Rojava’s Communes and Councils

On Saturday, December 6, the Academic Delegation to Rojava met in Qamişlo with two representatives of  Tev-dem, the Movement for a Democratic Society. Abdulkerim Omar and Çınar Salih first gave us some background to Rojava’s thinking about the state and democracy. Then they explained the structure of the democratic self-government—the commune and council system—and took our questions. Speaking through translators, Salih did most of the talking.

We have built our democracy so that people of different nationalities live together. We’re new, and we’ve made mistakes, and we’re trying to stop Daesh [i.e., Islamic State] from entering Rojava. Other delegations have come here, but we are delighted to have you. Your project is giving us hope. We haven’t achieved freedom yet, but we’ve learned how to struggle.

The system that we’re living in has been going on for five thousand years. Different stages of history have given it different names, but at its core it has remained the same, and its main pillar is the state. This has to be well understood. In the last hundred years people have struggled against the state, and they have achieved independence historically, but they haven’t achieved freedom, because they didn’t emancipate themselves from the state. Their concept of freedom remains within the limits of the state.

The current nation-sate system has opened the gates to the huge crisis that we are seeing. The Kurds have also played a role in this region—as our archaeologist friends have found out, they have left a mark on history and culture. We understand as Kurds that our problems will not be solved by creating a new nation-state. How can we overcome this chaos with as little bloodshed as possible? How to find a solution in spite of the existing state borders?

Instead of an independent state, we prefer autonomy. The solution has to be at the grassroots level. The nation-state system has created many prejudices, so people think Arabs and Kurds and Turks can’t get along. That idea has been reinforced by nation-state system. It’s been wired into people’s brains, with bad outcomes. It excluded conditions of coexistence and cooperation between people. We are struggling to get rid of these prejudices and create conditions for common life.

We believe that the state system equals the systematic destruction of women, and that democratic autonomy equals the liberation of women. That’s why our Rojava revolution is a revolution of women. In Rojava there is no area of life in which women don’t take an active part. One of our biggest achievements has been to break this prevalent dogma in Middle East that women are weak and lacking, as expressed in different ways such as in Sharia law. But this is just one result of our revolution. We believe that a revolution that does not open the way for women’s liberation is not a revolution. There have been revolutions in Libya and Egypt and Tunisia—there have been new governments—but the same status for women has persisted.

Our system rests on the communes, made up of neighborhoods at the level of the residential street of 300 people households. The communes have co-presidents, and there are co-presidents at all levels, from commune to canton administration. In each commune there are five or six different committees. Communes work in two ways. First, they resolve problems quickly and early—for example, a technical problem or a social one. Some jobs can be done in five minutes, but it you send it to the state, it gets caught in a bureaucracy. So we can solve issues quickly. The second way is political. If we speak about true democracy, decisions can’t be made from the top and go to the bottom, they have to be made at the bottom and then go up in degrees. There are also district neighborhood councils and city district [city plus its surroundings] councils, up to the canton. The principle is “few problems, many resolutions.”

So that the government doesn’t remain up in the air, we try to fill the bottom of it. There have been questions about how the grassroots is actually organized. So you can ask questions.

Q. It’s very interesting concept, and probably there are tensions and challenges within this system. One is the tension between decisions from below and immediate needs on the level of the entire canton. For instance, probably you have to decide in a centralized way that you need to establish a mill to make flour. Or you have to decide to build a refinery. Strategically, these highly important things. On the other hand you have this bottom-up system coming from the communes. It’s not useful to establish similar infrastructure in several communes or in several cities. So you need some kind of coordination between the communes and the city councils. Who coordinates them?

We are also discussing theses issues—there is no ready-made formula to apply. Talking with numbers can help. Qamişlo has 6 different districts neighborhoods. Each district neighborhood has 18 communes, and each commune is made up of 300 people households.

Now each commune has 2 elected co-presidents. And each commune has different committees. The 2 elected co-presidents from each commune come together to make up the people’s council of that district neighborhood.

