Mesopotamian Ecology Movement

 The Mesopotamian Ecology Movement recently issued a declaration of social-ecological aims. 

Final Declaration of the First Conference of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, April 23-24, 2016, in Wan (Van), North Kurdistan

On April 23 and 24, 2016, the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement (MEM) held its first conference in the city of Wan (Van). One hundred delegates participated, coming from the provinces Amed (Diyarbakir), Dîlok (Gaziantep), Riha (Sanliurfa), Merdîn, Muş, Wan, Elih (Batman), Siirt, Dersîm, and Bedlîs (Bitlis) in Turkey.MEH_1.Konf_Foto_2

Activists from the following movements and groups also participated: Gaya magazine, Anti Nuclear Platform, Green Resistance, Green Newspaper, Green and Left Party, Black Sea in Rebellion, Defense of North Forests, Water Rights Campaign, and Dersîm-Ovacik Municipality; and from the German group International Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and Organizations (ICOR) and the East Kurdistan group Green Chiya.

In addition, representatives of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), Free Women of Kurdistan (KJA), Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were present. Taken together, a total of 170 people joined the first large gathering of the MEM assembled since its founding.

The conference was organized during a period of intensive political struggle on the part of people in Kurdistan for freedom and self-governance, a struggle that may significantly change the future of the region but that also demands many victims.

Based on the trinity of city, class, and state and using the method of domination–capital accumulation, capitalist modernity creates a suffocating and unproductive society even as it presents nature with every kind of destruction. On behalf of the existing hegemonic system, the nation-state und its governments disperse the solidaristic character of society and instead impose unemployment, poverty, unhealthy nourishment via industrial agriculture and GMOs, and the cultural-social devastation on the people. Huge destructive projects like the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), the Ilisu Dam, the Munzur dams, Green Way, and Cerattepe Mining and Kanal Istanbul have been developed with the aim of clearing forests for construction, commercializing the waters, commodifying the land, controlling nature and people, and promoting the consumption of fossil fuels, all of which alienates people from original nature and from social life.

Currently, the ruling regime in Turkey is carrying out a campaign of brutality in Kurdistan that is incomparable in the recent history of the Middle East. In a new, perfidious dimension, it has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Sur, Nusaybin, Hezex, Kerboran, Farqin, Şırnak, Gever, Silopi, and Cizre, cities that are systematically being destroyed. Yet the international public remains silent on the destruction of nature and cities and on all the massacres of people.

The nation-state’s monist and denialist mentality and capitalist modernity’s unlimited profit-, competition-, and domination-seeking character have brought the world to its current grave state. Social disasters become ecological disasters, and vice versa. Society and humanity must put a stop to this development, for if it continues, we will reach the point where a turnaround is no longer possible. Therefore the mobilization of an ecological resistance is crucially important.

Despite the mentality and practices of destruction, a turnaround is possible. To achive it, we must mobilize the ecological struggle against wars and against the numerous dams, coal plants, and mines that are poised to eliminate our life-areas and our cultural and social values. We have to spread the ecological struggle using the maxim “Communalize our land, waters, and energy and set up a free, democratic life.” We must defend the democratic nation against the nation-state; the communal economy against capitalism, with its quick-profit-seeking logic and monopolism and large industries; organic agriculture, ecological villages and cities, ecological industry, and alternative energy and technology against the agricultural and energy policies imposed by capitalist modernity.

Since the ecological struggle is the touchstone for the liberation of all humanity, every action may bring us closer to a free individual and a free society. Our struggle to reach our natural and societal truth, the fundamental justification of our existence, is an important contribution to the liberation of people and nature on our planet. With great excitement, which we feel deeply, we assume our role in this struggle.

Our paradigm, which heralds a bright age in the twenty-first century and coming millennia, is a radical democratic, communal, ecological, women-liberated society. The ecological struggle goes beyond any single struggle to encompass the vital essence of the free life paradigm. Without ecology, society cannot exist, and without humanity and nature, ecology cannot exist. Ecology, as the essence and self of the millennia-old universal dialectic of formation, interweaves all interconnected natural processes as like the rings of a chain.

The struggle against capitalist modernity is the struggle to develop a democratic, social, and liberatory mindset, and the struggle against state-sovereignty is the struggle to become a social subject. This can develop only through a social movement, through a struggle for freedom that takes a stand against the system that jeopardizes nature, society, and the individual in the interests of capitalist profit and state hegemony.

In the Middle East, the history of ecology has not yet been written. To achieve the liberation of women, it has been necessary to learn the history of woman; just so, to achieve an ecological society, it is necessary to know the history of ecology. By opening up ecology academies, we can bring ecological consciousness as an essential component to programs of study in all social spheres and all academic curricula. Bringing ecological consciousness and sensibility to the organized social sphere and to educational institutions is as vital as organizing our own assemblies.

In relation to the construction of a democratic and ecological society, our conference passed several important resolutions that we hope will constitute an intellectual, organizational, and operational contribution for the global ecological movements. Some of the resolutions are:

– To establish a strategic intellectual, organizational, and operational coordination with national and international ecology movements in order to enhance common discussions and actions against ecological destruction and exploitation.

– To struggle against the mental, physical, and ideological destruction of energy, water, forests, soil, cities, agriculture seeds, and technology; and based on the approved policies of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, to mobilize a struggle for the construction of a new life.

– To fight the system that demolishes urban settlements and burns forests in Kurdistan; to publicize the ecological devastation experienced in Kurdistan and to map the devastations occurring within the war.

– To plan actions, in coordination with other ecology movements, against the destruction of cities in Kurdistan; to ensure our active participation in solidarity platforms that have been established in these cities.

– To continue struggles to preserve cultural and natural sites in Kurdistan that face extinction—such as Hasankeyf, Diyarbakır-Sur, the Munzur Valley, and “Gele Goderne”—due to the energy and security policies.

– To develop an ecological model suitable for Kurdistan.

– To build a greater and more regular presence in print and digital media and to establish ecology academies.

– To carry out legal struggles parallel to ongoing actions and campaigns.

-To expand the own organizational structures throughout Kurdistan and Middle East.

Lightly edited by Janet Biehl. If your group would like to connect with the MEM, please write to mehdiplo@riseup.net.

 

 

Act Like a Friend

by Janet Biehl

The United States excels at sustaining friendly relations with dictatorial regimes, especially those that control oilfields and other resources. Such exploitative ties are useful for enhancing the profits of wealthy elites but contradict the country’s stated values of democracy and secularism. Normally the contradiction can be smoothly overlooked by our governing professionals, as US policy accommodates powers that are inimical to those values.

But now a situation has arisen in which a people friendly to the United States not only shares those values but actually attempts to put them into practice. Where the US says it favors democracy, Kurds in Syria have created an innovative and progressive form of democracy. Where the US favors separation of church and state, the Kurdish system emphasizes ethnic and religious toleration and inclusiveness in way that embodies it in practical terms.

The Kurdish defense forces YPG and YPJ are certainly the US-led coalition’s most valued allies in the war against ISIS, having amply demonstrated a unique military prowess against the jihadists.

And ever since the battle for Kobani in 2014-15, the US-led coalition has provided weapons and air support for them and, more recently, for the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), of which the YPG and YPJ are the chief components. Despite the insistent objections of its NATO ally Turkey, the US has deployed 50 Special Forces on the ground to assist the SDF, and recently it added another 250. Such aid is crucial for the SDF’s continued military success against ISIS and an in broad terms an act of friendliness.

The US military cooperation with the SDF is “very good,” PYD co-chair Salih Muslim told a gathering at the National Press Club in Washington on April 29.

But US support for Kurds stops there, and indeed in other respects accommodates the interests of enemies not only of Kurdish aspirations but also of Kurdish identity as such. This restraint raises alarms that the friendliness is based on Kurdish military usefulness to the coalition, and that once it has passed, the US will abandon them. Salih Muslim, for example, had to speak to the gathering via Skype since he is not permitted to enter the US.

To have a friend, one must behave like a friend. How would the US–and indeed the international community as a whole–behave if it were to choose to be a friend to Kurds?

Kurds in Syria

A US that acted like a friend would, for one thing, provide the Syrian Kurds with political and diplomatic support as well as military aid. The fact that it does not is “wrong,” said Salih Muslim.

A US that acted like a friend would not obstruct the participation of the Syrian Kurds in the Geneva talks on the future of Syria. This exclusion is an error on many counts, not least because the democratic system that they have been creating in northern Syria since 2012 is highly relevant to the future of the rest of the country.

That system, known as democratic autonomy or democratic confederalism, is a social and political framework that formally decentralizes power to localities so that diverse ethnic and religious groups—Kurds, Arabs, Chechens, Syriacs, and Turkmens—have autonomy, enabling them to coexist in. Women enjoy full political and social rights. It’s “not top-down democracy,” Muslim pointed out, “but democracy coming from the people themselves” in assemblies and councils.

Indeed, Muslim attributed the YPG and YPJ’s military success precisely to the democratic system. At Kobani and elsewhere, “we defeated IS because we have a democracy.” he says. How? Because “everyone feels the threat is his or her problem. They feel they have to do something against it.”

Not only is democratic autonomy progressive, but in geopolitical terms the power-sharing inherent to decentralization, as analyst David Phillips pointed out to the same gathering, is essential to stability. The Kurds have recently formed the North Syrian Federation to advance this system in the rest of Syria. “We want all of Syria to be democratic,” says Muslim.

Yet the US advocates the resuscitation of a unitary state in Syria. Were it to act like a friend, the US would drop the illusion that the erstwhile dictatorial, ethnically homogeneous system of Baath Syria can be revived and instead recognize the legitimacy of the North Syrian Federation, support the expansion of the democratic autonomy system into the rest of Syria, and admit the Syrian Kurds to the Geneva process.

Lamentably, it has failed to date to do any of this, because it yields to the irrational demands of the state lying immediately to Syria’s north.

