Kurdish Political Studies Program Welcomes Resident Senior Fellow Haidar Khezri, Ph.D.

In fall 2018, Haidar Khezri, Ph.D., joined the Kurdish Political Studies Program (KPSP) as visiting faculty and senior fellow from Indiana University (IU), Bloomington. Dr. Khezri, born in Iranian Kurdistan, holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Damascus University in Syria, and a M.A. in comparative literature from Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran, Iran. He is a scholar of Kurdish, Persian and Arabic languages, literatures and cultures and comparative literature. Haidar’s two books, “Comparative Literature in Iran and the Arab World 1903 – 2012” and “It is Only Sound That Remains” discuss literary genres in the Islamic world and the life of a modern Persian feminist poet; giving female Kurds voice in a male-dominated society. Dr. Khezri is open to working with UCF students that have an interest in his field of studies.


Haidar, we are delighted to have you here at KPSP. Can you give us a synopsis of your background and research interests?

I received my high school diploma and my B.A. in Iran. For my doctoral studies I went on a fellowship to Syria and did my Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on Middle Eastern language and literature. At that same time, I was a lecturer at both Damascus University and Homs University. In 2008/2009, I was part of the team that established the first department for Kurdish studies at Mardin Artuklu University in Mardin, Turkey. As a faculty member, I was teaching Kurdish, Persian, Arabic and courses related to Middle Eastern studies and cinema.

In 2014, I came to Indiana University to develop the first Sorani Kurdish curriculum as a visiting professor.  Meanwhile, the peace process in Turkey ended, so I decided to stay at IU where I developed syllabi and curriculum and started teaching Kurdish in summer 2015. I also authored an introductory Kurdish studies textbook which will be published next year by Georgetown University Press. I also worked on a different manuscript about Franz Kafka, which deals with the reception of Kafka in the Post-Arab Spring and Iranian Green Movement. We also had a project at IU about Syrian refugees in Germany and I was working with three other colleagues of mine. I also established the first American Association of Teachers of Kurdish Language and Culture and represented it at the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages.


How have you decided to come to UCF?

As you know, UCF has the only academic program in Kurdish studies in the United States. I have been working to gather funds for an endowed chair for Kurdish language and literature. I wanted to be based in a university that had already established a program dedicated to Kurdish issues, and I also want to know if UCF would be interested in supporting this initiative in Kurdish language and literature. I also personally know Dr. Güneş Murat Tezcür, and have read much of his scholarship. In Bloomington we have very good languages programs but unfortunately no Kurdish community and no program like KPSP here. I think it has been the right decision to come here.


What research projects will be you pursuing during your stay at UCF? Do you have any plans of collaborating with faculty members here?

I have a book project on Yazidi women that have been captured by the Islamic State (ISIS). Dr. Tezcür is happy to write the introduction to the book. It will cover stories within the literature area from a humanistic perspective and target a broader public audience. I will be also involved in various aspects of the program. For instance, I would be happy to develop the Kurdish and the Persian languages curriculum for UCF. I will give a talk and organize a few movie screenings –  with free pizza of course. I might be also teaching a course next semester.


You speak Persian, Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish and Azeri. How does this benefit your research and your scholarship?

In Turkish there is a proverb meaning: “One language, one person; two languages, two persons.” Sometimes I feel like I am a few humans, and in Arabic, we have a proverb that can be translated: “Whoever learns a people’s language shall be safe from their plots.” When I talk with scholars in the United States, some of them will say ‘I actually read every single English publication about the Kurds.” That is actually evidence that someone would not know everything about Kurds because there are many other valuable sources in other languages. In contrast, Kurdish is my native language and I have access to the majority of those languages spoken in the Kurdish geography. After high school it was my plan to learn all Kurdish dialects and those languages related to Kurdish. The main reason I learned Arabic was that I already had a background in Azeri and Persian.


You have done extensive research in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Scotland and the U.S. What can you tell us about this experience and what advice would you give to our PhD and MA students that are interested in fieldwork?

We have another Persian saying that translates to: “Hearing it a hundred times is not as good as seeing it once.” The majority of us hears a lot about the Middle East and other cultures without visiting them. If you want to learn Persian, Turkish or Kurdish you should definitely turn your face towards that culture which means you have to go to the place where that culture is practiced. I do believe it is important to go to a culture, learn a language, engage with people and read. In my textbook, I pursue a similar approach in my language teaching and textbook in Kurdish.


What are your long-term plans?

I have several ongoing projects. One of them is a Kurdish linguistic handbook with two colleagues of mine. I also work on some translations of works from Kurdish into English with a poet in the U.S. We are planning an ontology for Kurdish literature and poetry in the future. Moreover, I hope to receive funds to establish an endowed chair in Kurdish languages and literature.  Since Kurdish belongs to the critical languages we should have several chairs for Kurdish languages and literatures in the U.S. And I do believe the US has the potential for that. I am traversing the same path Persians, Arabs and Turks have done in in this country in the 1960 and 1970s.


Haidar, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. KPSP welcomes you to UCF and is looking forward to work with you.


KPSP thanks Doreen Horschig, a doctoral student in the security studies program for conducting the interview.


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