Abdullah Öcalan, Bakur, communalism, confederalism, democratic confederalism, Feminist and anti-capitalist ideas are flourishing, grassroots people’s assemblies and co-operatives, Kurdish populations in the Middle East are now divided between four states, Kurdistan, Murray Bookchin, Rojava, The Ottoman Empire
[Norm’s note: As I mentioned to a friend, “as a companion piece to this, you should also read Examing the revolution in Rojava — Review by Emma Wilde Botta | International Socialist Review. It’s a ‘critical’ take on the interpretation of the implementation of ‘democratic confederalism’ as you read it in Anderson’s and Egret’s piece, although not a reading of that piece, but of a book written “. . . by three active participants in the Kurdish movement, Michael Knapp, Anja Flach, and Ercan Ayboga” but with a similar slant to that of Anderson and Egret.
As Botta puts it,
The book [and by implication Anderson’s and Egret’s piece] has four central weaknesses: it romanticizes Rojava, lacks a class analysis, mischaracterizes the Syrian opposition, and distances Rojava from the Syrian revolution.
Some things to keep in mind . . .]
Lead photo caption: A commune meeting in Amude in Rojava’s Cizîrê canton, November 2015
The Kurdish region is currently undergoing a transformation. People are organising themselves in grassroots people’s assemblies and co-operatives, declaring their autonomy from the state and their wish for real democracy. Feminist and anti-capitalist ideas are flourishing. These changes are inspired by a new idea: democratic confederalism. These movements have the capacity to transform the reality of millions of people in Kurdistan, and potentially spread to the wider Middle East. Last year we visited Bakur, the part of Kurdistan within Turkey’s borders, and Rojava, the Kurdish majority autonomous region in Syria. This article examines the theory and practice of democratic confederalism in Bakur and Rojava, and goes on to discuss how we can engage in solidarity, while maintaining an honest and critical perspective.
We have tried to understand the theory and practice of democratic confedralism as best we could, and have taken advice from many Kurdish friends, as well as activists who have visited the region. We hope that we have given an accurate description. However, any mistakes or innacuracies are entirely our own.
Historically, the region known as Kurdistan lay within the East of the Ottoman Empire. After the Second World War, the British, French and their allies divided up the empire. Many Kurds lobbied the imperialist powers for a state of their own, but were unsuccessful. In 1923, the Turkish republic was founded, espousing a Turkish nationalist ideology. Any reference to non-Turkish/Sunni Muslim ethnic identities within Turkey was criminalised. The speaking of Kurdish was banned. A series of Kurdish uprisings in the 1920s and 1930s were repressed by Mustafa Kemal’s autocratic government, with tens of thousands killed.
Kurdish populations in the Middle East are now divided between four states: Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. In the Kurmanji Kurdish language, the four parts of Kurdistan are known respectively as North (Bakur), South (Bashur), West (Rojava) and East (Rojhilat).
In 1978, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) was founded, based on Marxist-Leninist ideas of national liberation. The PKK began an armed struggle, with the aim of achieving an independent Kurdistan.
During the 1980s and 1990s the PKK rose up against the Turkish state, calling for independence. Armed struggle was met by torture, assassination and ethnic cleansing aimed at the entire Kurdish population by the Turkish government’s security forces. Over 3000 Kurdish villages were systematically burned during the 1990s.
From Marxist-Leninism to Democratic Confederalism
After the capture of its leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999, the messages and statements put out by the PKK began to change. Influenced by the communalist ideas of US social-ecologist Murray Bookchin, as well as Emma Goldman and the Zapatistas, Öcalan and others in the PKK began to criticise nation-states, and the PKK’s stated goal changed from the establishment of an independent Kurdistan to democratic confederalism. We will summarise here what Öcalan and others say about democratic confederalism, before looking at how the ideas have been put into practice in Rojava and Bakur.
On the nation state Öcalan says:
“The right of self determination of a people includes the right to a state of their own. However, the foundation of a state does not increase the freedom of a people. The system of the United Nations that is based on nation states has remained inefficient. Meanwhile, nation states have become serious obstacles for any social development.” 
