Read

Search form

Rebel Cities 2: Rojava Shows Pathway Towards A Common Humanity

Rebel Cities 2: Rojava Shows Pathway Towards A Common Humanity
Thu, 4/26/2018 - by Steve Rushton

This is Part 2 in a new series about radical municipalism, looking at ways that people worldwide are organizing in their cities to build power from the bottom up. Read Part 1.

Rojava is a world-leading experiment in democracy emerging from the ashes of the Syrian War. The predominantly Kurdish region has created a new political model based on participatory local councils holding sovereignty. Through democratic confederalism a new civic identity is forming, and to understand its significance, one needs to realize an essential part of the Kurdish story is persecution.

NATO member Turkey, and ISIS, are committing war crimes against Rojava. Turkey has increased its oppression of Kurds in Turkey, particularly since 2015. Throughout history, Kurds have been persecuted. Attempts to build a Kurdish state have thus far failed. The impact of these two factors greatly explain what emerged in Rojava after 2012 when people became sovereign through peaceful revolution.

Answering the Kurdish Question: A New Identity

“My Kurdish identity has no value unless I do something” said Abdullah Öcalan, one of the ideological inspirations for the Rojava Revolution and a key figure in the story of Kurdish nationalism. Öcalan led the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) until his detention and solitary confinement by Turkey in 1999.

From prison, Öcalan's political journey has guided Rojava. Once a Marxist freedom fighter who wanted to create a Kurdistan through guerrilla warfare, he transformed himself into an advocate of bottom-up municipal democracy. Since the early 2000s, Öcalan asserted that liberation for the Kurds must mean democracy for everyone.

Öcalan was influenced by other thinkers, most notably Murray Bookchin, an advocate of libertarian municipalism. Öcalan rejected fighting for a Kurdish state, arguing all this effectively means is that the police repressing you speak your language.

The failure of the PKK guerilla warfare against Turkey was another motivation for the shift in thinking. Ironically, after the PKK ideologically converted to self-defence and radical democracy, it was added to the world's terrorist list. Turkish lobbying was crucial to this process.

Öcalan's historical interpretation called for democratic confederalism as a dual power against the modern state. The problem with the state, he said, was that it was built on oppression – not least male domination and class oppression dating back 5,000 years. Women's empowerment and local democracy provide a remedy. Democratic confederalism is a system of local councils where autonomy is held at the lowest level, something realized in Rojava since 2012.

Although Öcalan has no institutional control in Rojava, his ideas and their execution have flourished there.

Rojava: Turning Theories into Practice

Northern Syria was a relative safe haven for Kurds in the late 20th century. Ideas and people moved in from Kurdish Turkey, including democratic confederalism. In 2004, the peace was shattered when the Syrian state massacred Kurds in Qamişlo [today's Rojava].

Syrian repression strengthened the Kurds' necessity for self-defence, a pillar of democratic confederalism. This catalysed the formation of secret democratic revolutionary local councils, including women's Yekîtiya Star. These councils grew into the participatory architecture of Rojava.

One self-defence element includes the peace and justice commissions, where justice is administered by local people based on reconciliation. Rojava exemplifies do-it-yourself culture, not least in every aspect of self-defence. Everyone in society receives basic training in Asayîs, enabling them to perform the function of the police, although they are accountable directly to the local councils, not to the state.

Eventually, Rojava wants to abolish having dedicated Asayîs, training each individual to take responsibility for security. To defend themselves against ISIS, Turkey and other attacks, the people of Rojava have also formed self-defence forces, which are mixed and all women.

Writing about the myth surrounding the women fighters of Rojava, Meral Çiçek, from the Kurdish Women's Relations office in Erbil, explains:

“...Self-defence also means to be a subject, to fight back, to say no and to act. It's an action...women's self-defence in Rojava and elsewhere is not only about protecting yourself with a weapon against armed attacks. In a deeper sense: It's also not only about defence. It's about creating. Creating life. A new life. An alternative live. And all the women who today defend their country, their people, themselves, their dreams and their project of a new future are at the same time subjects of this creation process.”

