The Secular Democratic Revolution in Rojava

Building solidarity for social emancipation from the state, capitalism, patriarchy, and theological intolerance across the geographic and ethnic divisions of the MIddle East.

Here in the US, Rojava is known for decentralization of state and patriarchal power. The adoption of community direct democracy, regional confederation, and the organized women’s movement actively dismantling systems of male domination are perceived as models for social transformation. Dr. Zozan Sami Mistefa is a Kurdish physician in Kobani, Rojava, located in northeastern Syria near the border with Turkey. The Turkish military began the latest attacks on Rojava on October 9th this year. In this context, we explore the ideas and actions taken by the Kurdish social experiments that challenge systems of oppression, including capitalism, the state, and patriarchy.

Much discussion regarding social change proposes the question of whether or not seizing state power, either through the ballot box or armed insurrection, is an effective strategy. The recent history of seizing state power does not offer confidence in positive outcomes. Coups and ballot box politics has yielded political changes ranging from the replacement of one authoritarian power with another, whereas voting has a history of producing marginal reforms to capitalism.

Furthermore, the global state system includes a small number of dominant power which do not allow states with formal legal autonomy to function autonomously. State sovereignty is a myth. For example, Canada possesses all the formal trappings of a UN-member state, but in reality it’s it functions as a client state, serving the interests of the US Empire. The planet is ensconced in a global struggle against the tyranny of the corporate state system. State sovereignty without nuclear weapons is a fleeting thing. The truth of the matter may be complex such that under particular political conditions, the general strike may be a tool of particular utility. Whereas, other political contexts might warrant the application of Dual Power resistance in which the social relations are created on a small scale inside the dying shell of the dominant corporate-state system.

The Rojava movement of northeastern Syria, and the Zapatista autonomous region in southern Mexico are two of the most important political movements within the past 200 years. The Spanish Anarchist revolt of 1936-9, and the Paris Commune of 1871 lasted less time, combined, than the span of eight years in which the Rojava social reorganization was made possible by the collapse of the Assad Syrian government.

True democracy and autonomy are not welcomed or supported anywhere on this planet by the capitalist-state system of power. Resistance to the old ways may be most effectively achieved through a struggle to unify across state borders with intent to dismantle the corporate-state from the inside out. The crumbling of Syria is only the beginning, a harbinger of things to come across the globe. The systems of state power are collapsing.

The Rojava Revolution is far more important than the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917. Rojava and Zapatistas are the most important political events perhaps in the past five thousand years. Far more important than Cuba, Vietnam, China, the former USSR, and the other patriarchal authoritarian state capitalist systems that have carried the false banner of communism.

Rojava is a model for the planetary human future, if we have a future.

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Mark Mason: Every social movement has a particular local historical context. Would you describe the major historical events and ideas that lead to the current women’s movement in Rojava?

Zozan Sami Mistefa: Thank you for trying to communicate the voice of truth to all people and thank you for your efforts in spreading reality.

Well, Kurdish women throughout history have had a distinguished and respected place in her society. She was a fighter, a leader and a lover. We have a lot of models that we can cite from Ms. Adela Khan to Mrs. Elham Ahmed. Adela Khan ruled the province of Halabja from 1909 to 1924. There is also Ms. Khanda Sultan, who ruled the areas of Hair and Souran in Erbil between 1623 to 1640. There is also Fatima Khanim fighter and leader Hikmat Kahraman Or now known as Marash located southeast of Turkey Also in the Yazidi regions, Mian, also in the modern era, Ms. Humayil Khatun, wife of the late Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani, was riding her horse and leading the fighting on the front lines. Also in the nineties of the last century, the activist Laila Zana in Diyarbakir, and more recently in Rojava, Ms. Elham Ahmed, co-chairperson of the Executive Board of the Syrian Democratic Council. Also, fighter Areen Mirkan and Beretan, Barin, who was martyred in the recent war against the Islamic State terrorist organization. The Kurdish women throughout history and to this day had a leading position in her society, was educated and in the leadership, and also a housewife. It is not new for Kurdish society to share women in all spheres of life, as you can now see the results and actions that these women are doing at all levels in our modern history.

MM: Social movements move by means of organized actions. What actions were taken by women to assert their economic and political rights in the home and the community?

ZM: For the measures taken to affirm the economic and political rights in society and at home, in all existing institutions there is a joint administration, i.e., the head of the pyramid. There are two people headed by a man and a woman, whether in social health institutions, political and others. In addition to all this, there is a separate institution called the House of Women, which takes care of all issues of women at all levels. Also, the Kurdish man has old qualities that require respect for women and this is something we do not see in Eastern societies. Kurds remain conservative in their culture, Indo European, where there is no violence, marginalization or coercion of women.

