Autonomy Region Rojava
= self-constituted Autonomy Region Rojava, created by the Kurds in Northern Syria, under attack by ISIS (Islamic State), particulary around the city of Kobane
- 1 Description
- 2 Governance
- 3 The Economic Model
- 4 Discussion
- 5 History
- 6 A travel report
- 7 Interview
- 8 More Information
- 8.1 «This is a genuine revolution» (interview to David Graeber, 23/12/2014, Evrensel)
- 8.2 «Poor in means but rich in spirit» (interview to Janet Biehl, 23/12/2014, Civaka-Azad)
- 8.3 Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolution (Janet Biehl, 16/12/2014, ROAR Magazine)
- 8.4 Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria? (David Graeber, 08/10/2014, The Guardian)
- 8.5 The experiment of West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) has proved that people can make changes (Zaher Baher, 26/08/2014, Libcom)
- 8.6 Rojava: A revolution in daily life (Rebecca C., 24/12/2014, Kurdish Question)
- 8.7 Rojava revolution: building autonomy in the Middle East (Sardar Saadi, 25/07/2014, ROAR Magazine)
- 8.8 The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan (Rafael Taylor, 17/08/2014, ROAR Magazine)
- 8.9 A letter from a young fighter in Kobane to her mother (Narin, 17/10/2014, The Kurdistan Tribune)
- 8.10 To the Kurdish People and the International Community (declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan) (Abdullah Öcalan, 20/03/2005)
- 8.11 Democratic Confederalism (Abdullah Öcalan, 2011, International Initiative Edition)
- 8.12 Democratic Autonomy in Rojava (TATORT Kurdistan, 10/10/14, New Compass)
- 8.13 Consensus is Key: New Justice System in Rojava (TATORT Kurdistan, 13/10/2014, New Compass)
- 8.14 Bookchin, Öcalan and the Dialectics of Democracy (Janet Biehl, 03/05/2012, New Compass)
- 8.15 Happidrome (Adam Curtis, 22/10/2014, BBC Blogs)
- 8.16 «A Revolution of Life» (entrevista a Saleh Muslim, 10/11/2014, Tenk)
- 8.17 An Interview with Revolutionary Anarchist Action on Kobanê (interview to Abdülmelik Yalcin and Merve Dilber, 22/10/2014, Meydan)
- 9 Videos
- 10 Other Resources
"Rojava is the home of a "revolutionary model" that no less than challenges "the hegemony of the capitalist, nation-state system" - way beyond its regional "meaning for Kurds, or for Syrians or Kurdistan."
Kobani - an agricultural region - happens to be at the epicenter of this non-violent experiment in democracy, made possible by an arrangement early on during the Syrian tragedy between Damascus and Rojava (you don't go for regime change against us, we leave you alone). Here, for instance, it's argued that "even if only a single aspect of true socialism were able to survive there, millions of discontented people would be drawn to Kobani."
In Rojava, decision-making is via popular assemblies - multicultural and multi-religious. The top three officers in each municipality are a Kurd, an Arab and an Assyrian or Armenian Christian; and at least one of these three must be a woman. Non-Kurd minorities have their own institutions and speak their own languages.
Among a myriad of women's and youth councils, there is also an increasingly famous feminist army, the YJA Star militia ("Union of Free Women", with the "star" symbolizing Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar)."
The fight in Rojava is essentially led by the PYD, which is the Syrian branch of the Turkish PKK, the Marxist guerrillas at war against Ankara since the 1970s. Washington, Brussels and NATO - under relentless Turkish pressure - have always officially ranked both PYD and PKK as "terrorists".
Careful examination of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's must-read book Democratic Confederalism reveals this terrorist/Stalinist equation as bogus (Ocalan has been confined to the island-prison of Imrali since 1999.)
What the PKK - and the PYD - are striving for is "libertarian municipalism". In fact that's exactly what Rojava has been attempting; self-governing communities applying direct democracy, using as pillars councils, popular assemblies, cooperatives managed by workers - and defended by popular militias. Thus the positioning of Rojava in the vanguard of a worldwide cooperative economics/democracy movement whose ultimate target would be to bypass the concept of a nation-state." (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article40053.htm)
From an interview of Özgür Amed, conducted by Dylan Murphy:
"* What model of democracy is being implemented in Rojava and how has it worked to empower ordinary people?
The model which has emerged in Rojavais the system of ‘Democratic Autonomy.’ If the democratic nation is its spirit, democratic autonomy is its body. Democratic autonomy is the state by which the construction of the democratic nation comes to take on flesh and bone and is realised concretely.
A short summary of this system’s essentials goes like this: The source of power is the people and it is the people who possess the power. Administration is conducted for by organizations and assemblies chosen by elections. No government can remain outside or above the Social Contract established by the Administration of Democratic Autonomy and be considered legitimate. The source of the assemblies and governing bodies founded on a democratic foundation is the people. No body which acts by itself or in the interest of a single group is acceptable.
In sociology and philosophy ‘autonomy’ has the opposite meaning of the Latin-rooted concept of ‘authority’, and in political science it has opposite meaning of ‘heteronomy.’ The concept comes from the combination of the Greek ‘autos’ (self) and ‘nomos’ (law, norm , rule) and from this root it has taken on a meaning of ‘making one’s own law’ or ‘being subject to one’s own law. ’ What exists in Rojava is foremost a form of ‘political autonomy.’ Political autonomy here means fundamentally the transfer of executive and legislative powers in a constitutional and participatory manner from the central state to regional bodies chosen democratically in a manner which sufficiently protects cultural and ethnic minorities living in their traditional homelands. We are talking about a model which when the Syrian Civil War was beginning found its own way (its 3rd way theory) without taking sides and demanded to govern itself using its own means and resources; a model which favors the will of a society as a political whole and a system which it develops itself; and a model which for the sake of this system is now preoccupied with combating the greatest savagery in the world today. And the peoples who believe in this [model] are now fighting together on the same front. Armenians, Assyrians, Arabs, Turks and many other peoples have declared their desire to live freely under this model and have become the drivers of this revolution." (http://rojavareport.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/journalist-and-researcher-ozgur-amed-on-understanding-events-in-rojava/)
The Economic Model
From an interview of Özgür Amed, conducted by Dylan Murphy:
"* What economic alternatives are being proposed in Rojava?
