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Rojava, Kurdish autonomy and radical democracy


When you hear the word Syria, you might think
about the nearly decade-long civil war, you might think about the devastation in Aleppo,
you might think about the refugee crisis, you might think about the fight against ISIL
or Daesh, you might think that that fights nearly over, you might think of disastrous
Western interventions of decades of conflicts and sectarianism, you might think of tyrants
and despots and dictators. But would you think about a bold and radical
experiment in direct democracy? Would you think of cooperation and ecology and gender
equality? There’s a place where you can find those things, a place whose very existence
is increasingly fragile that place is called Rojava.
I’m Elif I’m one of the coordinators of the Kurdistan Students Union in the UK which
is a part of the broader Kurdish people’s assembly in the UK and I’m here today to answer
some questions about the Kurdish people, who the Kurds are, what Rojava is and what is
being done in Rojava in Northern Syria and how you can help and how we can work together
on this. What is Rojava?
What is Rojava? Rojava literally means West in Kurdish so it’s the name that’s given
for Western Kurdistan which is also Northern Syria and it’s also referred to as the region,
the area in Northern Syria that declared autonomy in 2012.
So what we would call the Rojava Revolution comes from the declaration in 2012 for the
revolution that’s aimed to transform society and build a society based on direct democracy
and what we can also call radical democracy, ecology and most importantly a society around
women’s liberation. So who’s fighting for Rojava?
Who are the Kurdish forces? A very broad question and a very interesting question but I suppose
essentially what we can call the Kurdish forces and what’s internationally known as the YPG
which are the people’s protection units and the YPJ which is the women’s protection units.
They have been the allies of the International Coalition in the fight against the so-called
Islamic state and the forces were also declared and formed in 2012 to be able to defend, at
first Northern Syria but also expanded to cities like Raqqa which was seen as the capital
of the Caliphate that the so-called Islamic state declared.
But the Kurdish forces are essentially the protection units of the revolution that was
declared in 2012 to protect the fight and the struggle in building a new system not
just in Northern Syria but ideally the entire region. But I thought we’d beaten ISIS? Why is there
still a threat? In December 2018, only a few weeks ago, the
president of the United States announced that they will be withdrawing from Syria claiming
that the fight against ISIS and was completed. It’s widely known and of course widely accepted
that the Kurdish forces have been the most effective ground forces in the fight against
ISIS but also while fighting and defeating ISIS they’ve also had many threats and risks
from the Turkish army. Erdogan the Turkish president and essentially the Turkish state
in January 2018 followed up on his threats and invaded the Kurdish city of Afrin in northwestern
Syria and it still continues to be under Turkish occupation.
He’s also been saying that after the US and therefore the international coalition withdraw
from Syria that they will “bury the Kurds in ditches” this is a direct quote from
Erdogan. So, unfortunately, everything we’ve explained about this alternative system about
these heroic fighters in the in the defeat of ISIS is heavily and quite urgently threatened
by the Turkish army the Turkish army that is also a NATO ally which is really unfortunate.
This is one of the biggest threats and they don’t make a secret of it, that they intend
to bury these people in ditches and that they see the people who are building an alternative
system based on direct democracy ecology and women’s liberation as terrorists. A NATO ally
is saying that they want to crush and absolutely destroy this alternative system that could
be a model not just for the region but potentially for our entire world.
But I thought democracy was impossible in the Middle East?
The system in Rojava that has been built as an alternative system, an alternative most
importantly to the sectarian conflicts that have plagued the entire region and the entire
Middle East for at least the last century but actually longer.
It seems like that’s one of the issues that we are seeing rising all around the world;
polarization, a level of sectarianism, whether it’s based on ethnic sectarianism, particular
political ideologies or belief, that’s one of the things that we’re seeing rise around
the world and that’s what the system is an alternative to.
Because it’s (Rojava) pluralistic it’s inclusive and it’s based on people’s communes and assemblies
so people organize themselves, so the very important, the most important decisions made
about society are made at the very base level of what we call communes or assemblies.
Assemblies? Communes? I don’t want to go to meetings all the time!
One of the questions asked a lot around the world is “yes you know perhaps people can
organize in what we can call directly democratic ways but isn’t it time-consuming?”
There aren’t five hundred meetings a day and not everyone attends these meetings, but the
directly democratic element of this is that people know they have the option to attend
these meetings and be involved in decision-making when they know a decision that they feel concerned
about is being made. So it’s not that everyone has to attend every
meeting and there are structures that coordinate with each other that have spokespeople that
are elected by that very base level of administration and organization as well which also functions
in a way that not everyone has to go to every meeting. What’s most important is people have
the choice to be able to attend the meeting and be directly involved in a decision that
concerns them as a society. Sounds great but wouldn’t I have to give up
all my things? My lifestyle? Some of the things we like in I guess what
we can call Western society it doesn’t mean they can’t exist in an alternative society
and actually in fact whether we like Xboxes whether we like a nice bar once in a while,
these are not things that are necessarily just the fruits of what we call capitalist
modernity. Actually one of the analyses of the Kurdish
people’s leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is the thinker behind this revolution is that there
has been what we call democratic modernity running parallel alongside capitalist modernity
for thousands of years. We’re not trying to recreate the wheel or
create something all new but it’s to give credit to the streams of democratic modernity
that have been running parallel to capitalism throughout history. That’s one of the most
important things that the Kurdish movement and what the Rojava Revolution is about is
to give credit to our understandings and our inherited ideas of what we call democratic
civilization. I thought all Middle Eastern women were oppressed
how could they possibly be involved? From the historical references we have, especially
in the region that includes Northern Syria, Rojava is essentially the birthplace of patriarchy,
what we call male dominance. That’s what’s so remarkable about this, in