And on democratic confederalism:
“Democratic confederalism is the contrasting paradigm of the oppressed people. Democratic confederalism is a non-state social paradigm. It is not controlled by a state. At the same time, democratic confederalism is the cultural organisational blueprint of a democratic nation.”
“Democratic confederalism is based on grassroots participation. Its decision making processes lie with the communities. Higher levels only serve the coordination and implementation of the will of the communities that send their delegates to the general assemblies.”
Looking more closely at these ideas, democratic confederalism is based on the idea that society can be run truly democratically through networks of grassroots assemblies or communes, which form confederations with each other across regions. Local assemblies elect representatives at the village or street level and these representatives represent their assembly at the level of the city or region. Again, the city or region elects representatives to represent them at higher levels.
The idea is that the real power remains with the population, and not with state bureaucracies. According to Öcalan, a form of government would still be necessary, but only to implement the decisions made by the assemblies, whose representatives would be elected at a street or neighbourhood level.
These ideas owe a lot to the work of the US social ecologist, Murray Bookchin. In 1990 Bookchin wrote:
“What then is confederalism? It is above all a network of administrative councils whose members or delegates are elected from popular face-to-face democratic assemblies… The members of these confederal councils are strictly mandated, recallable and responsible to the assemblies that choose them… Their function is thus a purely administrative and practical one, not a policy making one…”
In his pamphlet, ‘Democratic Confederalism’, Öcalan argues for a society that respects ethnic, religious and cultural differences. He states that:
“It is a natural right to express one’s cultural, ethnic, or national identity with the help of political associations. However, this right needs an ethical and political society. Whether nation-state, republic, or democracy – democratic confederalism is open for compromises concerning state or governmental traditions. It allows for equal coexistence.”
Öcalan sees democratic confederalism as a model for the whole Middle-East:
“Finally, let me state again that the fundamental problems of the Middle East are deeply rooted in the class civilisation. They have tightened with the global crisis of the capitalist modernity. This modernity and its claim to dominance cannot offer any solutions, not to mention a long-term perspective for the Middle-East region. The future is democratic confederalism.”
Democratic confederalism emphasises the formation of a social economy, based on co-operatives organised at the grassroots level. In Rojava, co-operatives are linked with the communes themselves. According to Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the PYD, the PKK’s affiliated party in Rojava:
“Co-operative associations are the best embodiment of co-operative economy, the association will be based on communes which mean society is the primary representative of the economy.”
Feminism is emphasised in the theory of democratic confederalism. According to Öcalan: “Liberating life is impossible without a radical women’s revolution.” In Bakur and in Rojava, local assemblies, communes, political parties and municipalities have established a system of co-representation, or co-chairs, where each position must be filled by one man and one woman. Many movements and organisations have a quota for female participation. For example, we spoke to an ecology assembly in Bakur in July 2015 who told us they would not accept any more men until a certain amount of women had joined.
People have been attempting to implement these ideas in Kurdistan for over ten years. In 2005, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) was established with the aim of implementing the ideas of democratic confederalism in all four parts of Kurdistan.
Democratic confederalism in practice in Bakur
In Bakur, the region of Kurdistan within Turkey’s borders, people have been trying to put these ideas into practice for over a decade. The Democratic Society Congress (DTK), set up in in 2007, acts as an umbrella organisation, and aims to establish democratic confederalism in Bakur. It meets every three months and is made up of representatives of different ethnic groups and political parties as well as representatives of local assemblies. It operates as a parliament, and attempts to create a new society under the weight of repression from the existing one. Since the establishment of the DTK, local assemblies have been set up all over Bakur. The DTK has also set up regional commissions to deal with issues such as ecology, economy, education, language, religion, culture, science, diplomacy, women and young people.
People involved in these movements often refer to wanting to achieve democratic autonomy through people organising themselves through grassroots assemblies or communes. Following on from this, the term ‘democratic confederalism’ is used to describe networks of these local assemblies joining together in a confederation.
The movement for democratic autonomy is supported by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), who have 59 seats in the Turkish parliament and are in control of many municipalities in Bakur. Another party, the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), stands in some municipal elections, but primarily works toward the establishment of democratic autonomy. The PKK also supports it.