Kurds in Turkey

The Turkish state legally denies the existence of ethnic minorities within its borders; the Kurds, the largest minority, have resisted such denial for four generations, demanding at minimum basic linguistic and cultural rights. Since the 1980s the Turkish state has waged war on the Kurdish resistance Decades of fighting have proved only that a military solution to the conflict is impossible: the Kurds can never defeat the far stronger Turkish armed forces, yet Turkey cannot suppress the wishes of a 20-million-strong minority, not even by demonizing the PKK and, increasingly, anyone who regards it positively, as “terrorist.”

Yet the US, as a NATO ally of Turkey, affirms Turkey’s right to try to suppress the “terrorists” within by using brute force.

The Turkish state’s war against the Kurds is increasingly cruel, having escalated to a level that surpasses basic human rights standards. Starting in the summer of 2015, Turkish forces imposed sieges and 24-hour shoot-to-kill curfews on cities and neighborhoods in the southeast, such as Cizre, Silopi, Sur neighborhood of Diyarbakir, and many others. It used and continues to use heavy weapons against civilian areas, killing even children, and in the process displacing almost half a million people.

The US, if it were a friend to Kurds and to human rights as such, would by now have grown hoarse with protest at this appalling human-rights criminality. It would at the very least insist that Turkey investigate the security forces that committed these crimes, or failing that, insist that an international fact-finding commission be permitted to do so.

Moreover the Turkish state is increasingly authoritarian and Islamist, cracking down on newspapers, shutting down TV channels, and persecuting academics and journalists. On May 2 it decided strip the pro-Kurdish, peace-advocating Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of diplomatic immunity and prosecute its members as supporters of “terrorism.” The US and the rest of the international community must raise their voices in vigorous objection.

Behind the scenes, journalist Amberin Zaman told the National Press Club meeting, the US has been pressuring the PKK to lay down its arms, but it is pressuring the wrong party. If the US were a friend to Kurds, it would instead pressure the Turkish state to resume peace talks with the PKK as the legitimate representative of the Kurdish people in Turkey; to free the Kurds’ spokesperson, Abdullah Öcalan, from 17 years of solitary imprisonment; and to negotiate with him for peaceful solution to the Kurdish question.

The US cooperates with Turkey by placing the PKK on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations. If the US were a friend to Kurds, it would grasp that given the Turkish state’s failure to accommodate their will, the Kurds have every reason to object to their treatment, and it would discard the notion that the PKK is terrorist and remove it from this list.

That solution, when it comes, will no longer be a matter of achieving Kurdish linguistic or cultural rights alone. The longer the war grinds fruitlessly on, and the longer the Turkish state persists in ignoring the will of 20 million citizens, the more obvious it becomes that the Turkish state has forfeited its legitimacy to govern the mostly Kurdish southeast. The US, were it a friend to Kurds, would recognize this fact and press for Kurdish autonomy.

Indeed, the very nature of the Turkish system of government should be in play. Two contrasting proposals for a new system have been floated. The AKP proposes to create a presidential dictatorship, a neo-Ottoman caliphate, featuring authoritarian structures, ethnic homogeneity, the suppression of dissent, and traditional roles for women. The Kurdish proposal, by contrast, calls for the democratization and decentralization of Turkey, along the lines of democratic autonomy, with acknowledgment of ethnic diversity, freedom of expression, and gender equality. The US, if it were a friend to Kurds and true to its stated ideals, would raise its voice in support the Kurdish proposal.

The US, if it were truly a friend of human rights, let alone the Kurds, would rethink its entire alliance with Turkey as a member of NATO. “If NATO were established today,” said David Phillips, “Turkey would not meet criteria of membership.”

Kurds in Iraq

The United States and much of the international community still harbors the notion that Iraq is a unitary state. President Obama insists that the Kurds of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) have to work with Baghdad. But Iraq, like Syria, is fragmenting, and the unitary state centered in Baghdad increasingly belongs to history. If the US were a friend to Kurds, it would accept this reality and adjust its policy.

Iraq’s 2005 constitution promised decentralization and autonomy for the KRG, but those promises remain unfulfilled, as both the Al-Maliki and Al-Abadi governments have failed to implement provisions for regional control of new oilfields as well as devolution of certain powers to the regions. Al-Maliki even cut the KRG’s proceeds from oil sales.

KRG president Massoud Barzani has called for a referendum on independence in September or October. The US, as a friend to Kurds, should support independence for Iraqi Kurdistan and, further, a devolution of powers for local autonomy along the lines of democratic autonomy.

One group of Kurds in northern Iraq, the Ezidis of SInjar, require special attention. If the US were a friend to Kurds, it would acknowledge that in August 2014 ISIS committed genocide against them, massacring thousands, some by beheading, and selling women into sexual slavery. The KRG’s peshmerga, the force that was supposed to protect them, failed to do so, forcing the PKK to come and rescue those who survived. The US and the international community, as friends to Kurds, must acknowledge the genocide and intervene to protect their rights according to international laws. They should open an investigation into the genocide through international institutions and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The US as a friend to Kurds should aid Ezidi resistance forces, tasked with protecting the people against further attacks from ISIS. The US as a friend to Kurds would work to create democratic autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan, a confederal system in which Ezidis could continue to live in Sinjar as they have for millennia.

* * *

During the week of April 23, a delegation from the HDP visited Washington. afterward co-chair Selahattin Demirtas was asked about his expectations on this visit.

“We don’t ask anything of anyone,” he replied. “Rather we have proposals for a solution, and that’s what we focus on. We just explain our views, so that people know what they are firsthand, directly, so that they can avoid misconceptions when formulating policy. Our position doesn’t change in different circumstances.”

He urged people in every country where the government has influence over Turkey—the United States, Europe, and Russia—to pressure that government on behalf of democratic autonomy for Kurds and their allies. And where information about the Turkish conflict is shut out of the mainstream media, alternative media can step in and provide “mass education” so that people “can pressure the government to change policy.”

“Organized people can do everything,” co-chair Muslim told the gathering. He was referring to the creation and defense of democratic autonomy in North Syria, but the same principle applies to international solidarity work. And friendships, however inadequate at present, can be developed. US policy toward the Kurds, says David Phillips, “is evolving,” and “to the extent we raise our voices we have an opportunity to shape it.” Continued organizing, he believes, can pressure the US government to finally act like the friend that the long-neglected Kurdish people deserve.

May 2, 2015 2016

 

 

 

Joint Statement of the International Peace Delegation, February 2016

Judge Essa Moosa

Judge Essa Moosa

 

Joint Statement of the International Peace Delegation

 Istanbul, February 15-16, 2016

 

INTRODUCTION

The situation in Turkey today is critical. The recent escalation of conflict surrounding the Kurdish question is most dangerous. The war in Syria has already spilled over into widespread hostilities across the Southeast of Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP government is committing human rights’ atrocities in Cizre and other towns and cities, and there is a very real threat of a further spiraling of violence throughout the country. The state’s repression and intimidation of Turkish academics and journalists who have spoken out against its war-mongering reveals the intimate connection between the struggle for a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish question and the struggle for democracy in Turkey more generally.

ISOLATION OF ABDULLAH ÖCALAN

The escalation of conflict has coincided with the total isolation of the leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, Abdullah Öcalan, who from his lonely prison cell on the island of Imrali has been a crucial role-player and a consistent voice calling for peace.

Yet the very fact that Öcalan is in prison was a problem even during the talks that occurred for two years starting in March 2013. His condition of imprisonment forces him to negotiate with his captors – an inherent disadvantage. Moreover, in prison he cannot consult with his constituency. Before substantive negotiations can start, the state must first release him, as Nelson Mandela was released before – not after or during – the South African negotiations. Until Öcalan is freed, only talks about talks, and not actual negotiations, can take place. Mandela emphasized that only free persons and not prisoners can negotiate, on behalf his people, for a political solution.

THE TEN-MEMBER INTERNATIONAL PEACE DELEGATION

On February 14 a ten-member international delegation assembled in Istanbul to try to help restart the Kurdish-Turkish peace process, which has been suspended since the spring of 2015. The leader of the delegation, Judge Essa Moosa of the High Court of South Africa, on behalf of the delegation, wrote a letter to the Turkish Ministry of Justice on February 3 to request two meetings: one with the Ministry, to discuss ways and means to resume the peace process between the Turkish government and Ocalan; and one with Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali to discuss the same issue. We requested that the meetings take place on February 15, which coincided with the seventeenth anniversary of Öcalan’s capture and detention. Judge Moosa formerly acted for Nelson Mandela, while imprisoned on Robben Island and elsewhere and was involved in the negotiation process in South Africa.

THE ONLY VIABLE SOLUTION

Convinced that neither the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) nor the Turkish military could ever decisively prevail in a war that would only exacerbate the severe humanitarian crises in the country, we believe that the peace process offers the only solution and that Öcalan, as the chief spokesperson for the Kurdish movement, is essential to that process. No progress toward a solution can be achieved, we believe, without Öcalan’s participation.

REQUEST FOR AUDIENCE

Unfortunately our delegation was granted neither of the two meetings that we requested. On February 15, the ministry acknowledged receipt of the letter but did not bother to formally accept or reject our request. Beyond that mere acknowledgment, it gave no response at all by the time we left Turkey. We are extremely disappointed that we were not afforded an opportunity to engage the Minister of Justice and Öcalan on the question of the resumption of the peace process.

MEETINGS

The delegation meanwhile met with representatives from a variety of political and social organizations who briefed us on the country’s most disturbing situation. We also met with lawyers and lawyer’s organizations, who have been deeply involved in the defense of members of the Kurdish freedom movement against criminal charges, and who have themselves been the subject of much intimidation and persecution by the state.