Bookchin, Öcalan and the whole democratic confederalist experiment in Rojava calls for living within nature so that the land – like the people – is not exploited. This connects back to Kurdish ties to Zoroastrianism, an old way of living in harmony with nature.

Self-reliance makes sense for any society, but it has been particularly necessary for Rojava, which finds itself surrounded by hostile enemies and often under embargo. Rojava's survival also rests on a third element relating to the new all-inclusive identity. The cultural mosaic of Rojava can be seen in the formation of a new university in Qamislo. Like the Rojava constitution, the university is open to all, including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs, Armenians, Turkmen and Chechens.

Local councils rely on participation based on the idea that identity means action. The people of Rojava, in every neighbourhood, have created a web of nine councils that look after everything from education to security, and from setting up workers' cooperatives to providing welfare. In modern capitalists states, NGOs do the work that the state fails to do, for instance feeding the homeless or protecting vulnerable people. In Rojava, there is no state; instead, NGOs do everything, controlled democratically from below.

The ethnic inclusivity of Rojava also means that it has changed its name. It is now the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS). 'Rojava' is Kurdish. For the same reason the crucial women's movement, Yekîtiya Star, became Kongreya Star. DFNS also welcomes all refugees from surrounding warn-torn Syria, respects every international human rights law, and offers a peaceful solution for the whole of Syria. Many consider it a crime against humanity that DFNS has been excluded from peace talks by imperial state powers.

DFNS and a Global Radical Municipalism

Rojava is unique, yet it reflects a wider radical municipalist movement. Similarly, Turkey's Erdoğan can be compared to the march of ultra-nationalist, authoritarian, misogynistic leaders. The municipal space is a key battleground against this kind of leadership. Examples include Brazilian intersectional feminists and networks, and city halls in Spain. In the U.S., town halls have become a key place to register discontent and to fight back against Trump. On a pan-European scale, cities pushed the Refugees Welcome campaign as a way of taking on growing state-supported anti-migrant sentiment.

All radical municipal projects, not least Rojava, are built independently on their own ideological foundations. They germinate from the social movements and their own contexts. But similarly, they respond to globalized crises. In practice, these movements are based on collective action and they build progressive identities as they challenge systemic oppression and injustice. Radical municipalism reimagines a common humanity, something exemplified in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.

Further reading on Rojava:

Rojava: Antidote to the Crises of Capitalism

Rojava: Another Middle East Is Possible

Rojava: No Democracy Without Women's Liberation

Rojava: Building a Society Beyond a State

 

Sign Up

Article Tabs

public banking, public banks, Bank of North Dakota, public financing, financing infrastructure, Wall Street influence, private-public investments

Private interests’ influence over banking consumes, rather than sustains, the public good.

Dodd-Frank act, Volcker Rule, bank deregulation, Wall Street lobby, proprietary trading, SEC

By revising the Volcker Rule, a centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank act, the feds are pushing financial regulation in a direction that should worry everyone.

Poor People's Campaign, protesting poverty, California protests, Moral Mondays

On Monday, the California Poor People's Campaign, calling for affordable housing and other policies to address poverty, interrupted the state Senate and forced legislators to halt the floor session.

occupy, creative activism, activism, act out, lockheed martin, STEM, military education, corporate education, coca-cola, water rights, greenwashing, SLAPP, dissent, silencing dissent, criminalizing dissent, human rights, environmental abuse, corporate

The war machine is now branching out – into early childhood education. Meanwhile, Coke's bogus greenwashing, and how corporations use courts to SLAPP down their opponents.

U.K. wealth inequality, U.K. wealth disparity, U.K. poverty, rising poverty

Shortly after the U.K. fell from being the world's fifth biggest economy, a new report shows that Britain is, in no unvarnished terms, infested with poverty.

public banking, public banks, Bank of North Dakota, public financing, financing infrastructure, Wall Street influence, private-public investments

Private interests’ influence over banking consumes, rather than sustains, the public good.

