Kurdish struggle continues, with a smile and a shrug

By Joris Leverink On November 7, 2015

Post image for Kurdish struggle continues, with a smile and a shrugAfter the AKP booked an unexpected victory in Turkey’s elections, the country’s Kurdish population looks ahead, determined to continue the struggle.

This article was originally written for teleSUR English. Photo by Aris Messinis.

Just days before last week’s elections in Turkey, the people of the small village of Kocaköy, at an hour’s drive from Diyarbakir, had gathered to commemorate the death of one of their sons. Renaz Karaz had been his nom de guerre, but his mother remembered him as Muhammed. He was only 21 years old when he died on October 30, 2014, in Kobane, where he was helping with the defense of the town against attacks by the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Muhammed’s mother, Rukiye Şık, walks around shaking hands, kissing cheeks and providing comfort to her guests. There’s a sparkle in her eyes, and her face is beautified by a smile that only sometimes disappears. It’s hard to understand how someone who has endured such a loss can still find the power to comfort those around her.

When asked how it is possible for her to maintain a smile on her face, her answer provides a unique insight in the Kurdish mind in these critical times:

“I have so much pain in my heart, but I’m smiling, I’m laughing, because I’m going to win this battle by smiling, not by being sad,” she explains herself. “I have all the power to win this battle. I’m going to stay here, to be living in my country, to be eating my own food. [Erdoğan] is the one that comes to my country and asks me to leave. He’s the one.”

“But,” she continues, “this is my country, and so I’m going to stay here. I’m not going anywhere. God willing, I’m going to stay here, and I’m going to smile. The Kurds’ numbers will increase, and we’re not going to lose anymore. We’re going to win. We’re going to stay in our country and smile until he loses the battle.”

The results of Turkey’s snap elections came as a shock to many, but especially to those who had bore the brunt of the AKP’s anger after the party had lost its majority in parliament for the first time in thirteen years.

The five months between the two elections were marred by violence in which hundreds of people lost their lives; guerrillas and soldiers, policemen and citizens. Two of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Turkey’s history killed almost 140 people, and dozens of people were reportedly killed when security forces attacked neighborhoods and towns were militant youths had picked up arms to protect themselves from the state’s violence.

Just after the closing of the ballot boxes, cars could be seen driving around Diyarbakir, honking their horns with people hanging out the windows, waving flags of the HDP, the leftist party with its roots in the Kurdish freedom movement. Some premature celebrations were livened up by bright fireworks, and slogans of ‘Biji biji HDP!‘ (‘Long live the HDP!’) could be heard in the streets.

And then, the first results were released. These showed an unexpectedly large victory for the AKP, who by the end of the evening seemed to have gathered close to fifty percent of the votes. The HDP only just passed the ten percent electoral threshold, and lost around a million votes compared to June’s elections.

Hope turned to anger; euphoria to disappointment. “How can the people reward them for all the corruption, the killings and the repression?” was an often-heard credo on the streets of the de-facto capital of Turkey’s Kurdish region.

But, after a brief night of mourning and a few isolated clashes between excited youths and the police, Diyarbakir woke up the next morning to a bright blue sky and the warmth of the Mesopotamian sun. People were still angry, disappointed, sad and indignant, of course, but this is something the people of Kurdistan have dealt with all their lives. And they weren’t about to give up hope just yet.

“We don’t focus on these elections, we focus on the struggle,” Süreyya, a 33-year old district manager in one of Diyarbakir’s most impoverished neighborhoods had explained a few days earlier. “We’re fighting against patriarchy and we’re fighting in our daily lives. Not just in politics.”

“The individual struggle is important,” she stated, while sitting down on a plastic chair in a small room of the neighborhood council’s building. “But even more important is the communal struggle. If we want justice, we have to change the entire system. Whatever happens [at the elections], we’ll keep working towards our future.”