FROM PEACE TO WAR

All these representatives recounted to us that during the current period of Öcalan’s isolation, from April 2015, the Erdoğan government has shifted from a peace footing to a war footing. The shift from peace-making to war-making has coincided with the total isolation of Öcalan. As he enters the eighteenth year of his detention, he leads a solitary life. Two other prisoners of the five who were formerly present on Imrali have now been transferred to other high-security prisons. Öcalan’s only human contact is with his guards or, if so permitted, with the remaining three prisoners. Not even his family can visit him. His lawyers, who have not been able to visit him since 2011, apply to visit at least once a week, but they have applied 600 times now and are repeatedly turned down, given absurd excuses that the boat is broken. No one at all has been permitted to visit since the last HDP delegates left on April 5, 2015. No communication from him has been received since then. He is suffering from poor health and his access to medical care is limited.

Meanwhile the situation in the country deteriorated rapidly after the elections and the peace process decisively came to an end. We are informed that cities are becoming war zones, pounded with heavy artillery and tank fire. Children are being killed. People’s parents and grandparents are shot dead in streets, but because of the curfew, their bodies cannot be retrieved for extended periods. We are told that certain police forces are licensed to shoot anyone with full impunity, with no fear of consequences. These Special Forces are not commanded by local governors but are directly linked to the government.

In Cizre, people, many of them civilians who took refuge in three different basements have been killed, even burned alive, and now the state is destroying the buildings to eliminate the evidence. Violence against women is on the rise. Women are killed, then stripped and humiliated. These constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It violates the Third Geneva Convention, to which Turkey is committed and it meet United Nations criteria for genocide.

ANGER

On the Kurdish side, anger against the government is rising, and many are moving away from Turkish society altogether. The Kurds sense that the war on the cities is linked to the election outcome. Even as war crimes and atrocities are being committed, however, the EU and the US are averting their eyes. Internationally, the AKP controls the flow of refugees into Europe, and it uses that leverage to intimidate European powers. European governing parties fearing what increased immigration might do to their electoral prospects, stay silent as massacres are under way in Turkey. As for the United States, it repeatedly affirms its military alliance with Turkey in the war against IS, despite the fact that Turkey’s prime enemies in the conflict are not IS (which it even supports) but the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, as well as Bashar al-Assad.

TURKISH EXTENDING WAR-ZONE INTO SYRIA

The Erdoğan government continues to bombard the Kurdish forces in Syria, the very forces who have proven to be the US-led coalition’s only effective ally in the struggle against IS. There is even talk of a ground invasion by Turkey into the Kurdish region of Syria, which could well trigger war with Russia, with unfathomable consequences for the region and the world. The fate of the Kurds depends in large part, then, on people in the rest of the world calling on governments and international institutions to change their policies toward Turkey and stand up for the beleaguered Kurds.

THE ATTITUDE TO THE PEACE TALKS

Our last meeting was a round table with around fifty Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals, journalists, human rights leaders, and academics. Some emphasized the urgent necessity to resume the peace talks, while others despaired that talks are no longer relevant when people are being burned alive.

THE RESOLUTION

In the light of circumstances, we, the undersigned, the members of the International Peace Delegation, unanimously resolve as follows:

  • We call upon the Turkish Government and Abdullah Öcalan to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency. In December 2012, the Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as the Chair of the Elders, which was founded by Nelson Mandela, in a personal note to the then Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “Peace is better than War” and appealed to the Prime Minister to resume the peace process with Abdullah Öcalan.
  • In order for genuine Peace negotiations to take place to resolve the Kurdish issue in Turkey that Abdullah Öcalan, who is a crucial role-player, be released unconditionally from prison, to enable him to take his rightful place at the negotiating table for the lasting resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey and for the democratization of Turkey.
  • We call upon the Turkish Government to level the playing field by, amongst other, legitimizing PKK and other banned organizations, releasing of all political prisoners and permitting exiles to return to the Turkey to participate in the peace process.
  • We resolve to lobby our respective governments and non-governmental organizations to put pressure on the Turkish government to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency and in those countries where PKK is listed as a terrorist organization and Abdullah Öcalan is listed as a terrorist that pressure is put on such government to remove them from such list as they are a liberation movement and a freedom fighter in terms of the International Human Rights Instruments.
  • We call upon the international human rights organizations to investigate, as a matter of urgency, the human rights abuse perpetrated by the Turkish authorities against the civilian population in the areas of conflict and to assess and determine whether such abuses constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and/or contravention of the Geneva Convention.
  • We call upon the Committee for the Protection against Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe (CPT), as a matter of extreme urgency, to visit Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali Island Prison in order   investigate the violation of his rights, in terms of the European Convention for the Protection Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as a political prisoner in that (i) his right to have access to his lawyers have been violated for the last 5 years; (ii) his right to have access to members of his family have been violated for the last 14 months; (iii) his right not to be completely isolated from social contact which has been violated for an unknown period; and (iv) his right to have access to medical doctors and/or treatment. The CPT is called upon to report urgently on their findings after its visit, to the Council of Europe, to the Turkish government and to Abdullah Öcalan and his lawyers.
  • We call upon the international academic fraternity to come out in support of the dissident academics in Turkey in the interest of academic freedom and give them moral, material, physical and academic assistance.
  • We call upon members of our delegation to distribute this Report as widely as possible to heads of state, foreign ministers, ambassadors, officials, the media, both electronic and print, human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations in our respective countries.

 

Signed:

Andrej Hunko, MP of Left Party, Aachen, Germany

Dimitri Roussopoulos, co-founder of Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, Montreal, Quebec, Canada;

Eirik Eiglad, writer and publisher, New Compass Press, Norway

Dr. Elly Van Reusel, medical doctor, Belgium

Judge Essa Moosa (head of delegation), International Peace and Reconciliation     Initiative, South Africa

Federico Venturini, School of Geography, University of Leeds; advisory board member of Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, UK

Francisco Velasco, former Minister of Culture, Ecuador

Janet Biehl, independent author; advisory board member of Transnational Institute for Social Ecology, US

Joe Ryan, chair of the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, UK

Dr. Thomas Jeffrey Miley, lecturer in political sociology, Cambridge University, UK

 

For more information on the delegation please contact:

Kariane Westrheim of the EUTCC (EU Turkey Civic Commission):

E-mail: Kariane.westrheim@gmail.com

Essa Moosa (Head of the International Delegation)

E-mail: Essa.moosa1@gmail.com

Estella Schmid
E-mail: estella24@tiscali.co.uk

 

Coordinator Elly van Reusel: imralivisit2016@gmail.com, +32-3-487-285075

 

This edition of the statement, published February 25, has been slightly modified since the version published a few days earlier.

 

 

 

“The places are hermetically sealed”

For the past few weeks, special forces of Turkish police and military have been cracking down on rebels in the country’s southeast. Journalists are being kept out of the closed-off towns and cities.  Ercan Ayboga, on the scene in Diyarbakir (Amed), was interviewed by Marcus Staiger for Junge Welt, December 30, 2015. Translated by Janet Biehl.

Q. For weeks we’ve been hearing about fighting in Turkey’s southeast and about numerous fatalities. Who is dying in the streets of Cizre, Silopi, Dargecit, and Sur?

A. On one side, Turkish security forces—police, soldiers and special forces. On the other, mainly civilians. It depends on who’s making the statement. The Turkish government says that from the beginning of the operation till now, it has killed more than 200 terrorists. But the Youth Organization YDG-H, which participates in the fighting, says most of those killed have been civilians, and that they themselves have lost no more than ten fighters. I think the YDG-H number is closer to the truth, because otherwise we would have had more public funerals. What I can confirm is that civilians are dying. In Cizre, a woman was shot and lay in the street for several days, severely wounded, and her family couldn’t come and get her because they too would have been shot. The woman finally died, in sight of her family. Such things happen here every day.

Q. The media report that curfews are being imposed on the besieged cities. What does that actually mean?

A. The curfews are in effect indefinitely, until the governor announces something else. No one is allowed to go into the streets, and there are also no times when people can go outside and get supplies. In Sur this curfew has been going on for twenty-eight days. In Cizre and Silopi, for sixteen. After the military coup, in the 1980s, there were also curfews, but only during nighttime. Now the towns and villages are hermetically sealed by the police and the army, so no one from outside can enter.

Q. How are the inhabitants reacting to such a long blockade?

A. People probably stockpiled provisions in advance, expecting something like this to happen. After all, these aren’t the first such curfews. In Cizre and Silopi, they’re on the fourth one this year. Here in the old city of Amed it’s the sixth. Most of the residents here say, We’ll stay here in our neighborhood and resist alongside with the armed units. The officials always say that the fighters are PKK cadres, coming in from outside. That could be true in some cases, but mainly they are people from the affected neighborhoods. So the inhabitants stand with the fighters and support them. The fighters have set up barricades all over and have dug ditches so that the security forces’ armored vehicles can’t enter the quarter. Up to now it all seems to be succeeding in preventing the politic and military from significantly penetrating these neighborhoods—and as a result, the shooting from the government side has become wilder and more indiscriminate.

Q. What are the rebels’ goals?

A. The goals of the Kurdish freedom movement are a democratic Turkey, with autonomous institutions, and a new constitution, and gender equality. It’s trying to achieve those goals legally and politically through organizations like the HDP. The YDG-H, on the other hand, wants the same thing but says that in the cities and neighborhoods where it’s strong, it will create free spaces and defend them, keeping the police out. In the cities, which are now so embattled, people have built grassroots-democratic institutions that are stronger and have now called for self-government and autonomy. All these developments have coincided, and you have to realize that now people themselves decide what to do in these legal and democratic institutions They have their own dynamic—and that begins a whole different discussion.

Q. What chance do they have of achieving these goals?

A. I’d say fifty-fifty. It’s very hard to estimate, but people are willing to fight for them, and if the Turkish state wants to block them, then there will surely be a very large massacre.

 

 

The Embargo Against Rojava

The TATORT Kurdistan delegation reported on the embargo against Rojava during their visit in May 2014.