MM: As the largest stateless ethnic and religious group, the Kurdish people have sought to resist the imposition of four state powers: Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. The Kurdish people have been in a political situation which emphasizes daily the problem of the global state system. For the past 300 years, globalization has meant the imposition of the state system currently comprised of about 200 patches of land characterized by violently defended arbitrary borders. Although some modern states claim to be managed democratically, all states are controlled by a centralized, concentrated and hierarchical political power. As we can now envision the coming collapse of the global state system, the people of Rojava have experience and knowledge of managing their affairs through decentralized power. The identity of a people in a particular region may shift from identification with the state to identification with the land, the bioregion, and the local community. Would you help us understand this way of living without allegiance to a state bureaucracy?

ZM: For the way of coexistence with the forces imposed on the Kurds and divided on four countries, this is not easy to divide your land between four countries with different nationalities. Absolutely, but speaking of Rojava, the Kurds have embraced all the components in the region without discrimination or racism: Kurdish, Arab, Syrian, Assyrian, Muslim, Christian, Yazidi, and others. When dealing with people like the Kurdish people who have been subjected in advance to all kinds of violence, it is impossible to do these inhumane acts towards others, we tasted the pain and we will never let other people test what we [have] already tested. We respected all groups and this was mutual and the democratic experience that got the biggest example of the success of what we were doing. There are many Arabs and Syrians now in QSD (Syrian Defense Forces).

They are also members of this land and many of them prefer to remain under this wonderful experience.

MM: A universal feature of the modern state is private property and corporate-capitalism. A truly democratic society would shed itself of the violence, divisions, and ecosystem plunder which are inescapable components of a capitalist economy. What steps have been taken to shift the economy from capitalist to worker and community control?

ZM: Well, I did not understand what this question exactly, especially today you deal with a people who were deprived of all rights as a citizen by the ruling authorities. They did not allow the Kurds to build factories or setting up a commercial market or even doing a private industry. All was all forbidden. You speak today of an environment that was poor and all that we have reached today was from the people and to the people from workers and to the workers the people have built themselves by themselves. What can you say to people who love music and love freedom?

MM: The Turkish government launched military attacks against. Kobani in recent days. What can you report to us about the situation?

ZM: Yes, this is true actually; yes, they attack the center of the town and the village around we have five people they have been killed and more than 34 wounded and all records in our files they shut in Kobani hospital. But there are no injuries thanks God they shut the hospital even though they know that it is for civilian people.

MM: What, if any, efforts are being made to build support from other resistance movements which oppose tyrannical states? A massive uprising is ongoing in Lebanon, Iraqis are revolting against their government, and the Palestinians continue to be battered by the Israeli government. The Kurdish people span four countries. What are the possibilities of building unity among the Kurdish people themselves? Little support has been offered from Kurds in neighboring Iraq.

ZM: Well, for us Kurds, of course, we will be with all the people who want their freedom from tyranny and oppression, but in my personal opinion, the situation is different from Rojava and other countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, these countries have sovereignty and they have their independence; there may occur some things that need to be changed, but in the end they live under one flag and one nationality. But the situation in Rojava is completely different. We Kurds were forbidden to speak our language. We were forbidden to celebrate our national holidays such as Eid Nowooz. We were forbidden to call our children Kurdish names. Many of us were not given Syrian nationality, so you can’t go to the universities and can not do anything. We are subjected to great repression and tyranny that is why the Rojava revolution was a comprehensive revolution and we still to this day believe in the political solution to this matter.

As for the unification of the four parts of Kurdistan, it will be prevented by the four dominant governments; they will do everything to destroy us. So it is a difficult question to answer, even though we, the landowners, have the right to live in dignity, and it is still a distant dream.

MM: The United Nations is under US and European colonial control through the Security Council, and Kurds seem divided among themselves. What are the possibilities for Kurdish unity? What are the possibilities for a united global anti-capitalist, anti-statist democratic front that would make the United Nations obsolete? The global south is exploding with dissent. Uprisings against the state system are active in Chile, Honduras, Ecuador, Haiti, Iraq, Hong Kong, Catalonia Spain, Iran, India, Gaza, and Kashmir. The existing economic and political systems are crumbling. The global state system and global capitalism are collapsing. Rojava is both a particular local conflict, and also the threshold between the old systems and the new giving birth. Shall we call Rojava the womb of hopeful possibilities?

ZM: Well, we believe in Kurdish unity. There are a few minor differences, but they can be solved. As everyone sees now, General Mazloum is communicating with the Kurdistan Regional Commander, Nejirvan Berzani so we believe that the best is coming soon.

MM: What can people outside Rojava do to support the democratic revolution in solidarity with the Kurdish people? What actions in general, and in particular, would benefit the movement? How can people support the urgent medical needs in Rojava?

ZM: I call on all people to show solidarity with us and to push their governments to act against this terrorist project by [Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and everyone who supports it now they are now attacking us in Rojava, but tomorrow they will be in your country they will kill and destroy everything is a new face of ISIS and we all should stop them not just the Kurdish all over the world.

And for medicines there are a few organizations coming to help but we need everyone to stand with civilian people at the moment. We have no more drugs and everything gets worse.

Mark Mason is an American dissident and political analyst. Read other articles by Mark.