By Nico Ribas and Alaia Rotaeche / Source Resumen Medio Oriente* / The Dawn / January 19, 2015. Kurdistan is a territory claimed by the Kurds and encompassing parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Rojava is located between northern and northeastern Syria. The Kurdish people is considered the largest ethnic group in the Middle East, with about 30 million people, and has historically been subjected to persecution and genocide.
A century ago, the Sykes-Picot agreement** was held in the context of the First World War, a historical moment in which the Kurds demanded their own state. In August 1920, the peace treaty of Sèvres between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied powers, in which they agreed to define a political territory for the construction of Kurdistan, was signed. However, in late July 1923, the Lausanne agreement was signed, which established the boundaries of modern Turkey and turned the Kurdish desire into dead letter.
As part of the Syrian Civil War, a military conflict that erupted in March 2011, the region was declared autonomous and independent (de facto) in the November revolution of 2013. In January 2014, the “social contract”, a non-Statist term used instead of “Constitution”, was approved and was put into operation. Inhabited by a Kurdish majority, Rojava decided to oppose both Bashar al Assad and the Syrian opposition, creating its particular utopia where anarchism, environmentalism and feminism coexist at the service of the revolution. They organized themselves through the democratic assemblies based on the confederalism, a concept created and developed by Abdullah Öcalan, Kurdish leader and President of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It is a civil organization based, as we said, on direct democracy with religious and ethnic inclusion, environmentalism and feminism; These factors are combined in order to achieve a fair and peaceful society.
Democratic confederalism nurtures itself from diverse political, philosophical and anthropological sources. Firstly, it is important to note that its bases are supported from below. As explained by David Graeber, American anthropologist and anarchist who has learned about this reality in person, the security forces are accountable to the structures from the bottom up, and not the other way around, because so it is established by the institutions of direct democracy such as the TEV-DEM (Movement of Democratic Society).
It is a non-hierarchical structure based on horizontality. Thus, assemblies and councils are the designated mechanisms for building their political project. Thus we have street meetings, neighborhood and city, which answer to a democratic general assembly. The idea is to get a political fabric throughout the communes, with the objective that the people have the power and can participate in political, economic and social decisions, effectively.
The political level that follows are councils, until the People’s Council of Rojava. The communities are formed according to the different areas of political life and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is the official armed wing of the Kurdish Supreme Committee, whose militias defend the territory claimed by them. This is fundamental, given that they constitute a territory not recognized by the international community and by neighboring countries, so they have to defend from those who want to re-gain control of Kurdistan.
New politics, multiculturalism and feminism: the keys of the new society
The Kurdish political organization also has its roots in the philosophy and ideas of Murray Bookchin, founder of the social ecology, or green anarchism. Bookchin was a historian, university professor and researcher. His is a decentralized and localist model that proposes the construction of an ecological society based on sustainable development that combines biotechnology, appropriate technology, sustainable architecture and cooperative economy. They strive for self-sufficiency, in part because they have no other choice. Rojava lives under an economic blockade and can neither export or import to its nearest neighbor, Turkey, who intends to end with the Kurdish project. In fact, at this very moment Turkey is massacring the Kurds deliberately, without any gesture in response from the UN nor the international community.
In this revolutionary Rojava there is room for all cultures, religions and languages. Although most of its inhabitants are Kurds, there are a significant number of Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, Armenians, etc., and its key points are therefore the separation of State (although there is no state as such) and religion, as well as the recognition of all languages and all religions, equal opportunities and non-discrimination. Non-Kurdish minorities also have their own institutions. In fact, in the aforementioned popular, multicultural and multi-religious assemblies in which decisions are made, the three top officials from each municipality must be an Arab, a Kurd and a Christian, and at least one of them must be a woman.
That aspect, women, is the epicenter of this new society. “The Rojava revolution is a revolution of women” says Yasar Melike, representative of the International Movement of Kurdish Women in an interview with Resumen Latinoamericano. And it is true; the empowerment of women is a key goal. It is not something that goes parallel to the revolution, but it constitutes the revolution itself. In Rojava, as stated by Daniel Graeber, they go further and think honestly about feminist values, when in the West those values are only theoretical. Plus, they translate them into action.
Some of the fundamental norms of this new community are clear in this regard. Marriage before 18, female circumcision and polygamy are prohibited, and equality between men and women is established; all of which are measures to combat the patriarchy that exists both in the oriental society and also, although more veiled and less dangerous, in the West. In Rojava, at decision-making meetings, in politics and in the military, women have an indispensable role. “Women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to the Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the last century”, says author Janet Biehl in an interview to Roar Magazine.
The militias received political and feminist training and education plays a key role. As Yasar Melike says, all those women who carry a weapon in her hands also carry a pencil. Culture and female empowerment, also prompted by men of course, is coupled with military action. The YJA Star (Union of Free Women) militia gathers all those women, who pose a firm military and ideological resistance to ISIS terrorism. In this sense, many authors, including Graeber himself, draw parallels between these militias and the Spanish International Brigades. However, only 10% of the Rojava women are fighting the ISIS; The rest is dedicated to the building of politics and of this new experimental society experimental building.
The Kurds (and the minorities living with them) have realized, in the words of Graeber, that a true revolution and the construction of a new model of society involves the liberation of women: “You can not get rid of capitalism without getting rid of the State, and you can not get rid of the State without getting rid of patriarchy”. However, while that is the epicenter of the revolution, the liberation of women is also its most complicated problem, as some Arab communities feel that it violates some of their religious principles. However, for the institutions of direct democracy of Rojava (the TEV-DEM) is an unavoidable step for real change.
Kobani has no strategic value for ISIS, other than propaganda value. For them it is important to broadcast their victory. ISIS does not fight against the Kurds, but against this new system. To be defeated by a feminist, multicultural and sustainable society is the greatest humiliation of all. That is why it is a key target for the terrorist organization. Neither the West nor Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Iran want Rojava experiment to succeed, because it would shake all of the values on which the current international society is founded.
*Article published in Linea de Fuego and Rojava Azadi Madrid
**The Sykes–Picot Agreement was a secret agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the French Third Republic, with the assent of the Russian Empire, defining their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East should the Triple Entente succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I.