Although Rojava (in northern Syria) is a mosaic of languages and cultures, regional and international powers have isolated it both economically and politically—indeed, it is now entirely on its own. To the north, Turkey has walled the region off. To the east, South Kurdistan has lined its veritable ditch with military checkpoints. To the south, the radical Islamist combat units of ISIS and the Al Nusra Front have cut the region off from the rest of Syria.

This embargo is having severe consequences for the people of Rojava.

Taken by itself, Rojava is economically quite a wealthy place. It produces 60 percent of Syria’s wheat and oil, and it raises cotton for the Syrian market. Vis-à-vis Syria it had the status of a colony, in the sense of being a source of raw materials. Rojava doesn’t have processing industries. Thus it grows and harvests grains, but it doesn’t mill them. It doesn’t refine oil but shipped it at great expense to central Syria. That, at least, was the starting situation for Rojava.

The water supply for agriculture comes partly from deep wells, but after the jihadis took over the power stations in Raqqa, those pumps—and hence farming—were threatened. But Rojavans began to use diesel generators to produce power. First they had to develop the technology to generate diesel at all. Rojava’s first winter was very hard–snow fell for the first time in several years, and there was no heating oil. But today many small generators pollute the cities. Only a few of the large ones are available, and no more can be imported because of the embargo.

Turkey and the Embargo

Turkey and South Kurdistan (the Kurdish region of Iraq) work closely together to maintain the embargo against Rojava. They recognize that Rojavans are attempting, through a grassroots organization, to go beyond capitalist modernity and Western intervention. If the Rojava project should turn out to function, the political and social consequences will ripple throughout the Middle East. that would interfere with the strategy of the NATO states, so they support the embargo.

For years, Kurds have been constructing Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan, even under Turkish occupation. The Turkish state has been trying to destroy this project by arresting thousands of activists and politicians en masse. By no means will Turkey tolerate Democratic Autonomy in Rojava, lying as it does just across the border, and inspired as it is by the PKK chief, Abdullah Öcalan. So Turkey supplies weapons to the radical Islamic Al Nusra Front, and it furnishes ISIS with a logistical hinterland. No, it’s only the grassroots democratic forces in Rojava that are subjected to embargo.

South Kurdistan and the Embargo

At first glance, the fact that South Kurdistan supports the embargo may seem strange. The head of state Barzani has repeatedly proclaimed that South Kurdistan is independent, but the region long ago became a quasi-colony. The South Kurdish government is financed by petrodollars, which it receives from the Iraqi central government and distributes among its minions. Yet South Kurdistan itself produces almost nothing—no agricultural products—even chickens are brought in from Brazil. So it is actually extremely dependent on other countries. Most of the manufactured goods and investment capital found there come from Turkey. The government is politically quite dependent on Ankara, and in relation to Rojava, it follows the policy that Ankara desires.

It would be sugarcoating, however, to present the Kurdish regional government as the sole actor in this respect. The KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) actually would like very much to control Rojava, especially the oil wells in Rimelan. But the Democratic Autonomy system, built by the Kurdish freedom movement, is an obstacle—so it must be destroyed by any means. Since the embargo alone doesn’t seem to be dong the job, militias of the KDP’s offshoot party in Syria, ENKS, have joined in on attacks mounted by Islamic gangs, like the massacres of Til Hasil and Til Haran in the summer of 2013.

The arrest of Bashir Abdulmecid Musa in May 2014 revealed an unexpected aspect to these attacks. Musa had attempted, along with an accomplice, to bomb an Arab house in Tirbespi. The bomb detonated too early, killing the accomplice, but Musa was not wounded and was arrested. He turned out to be a member of the KDP in Syria; he had been educated in South Kurdistan, he said. The goals of his group are to bomb both Arab buildings and the Rojavan self-government buildings, in order to provoke a conflict between Arabs and Kurds.

His wasn’t the only case. In February a car bomb detonated outside the offices of the women’s organization Yekitiya Star in downtown Derik. A father and child were killed. The explosion stirred panic in the city, at which point the KDP opened the borders to South Kurdistan, and many Derik residents fled there. It’s the goal of the KDP and its allies to try to drive people out of Rojava. Now South Kurdistan is preventing these very people from returning to Derik. As Berivan of Yekitiya Star explained to us, it tends to be the educated people, doctors, and engineers who leave Rojava, seeking better pay in South Kurdistan. So the well-off leave—and the poor stay behind. This aspect of the embargo has become a serious problem, since Rojava lacks specialists in every area. Solidarity help from the whole world is requested.

The Perils of Flight

But fleeing can often be dangerous too–refugees may be subject to attack. On May 15, at the Turkish border, Turkish soldiers shot a mother of two children who was on her way to Europe to meet her partner. Many other border crossers, smugglers, and refugees passing between Rojava and North Kurdistan/Turkey have met similar fates. Still, it cannot be said that the border is entirely closed. After all, jihadis go back and forth across it in order to resupply in Turkey, even under the watchful eyes Turkish soldiers.

As for refugees trying to cross into South Kurdistan, they may be attacked by peshmerga, either at the border or in the refugee camps. Such attacks can range from extortion to forced prostitution and sexualized violence. For refugees who are poor, South Kurdistan is not place where hopes may be fulfilled; instead, the reality of enclosed camps awaits them. It’s got so bad that the South Kurdish government is escalating, allowing attacks on the Kurdistan National Council (KNK) aid organization and the Kurdish news agency DIHA. These developments point to a worsening of the situation.

Representatives of the youth organization Ciwanen Soresger explained to us that young people especially are casting longing looks at the consumer societies of South Kurdistan and Europe. Often several of their family members may be living in European countries. The revolutionary youth are trying to counteract their desire to flee, by means of education. Still, among the small contingent of refugees in Europe, most aren’t people fleeing the strongly contested areas like Homs or Hama but rather people from relatively safe Rojava; consciously or not, they are acting in accordance with the Turkish wish to depopulate Rojava and thereby rid itself of the Kurdish question.

Consequences of the Embargo

The embargo has had many effects on Rojavan society. Most dramatic is the fact that for all its wealth in wheat and oil, Rojava can’t sell its products. Farmers are reduced to sitting on their wheat and cotton. The transitional government has no money to pay them wages, or to satisfy the needs of both ordinary people and the refugees. Machinery and medicines are urgently needed but can’t be obtained.

While the dearth of medicines and baby formula [Folgemilch] is raising infant mortality, general medical supplies are also scarce, and the price of imported goods, including foodstuffs, is skyrocketing. Medicines sold on the black market are unaffordable. As far as possible, the councils set with price controls, but they can’t affect the price of medications on the black market. The Turkish border sometimes allows medications through, but the aid organization Heyva Sor reports that in mid-2013 at the North Kurdistan-Syrian border, an ambulance coming from Germany was detained. Heyva Sor also reports that the South Kurdistan border is entirely closed to humanitarian aid.

In mid-May the border crossing at Til Kocer, leading into central Iraq, was shut down. So now the embargo is almost complete. Heyva Sor is trying to cover Rojava’s needs, but it’s hardly in a financial condition to meet the needs of refugees from other parts of Syria. Institutions like Doctors Without Borders can buy medications in Qamislo, which are imported by plane from Damascus. But at the moment relief transports are halted, so medicines rot at the border. At this point donations would be helpful.

Rojava is, for all intents and purposes, disconnected from the world market, but the consequences are not wholly negative. Because of the embargo, cooperatives have had a chance to organize the regional production of clothing and foodstuffs and establish themselves. The need for Rojavans to come together and organize daily life has impelled the construction of the council system. Thus the embargo has been both a blessing and a curse. At the end of the day, however, the lack of machinery and much else necessary for the construction of a functioning economy means that everything must be done to end the embargo as soon as possible.

Campaign TATORT Kurdistan Delegation, May 20, 2014.

This article originally appeared in German  here. Translated by Janet Biehl.

If you would like to make a donation to help Rojava under the embargo, or for relief of Kobane or Shingal, please visit the page of the group mentioned in this article, Heyva Sor.

 

 

Journey to Rojava, May 2014

An interview with Ercan Ayboga

As the Islamic State (IS) attacks the Kurdish city of Kobanê, the name Rojava has been on every tongue. But what is this place, and who are the people live there? Ercan Ayboga visited Syrian Kurdistan in May 2014. He was recently interviewed about his trip by the online magazine Marx21.

Q: Briefly, what is Rojava?

The name Rojava refers to the areas within the boundaries of the Syrian state that have a majority Kurdish population. The Kurds call this land West Kurdistan, which is what Rojava means literally. Rojava consists of the three noncontiguous areas, or cantons: Cizîrê, Kobanê, and Afrîn.

Q: Was it easy to travel there?

I traveled there with two friends from Campaign TATORT Kurdistan. We had previously been in contact with people in Rojava’s council structures (Rätestrukturen). We started out in South Kurdistan—that is, northern Iraq—in Sulaimaniya, then we passed through Mosul. We crosssed the border at Til Kocer (Rabia), but since June 2 that’s no longer possible because the IS is there now. Our journey unfolded, however, with no real problems.

Finally we reached Cizîrê in Rojava. It was easy to get there, but it’s harder to get to Afrîn and Kobanê. You have to pass through Turkey, but Turkey has sealed the borders, so nobody gets through. You’d have to do it illegally.

Q: What is daily life like there, given the Syrian civil war?

Cizîrê is the largest one of the three cantons, and we traveled to almost every city. We talked to dozens of organizations and activists. The war has not touched most of the cities of Cizîrê, except for Serê Kaniyê in 2013.

Q: What happened there?

In late 2012 and early 2013 the Al Qaeda organization Al Nusra, coming mainly from Turkey, attacked Serê Kaniyê and overran it. In one neighborhood the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) mounted a resistance. Step by step it fought back against Al Nusra and finally drove it out of the city in the summer of 2013. Now daily life goes on there on much as it did before the war. But the war in Kobanê is far more intense than was the battle for Serê Kaniyê.