"The economic pillar has been an essential part of the Rojava revolution! It defends an autonomous economic model and is working to put it into practice. Capitalism has surrounded everyone and everything, and in a century in which it is difficult to breath and where we are seemingly bereft of alternatives an exit is now being discovered through an alternative economic model and a communal economy. Dr. Ahmet Yusuf, the Economic Minister of the Efrîn Canton, made some important remarks recently at conference held on the ‘Democratic Autonomous Economy.’ He said “We take as a principle the protection and defense of natural resources. What we mean by defense is not defense in a military sense, but the self-defense against the exploitation and oppression which society now faces. There are many obstacles to restructuring the communal economy in Rojava. Systems which take capitalist systems as their reference have attempted to to obstruct our progress in the economic as well as the social spheres. We ourselves take the communal economy for our principal. We are working to create a system which combines anti-liberalism, ecological sustainability, and moral common property with communal and cultural production.”
One of the foundational arguments coming out against this in Rojava is the reality that all modes of production and relations of production are based on a foundation of hierarchy and class. This
is to say that the claim that labor is being liberated hides how the system of hegemony and colonialism comes to govern in an implicit but even more active manner.
This revolution is developing cooperatives based on a social economy as its economic alternative. For example any companies which will come to Rojava will take a place in the service of these cooperatives. The communes will be a primary force within the people’s assemblies. The cooperatives which are founded are being given enough space within the economic sphere to sustain themselves. The strength exists in the three cantons to found an economy along a socialized principle in the agriculture, livestock, industry and service sectors.
The ‘Economic Development Organization’ which has been founded in Rojava is an organization which deserves to be watched carefully. It is directing the projects that are building an independent economy. It is carrying on its activities around 6 main headings – commerce, service, construction, agriculture, industry and fuel….this system has so far managed to rely entirely on its own strength!" (http://rojavareport.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/journalist-and-researcher-ozgur-amed-on-understanding-events-in-rojava/)
"This region – which consists of three geographically disconnected enclaves along the Turkish border – strategically used the deteriorating situation to declare self-rule in July 2012 and has since been celebrated as the “Rojava Revolution” within the Kurdish Movement associated around the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The population of Rojava, which has long been a stronghold of the PKK, is predominantly made up of Kurds – both Muslim and Yezidi – as well as Arabs, Christian Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmen and Chechens. The desire for some form of self-determination especially among the Kurds was triggered through decades of denial of basic citizenship rights under the Assad-regime.
This quiet revolution is, however, not a question of independence. It is not the founding of yet another nation-state. Deliberately declaring itself an autonomy region instead of a state, derived from the critique of existing nation-states with their homogenising and exclusionary principals of citizenship, centralism of government and non-democratic structures under which the Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria have suffered on the one hand and the strategies of classic national liberation movements on the other. This critique along with an alternative model of “democratic autonomy” was brought forward by the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, and replaced the earlier struggle for independence. The concept of democratic autonomy is envisaged along the lines of libertarian thinker Murray Bookchin as a decentralised, radical democracy within or despite the given nation-states which abides by principals of equality between genders, religious- and ethnic affiliations as well as ecology. In this sense, the PKK and its affiliated organisation PYD (Democratic Union Party) in Syria are promoting this model, whose fundamental principal is to achieve a unity of all different faiths and ethnic groups without assimilating them, for the whole of the Middle East.
Within the past one and a half years the outnumbered Syrian military has been expelled from most parts of the region; police, secret service, and the civil service of the old regime have been dismantled, and the legal and education system transformed. Additionally, despite the detrimental security situation, central institutions for the most radical changes have been established in three main areas: the introduction of direct self-government through communes, assurance of equal participation in all areas of decision-making for all faith and ethnic groups and the strengthening of the position of women.
Aiming at decentralizing decision-making and realizing self-rule, village- or street communes consisting of 30-150 households have been organised. These communes decide on questions regarding administration, electricity, provision of nutrition, as well as discussing and solving other social problems. They have commissions for the organisation of defence, justice, infrastructure, ecology, youth, as well as economy. Some have erected communal cooperatives, e.g. bakeries, sewing workshops or agricultural initiatives. They also organise the support of the poorest of the community with basic nutrition and fuel. Delegates of the communes form together a council for 7-10 villages or a city-district, and every city has yet another city council. The city council is made up of representatives of the communes, all political parties, the organisation of the fallen fighters, the women’s organisation, and the youth organisation. All councils as well as the communes have a 40% quota for women. The decisions are to be made on basis of consensus and equal speaking-time is enforced. Besides this, a co-chairperson system has been implemented for all organisations, which means that all councils have both a female and male chairperson. All members are suggested and elected by the population. However, according to the co-president of the PYD, Salih Muslim, this radical change from dictatorship to this form of self-rule is not an easy process: “The people are learning how to govern themselves”.
