Once Again … What is in a Name?

Kurdishaspect.com - By Dr. Rashid  Karadaghi

In 2008, I wrote a piece entitled, “On Naming / Misnaming a University,” published on kurdishmedia.com and kurdishaspect.com. That piece is as much relevant today as it was then and will always be so until what I called for then, and am calling for now, is acted on, namely, changing the name of the university in conformity with the tradition of other American universities abroad and with Kurdish aspirations to, finally, have something they can call their own without Big Brother’s stamp on it.

Watching the opening ceremony of the Second Annual Forum at the American University of Iraq ---Sulaimani --- on the Kurdish satellite channel a few days ago stirred up different emotions in me. I must say that I was impressed by the eloquence, the patriotism, the stance, and the vision of both Dr. Barham Salih and Mr. Nechirvan Barzani, the two Kurdish officials who spoke on this occasion. I would not, of course, expect any less.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu, who also spoke on the occasion, greeted his audience in Kurdish and got a well-deserved applause because that very natural and simple good-will gesture of speaking a few simple words in Kurdish, the forbidden language of twenty million Kurds in Turkey, has never been tried before. How amazing! But, then, when you think about it, why should speaking a few words in Kurdish in the cultural capital of Kurdistan by the Turkish foreign minister be such a surprising act and deserve any notice? Haven’t we, Kurds, had to learn, whether we liked it or not, Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, the languages of the three people that have divided our land and annexed it to theirs by force against our will and deprived us of all the rights that a people would naturally aspire to have? Are we less of a people than them? Is our language less of a language than theirs? But, then, that is not the real subject of this article.

The subject of this article is names, and more specifically, the name of the institution where the forum was held. (This was also the subject of the piece I wrote in 2008 that went by the wayside.) I am revisiting this same subject because, to me, a name is the essence of whatever the name is attached to and the name of this institution --- the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani --- is an affront to us Kurds even though we are happy and proud that our city has been chosen as a home for the university and we consider it a great achievement for Kurdistan. Our argument is only with the name, which is no simple matter.

It is well-known that American universities abroad are named for the city where they are located and two of the best known such universities are the American Uniuversiy of Beirut and the American University in Cairo. Notice, that there is no reference to Lebanon or Egypt, but only to the cities where the university is located.

Some may wonder why this emphasis on names and the name of a university in particular. My response is that, as a Kurdish patriot, I care very much what an important institution in my city is known by. It matters what a person or an institution or anything in this world is called because the name is their identity. You see, Kurds of my generation and all generations before me were denied our birthright to be given a name in our own language, not a foreign one, at birth. We were given either Arabic or Turkish or Persian names because that is what the foreign rulers of Kurdistan required or expected. Now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the age of freedom for all people, the same outrage is being done to the name of our university and we are supposed to accept it!

It is never too late to correct a mistake ---- in this case a big one that matters to a whole nation. The other day, the New York Times corrected a minor spelling mistake in a name 162 (one hundred sixty-two) years after the fact and the mistake wasn’t even remotely comparable in seriousness to the one we are talking about here.

The people of Kurdistan don’t want to have anything to do with Iraq. The 2005 referendum in which over 98% of the people of South Kurdistan voted to completely sever their ties with Iraq is proof enough of this. It is one of the biggest ironies and tragedies of history that their ancestral home ever became part of a country that did nothing other than persecute them. There isn’t one good reason why the name “Iraq” should be attached to a university in the heart of Kurdistan; in fact, it is a big insult to every Kurd.

And while we are on the subject of names, we should also mention that even the name of our beloved city has been given an Arabized spelling. It is a well-known fact that Kurds call their city “Slemani,” not “Sulaimani.”  So, why in the world was even the name of their city Aabized? Was this simply an oversight? No! I believe there was a sinister mind and hand behind it. This was no innocent accident, or ignorance, but the Big Brother’s desire to always be in control and to deprive us of everything that means anything to us. And we declare here that we refuse to accept that. We reject their desperate attempt to deprive us of our roots and our language and our essence as a people. Whatever it takes, we want the name of our university changed to its proper name: The American University in Slemani.


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March 10, 2014
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