Q: What about the Syrian army? Has it left Rojava in peace?

The Syrian army has contact only in three cities in Rojava. The IS and the other armed organizations are a much greater enemy. Because of the Syrian army’s weakness, it doesn’t really attack Rojava. The IS presents by far the greater threat, so no one is talking about waging a war against the Syrian state.

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Most people in Cizîrê’s cities still have the same jobs as before; so do farmers on the land—it’s pretty much business as usual. Outside the war zone, production hasn’t diminished. Cars are as plentiful as before; the cities are still full of people. A few businesses have closed, especially those that depend on imports. Syrian currency is still valid in Rojava, and there’s been no great inflation, so it’s still being used.

The number of armed people in the streets has increased, although the locals no longer view them as a threat. They’re the security forces, or Asayiş, which were democratically created by the council structure.

All the symbols of the Syrian state have vanished. Now instead the symbols, images, and colors of the council structure are visible in most prominent places.

Q: What do they look like?

The colors are yellow, red, and green, mostly in stripes, whether on flags or some other surface. For public and civil institutions, their names appear in three languages: Kurdish, Arabic, and sometimes Assyrian (Aramaic). Before the revolution, Kurdish and Assyrian were forbidden. Along the streets you see many photos of local people who died in the freedom struggle. And here and there are logos of political organizations.

Q: How has life changed since the IS began attacking?

In 2014 the IS intensified its attacks on Rojava, with many strong consequences in the contested areas. Kobanê is a total war zone. In Cizîrê a few places, especially in the south between Hesekê and Til Kocer, have been affected. But Afrîn not at all, up to now. Still, almost everyone is very keyed up. Up to June 2014, the people were discussing the construction of democratic self-government much more than the war.

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Q: How did Rojava originate?

In the spring of 2011, when the rebellion in Syria began, the Party of Democratic Unity (PYD)—the largest Kurdish party—in collaboration with two other Kurdish parties, began to build council structures throughout in Rojava. The PYD realized that the rebellion [against Assad’s regime] would lead to a bloody war and could reach Rojava; the Kurds, it decided, should organize themselves well in advance. So in the summer of 2011 the People’s Council of West Kurdistan (MGRK) came into existence, and it soon gained the support of the majority of the people.

On July 19, 2012, a new phase began when a mostly nonviolent popular revolt liberated the city of Kobanê. That revolt spread to all of Rojava within a few weeks. The thinned-out forces of the state were soon surrounded, and Rojava allowed them safe conduct to the other regions of Syria.

Thereafter the council structures democratically took over Rojava’s government, and since then, with their commissions and enterprises, the councils have organized Rojava’s economic, social, and political life. Except, that is, in the city of Qamişlo, one quarter of which is controlled by the state regime. The YPG protected the cantons, ensuring that they were spared the catastrophic war in Syria. At first it deflected attacks from the FSA and Al Nusra, but since the end of 2013 it has been mainly fighting the IS.

Q: How big is Rojava?

It isn’t one continuous area. The three cantons are divided by strips of land that are majority Arab. Cizîrê is more than twice as large as the other two cantons. More than 600,000 people live in Afrîn, many of them refugees. Kobanê, at mid-September, had more than 300,000, and Cizîrê has more than 1.4 million people. The largest city is Qamişlo, with more than 400,000 people—it’s the center of Rojava.

The people in Cizîrê are ethnically and religiously diverse. Many Arabs and Christian Assyrians live there, as do Armenians—for decades they have lived peacefully with the Kurds.

Q: What is the economy based on?

Agriculture is dominant in all three cantons. Kobanê grows both wheat and olives. Cizîrê specializes in wheat, and Afrîn, olives. That specialization is a disadvantage now because the three regions are so isolated. In foodstuffs, we have a surplus of bread, bulgur, lentils, olive products, and milk products. There aren’t many kinds of vegetables, or much fruit. But the council structure has ensured solidarity so that no one goes hungry.

 

One advantage in Cizîrê is that it has petroleum. Thanks to a refinery that’s been improvised, diesel is plentiful, and it’s sold more cheaply than in Baath times. It’s used regionally and locally to run generators, providing power both for households and for production.

Again, the council structures have prevented economic collapse, imposing price controls and considerably reducing the black market.

Q: Describe these council structures. How do they function?

They’re everywhere—they’re are the dominant element in Rojava’s common life. Now that the Syrian state is no longer present, the councils decide and coordinate everything. If they didn’t, it would all would fall into chaos. But they should not be considered some kind of emergency management.

The councils start, at the lowest level, at the communes, which consist of 30 to 150 households, both in cities and in rural villages. The next level up is the neighborhood councils in the cities, paralleled in the countryside by the village community councils. At the third level we have the area councils, the jurisdictions of which are a city with its surrounding land. The area councils then constitute the highest council–the People’s Council of West Kurdistan (MGRK).

Q: What’s the relationship between the different levels—the neighborhood councils, the area councils, and the People’s Council?

Each commune is coordinated by two chairs—a woman and a man—and by representatives of their various commissions. The chairs are elected for terms of one or two years. Every commune—and indeed each level of the council structure–has the following commissions: women, economy, politics, defense, civil society/occupations, and education.

The two coordinating chairs represent the commune at the next level, the neighborhood. This second level—consisting of 7 to 30 communes—choose from their members a two-person chair and also form the same commissions. Their chairs represent the neighborhood council in the area council. The area councils too have two chairs and form commissions, and their chairs go tot the highest level, the MGRK. The area councils and the MGRK are coordinated by the Tev-Dem (Movement for a Democratic Society), which also includes NGOs and all political parties that support the council system, represented by five people.

Q: What democratic controls are in place? Is there an imperative mandate?

Yes, there’s an imperative mandate. Elections take place every one or two years—the structures of a given locality decide when. The coordinating chairs meet weekly, and their meetings are open to everyone from their jurisdictions.

Q: You spoke of commissions. Why are they necessary?

The six commissions are very important—they handle most of the work. Through them tens of thousands of people actively organize their lives. The PYD’s decision to build the MGRK and to renounce strong party structures has proved to be very astute.

Probably the most important commissions are the women’s commissions or councils, which exist at every level. They cooperate together on the basic liberation of women.

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Now that the MGRK have operated for three years, all three Kurdish parties support it, as do the Assyrians and some of the Arabs. Unfortunately there’s also a conservative-neoliberal party bloc, made up of eight parties. The bloc is called the ENKS, and it opposes the MGRK. It even refused to participate when fifty Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian parties and organizations came together to accept a common social contract and form a transitional government.

Q: Whose interests does the conservative-neoliberal bloc represent? What’s its base?

It’s based mainly in a few clans and on the upper and middle stratum, which in Rojava is relatively not very distinct. And a few people from the lower classes are also close to this bloc. The ENKS is financed and directed by the regional government of South Kurdistan. It has joined the Syrian National Coalition, the larger opposition alliance that includes the Muslim Brotherhood (Muslimbrüder) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), even though the those groups don’t recognized the basic rights of Kurds and are very dependent on Turkey, the Gulf States, and the West. The ENKS advocates a federal structure like that of South Kurdistan, and it want to achieve it through Western intervention. But before 2014 the ENKS was losing a lot of ground in Rojava, and it doesn’t play much of a role.

Q: Why is there a transitional government at all, alongside the council structures? What’s its purpose?

Most Kurds support the MGRK, but most non-Kurds don’t. The purpose of the transitional government is to include as many groups and people as possible. And it’s an effort to achieve legitimacy in Syria, in the Middle East, and in the world. Unfortunately, a council structure wouldn’t be respected internationally.

The transitional government emerged from the council structures and doesn’t contradict them—it recognizes their legitimacy. It’s much more dependent on them than vice versa, since after three years they are functioning so well. The council structures coordinate the economy; there aren’t any large private enterprises.

Q: Is there an additional level of councils in enterprises? How do they fit in with the rest of the council structure?

The private firms have is no council stricture, since only about fifteen people at most work in them. The public enterprises are more important, because they employ more people. Labor unions have recently been brought in, coordinated by the council structures. We are in a transitional phase, it’s all to be configured along direct-democratic lines.

Q: Has private ownership of the means of production been wholly abolished? Or are there still owners and workers in smaller enterprises and businesses?

Private ownership hasn’t been abolished. Personal property has not been touched. The MGRK structures are very conscious about class relations, but at present no one is talking about socializing all the means of production. Because private ownership doesn’t play a great role in the economy. The current politics just aren’t conducive to an increase in privately owned means of production.

Up to 20 percent of the land belongs to large landholders, but land confiscated from the Syrian state has been distributed free to the poorest people in Rojavan society.

In short: the council structures—and also the transitional government, albeit in somewhat weaker form—are guided by the paradigm of a democratic, gender-equal, and ecological society. They reject bourgeois parliamentarism, one-party rule, the subordination of women, conservative structures, and the destructive logic of capitalism and its logic of exploitation.

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Q: What social and political conflicts exist there in Rojava?

There’s a visible contradiction as to whether the council structure and the transitional government can continue to coexist. Over the long term that will have to be resolved.

Even given the strong solidarity and mutual aid, employment is an issue, and it’s not small. Many young people are leaving the land. The general political uncertainty is contributing to the problem.

The existing large landownership stands in contradiction to the cooperatives that are being created both in the city and in the countryside. The profitability of the enterprises created by the council structures will eventually have to be ensured.

The many refugees in Rojava are somewhat burdening the economy. But people in the society must have better housing, jobs, and social contacts. Including them in a good way should be the goal.

The embargo imposed by Turkey must be lifted, since as long as it’s in place, Rojava cannot export either petroleum or wheat. Being able to do so would strengthen the economy enormously, and would allow scarce goods to be introduced.

The insufficient electrical power considerably limits both life and the economy. There’s a lot of complaining about it.

Medications to treat chronic disease aren’t available, so chronically ill people have to leave the land, if they can, or else buy the necessary medications on the black market at a very high price.