Then each of these 6 district neighborhood people’s councils elects 2 co-presidents. So from Qamişlo’s 6 districts neighborhoods, 12 people make up the citywide district-wide people’s council of Qamişlo. But 12 people alone can’t make up the council—it’s supposed to have 200. So in addition to these 12 people, the others are directly elected. Even if you’re not on a committee or weren’t elected in the commune, you can put their name out and potentially be elected.

Cizîre canton consists of 12 cities districts. Delegates to the canton-level people’s council are allocated according to population. Qamişlo is the biggest city district, so it gets more delegates than others–it gets 20. They determine it by population numbers. The co-presidents are already part of this big council; then Qamişlo gets 18 more. Each city district people’s council elects who’s going to go to the cantonwide people’s council. At the end you have a canton-wide people’s council. It’s like a parliament, but the ties between the commune and the councils are not severed.

Q. Each commune votes for delegates that go to the higher level?

Yes.

Q. Qamişlo gets more delegates–who decides how many delegates each city district gets?

It’s based on population.

Q. According to which census?

From the regime time. Now, the cantonwide people’s council doesn’t exist yet. They’re doing a census now. But at the commune level in cities, it works there already. The cantonwide people’s council doesn’t even have a name yet—it may be called a parliament.

Each commune has committees, like, say, a health committee and there are similar committees at higher levels. That’s how they make sure the canton administration’s health committee has direct connection with the needs of the commune.

Q. What is the role of Tev-Dem?

Tev-Dem coordinates and mobilizes people in the grassroots and so carries the connection to parliament. It ensures the connection of the direct democracy to the government. It mobilizes and coordinates, but also sits in the parliament, where it represents the interests of the people. It’s a double identity.

Q. Women’s councils exist parallel to the people’s councils, in which women have 40 percent. Does that exist at all levels, and do all have veto power over women’s issues?

Yes. Women’s councils exist in parallel at all levels, the commune, the district neighborhood, the city district, and the canton. The women’s councils don’t decide on general issues—that’s what the people’s councils are for. They discuss issues that are specifically about women. If there’s a social dispute, say about interpersonal conflicts. A committee tries to resolve issues between people. The women’s council also has a committee like this. So if they see in this committee an issue that concerns women, like a domestic violence dispute, and they disagree with the people’s council, and they say no, the no of the women’s council will be accepted. They have veto power on issues concerning women.

Q. Is it always clear what’s a women’s issue?

We go on a case-by-case basis. There’s no set formula. Whenever a women’s council vetoes something, that veto is accepted. If an issue can’t be solved at the lower level, those issues go to court. But these issues, like all issues in Rojava, are first resolved locally if possible.

UPDATE June 12, 2016:

I’ve altered the terms for the four levels mentioned in this article to conform to those that used in the book Revolution in Rojava by Ayboga, Flach, and Knapp. I originally called the four levels neighborhood-district-city-canton. But the Revolution in Rojava terms are more accurate: residential street, neighborhood, district (city plus surroundings), and canton. Here is a helpful diagram:

Levels of self-administration in Rojava

Levels of self-administration in Rojava

 

Joint Statement of the Academic Delegation

 Joint statement of the international academic delegation to Rojava

The battle over Kobanê, which began in the summer of 2014, has brought to the world’s attention the Kurdish resistance to the brutal forces that call themselves Islamic State (IS or ISIS). Contrary to the expectations of many, the defense forces have succeeded in fending off the attacks not only of ISIS, but also the al-Nusra Front and the Assad regime over the last two and a half years. Less well known, however, is the fact that residents of the predominantly Kurdish areas of northern and northeastern Syria have established themselves as a new political entity that they call Rojava, comprising three autonomous cantons, one of which is Kobanê. There they have undertaken, to all appearances, a social and political revolution, characterized by remarkable efforts towards gender liberation and direct democratic self-government.

In December 2014, we, as a delegation of scholars from Europe, Turkey, and North America traveled to Rojava to learn more about the ideals and practices of this revolution and to witness at first hand, in one of its cantons, its claims to gender liberation and democratic self-government. Do its practices really constitute a revolution? Do they live up to its democratic ideals? What role do women actually play?