This change in decision-making has also brought about a radical change in the legal system: the establishment of “peace and consensus committees”. These committees, which originally developed as leftist Kurdish underground institutions in the cities of the Kurdish region of Syria in the 1990 and were severely repressed in the 2000s, have resumed their importance with the uprising, and have transformed into the basic structure and fundamental principal of the new legal system. The aim of these committees, which attend to all general legal questions and disputes apart from severe crimes such as murder, is to achieve a consensus between the conflicting parties and in doing so a lasting settlement. In a general assembly of all residents every commune elects the 5-9 members of its local peace and consensus committee (40% of which have to be women) according to their ability to facilitate such a consensus in discussion among between the parties. It is emphasized that these members should not be co-opted by traditional authorities, but democratically elected and in accordance with the gender-equality principal. These peace and consensus committees also exist on the district level, whose members are elected by the popular councils on that level respectively. Parallel women-only committees have been established which specifically attend cases of crimes against women, such as domestic violence, forced-marriages and multiple marriages. Cases which cannot be solved in this consensus-finding way are forwarded on to higher institutions which exist on city, regional and canton level. Courts of appeals have been established in every region and a constitutional court is concerned with the further development of the constitution which has however been framed as a “social contract”.
The decision to agree on a social contract instead of a constitution is the manifestation of the centrality of the multi-faith/ethnicity principal behind the concept of the democratic autonomy in Rojava. This contract, which developed out of meetings among representatives of different ethnic and belief groups, has the aim to secure safety and self-rule to all groups. All groups are to be equally present and active in decision-making on political as well as economic and social questions and their right to self-determination is to be ensured not only through self-rule on village-level, but also through the right to organise themselves autonomously on other levels. According to the report of a delegation which visited the region in May this year, the participation of Arabs an Assyrians is steadily increasing in all areas. All groups are also supported in participating in the armed wing YPG or founding their own self-defence groups, as the Assyrians have done most recently.
Similarly, the empowerment of women is not only to be achieved through the presence of women in all parts of decision-making processes through the 40% quota, the co-chairperson system, woman’s legal committees, but also through the establishment of their own military wing YPJ (Women’s Defence Unit). In an interview, co-president of PYD, Asya Abdullah, argues that the movement in Syria has learned from other revolutions that the women’s question cannot be left until after the revolution. Instead, women in Rojava are playing a leading role in politics, diplomacy, social questions, in the building of a new democratic family structure as well as in self-defence. According to her the self-government structures as well as the self-organisation of women are just as important as the existing independent education institutions and seminars, and the projects to enhance women’s economic independence.
This attempt for a peaceful democratic transformation in co-existence to the state, but on the premises of grassroots self-determination, pluralism and gender-equality is, unfortunately, not welcomed by all in the region. The most recent heavy attacks on the canton of Kobani by ISIS fighters indicate a greater interest in annihilating this autonomy region, which is identified with an increasing strength of the PKK in the region. The Turkish government has reacted sharply to claims made by New York Times and other media that it is, in one way or another, supporting ISIS fighters. Yet the PKK sees these accusations as grounded. Such cooperation raises strong doubts on the sincerity of the government towards the peace talks which it has been holding with Öcalan over the past year. The PKK has warned that it could put an end to the ceasefire it had declared to facilitate a possible peace process. For those who have made their way from all parts of Turkey to the Syrian border to protest and are organising marches and rallies in many cities across Europe, Rojava is not only the test-ground for an alternative democracy in the region, but also a bastion against ISIS." (http://www.movements.manchester.ac.uk/the-alternative-in-syria/)
From an interview of Özgür Amed, conducted by Dylan Murphy:
"* Can you briefly explain the origin of the Rojava Cantons and the revolution more generally? When did they emerge and what is new about them?
The differences that this system presents is more clearly understood when one understands the reasons behind the revolution’s emergence and why it was necessary. Today the Rojava Revolution’s most important road map is the ‘Rojava Constitution.’ This constitution [also known as the ‘Social Contract’ – translator’s note] was formed and accepted by the Legislative Assembly of the Rojava Administration of Democratic Autonomy on January 6th, 2014 in the city of Amûdê in Rojava.
This is the document’s preamble:
“We the peoples of the democratic autonomous regions – Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians (Assyrian Chaldeans, Arameans), Turkmen, Armenians, and Chechens – by our free will have announced this contract to establish justice, freedom and democracy in accordance with the principle of ecological balance and equality without discrimination on the basis of religion, language, faith sect or gender; to realize the values of a democratic society and a life together based in a political and moral framework which promotes mutual understanding and coexistence within diversity; and to ensure the rights of women and children, protection, self-defense and the respect of the freedom of religion and belief.
The Administration of the Democratic Autonomous Regions does not accept any understanding based on the concept of the nation-state, nor the concept of a military or religious state, nor does it accept centralized administration or centralized power. The Administration of the Democratic Autonomous regions is open to social consensus, democracy and pluralism whereby all ethnic, social, cultural and national formations can express themselves through their own organizations.The Administration of the Democratic Autonomous Regions is committed to national and international peace and respectful of the borders of Syria and of human rights.”
Given this one must ask: Is there a better system than this system? If we are going to speak about human rights, democracy and freedom is there an alternative to what is expressed in the preamble to this constitution? Is there a better claim to governance in the Middle East? No…and yet the difficulty comes in struggling for something one believes in no matter what the cost. And it is here that the difference in this system lies.
* So, how did we come to this situation and from where did the revolution emerge?
Syria, which lost its war with France in 1920 and remained under French colonial rule for 26 years, regained its independence in 1946. From this date until the 1970’s the country experienced a period of chaos marked by repeated coups and the failure of the United Arab Republic (1958-61) which only ended with the Baath coup and the beginning of the new regime.