The cooperatives that have been built have to advance further, because they offer alternative possibilities of employment to women, who have been strongly oppressed and are now politically engaged.

Q: In June 2013 many cities on Rojava saw protests against the PYD’s security forces. People were protesting the forces’ harsh methods and the arrest of political activists. What is the relationship of the PYD to the other leftist parties and organizations?

Yes, in many cities there were protests against the Asayis, the council structures’ security forces. The Asayis is not answerable to the PYD, by the way, although this party is very important. The protests were mostly organized by the ENKS. It’s true that in the beginning the Asayis in several cases were very harsh, but this was not the general rule.

And yes, it also committed some human rights abuses—in one case several people died. We investigated it. The Asayis have in the meantime learned a lot and are working to improve. All Asayis attend a seminar every week to learn about more humane ways of dealing with people.

Actually most people in Rojava today are very positive about the Asayis. They come from among their own—they aren’t outsiders brought in from some other place. In 2014 there were almost no protests against the Asayis, which shows that the situation has improved.

Q: And what is the connection to South Kurdistan and its ruling KDP?

Starting in early 2013, Rojava’s relations with South Kurdistan (the KRG) were poor, mainly because of South Kurdistan. In April 2014 the KRG built a trench and a wall against Rojava, to obstruct trade and to enforce the embargo against Rojava. It even denied that there’s been a revolution here at all. Finally at the end of October 2014, as a result of the struggle for Kobanê, all parties of Rojava—including the KRG, led by the KDP, and the PKK—came to an agreement. The two sides are drawing closer. Kobanê and all Rojava benefit from that development. But we know that the KDP would like very much to gain more power in Rojava and strip the revolution of its emancipatory content. The council structures, however, are confident of the people’s support and don’t believe their revolution can be either defeated or stolen.

Q: What would the German government do if it really wanted to help people in Kobanê?

It would to exert pressure on Turkey to open a permanent corridor to Kobanê. The corridor is important because YPG units from the two other regions of Rojava need it to get to Kobanê.

It would persuade Turkey to finally stop supporting IS—Turkish support for the IS is at present unabated.

And finally, it would have to lift the ban on the PKK, a ban that intimidates thousands of Kurds and obstructs their solidarity with Kobanê.

 

Ercan Ayboga lives in Germany and writes regularly for Kurdistan Report and Yeni Özgür Politika. He is active in Campaign TATORT Kurdistan. At the moment he and the two other delegation participants are writing a book about the revolution in Rojava.

This interview was originally published in Marx21 on November 10, 2014. http://marx21.de/kurdisches-leben-rojava/ It has been translated from the German by Janet Biehl.

 

People’s Protection Units, YPG and YPJ

Guarantors of the Revolution

by TATORT Kurdistan

On May 6, 2014, we had an opportunity to spend a day with the People’s Protection Units (YPG and YPJ). We visited the Şehit Jînda Academy and met the graduating class of new commanders, male and female.20141014 Kurdish0001

The academy stands among cornfields in Cizîre canton, in traditional houses built from mud, as in the villages. At this school, YPG and YPJ soldiers are educated to become commanders. Contrary to our expectations, these soldiers were of various ages and had already had fighting experience. Many had had their first taste of battle in early adolescence, when they fought regime troops, or ISIS, or the FSA, in defense of their district or village.

Now at the academy they are at least nineteen years old, and the training they are getting places special emphasis on political education. As one commander, Heval Rustem, explained, the mind is the best weapon, and men stand in the middle of the battle. The liberation of women and especially the battle against one’s own male-patriarchal identity, he says, is one of the hardest battles that he has to fight, in order to be socially effective. The YPG and YPJ see themselves as transcending parties, but they are unabashedly committed to humanistic values like women’s liberation, the coexistence of all social groups, and a life in grassroots democracy, beyond capitalist modernity.

The academy’s graduates take an oath in which they swear to uphold the paradigm of a gender-liberated, ecological, and democratic society. More and more Arabs, Assyrians, and members of other ethnic identities participate in the YPG and YPJ as well.

The confrontation with the current political situation, and with gender relations, is revealed not only in the curriculum but also in the form of self-organized theater pieces. The sketches at the Moral Forum portray first feudal society and then its deep-seated transformation, especially through the women of the Kurdish freedom struggle; they show the sordid role played by the Kurdish parties close to the South Kurdish KDP. The soldiers recite poems and revolutionary songs. The mood among the activists is decidedly comradely and positive, as we also saw in the many interviews that we were able to conduct.

Campaign TATORT-Kurdistan, Delegation to Rojava, May 9, 2014. Translated by Janet Biehl. Originally published at http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/isku/erklaerungen/2014/05/06.htm.

The New Justice System in Rojava

Consensus is Key

by Ercan Ayboğa

In May 2014 Campaign TATORT Kurdistan’s delegation to Rojava (North Syria, West Kurdistan) spent almost four weeks in the region of Cizîre. The delegation conducted numerous interviews about the political situation and various aspects of self-management. Ercan Ayboğa was among them and wrote this account of the postrevolutionary justice system.00 Rojava solidarity image

 After the revolution in Rojava began in July 2012, the Syrian justice system was rendered obsolete. Obviously the people, and the political movement that stood behind them, rejected the security apparatus, the political state representatives, and the intelligence agencies, but they also rejected the representative of justice and ousted them from office.

Equally important as removing the dictatorial Baath regime’s personnal was, however, the question of what the new form of justice would look like. In any society that is not yet entirely free of domination, not yet wholly emancipated or liberated socially and along gender lines, so-called crimes—even at a low level—take place, especially against the background of war—conflicts, violence, theft, and robbery—with which the city must grapple.

The foundation of the new justice system that was constructed has the Peace and Consensus Committees. Some of them had previously been formed in the 1990s by left Kurdish political activists in Syrian cities with supportive Kurdish majorities. Even today they perform the tasks of ensuring social peace in their district or locality and of taking action against criminality and social injustice. Under the [Baath] regime these early committees operated underground—the state saw them as a threat to its monopoly over justice, so they operated in parallel to the existing justice system. Despite the increased repression after 2000 and especially after 2004, they continued to exist, albeit in smaller numbers and without reaching the majority of the Kurdish population.

After the localities of Rojava were liberated in the summer of 2012, the places that had already had this experience with the Peace and Consensus Committees underwent no “chaos” or confusion when it came to settling differences in civil and criminal cases. The existing committees were now the go-to places for matters of justice, and where they were absent, they were quickly constructed according to the already existing model.

The Structure of the Justice System

To describe the structure of the justice system in Rojava, we must study the structure that has developed over the past two years. Once the cities and villages were liberated on July 19, 2012, regional justice councils (in Kurdish, diwana adalet) were constructed in the various regions. They emerged at the initiative of the TEV-DEM [the Movement of the Democratic Society], which organized executive bodies of the West Kurdistan People’s Council, or MGRK, throughout Rojava; the MGRK–people’s council system was the decisive force that drove the revolution. The justice councils engaged judges, lawyers, prosecutors, jurists, and others who had broken with the ruling system. Moreover the people’s councils were also members of the Peace and Consensus Committees and elected and appointed further persons. These justice councils have since been crucial for the construction of a new justice system.

The three majority-Kurdish-settled regions were recently were named cantons; the largest of the three is Cizîre. Its justice council, which has eleven members, comprises several district councils; the justice councils in Afrîn and Kobanê have seven each. (Apparently not many people sit on these important committees.) These justice councils coordinate with the people’s councils and are accountable to them; after wide-ranging discussions in the people’s councils, they founded the new justice system.

At the lowest level of the new justice system, created in the villages, districts, and even sometimes streets, are the Peace and Consensus Committees. They resolve cases on the basis of consensus. If it turns out that they can’t do so, the case is taken up to the next level. Difficult cases like murder, it must be said, aren’t handled by the Peace and Consensus Committees but are taken directly to the higher levels.

At the communal level the Peace and Consensus Committees have a dual structure. The general committees are responsible for conflicts and crimes; the women’s commissions are responsible for cases of patriarchal violence, forced marriage, plural marriage, and so on. They are directly attached to the women’s organization Yekitiya Star [the Star Union of Women].

At the next level up, in the big central city for each area, are the people’s courts (dadgeha gel), which were called into life by the justice councils. Their member judges (dadger) can be nominated by the justice councils or by anyone in the area. The people’s councils at the regional level (like Serê Kaniyê, Qamişlo, Amude, Dêrik, Heseke, Afrîn, Kobanê) advise on the nominations, and from them seven people are elected for each area. The nominees do not have to be jurists; in the contrary, unlike in other justice systems, some of those chosen have no judicial background at all. It’s considered far more important that the people nominated for justices are those who can represent the interests of the society.

The remaining levels of Rojava’s justice system are much like those in other states.

At the close of a proceeding in the people’s court, one of the parties may enter an objection and bring the case to the appeals court (dadgeha istinaf). Rojava has only four of three courts, two in Cizîre and one each in Kobanê and Afrîn. At this level the judges must be jurists.

At the next level, those who wish to bring a suit have at their disposal the regional court (dadgeha neqit); there is only one to cover all three cantons.

Finally there is a constitutional court (dadgeha hevpeyman), whose seven justices decided that the social contract—which was adopted at the beginning of the year instead of a constitution—and other important laws would be observed in the proceedings and other decisions of the government. In each region people’s court attorneys (dizgeri) as well as other prosecutors work in the public interest.

At the summit of the legal system is the justice parliament (meclisa adalet); each of the three cantons has one. Each justice parliament consists of 23 people: three representatives of the justice ministry, newly founded in January 2014; eleven from the justice councils; seven from the constitutional court; and two from the bar association. One member of justice parliament speaks publicly. This setup contains an even more important difference from typical justice systems, for with only three representatives, the new transitional government has little legal influence.

