Shafaq News/ According the definition set by Encyclopedia Britannica, language is defined as a system of conventional spoken, manual (signed), or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. However, despite this convention, it remained an element of dispute between Iraqis until 2005’s constitution that recognized both Arabic and Kurdish as official languages of Iraq. This represented a historical achievement for Iraqis in general,and Kurds in particular, as it simply recognized bilingualism as a way of rapprochement instead of division and disagreement.
As there’s 55 multilingual countries around the globe, according to their constitution, multilingualism did not impede the development of the corresponding countries; Hypothetically, Iraq should not be an exception among them.
The democratic political process in Iraq launched multiple political figures of Kurdish roots to the presidency. Jalal Talabani –who finished secondary studies in Kirkuk and Law in Baghdad- took the chair (2005 - 2014), succeeded by Fuad Masum and Barham Salih, who are also Kurdish political leaders. Being Kurdish mother-tongued was not a subject of controversy as all of them were fluently able to speak Arabic.
However, this is not the case when it comes to non-fluently Arabic speaking Iraqi president, which is not hypothetical anymore, as Nechirvan Barzani is a hot prospect candidate for presidency of Iraq. For Iraq, on the light of the recent circumstances, this event uniquely important, as Barzani is one of few figures able to enhance the points of rapprochement between rivals –paving the road for dialogue and common solutions- in addition to his quite unique managing qualities.
Hence, how can language be an obstacle to a person like Nechirvan Barzani? Who skillfully spearheaded multilingual negotiations with senior international and regional officials. It is note-worthy that Barzani fully understands Arabic but can’t speak it fluently. Consequently, will anybody view this issue -as it were- as an obstacle that will prevent him from fulfilling his duties?
Anfal operations against his family, the ongoing clashes and the struggle against the former regime, hampered Barzani's fluency in Arabic language, but on the other hand these conditions enabled him to master Persian and English.
In this context, Tariq Harb, the legal expert stated to Shafaq News agency, “The Iraqi Constitution’s terms regarding choosing the president of Iraq are age, experience, competence, nationality and eligibility. Mastering Arabic language was none of them and there’s no constitutional or legal deterrent of having a non-Arabic speaker president”.
The Arab-Kurdish texture in the region has always been an element of enrichment in many fields. A wide variety of prominent Kurdish names enamored in politics, literature, science and culture. Regardless of contrasting particularities of each side, multiple Kurdish figures were consecrated for the presidential post in the Syrian Republic for example, Mohammed Ali bey Al-Abed, Husni Al-Za’im, Fawzi Selu and Adib Shishakli.
By the end of the monarchy and the proclamation of the republic in 1958, the third article of the interim constitution-during Abd Al-Kareem Qasim’s era, stated that Arabs and Kurds are partners in the land, while the fourth article emphasized that both Arabic and Kurdish are the official languages of Iraq, which means official newspapers should be published in both languages. The same applies to official papers of the house of the representatives, the council of ministers, courts, passports and stamps as well as the official conferences. Schools should also provide bilingual education.
In other words: Iraq and Kurdistan’s official institutions should use both Arabic and Kurdish languages.
As the two languages are complementary, any Iraqi politician – constitutionally- whatever language he fluently speaks, Arabic or Kurdish, can apply to manage affairs or official tasks. Attempts to solve this matter took place during the Prime Minister Abd Al-Rahman Al-Bazzaz’s era in the 1960s, as discussions were held after the battle of Handrin (the first Iraqi-Kurdish war led by Mustafa Barzany near Rawanduz) and led in June 29th 1966, to a statement that declared the recognition of the bilateral nationalism of Iraq, paving the way for the Kurds to gain autonomy in the country.
Such a deep rooted matter did not need all these years of controversy to reach a constitutional clarification that defines it. Elsewhere in the world, it’s self-evident that one of the united nations’ (UN) slogans on its official website clearly states that “Multilingualism is an essential factor in harmonious communication among peoples [..] By promoting tolerance, Multilingualism ensures effective and increased participation of all in the organization’ work, as well as a great effectiveness better outcomes and more involvement”. Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish are the six official languages of the UN. Communication with the representatives of more than 200 countries during annual meetings runs smoothly, as long as one of the 6 languages is being used.
Iraq adopting bilingualism officially is not a precedent. Many countries can be taken as an example: Chad -the African country- officially adopts Arabic and French despite having more than 100 African languages; while Arabic and Berber are Algeria's official languages, not to forget French, which is unofficial but widely used in government, culture, media and education, due to the country’s colonial history. In Afghanistan, the official language is Pashtu (the language of the Pashtun tribes which is the majority of the country), even though Afghani constitution recognizes 49 registered languages, including Durya, Uzbek and Turkmen. Most of Afghanistan’s presidents root from Pashtun, though the late president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, belongs to the Tajik ethnicity which uses Tajik and Persian languages.
In a parallel context, Switzerland is a stark example, showing that multilingualism does not prevent access to the presidential positions. By having four official languages: Italian, French, German and the Romansh language (which is spoken by less than one percent of its population), this feature represents a sophisticated form of coexistence and expresses the creativity and the cultural width of the country.
the Swiss have applied -for more than 50 years- a special system in governing and managing the affairs of the country, where the four dominant political parties share the ministerial portfolios of the government and deputies elect the president and ministers at the same time. However, the absence of an exclusive national language, MPs hail from regions that speak either Italian, German, Romansh or French, and the elected government figures do not necessarily have to master the four official languages.
By not considering linguistic variation as a hindrance, Switzerland owns one of the most stable economic and political systems in the world.
In order to develop in the light of acceptance and peaceful coexistence, Iraq may need to heed and learn from such firmly exhibited experiences.