One of the first tasks undertaken by this regime was to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Kurds. The children born to these Kurds lacked all rights and protections and were socially isolated. From the moment the Assad family came to power in 1971 until today Kurdish identity has remained under the threat of a cultural and political genocide. Many dictatorial governments, once considered indestructible, fell apart with the emergence of the ‘Arab Spring,’ which did so much to speed up the flow of history in the Middle East and has been the cause of such tumult. The lack of a pioneering and democratic structure that might have channeled the political and justified social anger of the people who came out into the streets against the authoritarian and autocratic governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries led to widespread chaos. International and regional powers, which tried to channel the accumulated historical rage of the people who came out into the streets for democracy and freedom for their own benefits moved to intervene in the Arab Spring. This is particularly true in the Syrian civil war, where the hopes of the people for freedom and democracy were destroyed by reactionary powers. However the people of Rojava, who within Syria had been long since cast off into a bottomless well and who for years had experienced the worst of denialist and assimilationist policies, were able to turn the ‘Arab Spring’ into the revolution of the Democratic Nation owing to a pioneering and democratic force that was the accumulation of decades of prior resistance.
Rojava, which is the smallest part of [divided] Kurdistan, introduced the Rojava Revolution to the world from Kobanê on July 19th, 2012. The fate of the 3 million Kurds, who had for many years long lived under occupation by the Syrian regime, entered a new era in the form of a rebellion against the nation-state, in which it had undergone so many important developments and reformations, and against the nation-state status quo which had spread to every corner of the globe.
The cantons themselves were formed a short while later following the acceptance of the constitution. The Cizîre Canton was officially proclaimed on January 21 (2014), the Kobanê Canton on January 27th and the Efrîn Canton on January 29th. The Democratic Autonomous Canton Administrations (Cizîrê, Kobanê and Efrîn) remain a part of Syrian territory. In every canton there exists a Legislative Assembly, an Executive Assembly, a High Election Commission, a Constitutional Assembly and Regional Assemblies. These are formed from various local units. These cantons do not involve themselves with any of the tasks of a state, they defend the rights of local communities and take as the principle the resolution of problems through peaceful means. Once more each of these cantons has the right to its own flag, emblem and anthem." (http://rojavareport.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/journalist-and-researcher-ozgur-amed-on-understanding-events-in-rojava/)
A travel report
(In early December an international delegation visited Rojava’s Cezire canton, reported via Roar magazine)
"Rojava consists of three geographically non-contiguous cantons; we would see only the easternmost one, Cezire (or Jazira), due to the ongoing war with the Islamic State, which rages to the west, especially in Kobani. But everywhere we were welcomed warmly.
At the outset, the deputy foreign minister, Amine Ossi, introduced us to the history of the revolution. The Syrian Ba’ath regime, a system of one-party rule, had long insisted that all Syrians were Arabs and attempted to “Arabize” the country’s four million Kurds, suppressing their identity and stripping those who objected of their citizenship.
After Tunisian and Egyptian opposition groups mounted insurgencies during the Arab Spring in 2011, rebellious Syrians rose up too, initiating the civil war. In the summer of 2012, the regime’s authority collapsed in Rojava, where the Kurds had little trouble persuading its officials to depart nonviolently.
Rojavans (I’ll call them by that name because while they are mostly Kurds, they are also Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, and others) then faced a choice of aligning themselves either with the regime that had persecuted them, or with the mostly Islamic militant opposition groups.
Rojava’s Kurds being relatively secular, they refused both sides and decided instead to embark on a Third Way, based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader who rethought the Kurdish issue, the nature of revolution, and an alternative modernity to the nation-state and capitalism.
Initially, under his leadership, Kurds had fought for a state, but several decades ago, again under his leadership, their goal began to change: they now reject the state as a source of oppression and instead strive for self-government, for popular democracy. Drawing eclectically from sources in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology, Öcalan proposed ‘Democratic Confederalism’ as the name for the overarching program of bottom-up democracy, gender equality, ecology, and a cooperative economy. The implementation of those principles, in institutions not only of democratic self-government but also of economics, education, health and gender, is called Democratic Autonomy.
- A Women’s Revolution
Under their Third Way, Rojava’s three cantons declared Democratic Autonomy and formally established it in a “social contract” (the non-statist term it uses instead of “constitution”). Under that program, they created a system of popular self-government, based in neighborhood commune assemblies (comprising several hundred households each), which anyone may attend, and with power rising from the bottom up through elected deputies to the city and cantonal levels.
When our delegation visited a Qamishlo neighborhood (Qamishlo being the largest city in the Cezire canton), we attended a meeting of a local people’s council, where the electricity and matters relating to women, conflict resolution and families of martyrs were discussed. Men and women sat and participated together. Elsewhere in Qamishlo, we witnessed an assembly of women addressing problems particular to their gender.
Gender is of special importance to this project in human emancipation. We quickly realized that the Rojava Revolution is fundamentally a women’s revolution. This part of the world is traditionally home to extreme patriarchal oppression: to be born female is to be at risk for violent abuse, childhood marriage, honor killings, polygamy, and more.
But today the women of Rojava have shaken off that tradition and participate fully in public life: at every level of politics and society. Institutional leadership consists not of one position but two, one male and one female official — for the sake of gender equality and also to keep power from concentrating into one person’s hands.
Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are essential to democracy — they even defined the antagonist of women’s freedom, strikingly, not as patriarchy but as the nation-state and capitalist modernity. The women’s revolution aims to free everyone. Women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the past century. It has profoundly transformed not only women’s status but every aspect of society.
Even the traditionally male-dominated strands of society, like the military, have been profoundly transformed. The people’s protection units (YPG) have been joined by the YPJ — or women’s protection units — whose images by now have become world famous. Together, the YPG and the YPJ are defending society against the jihadist forces of ISIS and Al-Nusra with Kalashnikovs and, perhaps equally formidably, a fierce intellectual and emotional commitment not only to their community’s survival but to its political ideas and aspirations too.
