Friday 28 June 2019

Exclusive - Interview – Views from the Revolution in Rojava

This interview is with the Rojava Internationalist Commune and Plan C Kurdistan Cluster in the UK, where indicated.

Tell me a little about how the Rojava automatous region was formed?
Commune: “Rojava” in Kurmanci means West, because it’s the West of Kurdistan, in the North of Syria. With the so-called Arab Spring in 2012, that shook the existing power structures in many countries in the Middle East, also in Syria people started to protest against the Assad Regime. But even before that, the Kurdish population was organizing itself, on the basis of the ideas of Abduallah Öcalan in the Region of Rojava. Since any political activity of the Kurdish population was forbidden and many activists were put in jail, these organizations were working illegally.

With the uprising of the people in Syria, also Kurds stood up in 2012, pushing out the regime troops and bureaucrats and starting the process of building structures of self-defence and self-administration. That was the first step in the process of forming the  Democratic Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria as we know it today, and that includes way more than just the areas of Syria in which the Kurdish population is the majority. In the resistance against the so-called Islamic State, the forces of self-defence, liberated large parts of Syria so that today this Democratic Federation includes cities like Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.

How is government carried out in Rojava?

Commune: The general system is based on the idea of the self-administration of the people, on the social values and strong participation of everyone. In this sense the political power comes from the local level like neighbourhood and village councils. These councils are forming bigger entities of coordination between each other, and committees for the different aspects of social life, like healthcare, self-defence of the neighbourhood, economy or ecology. In these committees the direct work is done, fulfilling the needs of the people and solving problems of society.
It is important not to see it just as a political structure, but also a mindset which this self-administration is built on. Without a political and moral society, there will be no way to build structures of self-administration. To be a political society means the will to participate, to take an active role in shaping your one reality. And to be a moral society means, that there are values in the society and on that basis people make decisions and judge things as right or wrong.

Can you give some examples of where women’s representation in governance has made positive improvements for women?

Commune: Because of the representative function of the governance of the Democratic Federation of North-East Syria, the improvements for women are made in their daily lives, pushed by various women’s organization under the umbrella of Kongreya Star (Star Congress, a confederation of women's organizations) rather than a top down process. 

It is fundamental to the women’s movement to build women’s institutions in every area of life, so that women can free themselves intellectually, economically, emotionally, and spiritually from the authority and violence of patriarchal domination. In every institution of the society, dual leadership – what is called “hevserok” – applies everywhere in Rojava, from the local neighbourhood commune to the executive committee of the federation.

And for all the general institutions a gender quota applies, so that in every council, commission, leadership position or court, women must make up at least 40 percent. Today this quota has been far exceeded in many institutions. Important achievements of the revolution include the establishment of women's cooperatives through which women gain economic independence from their husbands and families. 

And in the Federation, marriages are only allowed from full age, without force, and polygamous marriages are forbidden. But most important is the change in the mentality of the society and the view of women and their growing self-confidence. Women play an active role in all areas of society and also in the military defence of the revolution.

You are running a campaign called ‘Make Rojava Green Again’, tell me more about this?

Commune: The “Make Rojava Green Again” campaign was launched in early 2018 by the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, in cooperation with Committees of self-administration in Rojava, with the aim of supporting and developing a democratic-ecological society in north eastern Syria. The campaign functions like a bridge between Rojava and ecological movements, activists and scientists around the world in term of technical knowledge, ideological discussions and protests on the streets.

In the framework of the campaign, different practical works are done in Rojava, the building of a tree nursery to planting of trees in the Internationalist Academy and in the city of Derik, building a system for reprocessing and developing a project for wind energy. Besides these practical works, with the published book “Make Rojava Green Again”, the campaign functions as a framework for ideological discussion connecting the experiences and realities of different struggles.

In the end we can say, that the campaign is an invitation to participate in our work: to be part of building an ecological society in Rojava and bringing international solidarity to life.

I know that you take inspiration from the writings of Murray Bookchin on Social Ecology. Have you heard of Ecosocialism which is a very similar political philosophy?

Commune: Yes, we have heard of Ecosocialism and we see it in the same line with our search to overcome the ecological crises of capitalist modernity in building a democratic, ecological society on the basis of the liberation of women. It is true, that Öcalan’s writing and also our ecological works take inspiration from the works of Murray Bookchin, who put the ecological question at the centre of his analyses and revolutionary perspective, not seeing it as a contradiction that will be automatically solved by overcoming class society. Significant for us is the historical perspective he empathizes on, analyzing the relationship and interdependence of humankind and nature, identifying the ecological crises as crises of society.

Central for our approach is to overcome the orientalist view on the question of development and progress, acknowledging the values of former societies as reference for our future perspective of a society in balance with nature. And in this sense also challenging the positivist mentality and logic of capitalist indefinite growth and expansion. 

Furthermore, ideas like those formulated in the framework of social ecology or Ecosocialism, are creating for us a positive perspective of humankind, without which any struggle seams meaningless. We believe that people can make life better with their creative power, their understanding of justice, and their will to change. And that in such times as these and in the face of the crises of capitalist modernity, so much seems lost and irrevocable.

With ISIS now in retreat in Syria, will you be able to concentrate your energy on projects other than military operations?

Commune: Even though ISIS is militarily defeated, still there are many cells of armed ISIS fighters, ready to destabilize the region with attacks and assassinations. And against these cells there is still the need for military operations and self-defence. And with the end of ISIS, also the imperialist powers like the US, Russia and regional powers like Turkey and Iran are increasing their attempts to control the area and the revolutionary dynamic in Syria.

