speaking Kurdish in school was being hit in each hand’s palm twice with sticks made of fruit-tree twigs. I have seen the scenes of punishment in reality and frequently in my nightmares. I feel like I am guilty of not being disciplined! The pains of being punished may have gone away in a short while. For me, it sounds like I am in pain for not feeling the pain many years ago. It still haunts me nearly 70 years later because I was not punished for not speaking Kurdish! 

The children who felt the torture were relieved on the spot from the expectations of the upcoming pains. Not me! I was utterly committed not to allow anybody, even the occupiers of my homeland, to punish me. Thus, I was determined not to talk in my mother tongue of Kurdish in school. Sadly, I saw many of my neighbors, friends, and classmates were beaten by branches of trees that looked like cables. Like a horror movie, the scene still haunted me after seventy years, giving me nightmares that make me sweat and woke me up in horror, saying, “But I never talked in Kurdish in school.” The scene and the sound of the twigs not touching my hands, but the anticipation of how bad the pain inflicted on me could have been. 

Now, I wish I did talk in my mother tongue of Kurdish, in school. So, I would have suffered momentarily on the spot and forgotten the incident pretty soon. I envision the tool of punishment, a long straight branch of a fruit tree, raised by the Vice Principal into the air and befalling into the palm of my left hand but stopping seconds before touching my body. The expected pain is much more frightening than the actual suffering. My mother tongue of Kurdish was transferred into my body via my mother’s milk. Yet, I was told very early in my life that I could not speak it in school. The persistent nightmare of not being tormented as a child for something I did not do is still with me.

Dr. Koohzad is a Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern Studies in the United States. 

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