When we visited a meeting of the YPJ, we were told that the fighters’ education consists not only of training in practical matters like weapons but also in Democratic Autonomy. “We are fighting for our ideas,” they emphasized at every turn. Two of the women who met with us had been injured in battle. One sat with an IV bag, another with a metal crutch — both were wincing in pain but had the fortitude and self-discipline to participate in our session.
- Cooperation and Education
Rojavans fight for the survival of their community but above all, as the YPJ told us, for their ideas. They even put the successful implementation of democracy above ethnicity. Their social agreement affirms the inclusion of ethnic minorities (Arabs, Chechens, Assyrians) and religions (Muslims, Christians, Yezidis), and Democratic Autonomy in practice seems to bend over backwards to include minorities, without imposing it on others against their will, leaving the door open to all.
When our delegation asked a group of Assyrians to tell us their challenges with Democratic Autonomy, they said they had none. In nine days we could not possibly have scoured Rojava for all problems, and our interlocutors candidly admitted that Rojava is hardly above criticism, but as far as I could see, Rojava at the very least aspires to model tolerance and pluralism in a part of the world that has seen far too much fanaticism and repression — and to whatever extent it succeeds, it deserves commendation.
Rojava’s economic model “is the same as its political model,” an economics adviser in Derik told us: to create a “community economy,” building cooperatives in all sectors and educating the people in the idea. The adviser expressed satisfaction that even though 70 percent of Rojava’s resources must go to the war effort, the economy still manages to meet everyone’s basic needs.
They strive for self-sufficiency, because they must: the crucial fact is that Rojava exists under an embargo. It can neither export to nor import from its immediate neighbor to the north, Turkey, which would like to see the whole Kurdish project disappear.
Even the KRG, under control of their ethnic kin but economically beholden to Turkey, observes the embargo, although more cross-border KRG-Rojava trade is occurring now in the wake of political developments. But the country still lacks resources. That does not dampen their spirit: “If there is only bread, then we all have a share,” the adviser told us.
We visited an economics academy and economic cooperatives: a sewing cooperative in Derik, making uniforms for the defense forces; a cooperative greenhouse, growing cucumbers and tomatoes; a dairy cooperative in Rimelan, where a new shed was under construction.
The Kurdish areas are the most fertile parts of Syria, home to its abundant wheat supply, but the Ba’ath regime had deliberately refrained from industrializing the area, a source of raw materials. Hence wheat was cultivated but could not be milled into flour. We visited a mill, newly constructed since the revolution, improvised from local materials. It now provides flour for the bread consumed in Cezire, whose residents get three loaves a day.
Similarly, Cezire was Syria’s major source of petroleum, with several thousand oil rigs, mostly in the Rimelan area. But the Ba’ath regime ensured that Rojava had no refineries, forcing the oil to be transported to refineries elsewhere in Syria. But since the revolution, Rojavans have improvised two new oil refineries, which are used mainly to provide diesel for the generators that power the canton. The local oil industry, if such it can be called, produces only enough for local needs, nothing more.
- A DIY Revolution
The level of improvisation was striking throughout the canton. The more we traveled through Rojava, the more I marveled at the do-it-yourself nature of the revolution, its reliance on local ingenuity and the scarce materials at hand. But it was not until we visited the various academies — the women’s academy in Rimelan and the Mesopotamian Academy in Qamishlo — that I realized that it is integral to the system as a whole.
The education system in Rojava is non-traditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience. Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they “search for meaning,” as we were told, in intellectual matters. They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.
Images of Abdullah Öcalan are everywhere, which to Western eyes might suggest something Orwellian: indoctrination, knee-jerk belief. But to interpret those images that way would be to miss the situation entirely. “No one will give you your rights,” someone quoted Öcalan to us, “you will have to struggle to obtain them.”
And to carry out that struggle, Rojavans know they must educate both themselves and society. Öcalan taught them Democratic Confederalism as a set of principles. Their role has been to figure out how to implement it, in Democratic Autonomy, and thereby to empower themselves.
The Kurds have historically had few friends. They were ignored by the Treaty of Lausanne that divided up the Middle East after World War I. For most of the past century, they suffered as minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their language and culture have been suppressed, their identities denied, their human rights overruled.
They are on the wrong side of NATO, where Turkey is permitted to call the shots on Kurdish matters. They have long been outsiders. That experience has been brutal, involving torture, exile and war. But it has also given them strength and independence of mind. Öcalan taught them how to reset the terms of their existence in a way that gave them dignity and self-respect.
This do-it-yourself revolution by an educated populace is embargoed by their neighbors and gets along by the skin of its teeth. It is nonetheless an endeavor that pushes the human prospect forward. In the wake of the twentieth century, many people have come to the worst conclusions about human nature, but in the twenty-first, Rojavans are setting a new standard for what human beings are capable of. In a world fast losing hope, they shine as a beacon." (http://roarmag.org/2014/12/janet-biehl-report-rojava/)
Janel Biehl interviewed by Cesur Milusoy:
"* You went to Rojava to see whether the self-government functions along libertarian principles. What did you find? To what extent are the principles of Murray Bookchin present?
Rojava’s system is similar to Bookchin’s ideas in the most crucial way: power flows from the bottom up. The base of Bookchin’s system is the citizens’ assembly. The base of Rojava’s is the commune. One of my questions before arriving was whether Rojava’s communes were assemblies of all citizens or rather meetings of their delegates or representatives in a council. But I found out that the communes are made of up a neighborhood’s households, and that anyone from those households may attend and participate in a meeting. That’s an assembly.