a region that was the birthplace of patriarchy women are liberating themselves and yes some
of them do wear headscarves but most of them see the confidence in themselves through the
transformation of society especially the option to be able to defend their own societies to
be able to take part in these levels of organization but most importantly every level of administration
has a 42% quota for women and there must be a co-chair structure so every level of organization
and administration must have a man and a woman that essentially coordinate to make sure that
women’s liberation and gender equality is structurally and systematically implemented
in that way But in the West we have women on boards now,
surely that’s the pinnacle of women’s liberation? One of the most important analysis of especially
the Kurdish women’s movement that has been developed over the last 40 years and that’s
a very important aspect actually as that didn’t come overnight it has been a very long struggle
and still continues is that women’s liberation or gender equality cannot come by copying
male characteristics. Boards and CEO ships or these kind of leadership
roles are roles that have been created by male dominance, so yes it’s important to have
women included in these roles but it doesn’t mean emancipation or gender equality. To have
women in those positions actually in some ways quite the contrary it means that women
are convincing themselves that you must be “a boss” or “act like a man” – to
be free. It’s important the struggle for women in work
and especially for equal pay but what the Kurdish women’s movement shows us is that
a systematic and a structural alternative is necessary for that liberation.
Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if the Middle East just tried to be more like us?
One of the arguments has been for almost a century and actually potentially longer is
that the ideal model is the Western democracy model but we’ve seen again all over the world
that unfortunately, that model is failing. It’s failing, not because democracy is not
important but because we’re understanding that the so-called Western democracy model
wasn’t really as Democratic as we can get and that’s the most important thing to understand
that the illusion that that is the ultimate level of democracy has been shattered and
it’s been shattered in the UK by you know the situation of Brexit. Whatever we think
about it we understand that it’s been caused by some sort of failure of democracy or inadequacy
and we’ve seen that this all around the world the inadequacy of what we call Western democracy
and that’s important to understand. We were told that’s the end to get to, that’s the
ultimate level of progress But I thought Western interventions were bad?
I marched against Western interventions! The West should stay out of the Middle East
for sure but especially in the last few decades. The West has been there for centuries unfortunately
but one of the things that created something like Isis has been the more contemporary Western
interventions into the Middle East. It’s important to understand that right now
the withdrawal of Western forces from northern Syria is not a win for anti-imperialism; One
because that means that the Turkish, state the Turkish army will immediately attack these
people that that fought so hard to defeat Isis but also are struggling so much to transform
their society and build their alternative system; and two it will mean that imperialism
isn’t just by the West, the Turkish government right now in the Turkish army are a local
imperialist force invading Northwest Syria and threatening to attack other parts of Northern
Syria. That’s also a form of imperialism and it’s
important to understand the call that is coming from the people on the ground and to be able
to position our solidarity in a way that those people want the solidarity.
That’s important, it’s important to understand that that’s the way international solidarity
works. The people on the ground are asking for especially the US to either stay for longer
until that threat is dealt with or give them the means to be able to defend themselves
whether it’s through a no-fly zone or the material means to be able to defend themselves
against the second largest NATO army. But I still don’t understand how this affects
me? International solidarity has, I think over
the last few centuries, been one of the most beautiful things humanity has developed. To
show solidarity with people, with groups, with societies, with nations that are far
away from us and essentially if we didn’t care that we potentially would never know
about that’s really important, especially in a time where we have the rise of the far-right
all around the world through the election of presidents in certain places of the world
but also through groups and organizations that are a threat to people’s lives.
It shows us that our fight against the far-right and the defeat of the far-right isn’t just
gonna come with typical opposition it must come by fighting with a vision and for an
alternative society that makes sure that we have structures and a system in place that
makes sure that the people of that society and that place have enough political will
and agency that the far-right is impossible again.
I think we owe humanity, we owe ourselves, that once and for all we build a society and
build a system that makes sure that peace freedom and democracy is embedded and not
going anywhere OK, so how can I help?
One of the most important ways to be able to show solidarity with the Kurdish people
right now would be let your MP (local politician) know, if you feel you’re informed enough,
you can use information from this video to be able to form some sort of a message but
also it’s important to do more research about what the Kurdish people are about who the
Kurds are most importantly most importantly read about the ideas of Abdullah
öcalan which is what formed the ideas behind this alternative system.
Also if you found this video useful please share it with your friends share it with whoever
you think could benefit from what has been spoken about in the video, of course, if anyone
has any questions please, leave some comments below as well and we’ll try and either make
another video or respond to some of the questions in the comments.
There are many campaigns that are happening all around the country (UK) there’s the Kurdistan
solidarity Network that people can get involved in you can search online on social media platforms
that’s possible and also they have a website I’m one of the coordinators of the Kurdistan
Students Union we do a lot of things in universities and with students you can look us up as well
and also keep an eye out for any solidarity demonstrations and any solidarity actions
that may be coming out and it would be amazing to see more people there.
We really hope you’ve enjoyed this video and hopefully you found it informative. We would
like to answer any questions you might have hopefully, you’ve got lots of questions after
watching this so please use the comment box or get in touch with us. All the images you
saw at the start of the film were shot on location in Rojava and we’re also going to
put some links in the description box for follow up sources if you want to do your own
research. Please like and subscribe if you want to see more content from us and thanks
again for watching.

