Sunday, February 21, 2016

Mother Language Day and 'conspiracy' in Iran

Mother Language Day and 'conspiracy' in Iran
A child in Kurdish garment. Photo by Flicker/Diyar Design
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.” - Nelson Mandela
LOS ANGELES, United States (K24) – In the wake of International Mother Language Day on Feb. 21, an annual celebration of linguistic rights, Iran remains among the countries that continue their explicitly oppressive language policies.
The right to learn in mother tongue “smells like conspiracy,” announced the members of the Farsi language and literature cultural centre. For these “intellectuals” this right leads to “separatist” outlooks and is a danger to territorial integrity.
Not only does the Iranian regime outright deny the tyrannical measures it has applied against the linguistic minorities, but they also claim, “We hope Kurds in other countries will enjoy full citizenship rights as Kurds in Iran do,” a diplomat told HarrietDaily News.  
The one state, one language policy in Iran relentlessly impacts the vulnerable population.
Among the most unforgettable victims of the inhuman linguistic policies was Shirin Alam Hooli: a politically active rural woman sentenced to death in a language she could not speak. “You interrogated me, tried me, and sentenced me in your own language, even though I couldn’t understand it and couldn’t defend myself,” she wrote from prison before she was hanged in May 2010 for Moharebeh, “enmity against God.” 
Non-Persian prisoners are not allowed to speak to their visitors in any language but Farsi. The parents of the inmates who have limited skills in the official language suffer gravely from this injustice. The spouse and children of the detainees who do speak the official language have to converse in a language that is not theirs and is unnatural.
By recognizing only one official language, Iran annihilates linguistic diversity. In doing so, it damages the overall wellbeing of the non-Persian students and guarantees unequal access to education.
Approximately, 50 percent of grade one students in Iran have to learn how to read and write in a language that is not their mother language. The language they have been raised with, the language of family, affection, and safety loses its value as soon as students encounter the monolithic educational system.
Hence, from age seven, children start to comprehend, on a profound yet unconscious level, that their mother tongue is not the language of knowledge and education, not of progress and prosperity and, in one word, not part of the “high culture.”
The alienation from parents and grandparents, from one’s roots, identity, history, and literature starts from age seven, if not earlier, only to escalate with each year that passes by.
Iran delegitimizes linguistic minorities through persistent ignoring or mocking of their language. The mainstream media only presents one language and culture, and random appearances of anyone with an accent is subject to derision in the state-run TV and other media outlets. 
On one hand, the mainstream culture is a mirror where Kurds, Baluch, Lor, Gilak, Turkmen, Arab, Azeri and others do not see their reflections in. On the other hand, linguistic minorities under the oppressive policies are unable to define their distinct past or future and are not capable of reading and writing in their native language. Inevitably, they buy into the “superiority” of the official language which reduces linguistic minorities to nonpersons with no significance.
Unable to define themselves in their native culture due to illiteracy, and viscerally experiencing the imposed inferiority of what they belong to, the linguistic minorities are left in a cultural vacuum and thus turn into vulnerable prey for the overriding culture that beguiles them to wipe out diversity.
Ethnic Rights activists in Rojhalat (Iranian Kurdistan) were finally able to convince Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, to remove the ban on teaching Kurdish language and literature in one of the universities. That minor reform, despite its apparent lure, is not to value Kurdish heritage but to further tame citizens through false promises.
A genuine attempt at stopping oppressive linguistic policies would mean allowing children to learn in their mother language along with the official language at the same time, and from an early age. 
Linguicide causes enormous immediate and long-term cognitive, academic, and cultural harms. When mother language is banned and dismissed, slavery and inferiority is communicated to children. At the same time, mastery is communicated to the dominant, a superiority they would not want to give up on later in life. On the journey to reach democracy, Iranians need to put national chauvinism aside and study the advantages of language diversity in strengthening communities and treasuring human legacies.
Writing by Ava Homa
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany
This article was originally published by Kurdistan24