Another similarity is that in both systems power flows upward through various levels. Citizens’ assemblies can’t exist in isolation—they have to have a mechanism by which they interconnect with their peers, yet one that remains democratic. Rojava’s solution is the people’s council system that rises through several tiers: the neighborhood, the district, the city, and the canton. Bookchin, by contrast, spoke of towns and neighborhoods confederating. Murray called the broader levels “confederal councils,” where as in Rojava they are called people’s councils at every level, or even “house of the people.” In both cases they are made up of mandated delegates, not representatives as in a legislature. Rojava’s delegates—called co-presidents—convey the wishes of the people the next level up–they don’t act on their own initiative. So that’s another similarity. In Rojava, the people’s councils aren’t made up only of co-presidents from the lower levels; they also comprise people elected to enter at that level. The councils seem to be quite large. I think that’s a good idea.
In addition to the council system, Rojava has a transitional government in place as well, a built-in dual power. The council system is separate from it but also carries the wishes of the people into it, through various mechanisms.
* You have also spoken about the revolutionary process there.
Bookchin wrote extensively about the revolutionary process, in his histories of revolutionary movements. You can’t make a revolution just any day, he would point out; history has to be on your side; only at times does a “revolutionary situation” develop, when it’s possible to change the system. He lamented that all too often, when a revolutionary situation came around, the revolutionaries weren’t ready for it. They longed for an opportunity to make change, but they did not organize in advance, and so when the revolutionary situation developed, they missed their chance.
Rojavans did not make the common mistake. They prepared for decades before the revolutionary situation happened,building counterinstitutions, creating a structured counterpower. The Qamislo massacre of 2004 taught them that they had not prepared sufficiently, so they intensified their preparations. So when the revolutionary situation came in 2012, they were ready. When the regime collapsed, leaving a power vacuum, the counterinstitutions were in place to take the power, and they did.
Rojavans understand something else Murray argued too, about power. The issue is not to abolish power—that can’t be done. The issue, is rather, to define who has the power: will it be a regime, or will it be the people? Rojavans understood when the moment arrived that the power was theirs for the taking, and they took it. He would have applauded heartily.
And finally, I think he would have commended the work of Tev-Dem, a movement of civil society organizations established in order to create the council system—communes and other institutions of democratic self-rule. I think he would have commended Rojavans’ imagination in inventing a movement whose purpose is to creat democratic self-government.
You speak of creativity that Bookchin would have praised, but the creativity is essentially Abdullah Öcalan, head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who was inspired by some writings of your partner, as was the Syrian branch of the PKK, the PYD. The PKK as originally based on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Did you observe any signs of this in Rojava?
In the past decades Öcalan and the PKK have renounced Marxism-Leninism. Their goal is now to create a base democratic, ecological, cooperative, and gender-equal society. I saw no gulags there, not even close. I saw a place that seemed genuinely committed to creating that society, even if it’s still al work in progress.
* The equality between men and women is an important issue for you. In the Middle East women have a difficult role. Has that changed in Rojava?
Misogyny is deeply rooted in the Middle East. Women have fewer rights there than almost anywhere else in the world. Their intelligence end value are denigrated. They may be married while still girls. Their husbands can beat them with impunity, and husbands can have plural wives. And when a woman is sexually abused, her male relatives blame her and may commit an honor killing or even coerce her into committing an honor suicide. She is often excluded from education and from working outside the home, and she is certainly forbidden to participate in public life.
In Rojava this grim condition is undone, as the whole society is committed to creating equality for the sexes. Girls are educated along with boys. They can choose any profession. Violence against women is forbidden. A woman who experience domestic violence can bring the problem to a public meeting, where it is discussed and investigated. Above all they may participate in public life. In Rojava’s democratic self-government, a meeting must consist of 40 percent women. The institutions have no individual heads—they must always have two co-presidents, one man and one woman. An elaborate series of women’s councils exists alongside the general councils. Women’s councils have veto power over decisions that affect women. Rojava’s defense forces consist of units for men and units for women.
* Do women play a large and more important role in the revolution, without which these structures would not be possible?
Yes. In many places we were told that Rojava’s revolution is a women’s revolution; that a revolution that does not alter the status of women really isn’t a revolution at all; that transforming the status of women transforms the whole society; that freedom for women is inseparable from freedom of society; and even that women are “the main actors in economy, society, and history.” Such ideas are taught not only in the women’s academies and the Mesopotamian Academy but also in, for example, the academies that train the defense and security forces. At the Asayis academy in Rimelan, we were told that half the educational time is dedicated to equality of the sexes.
* One cause of conflict in the Middle East is the oppression of ethnic groups. In Rojava many cultures and religions exist alongside each other. How freed o you think the minorities are in the self-government? Did you have an opportunity to speak to any of the remaining Christians?
It seems to me that Rojava’s Kurds understand very well the importance of this question, since they very well know the experience of being an oppressed minority. Today as the majority in Rojava they know that it would be unacceptable for them to impose on others the kinds of exclusions that they experienced in Syria and that they still experience elsewhere.
Moreover, they consider diversity to be a positive good. Rojava’s social contract affirms the inclusion of all minorities, by name. When we met with Nilüfer Koc, co-president of the KNK, she defined Democratic Autonomy not in terms of democracy but expressly as “unity in diversity.” (http://www.biehlonbookchin.com/poor-in-means/)
We share a compilation of texts, reference pages and videos to make known the revolution that people in Rojava are doing, while defending themselves from the attacks by the ISIS troops. They are building a new way of organizing based on the principles of political selfdetermination (direct, based on assemblies, confederal), cooperative economics, gender equality, non-discrimination based on ethnicity, language, religion… and ecology. Principles that Cooperativa Integral Catalana shares (call to integral revolution).
Their struggle is an example and hope to build a better world.