On December 1, we crossed the Tigris from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and entered Cizîre canton. During the next nine days, we visited its major cities as well as rural villages. We attended a meeting of a self-governing people’s council in a Qamişlo neighborhood. We spoke to representatives of TEV-DEM, the broad-based Movement for a Democratic Society that constructed the institutions of self-government. We met with journalists, members of political parties, such as the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and others.

We encountered women from all walks of life, including representatives of the women’s umbrella organization Yekîtiya Star. We conversed with leaders of the Syriac Women’s Union, and visited a women’s academy in Rimelan.

In addition, we met with members of the self-government in charge of economic development, health care, and foreign affairs. We visited an economics academy and toured cooperatives, newly established in dairy, construction, and greenhouse agriculture, as well as a women’s textile workshop. We visited a flour mill and an oil refinery, both vital economic installations. Prior to the revolution, the main economic activities were state-owned and mills existed only in regions outside of Rojava, such as Aleppo and al-Raqqa. We observed neighborhood health clinics, a hospital, and a rehabilitation center, as well as a cultural center and a youth organization.

We were guests at the large Mesopotamia Academy of Social Sciences in Qamişlo, where we also met with the teachers union. Prior to the revolution, under the Syrian state’s severe policies of assimilation and Arabization, the Kurds were not allowed to speak their own language, give their children Kurdish names, open shops with non-Kurdish names, found private Kurdish schools, or publish Kurdish books or writings. The mainly Kurdish-populated regions had no possibility to establish a university. In order to study, students had to leave the region for Aleppo, Damascus, Deiraz-Zor, Hama, or Homs. But recently Rojava’s self-government has taken the first steps toward creating a university.

The Mesopotamia Academy of Social Sciences, in Qamişlo, needs international solidarity, exchange, experience, and material support in order to succeed. To that end, we would like to forward the academy’s appeal for lecturers who can stay and teach courses for some time, and for computers, projectors, and speakers. Above all it needs books to expand the library. Its ultimate aim is to have a multilingual, multidisciplinary library, but the teachers mentioned to us that at this point books in Kurdish, Arabic, and English are their priority. Those members of the public, who wish to make a donation, may visit the Facebook page PirtûkekboAkademiyaMezopotamyayê,“Donate a book to Mesopotamia Academy.”

We visited the Newroz refugee camp, where Yezidis from Mount Sinjar emphasized their ambitions for self-governance and self-defense, and pleaded for international assistance. The refugees emphasized that they suffer under the embargo imposed on Rojava, lacking basic needs. The Yezidis told us that they feel that their suffering is being instrumentalized by entities like the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), various states, including the coalition forces, and international organizations like the UN, repeatedly stressing that the YPG (People’s Defense Units) and YPJ (Women’s Defense Units), as well as the PKK guerrillas had rescued them from Mount Sinjar in August 2014 and provided them with their basic needs ever since, in spite of the embargo and the war in Kobanê.

Across the canton we could see scars from decades of oppression and from the recent battles against al-Nusra and ISIS. We spent time with representatives of Rojava’s defense forces. We met with the military command of the YPG in Sêrêkaniye, and with the Amûde branch of the YPJ. We visited a training academy for the internal security force, or Asayîş, in Rimelan.

The role of Turkey in the rise of al-Nusra and ISIS was explicitly brought up by almost everyone we met. People from all walks of life gave us accounts of clashes near the Turkish border that implied Turkey’s military, logistic, and financial support for these two groups in particular.

Although we come from various backgrounds, we share some impressions from our journey.

In Rojava, we believe, genuinely democratic structures have indeed been established. Not only is the system of government accountable to the people, but it springs out of new structures that make direct democracy possible: popular assemblies and democratic councils. Women participate on an equal footing with men at every level and also organize in autonomous councils, assemblies, and committees to address their specific concerns. The women we met embodied the empowerment, self-confidence, and pride recently gained by the women of Rojava.We saw banners and slogans that read: “The Rojavan revolution is a women’s revolution.” It really is.