11 Comments

  1. Deathclaw Tamer
    Deathclaw Tamer January 23, 2019

    Just wanted to give some constructive feedback:
    -It was a good video, I think it it's important that we start learning more about left-wing/radical movements outside 'western' countries.
    -If you plan on doing more videos on Rojava, i think would be really worth going more into detail about some of the results of radical democracy as it's really interesting case study of how we can construct societies differently. Learning from any mistakes would be greatly helpful when it comes to building our movements that seeks engagement from everyone.
    -When some of the questions were being asked, the audio cut out so you couldn't here the whole question.
    I know this isn't much feedback (I suck at giving feedback), but I really want to see an explosion of content that focuses on other struggles and providing tools to help activists in these final stages of Capitalism. Anyways, I look forward to seeing more content from you guys. Love and Solidarity Comrades! 🙂

  2. Samb1600
    Samb1600 January 27, 2019

    Elif organizes with graeber in london around rojava. what a b4d4$$

  3. Joe Cordo
    Joe Cordo January 29, 2019

    Great video. I like that it makes the topic very accessible to people who might not be aware of the situation. Will be sharing on FB.

  4. JacktheRah
    JacktheRah February 10, 2019

    Three quick points:
    1. Look at your edited subtitles: they're sometimes very far off
    2. The questions in between sometimes are cut short by a second
    3. I think I am in love now.

  5. Kurdo Hawler
    Kurdo Hawler March 9, 2019

    Long live YPG ☆YPJ ✌

  6. Tarryn Ducker
    Tarryn Ducker March 21, 2019

    I've heard about rojavan alternatives to policing, I would be interested in what other social systems were put into place to assist with their societal development.

  7. SurplusCornbread
    SurplusCornbread March 21, 2019

    I like the video and critical support for Rojava without a doubt, but I have a few questions/concerns that weren't covered in this video. EDIT: I also do understand some things have changed since the video came out (just realized it was made months ago) but the below are still questions I'm curious about:

    1) I completely understand fear regarding Turkey's aggressive actions and stated intentions. However is the US the only real option here? Knowledge of US foreign policy history should be sufficient to demonstrate the American Empire does not act out of benevolence or a desire to see alternative economic systems succeed. If the US stays in Rojava it would be for the purposes of maintaining or expanding it's neo-imperialist control over new areas. But the Syrian Arab Army has not been fully hostile to the Kurdish forces, has powerful international backing from Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah, and is opposed to Turkey and Turkish-backed (at this point primarily jihadi) rebels. It is also my understanding that the Democratic Forces of Northern Syria even invited the SAA into Manbij to help with an anti-Turkey defense. So why not work out a fuller and more permanent arrangement with the Syrian state especially while the Kurdish forces hold so much territory and have the leverage they do?

    2) Rojava began in Kurdish areas but now controls many Arab majority regions. How is the DFNS shifting to be more inclusive of these groups? And is the ultimate goal to have a Rojava that is just a kurdish ethno-state with democratic characteristics or has the focus become having a democratic state regardless of ethnic make-up?

    3) What kind of success or lack thereof has there been in transforming the economic structures of the region? Has worker control been increasing implemented or are private businesses till dominant in the economy? Is there any push towards decommodification of any goods (like homes or food)?

  8. MATEEN LAWAND
    MATEEN LAWAND March 27, 2019

    Think you Elif

  9. Pervin Sinaci
    Pervin Sinaci April 7, 2019

    hi

  10. PUBG vs FORTNITE
    PUBG vs FORTNITE April 19, 2019

    biji Rojava biji YPG YPJ

  11. Sebastian Basti
    Sebastian Basti May 14, 2019

    great interview bjiy roj ava

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