«This is a genuine revolution» (interview to David Graeber, 23/12/2014, Evrensel)
«One of the first places we visited was a police academy (Asayiş). Everyone had to take courses in non-violent conflict resolution and feminist theory before they were allowed to touch a gun. The co-directors explained to us their ultimate aim was to give everyone in the country six weeks of police training, so that ultimately, they could eliminate police.»
«Poor in means but rich in spirit» (interview to Janet Biehl, 23/12/2014, Civaka-Azad)
«Rojava’s system is similar to Bookchin’s ideas in the most crucial way: power flows from the bottom up. The base of Bookchin’s system is the citizens’ assembly. The base of Rojava’s is the commune. One of my questions before arriving was whether Rojava’s communes were assemblies of all citizens or rather meetings of their delegates or representatives in a council. But I found out that the communes are made of up a neighborhood’s households, and that anyone from those households may attend and participate in a meeting. That’s an assembly.»
Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolution (Janet Biehl, 16/12/2014, ROAR Magazine)
«The education system in Rojava is non-traditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience. Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they “search for meaning,” as we were told, in intellectual matters. They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.»
Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria? (David Graeber, 08/10/2014, The Guardian)
«If there is a parallel today to Franco’s superficially devout, murderous Falangists, who would it be but Isis? If there is a parallel to the Mujeres Libres of Spain, who could it be but the courageous women defending the barricades in Kobane? Is the world – and this time most scandalously of all, the international left – really going to be complicit in letting history repeat itself?»
The experiment of West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) has proved that people can make changes (Zaher Baher, 26/08/2014, Libcom)
«In the Social Contract, the first page states, “the areas of self-management democracy do not accept the concepts of state nationalism, military or religion or of centralized management and central rule but are open to forms compatible with the traditions of democracy and pluralism, to be open to all social groups and cultural identities and Athenian democracy and national expression through their organization …” There are many decrees in the Social Contract. A few are extremely important for society, including: A. Separation of state from religion. B. Banning marriages under the age of 18 years. C. Women’s and children’s rights must be recognized, protected and implemented. D. Banning female circumcision. E. Banning polygamy. F. The revolution must take place from the bottom of society and be sustainable. G. Freedom, equality, equal opportunity and non- discrimination. H. Equality between men and women. I. All languages people speak must be recognized and Arabic, Kurdish and Syrian are the official languages in Al Jazera. J. To provide a decent life for prisoners and to make prison a place for rehabilitation and reform. K. Every human being has the right to seek asylum and refugees may not be returned without his/her consent.»
Rojava: A revolution in daily life (Rebecca C., 24/12/2014, Kurdish Question)
«In some ways, opposition to the state is opposition to capital, on the level of its global force. The new administration opposes, as they see it, NATO in two forms: in one as Turkey-supported ISIS in one and in the other US and international capital (a category into which the KRG – where two ruling families now construct refugee camps along one side of their motorways and shopping centers along the other – also falls). They have no illusions about the motivations of those who give them military support: “Everyone, including the US now, portrays it as it we are on their side!” TEVDEM laugh.»
Rojava revolution: building autonomy in the Middle East (Sardar Saadi, 25/07/2014, ROAR Magazine)
«Despite some political differences between the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Chiapas and the Kurdish movement led by the PYD in Syria, there are many similarities between these two in terms of their position in both regional and international affairs. The pursuit of creating an autonomous government, the rise of popular assemblies, the emphasis on gender equality and empowering women on every level of social and political life, the anti-imperialist and anti-authoritarian ideology, the stress on ecological preservation and respect for all living creatures, self-defense, and many other aspects indicate how the Rojava revolution resembles the resistance of the Zapatistas in Southern Mexico.»
«Öcalan, an atheist, was finally writing as a free-thinker, unshackled from Marxist-Leninist mythology. He indicated that he was seeking an “alternative to capitalism” and a “replacement for the collapsed model of … ‘really existing socialism’,” when he came across Bookchin. His theory of democratic confederalism developed out of a combination of inspiration from communalist intellectuals, “movements like the Zapatistas”, and other historical factors from the struggle in northern Kurdistan (Turkey)'. Öcalan proclaimed himself a student of Bookchin, and after a failed email correspondence with the elderly theorist, who was to his regret too sick for an exchange on his deathbed in 2004, the PKK celebrated him as “one of the greatest social scientists of the 20th century” on the occasion of Bookchin’s death two years later.»
A letter from a young fighter in Kobane to her mother (Narin, 17/10/2014, The Kurdistan Tribune)
«We are now stationed in the eastern part of Kobane, just a few hundred yards away from them and I can see their black hoods. We can pick up their conversations on the phone, but we do not know what they are saying as they speak a different language. We can see clearly that they are very scared of us.»
To the Kurdish People and the International Community (declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan) (Abdullah Öcalan, 20/03/2005)
«The right of self-determination of nations was interpreted as the right to establish a nation-state. The model of the United Nations based on nation states is not working. The nation state is an obstacle to its development. The Gulf War and the current situation in Iraq stand as proof of this. The only way out of this situation is to establish a democratic confederal system that will derive its strength directly from the people, and not from globalisation based on nation-states. Neither nation states nor globalisation which supersedes them are sustainable. Imperialism fails to develop a serious alternative model. Consequently the crisis of the system is deepening.»
Democratic Confederalism (Abdullah Öcalan, 2011, International Initiative Edition)
«This kind of rule or administration can be called a non-state political administration or a democracy without a state. Democratic decision-making processes must not be confused with the processes known from public administration. States only administrate while democracies govern. States are founded on power; democracies are based on collective consensus. Office in the state is determined by decree, even though it may be in part legitimized by elections. Democracies use direct elections. The state uses coercion as a legitimate means. Democracies rest on voluntary participation.»
