IN FOCUS Teaching for Peace in Northern Iraq

17 November 2014 Comments Off on IN FOCUS Teaching for Peace in Northern Iraq


MA student in the Graduate School of Education

Knowing that peace will become reality through science and letters, not guns.

They were born into war. They were kids, despite the war that surrounded them. Despite the war, always believing in peace, each of them grew up to become an individual with great ideals. Now, they are teaching today’s children. They are teachers who are nurturing hope for peace in the lands where the world’s most ancient civilizations lived, lands that have witnessed the struggle of different sects and ethnic groups. These teachers know that peace will be brought about by science and letters, not by guns.

During the teachers’ training programs organized by Bilkent University as part of the regional countries summer school, Dr. Rasim Özyürek, director of the teacher training program, Dr. M. Sencer Çorlu, our professor, and we ourselves—Bilkent University Faculty of Education graduate students Tuğba Özcan, Gülhan Can, Burcu Alapala and Aysun Barut—were very happy to become acquainted with these teachers from northern Iraq. At every opportunity, we listened intently to their fascinating stories.

Among them were very experienced teachers who had been teaching for decades, as well as recent graduates who were new to the profession. Most of them came from Kirkuk, Erbil or Mosul. They had not known each other before they came to Turkey for the regional countries summer program, but got acquainted immediately. They were all very friendly people.

These teachers were of Kurdish, Turkmen and Azeri background. Despite their differing ethnicity and native tongues, they were united by geography and the Turkish language. In the region where they lived, these teachers were giving instruction in a language different from their mother tongue. Most of them were, essentially, teaching Turkish courses. They had in fact graduated in quite different subject areas: at university, some had studied business, but then became Turkish teachers following completion of a six-month diploma program. There were also those who, because there were not enough Turkish teachers, now taught language even though they had previously taught mathematics; and even religion instructors who were teaching computer courses. For many years, all courses in their region had been taught in Arabic. Then, a change in the law completely altered the situation, and from that point on, instruction in the schools was to be conducted in Turkish. In spite of the fact that this had been the case for only two or three years, these teachers spoke Turkish quite well, because they had never stopped learning.

Surely, it was not easy for them to continue teaching in those lands where blood and tears were seen, gunpowder was breathed in with the air, and poverty had been a constant for many years. Abbas Turkmen was among the teachers from northern Iraq. He lived in Kirkuk, and was one of those who, despite having been trained to teach religion, was teaching secondary school computer courses. We asked him a question that was relevant to a topic being discussed in one of the summer school courses: “What are the tools, and why do we use those tools in our lessons?” Abbas Hoca’s answer surprised all of us. “The computer is a tool, but first we need the power to run it,” he said. This response gave us a hint of just how difficult things were in the region where he lived. Then our professor, Sencer Çorlu, asked, “What if every opportunity were offered to you, and the budget you wanted were given to you—what would you imagine having in your classroom?” Abbas Hoca responded, “I just want to have electricity without interruption. I would wish for there to be no rolling blackouts or power cuts—that would be enough.” Of course we should not have been surprised—of course there would be power cuts in a region that was continually being bombed. And yet, despite all the adverse conditions they faced, these new friends of ours were as full of the love of teaching as if every day were their first day in the classroom.

“Biology is alive, and the teacher must also be alive.” As Ashraf Abbas, who had been a teacher for nearly thirty years, spoke these words, his eyes were shining. He had graduated from the Mosul University biology department in 1984. After graduation, he worked in various hospitals and laboratories, where he also did some research of his own. For many years, Abbas Hoca taught biology in northern Iraq. Occasionally he taught chemistry as well, due to the lack of chemistry teachers. He was a teacher who had great self-awareness. He was teaching biology and chemistry lessons in classrooms that were crowded with more than fifty students, despite the war, because he was hopeful about a future that would bring peace. In lands where much pain had been suffered, Abbas Hoca continued to teach for his children, for all children, for better days filled with peace. As he put it, “We were born into war. Now, we have kids of our own, but we are still living in war. We hope that at least our children do not live in war, and so all of our efforts are directed toward this goal.” As he spoke, we could see the hope in his eyes for a time of peace.

They know that peace is not possible without hope and faith. But they are also aware that the main reason for all war is ignorance. And they feel in their hearts that the only way to eradicate ignorance is learning, and that peace will be brought about by science and letters, not guns. They very much believe that science and education will construct the basis for peace. These teachers teach for the sake of humanity, without discrimination regarding language, race or religion. They know that the future will be shaped by today’s children. That’s why their eyes are shining with hope for that future.