Friday, February 19, 2016

Lost in Lust and Hungry for Love

During the reluctant yet inevitable transition to modernity, a traditional society like Iran is suffering an ever-expanding generation gap, especially when it comes to the taboo topic of sexuality.
The conservative culture dooms sex before marriage as illegal and immoral but refuses to prepare people even for “acceptable” sexual relationships. The lack of education about this crucial aspect of human life has backfired in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Since authorities do not educate citizens and parents act as if their children are asexual, adolescents’ ignorant sources of information remain pornography, unreliable websites, or each other.
The Iranian youth believe their sexuality is either demonized or denied by their parents, families, and teachers. Confused, uninformed, and rebellious, the youth today tend to engage in dangerous behavior such as promiscuity and unprotected sexual relationships.
Dr. Arash Alaei, clinical associate professor at the State University of New York, Department of Health Policy, Management and Behavior spoke to K24.
Originally from Kermanshah, Rojhalat (Iranian Kurdistan), Dr. Alaei is internationally recognized for his extensive work on health and human rights. He says the current trends of promiscuity is an overreaction to a society that has turned natural instincts and overall curiosities into an illegitimate topic.
Dr. Alaei argues children should become familiar with their bodies before puberty so that certain physical changes will not become a source of shame, threat, or bewilderment.
“Why can a child talk about their teeth or a broken bone but not about their natural human tendencies?” pondered Dr. Alaei.
To better understand the youth perspective, K24 spoke to a group of Kurds in Rojhalat about their sexual life.
21-year-old Sherko from Sina (Sanandaj) wrote in an online messaging system: “I love sex. I hate relationships. I don’t care about virginity. I hate [the idea of] getting married. But seriously, if we don’t even have sex, how are we going to release all the pressure we have?” referring to the lack of job prospects as well as the added pressures of living a secular life in a religious state.
“Who cares about virginity? That’s so yesterday. I’m not the type of ordinary girls [sic]...I feel so casual about sex. I don’t see any benefit in getting married,” wrote Taranom, 19, from Kermanshah.
Farnaz, 22, said men over the age of 25 are ambivalent about sex. “A man under 25 expects you to be modern and open-minded…[or] they will break up with you. But if the boy is over 25, you have to play a different game to earn his trust. These two groups of young men have us stuck.”
Farnaz said she has traveled to Turkey and Dubai with her boyfriends, but was born into a religious family in the large northwestern town of Mariwan. She now lives with her sister in Tehran.
The majority of the young Kurds who agreed to talk to K24 said they feel casual about having multiple partners, but they scoffed at the idea of using protection.
“AIDS has no correlation with a person’s age or socioeconomic class.” Dr. Alaei said. “Not using protection—common throughout Iran and not just limited to the youth—puts people in grave danger of contracting Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) or unwanted pregnancies in a country where abortion is illegal except under severe medical conditions.” 
“It’s true that my generation can explore their sexuality more openly than the previous generation, but what we miss is love. I mean it’s fun to try different partners, but the problem is that nobody can trust anybody else enough to give them their heart or, if they do, they are bound to defeat,” said Ashkan, 25, from Sina.
“I think the majority, if not the entire population, of the youth today have failed in love. Maybe that’s what we are searching. Maybe that’s why we are never satisfied,” he said.
For as long as our society refuses to create a constructive culture to take the youth seriously, the young generation will continue to go to the extreme to experiment what their society strongly frowns upon. As a result, they unwittingly cause physical and psychological harm to themselves and their partners. They remain lost in lust and hungry for love.

Demonized refugees need a humanized face

Demonized refugees need a humanized face

Yezidi girl at Khanki refugee camps near Dohuk. Photo by Hajir Sharifi
Toronto, CANADA (K24) – A Kurdish activist and journalist’s photo exhibition of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) raised money and awareness in Toronto regarding the forgotten victims of the Islamic State (IS) currently residing in Kurdistan Region.
Hajir Sharifi’s heart-wrenching photographs of displaced persons in Qushtapa Camp near Erbil, Arbat Camp near Sulaimani, and other camps offered a fresh angle on the lives of recent victims.
Canadians visited the “4 Days 4 Syria” event held at York University where Sharifi’s photos were presented as he gave a presentation and answered questions. The $4,000 Sharifi raised in the auctions goes to the refugees in Kurdistan Region and Jordan.
“Here [North-America], the mainstream depiction of refugees is inaccurate and incomplete. People deserve seeing something other than the fear-mongering image that is loaded with racist and xenophobic sentiments,” Sharifi told K24.
A Human Rights and Philosophy student at York University originally from the village of Kanicharmoo near Diwandara, Rojhalat (Iranian Kurdistan), Sharifi shared stories of his observations from Sinjar (Shingal) mountain, Domiz Camp, and various other refugee camps throughout Kurdistan Region.
“The refugees that I met were desperately looking for safety; they’re struggling for their next meal in those camps, and there is no end to their suffering,” Sharifi said.
Currently, over 1.8 million Syrian, Ezidi (Yezidi), and Iraqis reside in Kurdistan Region out of a total population of some six million. The war with IS and dropping international oil prices are among many reasons Kurdistan Region is struggling to meet the needs of the displaced it is hosting.
“Compared to the Syrian refugee crisis, theirs [Ezidi and Iraqi] might be new, but they are suffering from this vicious war. Their pain has not caught the world’s attention because there is no longer a dictator in Iraq that this humanitarian crisis can be used against as political leverage,” Sharifi said.
York University librarian Kalina Grewal, one of the organizers for the presentation said the event allowed the audience “to respond with curiosity about the crisis and with generosity.”