Since the start of the movement for democratic confederalism in Bakur, activists have been met by intense state repression. The PKK is listed as a banned terrorist group in Turkey. Because the PKK is part of the KCK, the umbrella organisation which aims to establish democratic confederalism in all four regions of Kurdistan, the KCK has been proscribed too. Thousands of people have been arrested for connections with the KCK, including many politicians from the HDP and DBP.
This has not stopped the movement from growing. When we visited Bakur in July 2015, local assemblies and commissions were organising co-operatives. For example, we visited several farming co-operatives in the Wan (Van in Turkish) region which had been established on land donated by landlords to the Democratic Regions Party. Profits from the co-operatives are shared among the workers. We also visited a co-operative shop which had been set up by the DTK’s economic commission in Wan.
Women’s assemblies and ecology assemblies are also part of the DTK. For example, environmental activists have formed an ecology assembly in the city of Batman, which they told us was represented in the DTK. Women also have a parallel umbrella organisation, the Free Women’s Union.
Increasingly, people are turning toward the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) and the assemblies to solve disputes, rather than going to the police and courts. In the Wan region we personally observed local people asking the DBP to arbitrate in disputes.
Since the HDP’s electoral successes in June and November 2015, the police and army have intensified attacks against Kurdish people, particularly activists involved in the movement for Democratic Autonomy. In many areas people have erected barricades against the police and read out declarations of autonomy. In these cities, the Turkish police and military have launched an all out war, using tanks, mortars and helicopter gunships to attack residential streets. Armed self-defence units, including female only units, have been set up at the local level in many places in response.
“Democratic Autonomy as the solution to the Kurdish problem cannot be separated from the democratisation of Turkey as a whole. The declarations of Democratic Autonomy are thus steps toward democratising Turkey. We consider them legal and necessary and proper for all the peoples of Turkey. Undoubtedly local democracies would take different forms according to the conditions and needs of their area, region, and community. Under the local autonomy of diverse identities, each area can adapt democratisation into its own circumstances.”
Like Öcalan, the DTK hope that the the assembly system will take over many of the functions of the state:
“Some functions—economy, judiciary, defence—would remain at the centre, but the rest– like education, agriculture, tourism– are to be devolved to the autonomous regions.”
The statement goes on to say that:
“The governing model that should be dominant in the world today is indisputably democracy. No government that centrally administers every street, neighbourhood, city and town can be legitimate; democracy requires the autonomy of local units.”
Democratic confederalism in Rojava
In 2003, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), aligned to the PKK and the movement for democratic confederalism, began to organise in Rojava. From 2005, people began to try to put the ideas of democratic confederalism into practice. In August 2011 an umbrella organistion called the Movement for Democratic Change (TEV-DEM) was formed. In December 2014, Janet Biehl interviewed Aldar Xelîl, reportedly one of the co-founders of TEV-DEM, about the origins of the organisation:
“The story of TEV-DEM is very long. In 2003 we mobilized under the name of PYD. Up to 2005 we operated like a party. Then after 2005 we decided we couldn’t achieve social and political organization in society as a party. We needed a different kind of roof for this. So we were on a quest, a search. After 2005 we left the political stuff to the PYD and organized society in an autonomous way, independent of the PYD.”
As the Syrian uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad gathered momentum in 2011, the PYD and TEV-DEM took the opportunity of the ensuing power vacuum to organise assemblies on a large scale, in the model of democratic confederalism.
In 2012, as the Assad regime weakened, this movement was able to take control of most of Rojava from the regime, and take over government buildings, schools and hospitals. Rojava was organised into three autonomous cantons: Cizîrê, Kobanî and Afrin. For a critical analysis on why the regime withdrew from Rojava see Joseph Daher’s interview with Syrian activist and journalist Shiar Nayo here.
To broaden participation in the movement, the People’s Council of West Kurdistan (MGRK) was formed, made up of diverse groups and political parties. Meanwhile, some parties, many of whom are loyal to Massoud Barzani’s ruling KDP in neighbouring Bashur, chose to remain outside this system in opposition.
