Kurds - Language and Literacy

In the past most of the Kurds of Transcaucasia were illiterate. In the Russian Empire the Kurds had no national schools. In 1921, according to the first agricultural census, 1 out of every 100 adult Kurds was literate (1.44 percent of male Kurds in the Kurdistan District and a mere 0.04 percent of female Kurds). From the 1920s various measures for popular education among the Kurds were implemented. The most important problem was the creation of a written language, textbooks, grammars, and dictionaries in the Kurdish language, despite the fact that the Kurdish language was not studied until comparatively late in Europe (the first Kurdish grammar was published in 1787). In 1921 a Kurdish alphabet was devised in Armenia on the basis of the Armenian alphabet. A Kurdish alphabet using Latin letters was created in Armenia in 1929. In 1944, also in Armenia, a Kurdish alphabet using Cyrillic characters (with the addition of seven signs for the rendering of specific phonemes) was promulgated, although this led to some isolation of the Soviet Kurdish readership. (All Kurdish literature abroad is published in the Latin and Arabic alphabets.) A major role in the creation of the Kurdish alphabet, textbooks, grammars, dictionaries, and artistic literature was played by Kurdish pedagogues, writers, and scholars (Arab Shamilov, Amine Avdal, Ajie Jindi, Jasme Jalil, Museib Akhundov, Bakhchoe Slo, K. K. Kurdoev, Ch. Kh. Bakaev, and many others).

Government programs led to the reduction of illiteracy among adults. In the 1922-1923 school year in Armenia there were five Kurdish elementary schools with more than 260 pupils. At the end of the 1930s Kurdish schools were reorganized, and the Kurds were allowed the option of studying their native language. In 1925 more than fifty schools were opened for the Kurds of Armenia and Azerbaijan (and in Tbilisi an evening school), at which both men and women studied. Kurdish teacjers received training in technical schools and institutions of higher education. A Kurdish technical school was opened in Armenia in 1928, another in Azerbaijan in 1933. A group of young Kurds studied at the workers' high school of the Leningrad Institute of Oriental Languages under the guidance of academician I. A. Orbeli. At the present time the Kurds generally have a command their native language, but their knowledge of other languages depends on the language of the surrounding people, the language in which they have been educated, and other factors; they may be familiar with Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Russian, or other languages. According to statistical data for 1989, out of the general population of 152,717 Kurds, 123,006 considered Kurdish their native language, 6,817 Russian, and 2,289 another language; 43,889 were fluent in Russian and 61,683 in other languages.

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