Rojava, we believe, points to an alternative future for Syria and the Middle East, a future where the peoples of different ethnicities and religions can live together, united by mutual tolerance and common institutions. Kurdish organizations have led the way, but they increasingly gain support from Arabs, Assyrians, and Chechens, who participate in their common system of self-government and organize autonomously. Wherever we went, members of the self-government and the armed forces insisted that any viable political alternatives for the region had to be based not on revenge but on shared interests and mutual trust. We met members of the Asayîş, the internal security units, as well as of YPG, and YPJ, who were Kurds, Chechens, Syriacs, and Arab, all of whom emphasized that they seek common solutions for all peoples of the region. They face daunting challenges, but we are convinced that their aspirations are sincere.

As scholars and activists, we all left with a deep respect and admiration for the people of Rojava, for their progressive political program and actual social accomplishments. They have found in democratic self-government a practical way of solving their own problems. Still, Rojava suffers from pressing conditions that are outside of the control of its citizens. Therefore, we close by recommending that they be addressed as soon as possible:

First, Rojava exists under an economic and political embargo imposed by its neighbors Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Its economy, infrastructure, and defense all suffer from the resulting isolation. Even though the KRG has opened the Semelka (Fishkhabour/Peshkhabour)border crossing for limited trade and personal transport since the Duhok agreement in October 2014, it decides over the border crossings arbitrarily and holds back humanitarian aid for Rojava, including the refugees at the Newroz camp. Even books for the Mesopotamia Academy cannot cross the border. The embargo strangles the capacity of the self-government to provide the population even with medical aid and basic humanitarian resources. It is imperative that the embargo be lifted. International pressure must be exerted on Turkey in particular to open its border crossings so that food, materials, medicine, and aid can get through.

Second, the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq have created scores of refugees, many of whom are currently being taken care of by the self-government. These refugees urgently need basic humanitarian aid, medicines, and hospital equipment. Similarly, many people have been wounded in the war and need adequate treatment, which is not available to them due to the embargo. The international community must help channel aid into Rojava for care of these people, in dialogue with the institutions of self-government.

Third, we call for international recognition of Rojava, including recognition by NGOs. It seeks not to become an independent state but rather to help create a genuinely democratic Syria and become integrated into it. Its unique system of self-government deserves to be acknowledged as a possible solution to the many ethnic and religious conflicts that ravage the region.

Against all odds, the people of Rojava have advanced a bold program for civic tolerance, gender liberation, and direct democracy. For this, they deserve the world’s respect and its active support.

January 15, 2015:

Oktay Ay, researcher, Istanbul Bogazici University

Janet Biehl, independent writer, USA

DevrisCimen, journalist, Civaka Azad – Kurdish Office for Public Affairs, Germany

Rebecca Coles, researcher, University of Nottingham

Antonia Davidovic, lecturer of ethnology, University of Kiel

Dilar Dirik, Ph.D. student, University of Cambridge

Eirik Eiglad, editor, New Compass Press, Norway

David Graeber, professor of anthropology, London School of Economics

LokmanTurgut, journalist and researcher, Kurd-Akad, editor at StudiaKurdica journal

Thomas Jeffrey Miley, lecturer in sociology, University of Cambridge

Johanna Riha, Ph.D. student, University of Cambridge

Nazan Üstündag, professor of sociology, Istanbul Bogazici University

Christian Zeller, professor of economic geography, University of Salzburg

 

For more information, contact:

Civaka Azad – Kurdisches Zentrum für Öffentlichkeitsarbeit e.V.

www.civaka-azad.org // info@civaka-azad.org 

BornheimerLandstraße 48, 60316 Frankfurt

Tel.: 0049 69 84772084, Mobile: 0049 1573 8485818

The Revolutionary Days of July 2012

The Rojava Revolution began in mid-July 2012, when democratic counterinstitutions that had been carefully build over a long period finally came to power in West Kurdistan. But how did the revolution unfold on a day-to-day basis? I wanted to know more and found a account in this article, “From Genocide to Revolution,” in the German-language Kurdistan Report in late 2012. The article was written while the revolution was still under way—Qamişlo had not yet gone to the revolution—and in that sense is out of date. But it conveys some of the excitement of the revolution’s earliest days, after explaining some of the social and political developments that led up to it. Enjoy!