The general post-election mood seems to be one of honorable defiance, as if the people won’t allow Erdoğan and his lackeys the pleasure of seeing the Kurds walking around with their heads down, defeated. Shoulders are shrugged, and the struggle continues. With a smile, of course, because that’s how battles are won.

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based political analyst, writer, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English. You can follow him on Twitter via @Le_Frique.




New Lines: a parliament for the Rojava revolution

By Jonas Staal On November 1, 2015

Post image for New Lines: a parliament for the Rojava revolutionNew World Summit recently started building a revolutionary public parliament in Derîk, open to all, and a true home for Rojava’s stateless democracy.

Photo: celebration at the new public parliament in Derîk, in the presence of political representatives from Scotland, Catalonia, the Philippines, Amazigh and Sweden (Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava/New World Summit, 2015; photo: Ruben Hamelink)

Two cranes circle above a large pit in the ground, lifting heavy, black metal arches into the air. They are covered with hand-painted words: Yeksani Regezi, Gender Equality, Xwe-Bergîri, Self-Defense.

Neighbors surrounding the construction site have walked out of their homes to see the choreography of cranes, cement trucks, and bulldozers — some of the machinery decorated with flags of political parties and councils.

Among the observers is Amina Osse, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Cezîre Canton, watching the spectacle together with some women of the local security forces, the Asayish — famous for its public statements about the wish to auto-dissolve when the entire society has become capable of organizing its own self-defense.

Osse is one of the driving forces behind the building process, one of its co-authors. The day passes by and her silhouette turns dark. In the remaining light a large spherical shape has emerged in front of her. A constructivist globe that we hope will be a symbol for a new world in the making.

New World Summit

I am writing these words from Rojava, or West Kurdistan (northern Syria), where, for the third time since 2014, I am a guest, together with my colleagues Younes Bouadi and Renée In der Maur.

For the past years, our organization — the New World Summit — has dedicated itself to creating platforms in art institutions, theaters, and public spaces for stateless political movements from all over the world. From Berlin and Brussels to Kochi in India, we have constructed what we call “temporary parliaments,” large-scale architectural constructions in which representatives of more than thirty stateless political movements have taken the floor: from Basque, Catalan, Amazigh, Oromo and Baluch, to Tamil and West-Papuan revolutionary organizations.

Today, many of these groups are blacklisted, as a direct result of the so-called War on Terror. This has resulted in the freezing of bank accounts, the enforcement of travel bans, and the cancellation of passports.

Cynically enough, this means that through the act of blacklisting, those who are already without a state are turned stateless once more, facing a double negation. Blacklisting these organizations — literally placing them “outside” of democracy — has much to do with the threat they pose to the status quo of the global capitalist doctrine.

As Tamil activist and scholar Suthaharan Nadarajah argued, the policies of blacklisting is essentially driven by a project of neoliberal state building: the demand for resistance movements to “disarm” and to engage in “peaceful democratic participation” all too often simply means that the space is to be cleared for corporate politics to take over resources and land.

Many of those declared stateless through terrorist blacklisting in the so-called War on Terror embody the living, insurgent memory of legitimate resistance against exactly these policies.

The New World Summit believes that, as artists invested in emancipatory politics, our task is to create spaces to narrate these counter-narratives: spaces where we can re-imagine and represent the world according to the stateless.

The lines drawn throughout North Africa and the Middle-East were drawn by bureaucrats and colonists. As artist Golrokh Nafisi has said, it is time to draw new lines. Not according to the occupiers, but according to the resistance. Not lines that isolate one nation from another, but lines of new shapes and forms that allow us to enact this world anew. To create a new world we need the imaginary of what that world could or should look like. As such, every political imaginary needs an artistic imaginary as well.

The revolution of Rojava

The Rojava revolution has provided the world with the political imaginary that many leftists, anarchists, eco-activists and libertarian socialists have been seeking. In mid-2011, when the Assad regime was fighting the Free Syrian Army in the south, the power vacuum in the northern, predominantly Kurdish regions of the country was filled up by the Rojava revolutionaries, who declared their autonomy.

