BY: AIDAN MACNAB
Aylan Kurdi was the two-year-old boy whose corpse, photographed washed up on a Turkish beach, shook the world. Sympathy for his tragic end ignited the globe. Refugees had been asphyxiating in crates, drowning in the Mediterranean, starving in overcrowded refugee camps, and wandering hopeless across the world for years at record numbers but it took this haunting image for us to wake up.
But behind Aylan Kurdi is another story, one that could change the way we, in the West, think about the Middle East. He was from northern Syria, known to some as western Kurdistan, in an area called Rojava.
It is in Rojava where, out of the rubble, smoke and carnage of the Syrian civil war, a radically progressive political experiment is underway. It’s not a silver lining. Over two hundred thousand people have died violently and nothing could pretty that up. But the elimination of the Assad regime’s control of Rojava three years ago has allowed for the movement to take shape. There, the people recently declared autonomy and have an agenda of democracy, women’s rights, and a rejection of capitalism, industrialism and the traditional nation-state structure.
It is in Rojava where, out of the rubble, smoke and carnage of the Syrian civil war, a radically progressive political experiment is underway.
This movement is secular, pluralistic and feminist, the liberation of women being a central aspect. In a region known for child brides, honour killings, and either authoritative, radical Islam or sadistic, repressive dictatorship, the Rojava revolution and the Kurdish national movement at large is an example for what could be.
This movement is secular, pluralistic and feminist.
Kurdistan is an area that includes chunks of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. They are the largest stateless minority in the world. After WW1, when European powers chopped up the Middle East, the Kurds were left out and left sprawled in four countries to face discrimination, suppression of language and cultural practices and brutal state violence such as the 2004 massacre in Qamislo by the Syrian regime.
But it isn’t only Kurds taking part in this experiment. Yazidis, Chechens, Turkmens, Armenians, Christians and Arabs all live among them and preventing domination over minorities is a priority of the revolution.
“It’s a socialist revolution. It’s an anarchist revolution.” said Elif Genc a PHD student who studies the Rojava revolution and is a member of the Rojava Solidarity Collective.
“They are, for the first time, able to practice in a society, in an autonomous region, their decades-long struggle for a social movement.”
The ideology behind the movement is called democratic confederalism, the brainchild of Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan is the founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been in an armed struggle against the Turkish government since the early ’80s.
He is currently serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison for treason, but over the last few years has been engaging in peace talks on behalf of the PKK, with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Turkey claims the war with the PKK has cost 40,000 lives and $1 trillion.
Democratic confederalism is the new incarnation of Ocalan’s vision for Kurdish independence. The violence, factional disputes and inability to adapt were not helping the Kurds’ nationalist aspirations. He has incorporated anarchist theorist Murray Bookchin’s theory of social ecology into the PKK’s Marxist principles. It’s on this new philosophical platform that the people of Rojava are organizing.
Democratic confederalism is the new philosophical platform that the people of Rojava are creating.
The system is radical, direct, democracy. Rojava is made up of three cantons; Cizre, Efrin and Kobane. These three cantons, together with a population of around 3-5 million, are organized into communes of a few hundred members. It is these communes that handle the economy, social issues, law and justice, defence, family issues and infrastructure. There are higher levels of governance, elected by the communes but the objective is for power to come from below.
The three cantons of Rojava are organized into communes, which are required to be at least 40 per cent female.
The communes elect representatives to serve in councils and each council must be at least 40 per cent female. Separate councils entirely made up of women decide on issues affecting women, like spousal abuse. Councils also have quotas meant to assure the inclusion of religious and ethnic minorities in the decision-making.
They are still developing the governing structure, but the vision is a maturation of the micro-level management to a point where a traditional government and state structure is gone. Democracy without a state is the mission.
In 2013, they developed a constitution. The political party in power is Democratic Union Party (PYD), allied with the PKK. The People’s and the Women’s Defence Forces (YPG and YPJ) are the military wings of the PYD. They are now operating on a principle of non-violence, acting strictly in self-defense.
And they have had to defend themselves. They are on the front lines in the battle with ISIS. The YPJ and YPG played a major role in driving the Islamic militants out of Kobane back in January after a four-month battle.
The People’s and the Women’s Defence Forces operate on a principle of acting strictly in self-defense. They are on the front lines fighting Islamic extremism.
Not only are Rojava and its people on the front lines fighting Islamic extremism, their revolution can serve as a counter weight to ISIS’ anti-western ideology. It has been radical Islamists who have appealed to Middle Easterners angry at western imperialism, western-backed dictators and western bombs killing people. The revolutionaries of Rojava are examples of a different type of liberation and self-determination, one that is inclusive, democratic and egalitarian.
One of the biggest lies of the Iraq War was its intention of democratizing Iraq. The liberation of women was emphasized as an objective and then a positive result of the Afghan War. Will the United States and the West stand by their professed values of women’s rights democracy and support the revolutionaries of Rojava?