Here’s a diagram showing the system that’s developed since then, based on the description by Ercan Ayboğa in ‘Revolution in Rojava’. ‘Revolution in Rojava’ is currently only available in German, and the English translation will be published this summer. The council system is shown on the left, you may want to zoom in, in order to read the diagram more easily.
The commune is the base level of Rojava’s council system. In general, communes are made up of 30-400 households in a city, or a whole village in the countryside. The entire population of the commune meets every two weeks, and it elects a board. The board meets every week, and all members of the commune are able to attend board meetings if they wish. All posts must be filled by a male and female co-chair. All representatives are recallable by the membership of the commune.
We visited a Mala Gel, or people’s house, run by Şehit Hozan commune in Amude in Rojava’s Cizîrê canton, where we spoke to the commune’s male co-chair. Şehit Hozan commune represents 400 families in their neighbourhood who vote for the board of the commune. We were told that the commune has commissions dealing with services, economy, Kurdish language teaching, organising lectures, self-defence, reconciliation and justice.
The commune’s reconciliation and justice commission tries to resolve problems that arise between members of the commune. For example, we were told that the commission had recently been asked to mediate when someone was injured in a road traffic accident and when there had been a dispute about land ownership. We were told that often the commission is able to resolve these disputes.
The commune’s self defence commission organises armed self-defence of the commune. Commune self-defence units operate autonomously from the People’s Protection Units of the YPG and YPJ and the Asayîş security forces.
The commune also organises public meetings. We were invited to one of these, organised by Şehit Hozan commune. It was attended by over fifty local women and men and was on the themes of anti-capitalism and feminism. The talk was given in Kurmanji (the Kurdish language spoken in Rojava) and translated into Arabic.
The Neighbourhood/Village Community Council and the District level
The board of each commune in Rojava sends representatives to the Neighburhood/Village Council, a body made up of 7-30 communes. In turn, the Neighbourhood/Village Council, elects a board, who represent them at the third level, the District level.
The district level is made up of representatives of the board from the second level, plus places are reserved for five representatives from the political parties and civil society organisations within TEV-DEM.
We met the Democratic Youth Union in Kobanî, previously called the Revolutionary Youth, who are one of the civil society organisations who have places reserved for them within this system. They told us:
“The target of our organisation is to build equality between men and women and to protect the environment. Our organisation is not just for Kurdish youths. We also have Arabic, Armenian and Turkmen members.”
People’s Council of West Kurdistan (MGRK)
The fourth level of the council system is the People’s Council of West Kurdistan (MGRK), made up of representatives from all district councils and representatives of the groups within TEV-DEM. The MGRK is supposed to provide the coordination between Rojava’s three cantons, but the current war situation prevents the MGRK from meeting together in one location.
Every level of the council system, from the commune upward, has a women’s council. These women’s councils are formed by the Yekîtiya Star women’s union (now called Kongira Star). We met with Yekitiya Star in Kobanî. We were told that women from Yekîtiya Star were going to all of the communes in the area and organising trainings on women’s empowerment.
The social contract
In January 2014 a social contract was agreed for the three cantons by 50 political parties and organisations. The agreement of the social contract was an attempt to bring wider participation to politics in Rojava. It emphasises gender equality and equal rights for all ethnicities, the right to be educated in one’s own language and guarantees that those seeking political asylum will not be deported. The social contract invites other regions of Syria to adopt the canton model and form self-governing regions that can work together in a confederation.
The social contract sets out a structure for the formation of governments, known as Democratic Autonomous Administrations (sometimes called the Democratic Self Administration), in each of the three cantons. According to the contract, a legislative council is elected by the whole population, which in turn elects an executive council. At the time of writing elections have not yet taken place and the legislative council is made up of the parties and organisations that agreed to the charter, together with representatives of different ethnic groups.
We have heard plans for the MGRK in each canton to be allocated 40% of the seats in the legislative assembly, integrating the council system with the Democratic Autonomous Administration.
Municipal councils were taken over when Assad’s officials left in 2011. Under the new social charter these municipal councils will be managed by the relevant Executive Council. The first elections for these municipal administrations were held in 2015.
