Some Christian Assyrians have reportedly accused the Obama administration-backed Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) in northern Syria of imposing revisionist education curricula on the Christian Assyrians and Arabs that changes the Old Testament.
The PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), control large swathes of northern Syria, home to many Assyrians and Arabs.
In March, the PYD-led Kurds declared a de-facto federal region in northern Syria, a move that drew condemnation from neighboring Turkey, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and even the United States, which considers the “party” its ally against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
German-language newspaper Die Welt recently interviewed John Eissa and his wife Nancy, who lead the Assyrian Edessa Language Institute in northern Syria.
John declared, “In the new textbooks they [the Kurds] alter historical and geographical facts!”
As examples, he noted that Assyrian Christian places are given new Kurdish names and history students are being taught that King Nebuchadnezzar from the Old Testament, to whom the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is credited, married a Kurdish woman.
The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports, “In fact, this development is not surprising. Back in autumn 2015, Kurdish language school curricula started to generate controversy for being too ideological and ‘prioritizing a single view over all others.’”
Die Welt points out that Christian Assyrians are concerned that Kurdish revisionism will eventually lead to disputes.
In 2011, the Syrian Kurds systematically began developing their new education curricula, which is now being enforced as a blueprint for the Assyrians and Arabs in the region, according to the German news outlet.
The curriculum is being enforced through a so-called Education Committee. Die Welt learned from Malek Hanna, an Assyrian member of that committee, that it allows “no independent decisions” to be taken.
The chairman of the panel does not allow any vote without the presence of people linked to the PYD who actually lack a legitimate voice because they are not official members, indicated Hanna.
Die Welt reports that the “party” makes “all the important decisions” although they hold no membership positions within the committee.
“That’s against the rules of democracy,” says Hanna. “These people are radical hardliners who want to impose their Kurdish nationalism on everyone.”
Turkey, Syria, the Assyrian Christians, and some Republican lawmakers in the United States have accused the PYD and the YPG of being linked to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and various other countries.
Although the U.S. State Department has insisted that the Obama administration does not consider the PYD or the YPG to be terrorist organizations, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told U.S. lawmakers early this month that the two Syrian Kurdish groups were indeed aligned with the PKK.
The Obama administration has long defended the YPG as an effective force fighting ISIS on the ground in Syria.
Meanwhile, clashes have erupted between PYD-linked armed groups and Christian Assyrians in the region.
Retired U.S. Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari, a decorated Iraq war veteran who identifies as an Assyrian American, told Breitbart News in February that Kurdish self-governance in Syria “would kill Christianity” because the region being promised to the Kurds includes all Christian Assyrian villages in the country.
The parallel governing structures [of the Syrian regime and the Kurds] are causing serious practical problems for the population of the region, such as forced conscription to military service, additional taxes on businesses and Kurdish nationalistic education curricula imposed in private and public schools.
In November 2015, sixteen Assyrian and Armenian civic and religious organizations issued a statement protesting the enforcement of Kurdish self-administration in the Hasaka province (AINA 2015-11-02). The statement accused the PYD, among others, of expropriation of private property, illegal military conscription and interference in church school curricula.
The criticism against the Kurdish approach was massively echoed by Assyrian federations from U.S., Australia and Europe (AINA 2015-11-10) while also addressing illegal seizure of property, forced conscription and threats, pressure and targeted killings.
The news agency did note that at least one Assyrian group, the Syriac Union Party, supported the Syrian Kurds’ self-governance efforts.