U.S. Border Patrol agents take into custody a father and son from Honduras near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018, near Mission, Texas. The asylum seekers were then sent to a processing center for possible separation. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

A new report confirms that Trump and his advisers had been considering the brutal policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border for as long as they’ve been in power.

Democratic primaries, rigged primaries, Bernie Sanders, establishment Democrats, corporate Democrats, superdelegates, Democratic National Committee

If Democrats want any hope of voting Trump out, they must fix the broken primary system before the next election.

Dodd-Frank act, Volcker Rule, bank deregulation, Wall Street lobby, proprietary trading, SEC

By revising the Volcker Rule, a centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank act, the feds are pushing financial regulation in a direction that should worry everyone.

Poor People's Campaign, protesting poverty, California protests, Moral Mondays

On Monday, the California Poor People's Campaign, calling for affordable housing and other policies to address poverty, interrupted the state Senate and forced legislators to halt the floor session.

Dodd-Frank act, Volcker Rule, bank deregulation, Wall Street lobby, proprietary trading, SEC

By revising the Volcker Rule, a centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank act, the feds are pushing financial regulation in a direction that should worry everyone.

Posted 4 days 22 hours ago
public banking, public banks, Bank of North Dakota, public financing, financing infrastructure, Wall Street influence, private-public investments

Private interests’ influence over banking consumes, rather than sustains, the public good.

Posted 21 hours 56 min ago
occupy, creative activism, activism, act out, lockheed martin, STEM, military education, corporate education, coca-cola, water rights, greenwashing, SLAPP, dissent, silencing dissent, criminalizing dissent, human rights, environmental abuse, corporate

The war machine is now branching out – into early childhood education. Meanwhile, Coke's bogus greenwashing, and how corporations use courts to SLAPP down their opponents.

Posted 5 days 21 hours ago
U.K. wealth inequality, U.K. wealth disparity, U.K. poverty, rising poverty

Shortly after the U.K. fell from being the world's fifth biggest economy, a new report shows that Britain is, in no unvarnished terms, infested with poverty.

Posted 6 days 20 hours ago
net neutrality, FCC, Resolution of Disapproval, net neutrality rules, two-tiered internet, internet freedom, Congressional Review Act, net neutrality repeal, Freedom Works, Ajit Pai

"Any lawmaker, of any party, that fails to sign the discharge petition in support of the CRA will regret it come election time."

Posted 6 days 20 hours ago
Democratic primaries, rigged primaries, Bernie Sanders, establishment Democrats, corporate Democrats, superdelegates, Democratic National Committee

If Democrats want any hope of voting Trump out, they must fix the broken primary system before the next election.

occupy, creative activism, activism, act out, lockheed martin, STEM, military education, corporate education, coca-cola, water rights, greenwashing, SLAPP, dissent, silencing dissent, criminalizing dissent, human rights, environmental abuse, corporate

The war machine is now branching out – into early childhood education. Meanwhile, Coke's bogus greenwashing, and how corporations use courts to SLAPP down their opponents.

Dodd-Frank act, Volcker Rule, bank deregulation, Wall Street lobby, proprietary trading, SEC

By revising the Volcker Rule, a centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank act, the feds are pushing financial regulation in a direction that should worry everyone.

Poor People's Campaign, protesting poverty, California protests, Moral Mondays

On Monday, the California Poor People's Campaign, calling for affordable housing and other policies to address poverty, interrupted the state Senate and forced legislators to halt the floor session.

net neutrality, FCC, Resolution of Disapproval, net neutrality rules, two-tiered internet, internet freedom, Congressional Review Act, net neutrality repeal, Freedom Works, Ajit Pai

"Any lawmaker, of any party, that fails to sign the discharge petition in support of the CRA will regret it come election time."