 From Genocide to Revolution 

by Mako Qoçgirî

The Kurds of Syria (or West Kurdistan) have long lived in the shadows. Anyone who looked for information about Kurdistan would mainly find material concerning other Kurdish areas. That wasn’t because Kurds in West Kurdistan had it better than their cousins in Turkey, Iraq, or Iran. No, the reason may simply have been that in comparison to the other parts of Kurdistan, their population and geographical area in Syria is quite small.

But then [in 2011] the Syrian uprising began, and [in 2012] a revolution broke out in West Kurdistan, and the situation has abruptly changed. Now the attention of people in the rest of Kurdistan is riveted on the developments here. Little West Kurdistan may even one day become a model and a trailblazer for a political solution for North and East Kurdistan. But the people of West Kurdistan traveled a long and difficult road to get to their present state; it was a road that took them through repression and assimilation, torture and massacre.

Let’s take a look at the situation of the Syrian Kurds before the outbreak of the revolution.

The Kurdish Berlin Wall and the Arab Belt

View of Qamislo

View of Qamislo

The Lausanne Treaty of June 1923 divided Kurdistan into four parts. That was actually the second traumatic dismemberment in Kurdish history—the first was the treaty of Qasr-e Shirin in 1639, which had divided Kurdish areas between the Safavid and Ottoman empires. That 1639 boundary remains valid even today—the Lausanne Treaty preserved it as the border between Iran and Turkey. But the signing of the Lausanne Treaty created, in addition, Iraq and Syria, into which parts of Kurdistan now fell. It drew the border between Turkey and Syria arbitrarily, as can been seen in the example of Qamişlo (Al-Qamishli) and Nisêbîn (Nusaybin). These two cities were once one, but in the Lausanne Treaty the southern neighborhoods fell in the area of the new Syrian state as Qamişlo, while the northern neighborhoods, Nisêbîn, went to Turkish republic. This boundary-drawing separated many families, and to this day on special occasions family members take the opportunity to visit one another on opposite sides of the border. With black humor, Kurds living near the Qamişlo-Nisêbîn border speak of a “Kurdish Berlin Wall.”

As a result of the Lausanne Treaty, then, about three million Kurds found themselves living within the newly created Syrian state. From the outset they faced policies of denial and assimilation, but the 1963 rise to power of the Baath regime in Damascus intensified the situation drastically. The new regime saw the Kurdish population as a potential danger and developed a comprehensive twelve-point plan to neutralize it. One important point created the so-called Arab Belt, by settling two Arab villages between every Kurdish village. Using material inducements, the regime attracted Arabs from other parts of Syria and resettled them north to live in West Kurdistan. Residing even today in West Kurdistan, they are called Mexmûrî Arabs by the Kurds. Meanwhile the Kurds who lost their lands were to be resettled in the interior of Syria. By this plan, the regime intended a wide-scale assimilation of the Kurds, which succeeded however only in part.

The Damascus regime didn’t stop with resettlement, however. It forbade publication in the Kurdish language and indeed any public use of that language. Kurdish place names were scrubbed and replaced with Arab names. A total of about 300,000 Kurds—including some of the most politically active––were stripped of their citizenship, which meant they lost all civil rights. By such means as these, the regime attempted a cultural genocide to accompany the physical genocide, and it committed numerous massacres.

The last large bloodletting occurred in the spring of 2004 in Qamişlo, an event that became a turning point for the region’s Kurds. I’ll talk about it in more detail later, but here I’ll confine myself to its results: after the Qamişlo massacre, Kurds throughout West Kurdistan entered a state of rebellion that lasted ten days. And they made a decision whose consequences we are witnessing today: they would organize themselves across West Kurdistan’s entire breadth. Because by organizing, they could guarantee the protection of the population and guard against the possibility that such a massacre would recur. They didn’t know it at the time, but they were also sowing the seeds for the present revolution.

Let’s skip ahead now to 2012 now and take a closer look at how those days went, in the West Kurdish cities of Kobanê (Ain–al Arab), Dêrik (Al-Malikiya), Qamişlo, and Amûde.

Kobanê, where it all began

It’s the night of July 18-19. People in the city of Kobanê are stealing into a mosque to participate in a people’s assembly there. They reach a decision: the revolution must proceed!

