“As a liberatory framework emerging from the Kurdish movement, jineology places women at the center of the struggle against patriarchy, capitalism and the state.”
A recent exciting but little known experiment in direct democracy on a larger and more permanent scale is The “Rojava Revolution” (“sunset) occurring in Kurdish villages along the Syrian and Turkish border. It’s about the size of Connecticut and has about 4.6 million people. Rojova declared self-rule in 2012 as the Syrian army withdrew from the Kurdish region. Kurds are mainly Muslim but some are Christian. They’re developing direct democracy, feminism and youth representation in their three cantons, formulated in a Charter of Social Contract and then in cantons in 2014. The leader is a feminist jailed by the Turkish government: Abdullah Öcalan told PKK activists in Turkey, “You need to think like a woman, for men only fight for power. But women love nature, trees, the mountains. …That is how you can become a true patriot.” Öcalan said the women’s revolution will lead the struggle for freedom. He believes doing away with hierarchies is the only way to solve the environmental crisis. Turkey is bombing Kurdish areas in Syria despite them being the most effective fighters against ISIS.
To implement decentralized decision-making, communes of 30 to 150 people govern their neighborhoods, as shown in a short video.[i] Some work in cooperatives such as farming or bakeries with the goal of creating a “community economy.” Despite most of their resources going to the military, everyone has their basic needs met. They’re even offering co-ed universities.
The communes organize commissions on social issues including youth or the environment and provide educational forums on topics like women’s liberation or local history. Every city has a council composed of representatives of the communes, women’s and youth’s councils, etc. The three leaders of each municipality must include a woman, a Kurd, an Arab and one Assyrian or Armenian Christian. All the councils and communes require a 40% quota for women and there are also parallel all-women’s councils. Women’s houses are safe havens for victims of domestic violence. Representative Çinar Salih explained, “Our system rests on the communes, made up of neighbourhoods of 300 people. The communes have co-presidents, and there are co-presidents at all levels, from commune to canton administration.”[ii] Salih emphasized that the Rojava revolution is a “revolution of women,” who are active in all areas of life. “We believe that a revolution that does not open the way for women’s liberation is not a revolution. There have been revolutions in Libya and Egypt and Tunisia … but the same status for women has persisted.”[iii]
At least a third of Rojava soldiers are women, as seen in photos.[iv] The YPJ soldiers were the ones who fought through the ISIS soldiers and rescued the Yazidis trapped on a mountain in Iraq. They’re involved in the fight to keep Kobanê. A 25-year-old woman teacher who became a sniper in Kobanê told NBC’s Richard Engle in 2014, “We stand here as a symbol of strength for women in the Middle East.” The woman and men fight together and call each other comrade and share food communally. They YPJ fighters aren’t supposed to get married. Kurdish women’s movement activist Dilar Dirik is suspicious of the media attention on attractive young “badass Amazons.”[v] When asked if she was afraid, a 24-year-old commander named Deniz Derik replied, “Being a martyr is the best thing possible….fighting is ugly. But fighting for this is beautiful. Fear is you your Western women in their kitchens.” [vi]
Dirik reminds us that Kurdish women fighters fought for decades without notice, that almost half of PKK members are women and the majority of women in Turkey’s parliament and city governments are Kurdish. When Marie Claire magazine featured photographers of YPJ fighters carrying guns, leading to “snickering” of members in Kobane.[vii] The women said they are closer than sisters and feminists who enjoy their independence and doing all the things men can do. General Zelal, age 33, said, “I don’t want to get married or have children or be in the house all day. I want to be free. If I couldn’t be a YPJ I think my spirit would die. Being a YPJ soldier means being free.” The Women’s Defense Units in northern Syria, YPJ, were formed in 2013 commanded by Meysa Abdo. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Peshmerga forces include an all-female battalion. Dirik adds that Western media ignore that PKK is on a terrorist list despite being the best fighters against ISIS.
The co-president of PYD (Democratic Union Party), Asya Abdullah explained that they learned from other revolutions that women’s rights can’t be put off after the revolution and they aim for permanent social revolution. Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to the Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries.[viii] The main barrier to women’s freedom is the capitalist state, although they name their effort to dismantle patriarchy “jineology.” A woman named Sirin explained that the women in her commune meet weekly in a book group and twice a month they visit neighborhood women and discuss the revolution, encouraging them to keep their children in school and make sure they have enough food.[ix] Some districts have women’s meeting houses to provide education and offer help with problems like domestic violence against women and children.