The declaration of federation
In March 2016 representatives from Rojava’s three cantons met in Derike, in Cizîrê canton, and agreed a formal statement of federation. This means that Rojava’s three cantons are now part of the “Democratic Federation of Rojava – Northern Syria” (DFRNS). The statement proclaims that the DFRNS aims “to achieve a democratic and federal Syria, rather than a centralized administration, by taking into account the historical, geographic, cultural, demographic and economic characteristics when establishing democratic federations.”. “Self-administrative regions” within the DFRNS would organise themselves “based on councils, academies, communes and cooperatives.”
For a critical Syrian view on the declaration of federalism see here.
Although the movement for democratic confederalism in Rojava has its roots in the Kurdish struggle for autonomy, it is multi-ethnic. We met Arab and Aramean (Syriac) people, who were involved in both the communes and the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) in Rojava. Places in the DAA are reserved for representatives of different ethnic groups.
A call for critical solidarity
When we talk about Kurdistan, and particularly about Rojava, the debate is often sidelined into whether the revolution is perfect. We often debate whether society in Rojava is utopian, even while our own social movements are far from perfect.
The argument is often polarised into complete support for all aspects of the movement in Rojava or a position which says that the imperfections within the Rojava experiment mean that we should have nothing to do with it.
We would like to strongly argue for a stance of critical solidarity, to maintain a critical, undogmatic perspective which sees the social movements in Bakur and Rojava for what they are. To criticise the problematic aspects but also to be in solidarity with the positive, liberatory movements taking place, such as the resistance against Daesh, the struggles for autonomy, the fight against Turkish state repression, the movements towards feminism, towards building co-operatives and toward anti-capitalism. These movements have the potential to transform society both in Kurdistan and in the Middle East.
But there are aspects of the situation in Rojava where we think it is important to maintain a critical perspective. For example, at the moment political parties, and their associated military and security organisations, hold a lot of power in both Rojava and Bakur. In both Bakur’s DTK and the council system in Rojava, places are allocated for representatives of political parties. This ensures that political parties always have a voice within the structures of democratic confederalism, whether or not they represent the views of the people in the grassroots assemblies. The most powerful of these parties is the PYD, which, according to Shiar Nayo, has acted to suppress independent activists and those critical of their policies. Many people within the movement say that these political parties are only there because the movement is in its infancy, and that in the future there will be no need for them, but they are obviously one place where power could consolidate itself. Kurdish writer Ercan Ayboğa told us that he is hopeful that power will gravitate towards the grassroots:
“Political parties are instruments of political and ideological approaches which have a certain role. Their role has become in the last years slowly less significant in political life. Increasingly the different self-organised structures, women, youth and so on, have become more important. It’s a slow process because over the decades Kurdish people thought only in the category of political parties and it takes time to make changes.”
Other bodies worth critically examining are Rojava’s executive and legislative councils. In the theory of democratic confederalism, these bodies should only carry out the will of the council system. But it remains to be seen whether power will remain with the grassroots, or gravitate toward the government level. As Kurdish Anarchist Zaher Baher puts it:
“I got the impression that as long as the power of the DSA [Democratic Autonomous Administration] increases, the power of TEV-DEM decreases and the opposite could be right too”.
Also, the existence of a centralised security force, Asayîş, which is largely independent of the council system, seems to run counter to the idea of power being with the grassroots communes. But in the context of the Syrian civil war and attacks by Daesh, good security is clearly necessary and we were happy about the frequent Asayîş checkpoints, which helped to keep us safe during our visit in 2015. Many in the movement, including members of Asayîş, maintain that the organisation will dissolve itself when it is no longer necessary. Practical steps are being taken toward this end, with the setting up of armed defence forces by the communes. Bedran Gia Kurd of TEV-DEM told us that TEV-DEM was engaged in providing support and training to the communes to set up their own defence forces. Because of this process, Asayîş does not have a monopoly on the use of force in Rojava.
Perhaps the most powerful forces in Rojava are the People’s Protection Forces of the YPG and YPJ. These forces have been key to the survival of democratic confederalism in Rojava. However, there is evidence that they have acted oppressively in the past, firing on demonstrators in Amudê in 2013. Also, how many people in Rojava actually have a say about the alliances formed by these military organisations? One such example is the changing nature of the alliance with the US, which may be necessary for the success of the fight against Daesh, but which we would say, has the potential to threaten the grassroots social revolution in Rojava.
In 2014, when Kobanî was under attack by Daesh, the US, reluctantly and belatedly, began bombing in coordination with the YPG and YPJ. US air support was an important factor in the liberation of Kobanî. Since then military co-operation with the US against Daesh has increased.
Many people in Rojava have a critical perspective on the alliance. When we spoke to Bedran Gia Kurd of TEV-DEM, he said:
“There is daily coordination with the US military as our enemy is the same, but there is no long-term agreement. There is no guarantee for this coordination. It is temporary. Maybe in the future there won’t be this coordination. Coordination in the future will be on the basis of how to protect our principles. So if this coordination compromises our project, we will not agree to it.”
But, as Zaher Baher points out, Saleh Muslim, PYD co-chairperson, in an interview with the Washington Kurdish Institute, has put forward a different point of view:
“America is a superpower that fosters democracy globally, and tries to develop and disseminate it throughout the world.”
Other PYD figures have called for international business investment in Rojava, seemingly without recognising that it would threaten the moves toward an anti-capitalist, cooperative economy in Rojava.
Of course, these statements by politicians may be intended as pragmatic steps toward gaining international support for their struggle for autonomy and fight against Daesh. But, at best, these politicians are playing an extremely dangerous game. At worst, they are completely at odds with the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist elements of the movement.
Another issue is that of the reverence for the figure of Abdullah Öcalan. In almost every interview we carried out about democratic confederalism people would say that their ideas come from their leader. This habit of deferring to Öcalan runs counter to the ideas that the grassroots have the power to shape society themselves. As Zaher Baher puts it:
“For some time, Abdullah Öcalan, in recent books and text messages, has denounced and rejected the state and authority. But until now I have not heard that he has rejected his own authority and denounce those people calling him a great leader and who work hard to give him a sacred position. Öcalan’s attitude cannot be correct unless he also rejects his own authority and leadership.”
We have heard that some of Öcalan’s work, which is thus far only available in German, does discuss critically his role as leader. We have not seen a translation of these writings. But the issue isn’t only about whether Öcalan rejects a leadership role. It is that he is treated as a leader by many within the movements for democratic confederalism. This is particularly striking in the women’s movements where, on the one hand women say that they are for women’s self organisation, and on the other say that their ideas come from Öcalan.
We believe that the most useful solidarity with the developing movements toward democratic confederalism is not to either reject all of the positive steps being taken because of the movement’s imperfections, or to only talk positively about them. Rather, we should remain a supportive and honest friend to the movement, a friend who does not shy away from taking action in solidarity with those fighting for a better society, but who is also not afraid to speak honestly, openly and critically.
Grassroots movements with the capacity to change society
The movements for democratic confederalism in Rojava and Bakur are a place where anti-capitalist, feminist, anti-authoritarian and anti-state ideas are flourishing. They have the capability to transform the reality of society for millions of people. These changes are being made by people at a grassroots level, who are inspired by the ideas of the revolution, not by politicians or government institutions.
The establishment of communes and assemblies in Bakur and Rojava has empowered people to make decisions over many areas of their lives which were previously controlled by the state. For example, since the establishment of communes in Rojava there have been creative attempts to construct new methods of dealing with problem behaviour. As described above, each commune has a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with problems that arise in the community. For more serious incidents, such as murder, there is a ‘people’s court’ at the district level, with judges elected by the commune, that hears the case. These judges still have the power to send people to prison, but, Ercan Ayboğa, a Kurdish activist from Bakur who has visited Rojava, told us in 2016:
“There are still prisons in Rojava but the number of prisoners is very low. For example, in [the town of] Serekaniye the number of prisoners is 20 compared to 200 in Assad’s time. The courts try to avoid sending people to prison. They try to use other measures like sending people to work in another area, asking people to leave an area for a certain period of time, or arranging education or training for the accused person.”
However, according to Ercan, this system has been criticised by people within Rojava and people have been experimenting with an alternative, the ‘justice platform’. In this new system the justice and reconciliation commissions can ask for support with serious problems by forming a justice platform. The justice platform is made up of 200-300 people from “women, youth, other political movements and other organisations from the neighbourhood. They discuss the case and try to reach consensus.”
The fact that no one force has a monopoly on the use of violence and that, in Rojava, the communes are developing armed defence forces may be a key factor in keeping power at the grassroots level. The fact that the grassroots are armed makes it more difficult for power to consolidate itself with, for example, the Democratic Autonomous Administration or the military.
Women’s movements in Bakur and Rojava are perhaps the most inspiring element of the current situation in Kurdistan. When we were in Bakur and Rojava we met women who were determined to struggle against patriarchy, and it felt like there truly was an opportunity for changes to occur. We met with a women’s academy in Amed (Diyarbakır in Turkish) who were involved in organising against male violence. They told us that they worked with women affected by violence from their husbands and organised collective action against it. They also organised trainings on women’s empowerment within their communities. Women in both Rojava and Bakur told us that men did not simply accept these ideas, but that making change was an ongoing struggle.
The movements for democratic confederalism have also opened space for anti-capitalist ideas. The talks organised by the communes in Rojava, for example, are a powerful way to spread anti-capitalist ideas. The setting up of co-operatives is an important way that people can be involved in creating grassroots alternatives. According to German economist Michel Knapp:
“While in North Kurdistan the established communes and co-operatives operate under mass repression, in the liberated territory of Rojava there are efforts to create a new form of economy independent of both capitalist and feudal relations of exploitation. This is being undertaken against the background of the drama of the Syrian war: thousands have been murdered and half of the population is homeless.”
Knapp goes on to quote Dr Dara Kurdaxi, an economist and member of the committee for economic revival and development in Afrîn canon, Rojava:
“We need new models for organisations and institutions. Those which are called collective, communal economic models, sometimes referred to as social economies. This is the method we are using as a foundation, so that the economy in Rojava can pick up and develop.”
The fact that there is a broad consensus that the economy should be organised along co-operative lines means that there is space and momentum for the setting up of co-operatives by the grassroots in Rojava. This is being done in a bottom up way by a diverse range of communes and related organisations. For example, the Foundation of Free Women in Rojava is currently setting up a number of women’s co-operatives in Cizîrê canton.
We have a lot to learn from these movements, and the first step towards solidarity is to educate ourselves. Many of the groups we visited in Rojava asked for people from outside to come and learn about their movements. By making stronger connections with activists working at the base level of democratic confederalism; for example the communes, co-operatives and women’s organisations, we can broaden our understanding and begin to forge genuine solidarity and also generate ideas and inspiration for our own movements.
To read more about Democratic Confederalism in Rojava, read Anja Flach, Michel Knapp and Ercan Ayboga’s forthcoming book Revolution in Rojava, which will be published in English in July 2016.
Corporate Watch will be releasing a book, ‘Struggles for Autonomy in Kurdistan’, in May 2016.
 A. Öcalan (2011), Democratic Confederalism, http://www.freeocalan.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ocalan-Democratic-Confederalism.pdf, Transmedia Publishing Ltd.
 A. Öcalan (2011).
 M. Bookchin (1990), ‘The Meaning of Confederalism’, reprinted in New World Academy, ‘Stateless Democracy’ (2015).
 A. Öcalan (2011).
 A. Öcalan (2011).
 A. Öcalan (2013), Liberating life: Women’s revolution, http://www.freeocalan.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/liberating-Lifefinal.pdf, Transmedia Publishing Ltd.
 P. White (2015), The PKK, Coming Down From the Mountains, Zed Books.
 From Janet Biehl’s personal notes of an interview with Aldar Xelîl, kindly provided to Corporate Watch in 2016.
 Z. Baher (2014), The experiment of West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) has proved that people can make changes, Libcom.
 Z. Baher (2015), Our attitude towards Rojava must be critical solidarity, http://libcom.org/library/our-attitude-towards-rojava-must-be-critical-solidarity, Libcom.
 Z. Baher (2015).
 Z. Baher (2014), The experiment of West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) has proved that people can make changes, Libcom.
 http://www.kurdistan-report.de/index.php/archiv/2014/171/13-privateigent… – tranlated by the Institute of Cooperative Economics.