Their armed defense committees (which would become part of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG), take control of the main access roads to and from Kobanê, while civilians, in an organized action, lay siege to regime institutions and the Assad army’s military strongpoints. A short negotiation is enough to convince those in charge of the barracks that they have nothing left but to lay down their arms. That night the solders leave the barracks and return to their home cities or else, accepting an offer from the people of Kobanê, choose to live as civilians in the city. Without a bullet being fired, the revolution on that summer night has begun. In the coming days it will will spread to other cities.

Second Station of the Revolution: Dêrik

Photo by Janet Biehl

A street corner in Derik, 2014

The day after the revolution began in Kobanê, the people of Dêrik decided that their city would be the second station. Here too the Kurdish residents had already begun, months earlier, to organize themselves. Now the time had come for all that organizing work to bear fruit. [Afrin was the second city to be liberated and Amude was third; Derik was fourth.—trans.] At this writing, by their own account, the people’s councils of Dêrik now control 95 percent of the city. The only service delivery that is still performed by the state is the transfer of natural gas and petroleum. [This is no longer the case. –trans.]

Dêrik’s population numbers about 80,000, mostly people of Kurdish heritage, but Christians make up 15 percent of the population, and about 4,000 Arabs live there, resettled as a result of the Arab Belt policy. The Baath regime originally wanted Dêrik to be entirely Arabized, because the area is rich in petroleum and natural gas. About 75 percent of all Syrian petroleum comes form the region around Dêrik. But now most of West Kurdistan’s oil wells lie idle. Before the Syrian uprising, it was mainly foreign developers who refined the region’s oil, but after fighting began, they pulled out. In any case, the people of West Kurdistan were not satisfied with these foreign investors. Especially in the last three or four years, cancer rates among people who live near the oil wells have noticeably risen. Residents assume the increase is connected to the oil developers’ processing techniques.

Oil rig near Derik

Oil rig near Derik

“The people’s council has to deal with these problems,” says Haci Çeto, one of the two speakers of the people’s council of Dêrik. At the outbreak of the revolution, the council took over the city’s leadership functions. Currently 111 people make up the people’s council, among them Arabs and Christians. The Christian population sympathizes with the construction of Democratic Autonomy, but many Arabs remain skeptical, Çeto explains, especially Arabs whom the Baath regime settled in West Kurdistan. The so-called Mexmûrî Arabs remain Assad supporters. But Çeto is optimistic that if the people’s council does excellent work, they can be persuaded. “And then in the next elections to the people’s council, surely more Arabs and Christians will be elected,” Çeto says.

The Revolution’s Success Depends on Qamişlo

As the revolution unfolded in Kobanê and Dêrik, many observers turned speculative eyes on Qamişlo. With half a million residents, it is the largest city in West Kurdistan, and it lies directly on the border with Turkey. Both facts give the city a special character, so it may not be an exaggeration to say that the revolution will stand or fall in Qamişlo.

Accordingly the people in Qamişlo are proceeding with very deliberate steps. Up to now the regime institutions have not occupied, as they were in other West Kurdistan cities. When asked why not, Remziye Mihemed, speaker of the people’s council of Qamişlo replies: “On March 12, 2004, a massacre was carried out in Qamişlo. With the approval of the regime, which had prepared the various groups here in the city would kill each other off. Fortunately that didn’t happen, but we’re afraid the regime could try it again. So we don’t want to take any hasty steps and are letting the process get drawn out a little.”

Most of Qamişlo’s population is of Kurdish heritage, but Arabs, Armenians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians also live in the city. In the 2004 Qamişlo massacre, the regime tried to stir up the city’s Arab population against the Kurds. The starting point, on March 12, 2004, was a local soccer game between an Arab and a Kurdish team. At the entrance to the stadium, security forces frisked and inspected the Kurdish fans, but they let the fans of the Arab team through with knives, clubs, and other weapons. During the game some of the Arab fans chanted “Long live Saddam” and “You can expect a second Halabja.” A poster of Saddam Hussein was unrolled in the stadium, at which point the fan groups finally started fighting. The police had moved out to the front of the stadium, but as the riot spilled over outside, they attacked. They didn’t try to calm people down—they weren’t supposed to do that. They shot at the Kurdish fans and killed a total of eight Kurds.

