The description is submitted to:


Session R6356 (The Multilingual Shift in Middle Eastern Studies), 2021
In 1968 the Baʿth regime came to power in Iraq and began the process of securing hegemony over political groups that it had historically opposed, also making concessions to communities that mostly resided in the North. Kurdish national identity and language were recognized, and cultural and literary rights were extended to Assyrians and Turkomen. The Arabic monolingual paradigm had been advanced throughout the previous decades in urban and majority-Arabic-speaking Iraqi centers, while the northern region, where the state’s power was more limited, retained its multilingual character. The presence of migrant northern Iraqi communities flocking to major urban centers increased the visibility of the multilingual nature of the Iraqi state. The urbanization and politicization of these migrants, and the numerous intersecting political events that the Baʿthist state was attempting to address created the space needed for the reintroduction and recognition of multilingualism.

During this time, important literary works were produced not only in Arabic, which contributed to cross-cultural hybridization between Iraqis of various backgrounds, but also in neo-Aramaic, Kurdish and Turkomen, contributing to the revival and standardization of some of these languages. Intellectuals within these communities were often successful in subverting the state’s narratives by incorporating multiple layers of meaning into their texts. As a result, the 1970s witnessed the rise of a hybridized and multilingual Iraqi cultural sphere that was in some sense a continuation of a pre-nationalist era that had traditionally cut across sectarian discourses.

I argue that, in order to account for multilingualism, an effort must be made to diversify the range of sources used, as well as to re-examine the archival practices and analytical approaches deployed. The absence of certain communities from scholarly discussion reflects a lack of training among scholars in the modern languages used by such communities (neo-Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic, Armenian, Kurdish, and so on). Displaced communities have limited local archives, and some of these communities are creating alternative archives that allow them to collect and preserve sources relating to their own past. There is also a lack of historical scholarship on rural communities of the Iraqi North – especially relating to their rural traditions – that is concerning given that their traditions have been preserved orally for generations. The recognition that many of these communities were bilingual or multilingual has helped to uncover interplays between silenced and official languages, and between languages connoting nostalgia, indigenous culture, as against the languages of the state.