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‘Rojava. La primera revolución del siglo XXI’
In the midst of the bombings from ISIS and the US-led coalition, in the midst of the advance of Syrian troops and the exodus of millions of people running for their lives, in the midst of a world in which we had been told there were no alternatives, a unique experience has emerged, a revolution.
“Everyone thought revolutions were no longer possible, that it was a fairytale, and that we are doomed to this capitalism because the Soviet Union collapsed. And we showed that in the Middle East we can live in another way, and that this sectarianism, this “religionism” that they want to recuperate, we are NOT going to allow it to happen”.
A revolution that also intends to be ecologist and feminist and that is inspired by anarchism, municipalism and Zapatismo. Today, in Periferias, Rojava, the first revolution of the 21st century.
Rojava is a region in northern Syria, the size of Switzerland and with a population of 5 million mostly Kurds. World War I defined the borders that split Kurdistan into 4 countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Since then, Kurdistan, transformed into the largest stateless people in the world, has suffered from the denial of its culture and systematic political persecution.
As in Palestine or Western Sahara, the 1970s saw the consolidation of a national liberation movement. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, became the biggest political force of the Kurds in all territories. Dark years followed the declaration of war on Turkey in 1984. In 1999, Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the movement, was arrested and imprisoned. “Ocalan is in custody” to this day.
“What started out as a rather conventional Marxist-Leninist separatist group calling for a socialist State, has evolved in an incredibly interesting direction. It really comes from struggles and debates within the movement, which has, I think, come up with a really fascinating synthesis of traditional Kurdish, western anarchist and other ideas.”
The history of Rojava changed dramatically in 2011. If the Spanish Civil War in 1936 accelerated the collectivization of land and factories, something similar happened in this corner of Kurdistan. After the start of the war, the government of Bashar Al Assad withdrew from the northern part of the country to protect its strongholds in Aleppo and Damascus. Kurdish forces took advantage of this power vacuum, taking control of the region and exercising autonomous power. In a historical coincidence, Rojava declared its autonomy on July 19, the same day that the Spanish Revolution began. But a new threat soon knocked on Rojava’s doors: … “There is a duty for Muslims, a duty that has been forgotten for centuries ”… the Islamic State.
The Rojava commune organized popular militias: the IPG, popular protection units, and the IPJ, brigades made up of women. In 2014, the Islamic State had launched an offensive on Kobane, a canton of Rojava. With international air support and Iraqi Kurdish troops, the people’s militias managed to push back ISIS troops in 2015. The Battle of Kobane became a landmark in the commune and a turning point in the withdrawal of the Islamic army from the region.
But Rojava will not go down in history for having defeated ISIS, but for carrying out the revolution at the same time. A communist, anarchist, feminist, environmental revolution … a bit of everything. Rojava’s form of government is called democratic confederalism.
This novel theory includes the creation of district councils where people exercise direct democracy. The legacy of Zapatismo is also present with the idea of organizing society beyond the States and their borders, but also in the liberation of women and the respect for nature.
“We organize sections of the society, or the areas where things have been taken away from the society. So what is this? First of all, the women, of course. Education, the intellectual area. One of the main reasons why we accept to live in this is because we are trained to do so, from kindergarten to university. Or medicine, for example, the health area. There is preventive health … and it’s all taken so far away from us. And, of course, the economy. This is another important area. Economy is taken away from us, we are left destitute, we feel dependent.”
“The communes can be of a village, or of a street, or of a neighborhood and they elect their representatives who, at the same time, are part of the next higher level of the commune, and so on, until they form conglomerates in the regions, their organizations in the cantons and, finally, in the federation.”
One of the maxims in Rojava communes is that society cannot be liberated without liberating women first. Although it is the images of the Kurdish guerrillas that attract the media the most, the military organization is only a small part of the women’s movement.
“We’ve been constructed and reconstructed throughout 5000 years, so we have to now decide who we are and what we don’t want from the character that has been given to us. But this we will do alone.”
“We have to go the other way around: you can’t get rid of capitalism without getting rid of the State, you can’t get rid of the State without getting rid of patriarchy, so let’s start with patriarchy. How do you get rid of patriarchy? Well it’s going to be complicated, but giving women access to automatic weapons, it could be a start.”
“The organizations are two-headed. These two heads, the presidents, are always a man and a woman and, furthermore, they must come from different ethnic groups.” There are women’s houses in practically every city, organized in the powerful Congreya Star, the main women’s organization. “They go there and expose their problems to the other women; The two parties to the conflict are then summoned and helped to enter into a dialogue.” Congreya Star also carries out training work with both men and women based on the so-called “science of women”.
“Jineoloji is the rereading of the social sciences from the point of view of women, because it is very clear for them that the social sciences have White skin and are masculine. They are remaking what sociology, psychology, anthropology are, everything from the point of view of women.
As the Kurdish movement itself points out, the principles of confederalism are universal in nature. “Why not? Democratic confederalism was originally developed as an idea of what to do in America. Everybody is going to do their own version. The basic principle, bottom up, direct democracy, where you have delegates instead of representatives, is an idea that’s occurred in one form or another in probably all parts of the world, in all phases of human history.”
“It’s universal. The struggle that is given is universal. It showed everyone that, no, we are not bad in nature – humankind. We are turned bad, so we can turn this back. And we show that it’s possible, in the midst of war and chaos.”
But what future awaits Rojava? The recent Turkish aviation attack on Afrin is a warning of things to come. “Turkey, its goal is to be the regional power and they also use a lot of weapons, not just weapons of war, right? For example, the water war is used a lot: They have created scores of dams in the rivers that originate in the Kurdish mountains in the Euphrates, in the Tigris and are drying up Iraq, for example.”
Can the governments of the region and of the great powers tolerate for an initiative such as this one to be successful? “The Kurdish question is not going to be solved with war; The Kurdish question can only be resolved at a negotiating table because the Kurds are not asking for a state; the only thing the Kurds ask for is autonomy and to be able to continue to live their culture.”
“We need a really broader coalition, but on very important fundamentals: of course, [no] sexism has to be part of it. Of course, non-nationalism has to be part of it. And religion has to be at a cultural level, not at a political power level. And ecology, of course, has to be part of it. We have to have these fundamentals in place, bringing us together under this no-war, perhaps, coalition.”
Beyond the following movements, alliances and the last death throes of the war in Syria, the Rojava commune has already become a benchmark for a new form of social organization; a living demonstration that in this globalized and cruel world, alternatives still exist.