Democratic Autonomy in Rojava (TATORT Kurdistan, 10/10/14, New Compass)
«As we considered this phase and the politics of the Kurdish movement in Rojava, we also observed the implementation of another paradigm of Democratic Confederalism: self-defense and the primacy of nonviolent solutions. The Kurdish movement and especially the PYD were organized before the Syrian revolution began resisting the Assad regime. At that time they saw it as a matter of democratic transformation; a militarization of the conflict was to be avoided. But with the outbreak of war, Islamization, and the heteronomy of the Syrian revolt, the Kurdish movement in Rojava decided to go a third way: it would side neither with the regime nor with the opposition. It would defend itself, but it would not wage war.»
Consensus is Key: New Justice System in Rojava (TATORT Kurdistan, 13/10/2014, New Compass)
«At the lowest level of the new justice system, created in the villages, districts, and even sometimes streets, are the Peace and Consensus Committees. They resolve cases on the basis of consensus. If it turns out that they can’t do so, the case is taken up to the next level. Difficult cases like murder, it must be said, aren’t handled by the Peace and Consensus Committees but are taken directly to the higher levels.»
Bookchin, Öcalan and the Dialectics of Democracy (Janet Biehl, 03/05/2012, New Compass)
«To create such a rational, ecological society it, we would need viable institutions—what he called “forms of freedom”. Both the revolutionary organization and the institutions for the new society would have to be truly liberatory, so they would not lead to a new Stalin, to yet another tyranny in the name of socialism. Yet they would have to be strong enough to suppress capitalism. Those institutions, he realized, could only be democratic assemblies. The present nation-state would have to be eliminated and its powers devolve to citizens in assemblies. They, rather than the masters of industry could make decisions, for example about the environment. And since assemblies only worked in a locality, in order to function at a broader geographical area, they would have to band together—to confederate.»
Happidrome (Adam Curtis, 22/10/2014, BBC Blogs)
«In the battle for Kobane on the Syrian border everyone talks about the enemy – IS – and the frightening ideas that drive them. No-one talks about the Kurdish defenders and what inspires them. But the moment you look into what the Kurds are fighting for – what you discover is absolutely fascinating. They have a vision of creating a completely new kind of society that is based on the ideas of a forgotten American revolutionary thinker. He wanted to create a future world in which there would be no hierarchies, no systems that exercise power and control individuals. And the Kurds in Kobane are trying to build a model of that world. It means that the battle we are watching night after night is not just between good and evil. It is also a struggle of an optimistic vision of the future against a dark conservative idea drawn from the past.»
«A Revolution of Life» (entrevista a Saleh Muslim, 10/11/2014, Tenk)
«Another way of referring to this concept of democratic confederalism or democratic autonomy is 'radical democracy: to mobilize people to organize themselves and to defend themselves by means of peoples armies like the Peoples Defense Unit (YPG) and Women’s Defense Unit (YPJ). We are practicing this model of self-rule and self-organization without the state as we speak. Other people will speak of self-rule in theory, but for us, this search for self-rule is our daily revolution. Women, man, all strands of our society are now organized. The reason why Kobanê still stands is because we have built these structures.»
An Interview with Revolutionary Anarchist Action on Kobanê (interview to Abdülmelik Yalcin and Merve Dilber, 22/10/2014, Meydan)
«Due to the Rojava Revolution the borders between the parts of Kurdistan that fell within Syrian and Turkish territory started to melt away. The Turkish State even tried to build a wall to destroy this effect of the revolution. In the midst of the war in interest of global capitalism and states in the region, the Kurdish people in Syria took a step along the path that leads to social revolution. Thanks to this step a real front emerged that leads to the freedom of the people, and in Kobanê, a total attack against revolution was started by the hands of ISIS, the violent mob produced by global capitalism.»
(speeches by Dilşah Osman, Dilar Dirik, Joost Jongerden…, 21/10/2014, New World Academy)
(speeches by Dilşah Osman, Dilar Dirik, Joost Jongerden…, 21/10/2014, New World Academy)
(Zanyar Omrani, 02/01/2015, BBC)
«People used to think girls were weak an couldn’t fight. Today our women are using heavy weapons against IS. They’re fighting on the frontline against IS. Now, who can say there’s any difference between men and women?»
Gunes, Cengiz (2012) The Kurdish National Movement in Turkey. From Protest to Resistance. New York: Routledge; also see Biehl, Janet (2012) “Bookchin, Öcalan, and the Dialectics of Democracy”,New Compass, http://new-compass.net/articles/bookchin-%C3%B6calan-and-dialectics-democracy, accessed 20.02.2012
Knapp, Micheal (2014) „Die Demokratische Autonomie in Rojava. Ziel ist eine demokratische Lösung für den gesamten Mittleren Osten“, Kurdistan Report 174, http://www.kurdistan-report.de/index.php/archiv/2014/174/154-ziel-ist-eine-demokratische-loesung-fuer-den-gesamten-mittleren-osten, accessed 25.09.2014
Interview with Co-president of PYD, Salih Muslim, “Die Menschen lernen, sich selbst zu bestimmen“, Kurdistan Report 175, http://www.kurdistan-report.de/index.php/archiv/2014/175/177-die-menschen-lernen-sich-selbst-zu-bestimmen, accessed 25.09.2014.
Ayboğa, Ercan (2014) “Das neue Rechtssystem in Rojava. Der Konsens ist Entscheidend“,Kurdistan Report 175, http://www.kurdistan-report.de/index.php/archiv/2014/175/178-der-konsens-ist-entscheidend, accessed 25.09.2014.
See “Charter of the Social Contract” of Rojava under http://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/resources/rojava/charter-of-the-social-contract/, accessed 26.09.2014