The justice parliaments have the responsibility to ensure that the legal system accommodates the needs of this fast-changing and democratizing society. Their top priority is the ongoing reconstruction of the justice system. It’s still only skeletal, and many details and practices have not been talked out or decided upon. The legal system faces the huge imperative to work out the new legal foundations (above all the social contract), but it must also refer to existing Syrian laws, since the new laws don’t yet cover everything. Still, new laws don’t have to be worked out in every area.

Every law, regulation, and guideline is newly analyzed; the undemocratic elements are struck out and replaced with new ones, and new parts added on as necessary. The three cantons understand themselves as part of the Syrian state, but as a democratic one. Should a democratic transformation not be possible, a completely new law for the affected area will be created.

Furthermore the justice parliaments advise on pending technical and administrative questions. The problems and demands of the bar are also discussed there, and common solutions are developed.

Up to now the work in the justice parliaments has developed through many discussions, but their members have not disagreed strongly, or at least so they say. Given the pressure to build a functioning judicial system relatively quickly, there has not been much time for discussions. The deep necessary discussions have mostly had to be postponed to the coming years, when peaceful times will hopefully prevail.

Education of Staff

In the mid-2013 in Qamişlo an academy for jurists of Rojava’s three cantons was founded. It was necessary because the new justice system requires at least several hundred professionals and staff. Each basic educational course of study lasts four months. In May 2014 two groups of three dozen people each completed the first unit. After passing exams at the end of four months, students can begin work in the new justice system. But their education doesn’t end there—they return to the academy at regular intervals for further education, for many months more. The junior jurists better and more comprehensively is under discussion, as the relatively short four-month period was instituted only because of the great need for professionals.

Results of the New Justice System

It goes without saying that the new system abolished the death penalty. A penalty of life imprisonment (the maximum term is temporarily set at 20 years) can be imposed only in cases of murder, torture, or terror. Up to now that’s happened only twice in Cizîre: for a man who murdered a woman in a barbaric way, and for a man who tortured and murdered a member of the security forces (called Asayiş).

In Rojava, arrest is considered the last resort. And according to the principles of the legal system, the arrested person is to be viewed not as a criminal but as someone to be rehabilitated. Prisons are understood to be educational institutions and once the means are available are to be transformed into rehabilitation centers; they will not be punitive institutions. Rojava’s legal commissions are especially concerned with the issue of the prison conditions, for as onejustice council member explained to us: “We have already deprived the prisoners of their freedom; we don’t want to punish them further with prison conditions.”

In the past two years, as a result of the new justice system and especially the greater self-organization of the people in communes and councils, the number of crimes has declined slowly, although reliable figures are still hard to determine. They are concentrated at the urban peripheries. In South Kurdistan, so-called honor killings remain commonplace, but in Rojava, especially because of the work of the women’s movement, those crimes have noticeably declined.

The Peace and Consensus Committees

The most basic difference between Rojava’s justice system and the justice systems in other kinds of states—capitalist, real-socialist, parliamentary, dictatorial—is the existence of the Peace and Consensus Committees at the local level and the roles they play in the council structure.

Members of the Peace and Consensus Committees are nominated by the people’s councils. At the level of the commune (the lowest organizational structure of the MGRK system, consisting of 30 to 150 households), all residents come to an assembly and elect the members. At the next highest organizational authority, the district or village community (around 7 to 10 villages), the Peace and Consensus Committees chosen when the people’s council meets with the delegates of the communes. The higher levels in the council system have no Peace and Consensus Committees.

The council system in Rojava was constructed at the beginning of the revolution in Syria three years ago; thereafter the Peace and Consensus Committees emerged at the district and village community levels. Starting in 2012, with the emergence of the communes, the Peace and Consensus Committees were elected at these lowest levels. Most of the communes don’t have authority over such committees.

As I mentioned earlier, the first Peace and Consensus Committees were built back in the 1990s, which benefits the MGRK structure. Without this long-standing experience, it would have been much harder to build these committees so quickly in other places. The fifteen-plus years of experience were very valuable.

Each Peace and Consensus Committee usually consists of five to nine people, with a gender quota of 40 percent. The people elected are usually those who are thought to have the ability to bring conflicting parties together in discussion. Most are over 40.

The committees’ procedures are not spelled out in writing in every detail or even in their entirety. Rules and principles have developed in practice over the years and to some extent are transmitted verbally.

Members of the Peace and Consensus Committees are not to be understood as traditional magistrates, since they are elected democratically and with gender parity. This is important, as the councils and the political movement that undergird the construction of the committees relate to the councils of elders of traditional society. The councils of elders hardly exist today—they were dispersed in the 1960s and 1970s. Rojava identified these traditional institutions but infused them with the values of its social contract: council democracy, gender liberation, and human rights. By incorporating and superseding the traditional councils of elders, they constitute s a bridge of understanding between tradition and revolution.

The parallel structure of the women’s commissions and Yikitiya Star should guarantee that feudal structures have no jurisdiction in cases of patriarchal violence. In this context women are the driving force.

The goal Peace and Consensus Committees, when it comes to jurisprudence, is not to condemn one or both sides in a proceeding but rather to achieve a consensus between the conflicting parties. If possible, the accused is not ostracized though a punishment or locked away but rather is made to understand that his or her behavior has led to injustice, damage, and injury. If necessary, the matter is discussed for a long time. Reaching consensus among the parties is a result that will lead to a more lasting peace.

Over the long term that is a great benefit for the local society, as it furthers a rapprochement among groups and individuals and promotes peace. Social solidarity and social cohesion grow in this soil; that has been the experience of two years of revolution in Rojava. Today in the communes and localities, if the bulk of the people behave in solidarity, are able to found cooperatives, and are able to make decisions together, it’s partly because the work of the Peace and Consensus Committees has been successful.

That the committees are accepted by the society and enjoy great respect is also shown in the fact that more and more people from other ethnic groups are turning to them with their problems. It should not be forgotten that a large number of Arabs live in some cities of Rojava.

Another indicator of the committees’ positive effects is the fact that where they are well-organized, quarrels and altercations between individuals, families, and groups are slowly declining; moreover crime, especially theft, is on the wane.

Note: This article was published in Kurdistan Report, September-October 2014; http://bit.ly/Konsens_entscheidend. Translated by Janet Biehl. A short version appeared in August 2014 in TOA magazine, issue no. 4, published by Täter-Opfer-Ausgleich und Konfliktschlichtung; http://www.toa-servicebuero.de.

 

 

 

The Bookchin-Öcalan Connection

Would you like to know more about how Murray Bookchin, the American communalist theorist, influenced Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK?  You can read my account here. This article is based on a speech I gave at the “Challenging Capitalist Modernity” conference in Hamburg in 2012—you can watch the video here.00 Rojava solidarity image

My other writings on Kurdistan:

“Hasankeyf: A Story of Resistance,” about the fight against the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River, New Compass, August 7, 2011.

“Kurdish Communalism,” an interview with Ercan Ayboga, New Compass, October 9, 2011.

“Report from the Mesopotamian Social Forum,” New Compass, October 5, 2011.

“Is Obama’s Best Ally Against Isis a Force Associated with Bookchin’s Communalism?” New Compass, September 12, 2014.

Translations:
“Democratic Autonomy in Rojava,” by Michael Knapp of TATORT, October 10, 2014; translated from Kurdistan Report.
Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan.  2012. A translation from the German of Demokratische Autonomie in Nordkurdistan, written by TATORT Kurdistan.

 

 

 

Democratic Autonomy in Rojava

Starting in 2012 a communalist social system has been in the process of transforming Rojava (West Kurdistan, or Syrian Kurdistan). This firsthand account of the institutions of that transformation was written in the early summer of 2014 and thus before the current war. The world’s powerful countries should be supporting this courageous people and their high-minded social and political transformation, rather than allowing one of its cities, Kobanê, to be overrun by ISIS barbarism. Viva Rojava!00 Rojava solidarity image

The Goal Is a Democratic Solution for the Entire Middle East

by Michael Knapp

Rojava delegation of Campaign TATORT Kurdistan

 

In the past 33 years, the Kurdish freedom struggle, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, have not only reacted to social changes but shaped them and proposed further steps in the direction of a liberated society. Significantly, the PKK conceives the Kurdish question as an issue not of nation or ethnicity but of the liberation of society, of both sexes, and of all people. Öcalan’s book Sociology of Freedom is a kind of a road map for the liberation of Rojava and the entire Middle East, highlighting in detail steps toward freedom.

During our journeys through Rojava, we met many people who had close relationships to Öcalan and to others who have decisively participated in the PKK’s history. This ongoing contact has engendered a transformation in the region’s otherwise feudalistic social terrain. The women especially emphasized this connection—they have known about Kurdish women’s liberation ideology for more than twenty years and have been trying to implement it. Thanks to all the close interconnections within the Kurdish freedom movement, many people [from Rojava] joined the PKK and fought for it in North Kurdistan. So it is a mistake to see the PKK as strictly a North Kurdish phenomenon; this movement also belonged and belongs to tens of thousands of activists from Rojava.

Öcalan’s 1999 arrest, followed by the Assad regime’s intensified repression, gave rise to a period of reorganization in Rojava. After the regime’s 2004 massacre of Kurds in the city of Qamişlo and the subsequent uprising, this reorganization began to gain momentum, to the point of creating armed self-defense units. The leftist Party of Democratic Unity (PYD) had already been founded and quickly became a strong regional political force. Meanwhile new paradigms emerged from the Kurdish freedom movement and especially from Öcalan, inspired by the work of the libertarian theorist Murray Bookchin, whose model of democratic confederalism and democratic autonomy became a touchstone for the reorientation. Öcalan developed a critique of the history of actually existing socialist states and of national liberation movements, including the PKK itself. As an alternative to conceptions of revolution that strive for an armed uprising and seizure of power, he outlined a plan for a “democratic, ecological, gender-liberated society.” He introduced the concept of an “ethical and political society” that would be self-managed and would situate itself outside the lifeless, homogenous consumer society of capitalism.