For years the fascist regime of AKP-MHP, the two main Turkish political parties, (under the leadership of Erdogan) has openly stated that they do not accept the revolution in Syria, and threaten further invasion with the help of Islamist gangs like former ISIS fighters, as happened last year in the canton of Afrin. As long as different political and military powers are trying destroy this revolution, there is the need for a strong self-defence. And we have seen, that a war that is started by Turkey, will be an even bigger war than against ISIS. So if we are honest, the bigger war is standing in front of us.

But of course also the civil projects are growing massively in the Democratic Federation of North East Syria. Just to look to the rebuilding processes in cities like Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, the massive reforestation efforts made by local municipalities and the investments and energy put into social institutions and projects.

Plan C Kurdistan Cluster: Like our comrades at the Internationalist Commune say, in many ways it’s now that the struggle really begins: the peace may prove far more difficult to win than the war. Of course the fight against ISIS, the so-called Islamic State or Daesh, was long, hard and by no means certain, but the type of enemy meant that some aspects were relatively secure, and the hegemonic powers more or less onside (even if they didn’t and will never support the revolution in any meaningful sense).

We saw some of the dangers of this moment even before the war against Daesh was finished, with the Turkish state and AKP-MHP regime’s fascist and imperialist invasion of Efrin – and, most importantly, the near total silence of global powers then still relying on the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) and YPG/YPJ (People's Protection Units - Women's Protection Units), as well as the absence of so many “friends” who mobilised during the Kobani resistance. Compared to those demonstrations in 2015/16 the Efrin mobilisation was tiny. 

So from our perspective it’s not so much that the end of open military operations (though not the threat, as the Daesh insurgency has begun properly now with attacks and field burnings) provides an opportunity for different projects, but that this is the crucial moment to strengthen our efforts to build widespread practical solidarity.

And this is where internationalist support becomes absolutely essential. There’s a long and rich tradition of revolutionary internationalism, and the Rojava Revolution has produced beautiful examples like the International Freedom Battalion, as well as martyrs like Anna Campbell, the match of any other moment in revolutionary history. But the scale is far, far smaller, for clear material reasons, but this is something that must be recognised and addressed.

Revolutionaries, and especially dedicated revolutionary organisations, must do the necessary work of raising awareness, providing political education, and building practical solidarity campaigns – by which we mean not merely doing a post on social media, but really working hand in hand to provide forms of material support.

You have an international campaign also, called ‘RiseUp4Rojava – Smash Turkish fascism’, what is happening with this around the world and especially in the UK?

Commune: For a long time now we’ve been discussing with different organizations and initiatives in different countries about the possibilities and the necessity to form a global network, uniting in a campaign against the Turkish fascism and in the defence of the Revolution in Rojava. And from these discussions the campaign “RiseUp4Rojava” was built, following the aim to build an international front against Turkish fascism. Of course, this includes exposing and answering the hypocritical policies of the imperialist countries.

Plan C Kurdistan Cluster: RiseUp4Rojava is both an exciting development and an absolutely necessary one. Lacking the mass internationalist movements and organizations of the past, we need to build our own from the bottom up – which is long work, but also provides the opportunity to address some of the mistakes of the past. So it’s really exciting to be building concrete connections across borders, and making plans to not only defend, but to rise up for the revolution – this is the real meaning of solidarity, not when you simply do something for ‘them over there’, but when you really, deeply see them as you and you as them.

In a UK context the campaign gives the opportunity to build this solidarity in the relatively strong anti-arms trade movement that exists here. Of course, this movement is nowhere near as strong as it needs to be, especially since the UK is one of the largest war profiteers in the world, not least selling to the Turkish state, as well as Saudi Arabia. 

Similarly, the anti-war movement is quite liberal, many dedicated campaigners don’t question capitalism or the nation state, some involved don’t even include non-lethal weaponry and technology in their analysis – it’s often simply about not selling to the “bad guys”.

So RiseUp4Rojava provides not only the opportunity to build solidarity with Rojava and the Kurdish Freedom Movement in the UK anti-arms trade movement, but also the opportunity to bring the revolution’s politics to that movement, and help it overcome its current limitations. 

To this end we and other comrades, particularly the local groups federated in the Kurdistan Solidarity Network, will participate in the mobilisation against the DSEI arms fair that happens in London every year, not only in the demonstrations and actions themselves, but also providing literature and workshops about the movement’s theory and practice.

How do you see the future of Rojava in the medium to long term?

Commune: Rojava is the uprising of the people against the system of nation-states, Islamic fundamentalism, and imperialism, on the basis of the ideas of a radical democratic self-government of the people. In this sense the Rojava revolution is the revolution of the 21st century. It would be wrong to hope or to prognosticate the stabilization of this revolution, without general changes of powers structures in the Middle East, first of all in Turkey.

This revolution has to grow, to expand in ideological terms, lighting the fire of resistance and revolution in all the people from Syria, the Middle East, until Europe. If this does not happen, if the ideas of the revolution, their fight for rights and dignity is cut down, curbed in military crackdowns, then the revolution in Rojava has a difficult future. Even if many things have been achieved, it is still a daily fight for a socialist line in the revolution itself.

The biggest threat to this revolution is Turkish fascism. Its imperialist policy, the attempts of cultural genocides against the Kurdish population and other minorities in the Middle East and its geographical expansion in Rojava but also in Iraqi Kurdistan, will only be stopped by a change in the system in Turkey itself.


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