An Island of Hope Amid the Barbarism
A review of Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in
Syrian Kurdistan, by Michael Knapp, Anja Flach and Ercan Ayboga, published by Pluto.
THE FIRST ‘ARAB SPRING’ demonstrations in Syria were met by police gunfire. Opposition to Assad quickly became militarised in the form of civil war. Extreme Islamists dominated, the conflict’s democratic aspects were soon marginalised and international forces began to get involved.
The Kurdistan freedom movement in the ethnically mixed cantons that make up Rojava opted for a third path between the two opposing sides, supporting non-violent protest against the regime and opposing foreign intervention. People’s Protection Units were created to protect the protestors. By July 2012, they were able to seize control of strategic locations in Kobani city, peacefully disarming regime soldiers and calling their families to come and pick them up. The liberation quickly spread to other cities and towns in the region.
Buildings that had belonged to the regime were transformed into cultural and educational centres. Elections were held to People’s Councils and many women took up leadership positions, a reflection of the powerful women’s movement in the region. A gender quota of at least 40% was introduced for every institution, including local councils and courts.
The new democratic structure has four levels - the commune made up of households in a residential street, the neighbourhood or, in rural areas, village, the district and, at the top, the People’s Council of West Kurdistan. Within these structures, separate commissions operate at all levels, focusing on various policy areas. In addition, there are many civil society organisations, such as those working on culture, human rights and youth activity.
This system operated even in Aleppo, but the escalating brutality of the war, both by the Syrian regime and the Free Syrian Army, led to the Aleppo’s People’s Council evacuating 400,000 people to safer parts of Rojava in April 2013. Self-defence is central to the survival of this revolution.
By autumn 2016, an estimated 4,000 fighters had been killed, not least because the Turkish regime sees the Kurds as its main enemy and works with extreme Islamist groups to target them.
This book has substantial analysis of the democratisation of justice, health and education. On the environmental front, despite the difficult conditions, there are even attempts to tackle the destruction of biodiversity wrought by the policies of the Syrian state over the years.
The authors travelled to Rojava and saw for themselves the movement’s achievements. The call for western help to defend the revolution won’t sit easily with those anti-war activists who reject on principle all external intervention in the Syrian quagmire. But, they argue, Rojava needs international solidarity to survive – doctors, engineers and anyone who can help build DemocraticAutonomy. Given the enemies confronting it, the alternative looks like barbarism.