Hassanpour, Amir

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Hassanpour, Amir

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1943 - 2017

History

Professor Amir Hassanpour was a prominent Kurdish-Iranian Marxist Linguist and Professor Emeritus of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto (UofT), where he taught from 1999 to 2009. His major research areas were Kurdish socio-linguistics, Kurdish history and nationalism, as well as peasant and social movements in the Middle East and Kurdistan. He was an influential intellectual and revolutionary thinker who advocated for Kurdish Studies and the rights of national minorities for self-determination. His wide-ranging research has left significant impacts in these areas.

Born in Mahabad, Prof. Hassanpour attended the University of Tehran for his B.A. in English Language and Literature (1960-1964). He then completed a compulsory placement in Sepah Tarvij wa Abadani (Advancement and Development Force, a branch of the Land Reform Campaign) as a replacement for the required military service in Iran. This position exposed him to land reform history and peasant movements in Kurdistan.

Following his service, Prof. Hassanpour trained as a teacher at the Tehran Teachers’ Training College (1965). After working in Mahabad for several years, he then returned to the University of Tehran to complete his M.A. in Linguistics in 1968. Prof. Hassanpour moved to the United States to study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his PhD in 1972. Prior to working at the UofT, Prof. Hassanpour held research and teaching positions at the University of Windsor (1987-1993), Uppsala Universitet (1993-1994) and at Concordia University (1994-1996).

Prof. Hassanpour pioneered the application of socio-linguistic theories and methods to the study of Kurdish language and its relationship to nation-building. His thesis, “The Language Factor in National Development: The Standardization of the Kurdish Language, 1918 - 1985” is credited as a Marxist analytical landmark in the field of Kurdish Studies, where he made extensive use of socio-linguistic theoretical literature and referenced previously overlooked sources such as: unpublished government documents, national census data, interviews and personal correspondence with key Kurdish intellectuals, Kurdish language texts including poetry, novels, newspapers, radio programs and music.

Prof. Hassanpour continued his study in communication and media studies, Kurdish nationalism, language, and culture, particularly through the analysis of satellite television and its relation to the development of Kurdish nationalism in 1990s. As the subjects of his research expanded, he developed a reputation for being at the forefront of research in Kurdish literature, culture, and music, as well as looking at Kurdish peasant movements, and Kurdish and Iranian diasporas. Connected to both his academic interests and revolutionary ideas, Prof. Hassanpour actively collected and preserved material related to international revolutionary movements, with particular emphasis on Kurdistan, Iran, Palestine and China under Mao’s leadership. As a revolutionary scholar, his intellectual journey came to embody his rejection of nationalism as a liberation path. He was an internationalist and critical of theories and politics advocating ‘identity politics’ and ‘cultural relativism’ that overlook class and separate patriarchy and racism from capitalist and imperialist relations of power.

As a teacher, Prof. Hassanpour was highly popular among students. He was vastly regarded for his resourcefulness and commitment to critical and transformative pedagogy. While at the UofT, he developed and taught undergraduate courses in Middle Eastern studies with focuses on mass media, nationalism, social movements and civil society. His course, “Theory and Method in Middle Eastern Studies”, became a required component of the Department’s graduate curriculum as the course introduced students to theories of historiography and the history of the discipline and its Orientalist roots in Europe and North America.

While at UofT, Prof. Hassanpour served on multiple committees including The Undergraduate Affairs Committee and the Teaching Evaluation Committee. Outside of the University, he served on advisory boards for Kurdish Studies programs or language course offerings in the United States, the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as consulting for a range of governmental bodies and organizations in Canada and abroad. In addition to his regular publishing activity, Prof. Hassanpour held three editorial positions for journals, Derwaze, Journal of Kurdish History, and Gzing.

Prof. Hassanpour’s lifetime intellectual and political partner is Prof. Shahrzad Mojab. She is a Professor at the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education (OISE/UT) and Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto. She is currently the Director of Equity Studies, University of Toronto. Their son, Salah Hassanpour, is a doctoral student at the Department of Cinema and Media Studies, York University, Toronto.

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