Online Kurdish Studies Certificate Program, Zahra Institute

Thanks to the generous support of a Berkeley Language Center (BLC) Travel Grant for Foreign Language Lecturers, during Spring 2021 (April 5–May 27) I was able to participate in the eight-week Online Kurdish Studies Certificate Program offered by the Zahra Institute, a Chicago-based research center and graduate school focusing on teaching and scholarship related to Kurdish language and culture. The program consisted of two separate courses, entitled “History and Structure (Syntax) of Kurdish Language” and “Reading Skills for Kurdish (Kurmancî) Texts in Kurdo-Arabic Script,” each of which met for three hours per week.

As full-time continuing lecturer in Turkish in UC Berkeley’s MELC Department, each year I offer an advanced language and literature course called “Turkish 101A: Readings in Modern Turkish,” the thematic topic of which rotates in order to give students wide exposure to a variety of literary texts and perspectives. In an effort to bring a more multicultural approach to Turkish Studies at UC Berkeley, and to help create greater dialogue across the languages and cultures represented by MELC, I have been working to develop a new recurring curriculum for the next iteration of 101A, entitled “Kurdish Perspectives in Turkish Literature.” The advanced course will bring together texts from a variety of genres (poetry, short stories, novellas, travel writing, feature films, documentaries, memoirs, and more) to explore the history of Kurdish identity and experience in Turkey through a predominantly literary lens. In this way, students will gain deep insight into a substantial and yet often overlooked body of literature at the intersection of Turkish and Kurdish traditions (the Kurds constitute the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, with a population of some 10 million).

In Spring 2020, I was fortunate to receive a BLC Lecturer Research Fellowship to lay the pedagogical and textual foundations for the aforementioned course. Participating in the 2021 Zahra Institute Kurdish Studies Certificate Program therefore ended up being an extremely beneficial and complementary experience to my initial research; the 48-contact hours of training related to Kurmancî (the most prevalent variety of Kurdish in Turkey) helped me to develop the proper linguistic foundation to teach my specialized 101A course, one that I will regularly offer at Berkeley for years to come. Given that the aforementioned dialect figures heavily in the multilingual body of literature and film of my 101A Turkish course, gaining solid proficiency in Kurmancî Kurdish, as well as a diachronic understanding of its development and usage in both the late-Ottoman and contemporary-Republican periods (i.e., post-1923) in Turkey is essential for my future teaching. With the linguistic, sociolinguistic, cultural, and historical knowledge I acquired as a participant in the Zahra program, I am now well-equipped to provide students of Turkish language at UC Berkeley with an introduction to key aspects of the Kurdish language as used in Turkey, thereby helping them to engage in rigorous and productive ways with a significant corpus of Turkish-Kurdish literary and cinematic works, as well as the complicated issues of identity in modern Turkey that these texts grapple with.