Women’s units are active fighters in the YPG (People’s Defense Forces). Solders are trained in Democratic Autonomy and motivated to fight for their ideas, as seen on their Facebook page.[x] One of the male soldiers said in a documentary,” “It’s 50/50, there’s no difference in female and male soldiers.” [xi] The Kurdish men say women are the best fighters because they’re more patient and the women say they’re equal. The first all female battalion formed in March 2013. A Kurdish reporter said, “Kurdish women led the Rojava revolution. Women have a part in every decision taken in Rojava.”[xii] Since patriarchal attitudes are slow to change, a young woman said, “There is still violence, there is still a lot of sexism. We are not free like women in Europe. . . but we have entered for the first time on a forward path.”[xiii]
The legal system is based on “peace and consensus committees.” Every commune elects the five to nine members of the committees and similar committees exist on the district level with a quota of 40% women on all levels. Women’s-only committees handle problems such with crimes against woman and forced or multiple marriages. Cases that can’t be solved through consensus move on to justice institutions on the city, regional and canton levels. Women are equal to men before the courts rather than a man’s testimony equal to two women’s testimony as sharia law states. Police are called civilian security forces who serve the state. Schools teach children to reject hierarchy, including teacher over student, and to “search for meaning” rather than memorize and aim to learn practical information. Universities develop women’s studies, referred to as “jineology,” creating a social as well as a political revolution.
The Rojava Revolution is inspired by Turkey’s Worker’s Party (PKK) formed by Marxist students led by Abdullah Öcalan, jailed in a Turkish prison since 1999.[xiv] Instead of trying to seize power from the state, he advocates a self-managed “democratic, ecological, gender-liberated society.” His picture is frequently on display in Rojava. One of his books is Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution (2013) in which he says liberation for both sexes is impossible without gender revolution and that all slavery is based on “housewifeisation.”[xv] Öcalan prioritized equality for women in a way that Bookchin did not; the former saw women as the vanguard and called for dual leadership and gender quotas. Inspired by US anarchist Murray Bookchin, the Mexican Zapatistas, and the autonomy of the Swiss canton model, the PKK aims to create “libertarian municipalism,” “Democratic Autonomy,” or “Democratic Confederalism” rather than a Kurdish state. Their goal is to overcome the state. Rojava is embargoed from trading with Turkey, so it built DIY oil refineries to provide power for the area.
Some charge that Turkey’s government supports the so-called Islamic State as a way to weaken Kurdish autonomy by allowing the terrorists to cross the border unhindered. In July 2015 Turkey started bombing Kurdish sites, the prime minister stating that they would continue, along with bombing ISIL. US didn’t protest: State Department official Brett McGurk recognized Turkey’s “right to self-defense.”[xvi] Referred to as Turkey’s 9-11 bombing, 32 young people traveling to help rebuild Kobane were killed in a terrorist bomb in the border city of Suruc in July 2015. The socialist youth group’s slogan was, “The values of Kobane are the values of the Gezi Resistance.” A survivor named Merve Kanak posted on her Facebook page, “We were united by the reality of the revolution. We all came here to realize a dream,” armed with bags of toys for the Kobane children.[xvii] Updates are available online, including
[i] Ulrike Flader, “On the ‘Rojava Revolution’ and the Fight Against the Islamic State,” Anarkismo.net, October 4, 2014.
[ii] Tony Iltis and Stuart Munckton, “Rojava’s Democratic, Feminist Revolution a Source of Hope among Horror, TelSur, November 19, 2015.
[iii] Tatort Kurdistan. Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan: The Council Movement, Gender Liberation, and Ecology. New Compass Press, 2013
Michael Gunter. Out the Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War. Hurst, 2014
Oso Sabio. Rojava: An Alternative to Imperialism, Nationalism, and Islamism in the Middle East. Lulu.com, 2015.
Michael Knapp, Ercan Ayboga, and Anja Flach. Revolution in Rojava. Pluto Press, 2016.
[v] Dilar Kirik, “Western Fascination with ‘Badass’ Kurdish Women, Al Jazzeera, October 29, 2014.
[vi] Wes Enzinna, “A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS’ Backyard,” New York Times, November 24, 2015.
[vii] Elizabeth Griffin, “These Remarkable Women are Fighting ISIS,” Mare Claire Magazine, September 30, 2014.
[viii] Janet Biehi, “Impressions of Rojava: A Report from the Revolution,” ROAR Magazine, December 16, 2014.
[ix] Michael Knapp, “The Democratic Solution for the Entire Middle East,” Kurdistan Report, 2014.
[xii] Dylan Murphy, The Unfolding Revolution in Rojava – Interview with Özgür Amed Journalist and Researcher, The People’s Voice, January 12th, 2015.
[xiii] Evangelos Aretaios, “The Rojava Revolution,” Open Democracy, March 15, 2015.
[xiv] David Graeber, “Why is the World Ignoring the Revolutionary Kurds in Syria?”, The Guardian, October 8, 2014.
[xvi] Editorial Board, “Turkey’s Shift on the Syrian War,” New York Times, July 27, 2015.
[xvii] Yvo Fitzherbert, “Suruc Massacre: Today We Mourn, Tomorrow We Rebuild,” ROAR Magazine, July 21, 2015.