Syrian Kurds attempt utopia in a war zone

Click to enlarge.  Source:

The Kurds are among the few factions in the struggles in Iraq and Syria that I root for.  They fight not only for their own freedom, but they office refuge to other persecuted sects and ethnic groups as well.  They respect women’s rights.  They are stalwart fighters against the Islamic State (ISIS).  They do not practice terrorism themselves.

While all these things are true of the Kurdish leaders in both Iraq and Syria, the Kurds in northern Syria—Rojava—go further.  They are followers of the late Murray Bookchin, an American anarchist thinker, and have created a functioning society based on feminism, ecological awareness, minority rights and radical local democracy.

I first heard of Murray Bookchin when reading about the Kurds, and afterwards read and made many posts about Bookchin’s great work, The Ecology of Freedom.

Click to enlarge.  Source: infoshop.

The Kurds are a nation of about 30 million people who, after the 1919 Peace Conference, found themselves partitioned among Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.  About 15 million of them live in Turkey, where they are denied the right to use the Kurdish language or follow their national customs.  The breakdown of order in Iraq and Syria has enabled them to set up their own autonomous regional governments.

Debbie Bookchin, Murray Bookchin’s daughter, wrote in the New York Review of Books how Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish Workers Party, read The Ecology of Freedom while in prison in Turkey.  Partly inspired by Bookchin, he adopted a philosophy he called “democratic confederalism.”

Kurds in northern Syria in 2014 adopted a Charter based on that philosophy.  It calls for “a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs.”

Communes of 30 to 200 families elect delegates to neighborhood or village councils, which elect delegates to municipal or district councils, which elect delegates to regional councils.

It is required that women comprise at least 40 percent of elected bodies.  Woman and non-Kurdish minorities are co-chairs of administrative bodies.

The Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, formerly known as Rojava, guarantees the right of citizens to teach and be taught in their own languages.  It ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and abolished the death penalty.

Debbie Bookchin acknowledged charges of child soldiers, uprooted Arab villagers and other human rights violations.  But she went on to say to point out that the Kurds are creating their new society while fighting a war, dealing with shortages caused by a blockage and taking in thousands of refugees.

The current threat, she wrote, comes not from the government of Turkey, which has long repressed its own Kurds and is determined to stamp out the autonomous Kurdish community along its southern border.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq and its proxy war against the government of Syria caused a breakdown of authority that enabled the Kurds to assert their independence.  As the United States withdraws, they’ll be left alone to deal with Turkey, Iran and the Russian-backed government of Syria.

A group of intellectuals, calling themselves the Emergency Committee for Rojava, last year called on the U.S. government to:

  • Impose economic and political sanctions on Turkey’s leadership;
  • Embargo sales and delivery of weapons from NATO countries to Turkey;
  • Insist upon Rojava’s representation in Syrian peace negotiations;
  • Continue military support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces militia.

The U.S. government invaded Iraq and intervened in Syria in the name of freedom and democracy.  Even if this had been the real aim, it is arrogant to think of imposing freedom and democracy at gunpoint on a people who don’t want it at gunpoint.

Yet the Kurdish people in northern Syria have created a democracy themselves—one that’s different from and better than the American model.  They provide an alternative way of thinking to the Islamic State, the Muslim Brotherhood and the successors to Al Qaeda.  Anybody who cares about democracy and freedom would want their experiment to survive.

I’m in general opposed to arming militias involved in other countries’ civil wars.  With some misgivings, I favor making an exception in this case, since the Kurds are not fighting to take over Syria or Iraq, only to protect their own autonomy.

But I doubt if any American policy-makers care very much about democracy in the Middle East—certainly not to the point of alienating the Turkish government.  The Kurds are on their own.


Report  from Rojava: What the West Owes Its Best Ally Against ISIS by Debbie Bookchin for the New York Review of Books.

How My Father’s Ideas Helped the Kurds Create a New Democracy by Debbie Bookchin for the New York Review of Books.

A Call to Defend Rojava by the Emergency Committee on Rojava.

The Kurdish Question in Seven Maps.  A historical view of the 20th century Kurdish struggle.

Tags: , , , ,

2 Responses to “Syrian Kurds attempt utopia in a war zone”

  1. Atul Depak Says:

    Its called divide and rule which hopefully will fail.


  2. Fred Says:

    And the Kurds really do know how to fight.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: