“Anti-religion” curriculum imposed by SDF sparks anger in Deir Ezzor 

A protest stand in a school in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor (Al-Shaitat official / Telegram)

A protest stand in a school in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor (Al-Shaitat official / Telegram)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

Separate areas of Deir Ezzor governorate witnessed protests and teachers’ strikes due to a new curriculum in the Autonomous Administration schools, the political umbrella of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which locals considered “contrary to religion and customs in the region.”

According to information from intersectional sources to Enab Baladi, dozens of schools affiliated with the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) witnessed a strike by teachers in protest against an educational curriculum that was recently added, which included materials on the Christian and Yazidi religions.

The local Al-Shaitat channel on Telegram posted a set of videos of statements issued in recent days by teachers from Deir Ezzor governorate, in which they announced their rejection of the curriculum and their strike.

In the wake of the successive strikes, the AANES issued an administrative order, which Enab Baladi was aware of, to issue a written warning against its teachers in the event of absenteeism and to take measures and financial deductions against the strikers.

On 12 September, the AANES issued a decision to include Islamic, Christian, and Yazidi religious education in the schools of Raqqa, al-Tabqa, and Deir Ezzor, starting from the fourth grade to the ninth preparatory school.

Strikes expand

During the Friday sermon on 23 September, mosques in SDF-controlled areas of Deir Ezzor spoke about the need to support the region’s teachers by rejecting the curriculum.

The sermon supported the continuation of the teachers’ strike until all demands were met, including canceling new school subjects, improving teachers’ salaries, in addition to appointing school guards.

Some of these strikes demanded the dismissal of the education committee in Deir Ezzor and its restructuring as it does not reflect the people, teachers, and students of Deir Ezzor.

The protests and strikes related to the issue of adding religious subjects in violation of the customs of the region aroused public opinion, as committee officials did not intervene in the case.

As the strikes expanded to include dozens of schools in Deir Ezzor, the SDF arrested teacher Iyad al-Khalifa, during their raid on the village of al-Kibar, west of Deir Ezzor, who had previously made a statement by the village teachers objecting to the AANES curriculum.

What is the curriculum story?

The curriculum announced by the Autonomous Administration touched on many religious issues, which the people of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa governorates considered incompatible with the religion and culture of the region, such as comparing the Prophet Muhammad with Buddha or Zoroaster and extracting the common characteristics between them.

The curriculum also included statements attributed to the founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, and included among the rulings and other sayings of well-known philosophers and writers such as the French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre, Spinoza, and others.

The curriculum has repeatedly talked about freedom and its concept, but most of these concepts are derived from sayings attributed to the “Thinker” Abdullah Öcalan.

Ideology is not limited to students

The AANES requires its employees to attend “closed intellectual” courses in its academies and educational institutions.

The duration of the course varies from one place to another, but its duration usually ranges between one and three months, and it includes personnel of both sexes selected by AANES to undergo this course.

According to a source of employees in the Autonomous Administration who attended one of these courses, most of them talked about the philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey, in addition to the philosophy of existence, natural society, the democratic nation, and history.

The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said during a previous interview with Enab Baladi that most of those who attended the course were forced to stay away from their families, except during the visiting times whose duration and time are fixed by the course administration itself.

Some of the intellectual lessons contradict the Islamic faith, according to the opinion of people who attended these courses, by introducing some “suspicious philosophical concepts,” as it is difficult for most of the attendees to understand and discuss them, especially those related to the creation of man, the existence of the universe, God, and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (Natural Selection).

SDF overturns decision

The notables and tribal sheikhs of Deir Ezzor did not interfere with the issue of the school curriculum in the protests and strikes, which the residents of the area considered a “shameful matter,” according to several posts that Enab Baladi monitored on social media.

It was followed by the solidarity announcement of the sheikhs and dignitaries of some tribes of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in support of the strike and their rejection of the curriculum, according to what was reported by local news accounts on social media.

With the spread of the protests, and during a meeting it held, on 25 September, in Deir Ezzor against the backdrop of the recent strike, the Autonomous Administration denied what its identifiers had previously published regarding the introduction of materials contrary to Islamic law.

The education committee in Deir Ezzor also issued a decision to stop teaching science and mathematics in Deir Ezzor schools and to form a committee to introduce a new appropriate curriculum.


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