Even before the rebellions in Syria began, the Kurds of Rojava had already created the first councils and committees and thereby began to institute a radical democratic organization of most of the region’s population. Starting on June 19, 2012, the cities of Kobanê, Afrîn, Dêrik, and many other places were one by one freed from regime control; the strength of the reorganization then revealed itself. Military bases were reconfigured, and the vastly outnumbered regime troops were offered the option of withdrawal. Only in Dêrik did the situation lead to a struggle, with a few casualties. But even here, as people in Dêrik told us, the new self-organization prevented violent attacks and acts of destruction and revenge.

Self-defense and the “Third Way”

As we considered this phase and the politics of the Kurdish movement in Rojava, we also observed the implementation of another paradigm of Democratic Confederalism: self-defense and the primacy of nonviolent solutions. The Kurdish movement and especially the PYD were organized before the Syrian revolution began resisting the Assad regime. At that time they saw it as a matter of democratic transformation; a militarization of the conflict was to be avoided. But with the outbreak of war, Islamization, and the heteronomy of the Syrian revolt, the Kurdish movement in Rojava decided to go a third way: it would side neither with the regime nor with the opposition. It would defend itself, but it would not wage war. The movement has remained this politics up to the present [July 2014]. Thus in Qamişlo, in the quarters that were inhabited by regime supporters, regime military units were still tolerated. The same was true for the airport. The goal was and is always to reach a political, democratic solution for all of Syria.

The Commune as the Center of Society

“The creation of an operational level where all kinds of social and political groups, religious communities, or intellectual tendencies can express themselves directly in all local decision-making processes can also be called participative democracy.”

— Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism (London, 2011), p. 26.

Democratic Confederalism has as its goal the autonomy of society: in other words, instead of the state governing society, a politicized society manages itself. As against capitalist modernity, it proposes democratic modernity. In Rojava, to make this system possible, the center of the social system became the commune. The commune, the self-management of the streets, would emerge as the hub of the society.

Decision making in the communes requires that quotas be met—that is, in order to make a decision, here and in all councils in Rojava, at least 40 percent of those who participate in the discussions must be women. In the communes, current issues of administration, energy, and food supply, as well as social problems like patriarchal violence, family conflicts, and much else, are discussed and if possible resolved. The communes have commissions that address all social questions, everything from the organization of defense to justice to infrastructure to youth to the economy and the construction of individual cooperatives—such as bakeries, clothing production, and agricultural projects. The ecology commissions concern themselves with urban sanitation as well as specifically ecological problems. At the forefront is the imperative to strengthen the social position of women: committees for women’s economy help women develop economic independence.

The commune, as the mala gel (people’s house), lends support in all questions; it is simultaneously an institution of support and a kind of court. Central to its processes is the ideal of agreement and compensation; for general offenses, the causes of an infraction are investigated and overcome, and the victim is protected. For patriarchal violence and all attacks that affect women, the mala jinan (women’s house) is in charge; it is attached to the women’s council, a parallel structure to the commune’s mixed-gender council.

As we ourselves could see, meanwhile, people of the most diverse identities take part in the communes, especially Arabs and Assyrians. The mala jinan likewise works to solve social problems and responsible for implementing the goals of women’s liberation. As much as possible, the councils prefer to vote by consensus. The communes send their representatives to their respective district councils and city councils, and the structure continues into the general council of Rojava.

Democratic Autonomy and the Nation-state

“Peaceful coexistence between the nation-state and democratic confederalism is possible, as long as the nation-state doesn’t interfere with central matters of self-administration. All such interventions would call for the self-defense of the civil society.”

–Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism, p. 32.

Democratic Confederalism is a form of self-management and thus stands in contrast to the model of the state. It is an attempt at permanent social revolution, as is reflected in every facet of the social structure. Overcoming the nation-state is seen as a long-term goal. The state will be overcome when Democratic Confederalism in practice assumes all structures into its self-organization and self-management. In that society neither statist nor territorial boundaries will play a role.

Indeed, by virtue of the self-management of society, Democratic Confderalism renders the state and the nation-state redundant. In this social model the commune, the council, and the society are integrated, with the commune is the political center. In outward form the region of Rojava has chosen to follow the Swiss cantonal model, structuring itself in terms of the cantons’ far-reaching regional autonomy. Ideally the canton arises from the cooperation of the autonomous political councils. While the nation-state is based on social homogenization through the construction of identity and its reflexively coercive implementation, Democratic Confederalism is based on social diversity. Over the course of world history, the nation-state has been compromised by bloodshed.

In this region, typically only the Arabizing politics of Syria and the Turkicizing politics of Turkey were discussed. But Syria is home to Sunni and Shiite Arabs, Sunni Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Chaldeans, Yezidi Kurds, Armenians, Aramaeans, Chechens, Turkmens, and many other cultural, religious or ethnic groups. All these social groups should achieve representation through the council system with its corresponding quotas.

The commune, as the structure of self-management that directly binds to the neighborhood, must therefore be the center of political self-management. In order to raise the level of social organization, it provides educational forums for members of the commune, on topics like democratic self-determination and rights, women’s liberation, the history of Syria, the history of Kurdistan, the Kurdish language, and many other social issues.

On our journey in the region, we saw that the success in implementation varies from region to region. In many areas Arab councils and especially the Assyrians work very closely together with the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM). Central positions are allocated to three or four co-chairpersons, who correspond to the social groups of the region.

The Highest Council, or Parliamentary Democracy?

While in many areas the Kurdish population already has decades of experience with the Kurdish movement’s concepts of women’s liberation and social freedom, here too there are of course also divergences. Some wish to organize in classical parties rather than in councils.

This problem has been solved in Rojava through a dual structure. On one hand a parliament is chosen, to which free elections under international supervision are to take place as soon as possible. This parliament forms a parallel structure to the councils; it forms a transitional government, in which all political and social groups are represented, while the council system forms a kind of parallel parliament. The structuring and rules of this collaboration are at the moment under discussion.

Closing the Gap

Mamosta Abdulselam, of TEV-DEM in Heseke, has explained the system of communes in Heseke. “There was a gap between the councils and the people—that’s why we developed the commune system,” says Mamosta Abdul. “There are 16 district councils here. On each council there are 15 to 30 people. About 50 houses form a commune. The communes are numerous—in each district there are about 10-30 communes with 15-30 persons each. The Mifte district in Heseke has 29 communes, while the neighboring district has 11 communes. Each district forms about 20 communes per 1,000 people. The 16 district councils are formed form the communes. One hundred and one people sit on Heseke’s city council. In addition the PYD has five representatives, as do five other parties. Families of the Fallen have five, Yekitiya Star has five, the Revolutionary Youth have five, and the Liberals have five. The district councils normally meet every two months. Twenty-one people are elected as the coordination. The leadership meetings take place once a month and as needed in special cases.   Always at least 40 percent of the representatives are women and at least 40 percent are men. Decisions are made according to consensus principle. Care is taken that one person doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The co-chairs are elected. Members of the commune nominate them and then elect them.”

Women’s Work

At the beginning of our stay in Rojava, Sirin Ibraham Ömer, a 45-year-old woman from the district of Hileli in Qamişlo, reported to us on women’s work in her commune.

“We are 60 active women in our commune. Once a week we do educational work—we read books together and then discuss them. Twice a month we visit other women and explain the tasks of the revolution. Many are much influenced by the logic of the state—they don’t see themselves as people who can manage their own affairs. They have many children, and there are many arguments at home. The children are outside on the street and play instead of going to school. We’re concerned about that. If a family has no income, we have a committee for that, to provide the basic foodstuffs.

The peace committee talks with the families. If there is violence in a family, the woman can get help from the Asayiş. In Hileli meanwhile it’s socially disapproved for a man to hit his wife—that’s all but come to a stop. In other districts it’s still present in places. Here it was usual for the television to be on 24 hours in an apartment, with Turkish broadcasts in Arabic language—that was a big problem. But when the energy suddenly went off, so did the TVs, and people’s minds were cleared to do something else.

Many women are married off very young, even as children, so that there will be no extramarital pregnancies. Now they see that education is good for them, that they can have a better life.

Once a week we go out and collect a little money—it’s a symbolic way to help. We distribute the weekly newspaper (Rohahi) —it’s very cheap, so everyone can read it. It appears in Arabic and Kurdish. When we all get together now, our topics are not gossip and chitchat as before, but political developments and the women’s organization. We know it all here in the district.

In many districts there are also so-called women’s houses. They aren’t women’s safe houses like in Germany, but houses where women can get together and educate one another and talk about heir problems. They frequently offer classes in computers, language, and sewing.

The most important work of the women’s houses is however to provide assistance against social sexism. “The women come to us, when they have a problem. Not only the Kurdish women but also the Arab women,” says a representative of the women’s houses, Serê Kaniyê.

We witnessed such an inquiry. Two older Arab women arrived and asked the women at the women’s house for help. “Through the commune system we know every family,” says Serê Kaniyê, “we know every family’s economic situation, and we know who hits his wife and his children. We go directly there and speak with those affected, until it gets to a solution.” She agrees on a date with the two women, to find a solution for their problem.

Conflict Resolution

The commune is a place not only of self-organization but also of social conflict resolution. It concerns itself with social problems in the districts, support of poorer members of the commune, and the just distribution of fuel, bread, and foodstuffs. Meetings of the commune handle not only conflicts, the usual neighborhood fights, but also violence against children, and resolution is attempted. In Dêrik we attended a meeting of representatives of a commune: they were discussing the case of a family that had tied up a child. This behavior was now monitored and controlled. If the misbehavior continues, the children will be taken to a protected place.

***

Translated by Janet Biehl. The original article appeared in the July-August 2014 issue of the German-language periodical Kurdistan Report. See http://www.kurdistan-report.de/index.php/archiv/2014/174/154-ziel-ist-eine-demokratische-loesung-fuer-den-gesamten-mittleren-osten