Thanks to a collaboration between the UCF Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs initiated by assistant professor Haidar Khezri, students have a unique opportunity to pursue a high-demand language not offered to many. UCF is now one of only two universities in the nation to regularly offer Kurdish language courses.
Haidar Khezri, UCF’s first assistant professor of Arabic, has played a key role in establishing the university’s courses in Middle Eastern languages and cultures. In addition to the Kurdish language courses being taught by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, UCF’s Kurdish Political Studies Program now offers an undergraduate certificate in Kurdish Studies — the first and only such academic program in the country.
“Our new course on Sorani dialect of Kurdish offered by Dr. Haidar Khezri significantly contributes to our ability to meet with the increasing demand and curiosity among our students about Kurdish society and people,” says Güneş Murat Tezcür, professor and Jalal Talabani Chair of Kurdish Political Studies. “It also enables us to broaden the scope of our activities and incorporate a humanities perspective.”
The Kurdish people are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, and there are between 35 and 45 million speakers of Kurdish worldwide. Kurdistan, the traditional homeland of the Kurdish people, comprises southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and northern Syria.
“The Kurdish homeland encompasses a region that is massively important in terms of oil, water issues throughout Mesopotamia and the Levant, and U.S. security interests,” explains Khezri. “As such, Kurdish is currently one of the State Department’s 11 Critical Languages.”
Learning Kurdish puts students at a significant advantage for careers in international relations, intelligence, journalism and international law, among others. Kurdish language courses also explore the region’s religions, cultures and history, opening the door for adventurous students who want to experience its soaring mountains, vast plains and archeological treasures.
In addition to the professional and personal benefits of learning Kurdish, students who learn the language are equipped to embark on exciting research ventures.
Jenna Dovydaitis ‘20 became the first American undergraduate student from UCF to conduct research in Kurdistan when she traveled to the region for fieldwork with associate professor Tyler Fisher in the summer of 2019. Her honors undergraduate thesis, The Lasting Legacy of Chemical Weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan, explored the medical and political repercussions of Saddam Hussein’s genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds.
Maggie Morgan ‘19 worked with Khezri and assistant professor Konstantin Ash on her honors undergraduate thesis, Female Militarization and Women’s Rights: A Case Study of the Peshmerga and YPJ. Her research explored the effect of women’s military involvement on women’s rights in the context of Kurdish women active in the Iraqi Peshmerga and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in Syria.
“I loved learning about Kurdish history, culture and politics, and am so glad that there are now even more opportunities for UCF students to learn about the Kurds,” shares Morgan. “My research has also helped me as a young professional in Washington D.C.; when I interviewed for my current position, I was asked about my thesis. It makes me so happy to see how much the program has grown over these past few years.”