“While he took emotionally destabilizing photographs [e.g. of severely injured or ill persons], Mr. Sharifi felt that those that showed these individuals in moments of humanity—engaged in conversation, playing, or day-to-day activities—would inspire our audience to action,” Grewal told K24.
“Mr. Sharifi urged us to demand that our political leaders examine their policies and actions in the Middle East and that they find ways to collaborate to create the conditions for long-lasting peace,” Grewal added.
Dalubuhle Ndlovu, Research Office Assistant at the Office of the Dean of the Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, told K24, “The exhibition sparked critical dialogue amongst York community members…Sharifi’s photographs allow us to gaze into the hardships, challenges, and triumphs experienced by Iraqi and Syrian refugees.”
Sharifi encouraged the audience not to remain silent in the face of atrocities unfolding across the world.
“We need to remember that our silence in this part of the world alongside with the madness of tyrants and religious fundamentalists will add to ongoing chaos, despair, death, and destruction in the Middle East,” Sharifi concluded.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ethnocentrism, the weakness of Iranian democratic movements

The Iranian government crushed the popular “Green movement” in less than a year, which began in June 2009 and took millions to the streets. Sporadic democratic movements continue to sprout but with no tangible result. What the opposition does not comprehend is that the brutal crackdown by the state is not the sole reason for their failure.
Ethnocentrism has continuously plagued the Iranian reform movement.
During the upheaval in 2009, although some Tehran-based minorities—including Kurdish student Sane Jaleh—participated in the protests and were killed by security forces, most ethnic minorities stood on the sidelines from their impoverished, neglected corners of Iran, staring in a daze. A voice in the back of their minds silently asked the frustrated youth: “Do you now understand what it’s like to be persecuted just for asking for your rights?”
In 1979, most of the Kurdish population stood against the rising theocratic regime. When Ayatollah Khomeini labeled Kurds as “infidels” and ordered them to be killed, not only did the Revolutionary Guards attack and loot the Kurdish region, but many non-military volunteers (Lashkar piade emam zaman) joined as well.
Throughout the years, while Baha'i were burned alive, Turkmens' Sahra movement was crushed, Arabs were hanged in droves, and Baluchistan region was plagued with poverty, the majority of fortunate groups in Tehran and other wealthy cities looked the other way.
After three decades of overlooking minorities’ democratic demands, the privileged began fighting against the regime but the disadvantaged remained distrustful. The Green Movement, despite its initial momentum, failed to attract the marginalized and suffered the same destiny as the poor men’s movements.
Iran has long strived to assimilate ethnic groups including Kurds, Baluch, Azeris, Turkmens, and others. The demands of these groups terrifies most Iranians—including the democratic activists—who believe that diversity endangers 'their' land by instigating separatist outlooks.
The opposition’s incapability to see diversity as strength makes them the unwitting agents of the regime, reproducing an equally harmful national chauvinism it claims to reject. 
Presently, activists are becoming more aware of the importance of getting the majority of Iranians on board but still have a limited view of the ethnic groups, tinted with bias and apprehension. For as long as their difficulties are shunned, minorities cannot fully embrace the reform movement.
Both the theocratic regime and the democratic opposition have more in common than they wish to admit. For both, preserving Iran’s current borders is more valuable than granting minority rights. For instance, many are concerned that if minorities receive education in their mother tongue, they will no longer wish to “assimilate” and seek to “separate.”
While the adults remain unsure how to grapple their baseless fears, for children in non-Persian regions, the first grade of elementary school continues to be a traumatic experience since they have to learn literacy along with a new language. As a result, they start school one step behind their Persian counterparts and are humiliated for not being "good enough" in reading or writing in a language that is not theirs.
Overall, ostracized communities do not see their demands reflected in the Green Movement agenda and conclude any future reforms will only benefit the dominant Persian society. Ethnic minorities believe that whether they decide to remain part of or separate from Iran, their rights to self-determination should be recognized. Nevertheless, they are not.
In Iranian culture, separatism is not a political term; it is a pejorative word, equivalent to treason. When Kurdish or Azeri activists seek ethnic rights, their request is immediately demonized as “separatism” by the regime and the opposition, adding insult to injury. The opposition cherry-picks their definition of democracy, denying one of its fundamentals. Hence, chauvinism has created a blind spot in the so-called democratic movement. 
Iranians across the political spectrum often belittle minorities’ demands. Rather than trying to improve life for citizens who reside in floundering margins, and provide genuine incentives to improve their living and social conditions, both the regime and opposition disregard and downplay such demands.
Admittedly, minorities in Iran do not speak with one voice. The educated ones who do have a voice tend to tie their cause to the mainstream, one that is more influential and cohesive than others. The voiceless remain without much representation and misunderstandings thrive.  
The scattered, disingenuous actions toward democracy and equality continue in Iran and abroad but for as long as the dominant group fails to see the ethnocentrism in their own backyard and the simultaneity of oppression for the underprivileged, the struggle for genuine democracy is bound for failure.