As Mihemed told me, the Qamişlo massacre was an effort by the regime to pit the Kurds and Arabs against each other. If Kurds now were to seek revenge, the regime might incite the Arabs to attack the Kurdish people all over again. But instead the Kurds had drawn a lesson from this massacre and had organized themselves better. So they made sure the Baath regime’s plan came to nothing and in the process laid the foundation for West Kurdistan revolution.

A neighborhood meeting in Qamislo, 2014

A neighborhood meeting in Qamislo, 2014

Remziye Mihemed is convinced that Democratic Autonomy is the best solution for a city like Qamişlo, because it’s the only way to guarantee a democratic and peaceful coexistence among all the residents. And already representatives of all groups are represented in the Qamişlo people’s council. The council consists of about 300 members who sit on various committees and handle the various issues of social and political life. Two neighborhoods of Qamişlo now have people’s houses, and four more are being planned. Thee people’s houses are contact points for people with problems and concerns. Eventually in every neighborhood a neighborhood council will emerge, where the residents can organize themselves to solve their problems locally. [This was done. –trans.]

Even if the people of Qamişlo don’t take over regime institutions, they will make them redundant, step by step. That’s the goal of the people’s houses and the council structure. [The regime continues to control one district within Qamislo and the airport, at this writing. –trans.]

The Spirit of Resistance Lives in Amûde

Amûde is a very rural district, and the city center is home to only about 60,000 people; but if you include the 156 villages around Amûde, the number of residents rises to about 200,000. They have long been known for their spirit of resistance, which always made them a thorn in the side of the regime. On November 13, 1960, Syria’s rulers tried to break this spirit of resistance with a gruesome massacre. About 300 of the city’s elementary school students were invited to view a film in a cinema. During the showing the cinema was set on fire, and all the children were burned to death horrifically. This massacre is seared into the collective memory of the people of Amûde, but it did not cause them to lose their rebellious sprit. Up until two years ago, the regime forbade them even to memorialize the massacre victims, but now things have started to change here.

Memorial to the children who died in the cinema fire

Memorial to the children who died in the cinema fire

The strength of the sprit of resistance in Amûde can be seen in the speed of its self-organization. In mid-May the people’s council organized itself and elected its delegates, who have since then been running the city. Government agencies have entirely lost their function. Even the energy and gas supply, up to now an absolute state monopoly, has been taken over by the people’s council. In addition to the people’s council, the people have set up a people’s house, a women’s center, two speech centers, a culture center, and a youth center.

Amûde’s women’s center is of especially great interest. Every day dozens of women got there to share their concerns and worries with other women. Women realized, at a conference last year, that such a center was urgently needed. Since its opening in July of this year, it has offered not only advice but education, ranging from literacy courses to gender ideology. “We reject the roles that the system prescribes for women,” explains Evin Xalid, one of those in charge of the center. “The reason women today are so alienated from their own identity is that they can ‘enjoy’ only the education provided by the system. We want to construct a new education system here, one that helps women find their own identity,”

The Strongest Weapon: Continue to Build Democratic Autonomy

The revolution in West Kurdistan is a ray of hope in the otherwise chaotic Middle East. The experience of communal self-government here is valuable for the people in the entire region. Democratic Autonomy appears today as the only solution for a peaceful and democratic cohabitation among the region’s various cultures. But Democratic Autonomy also has enemies, especially the region’s states, who must fear its challenge to their power. And representatives of international capital to have problems with the progressive solutions proposed by the Kurdish freedom movement, because they know that a regional implementation of Democratic Autonomy would cause problems for their exploitation of the region and its wealth.

For the people of West Kurdistan, defending the revolution against all its enemies will not be easy. The best way to do so would be simply to continue the current process without interruption. And they are working day and night to do so.

 

Published in Kurdistan Report 165 (November December 2012), at http://www.kurdistan-report.de/images/pdf/164ebook.pdf. Translated from the German by Janet Biehl.