A collectively written text, the “Social Contract,” clarified the points of departure: Rojava was to become a non-state entity, where self-governance, gender equality, ethnic and religious diversity, the right to self-defense and communal economy would form the foundational pillars. Ever since — while in the middle of a war against the Islamic State and other jihadist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, and surrounded by the forces of the Assad regime, Russian troops and the international “coalition forces” — Rojava revolutionaries have begun to put their new ideals of self-governance into practice.

Recent years have seen the birth of countless local parliaments and communes, self-organized neighborhood protection forces, new universities for the studies of repressed languages and cultures, the development of “jineology” (science of women), cultural centers, and a new film academy. Together they form the new social ecology known as the Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava.

The Rojava revolution is more than a revolution of arms — it is a social and cultural revolution. Resulting from decades of revolutionary theory and practice developed by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the work of Abdullah Öcalan has been leading in this process. After his imprisonment by the Turkish regime in 1999, he began to theorize models of autonomy that would form an alternative to the traditional paradigm of the nation-state. Concluding that the nation-state today is nothing more than a “colony of capital,” Öcalan instead proposed a model of “democratic confederalism,” which he described as “democracy without the state.”

As is widely known today, the Kurdish women’s movement was elementary in supporting this rejection of traditional forms of statehood. PKK co-founder Sakine Cansiz described how the revolutionary movement had been “an ideological struggle from the very beginning against denial, social chauvinistic impression, primitive and nationalist approaches.”

Öcalan and Cansiz thus redefined the very notion of what autonomy means. Rather than following the terms of the colonists and their projects of state building that wreaked havoc and divide, a set of new terms arose through the practice of revolutionary struggle. This is why today we can witness the stateless democracy of Rojava.

Many journalists have described the Rojava Revolution as a surprise, as a curiosity that emerged out of nowhere. But those who visit Rojava are quickly brought to reality: on every corner, in every house or commune, the names and images of martyrs are displayed. Every inch of Rojava was fought for, in past and present.

That expression is to be taken very literally: the liberation of towns and cities occupied by the Islamic State are full of booby-traps and mines, sometimes covering hundreds of meters through serially attached explosives that cannot be but detonated to be cleared, with scattered snipers and suicide bombers left behind to achieve maximum casualties. The many young people that have to fight the way through these terrifying labyrinths are the ones who make a future for Rojava possible, very literally: one inch made inhabitable at the time.

Every idea, every achievement that formed this new democratic paradigm is thus tied to a communal memory of those who helped to bring it into practice. And still today, in Rojava, as well as in Bakûr, Rojelat, and Başûr, this sacrifice continues. The saying that “Kurds are born in struggle” is the harsh reality on which a revolutionary imaginary of a new world is founded. One cannot embrace a revolution without accounting for those who were willing to resist at the cost of their very own lives.

When our team of the New World Summit arrived in Rojava the first time, we felt that we were witnessing a political project that we — as artists — had hardly been able to even imagine. In a region that suffered the terror of decades of imperialist and neocolonial state-building, a radical new democratic imaginary had arisen.

Those subjected to forces that often legitimize themselves through the name of democracy re-appropriated the term, re-enforced its principles and practice, and liberated democracy from its increasing history of serving state terror, foreign wars, clientelist regimes, and covert warfare. Revolutions are also explosions of creativity; they liberate old terms and old forms, and open up the possibility for different ways of acting upon the meaning and possibilities of our being in the world. They are expansions of the imagination of what a society could become. Essentially, that is what every great work of art should be about.

Our hosts, Foreign Affairs Minister Amina Osse and Sheruan Hassan, the international representative of the Democratic Union Party, wanted to know everything about our work in the New World Summit and the temporary parliaments we created in the past years for Kurdish and other stateless political organizations.

One night, looking through the photos of our architectural constructions, Osse looked up at me and asked: “Where are these parliaments now?” I answered: “Nowhere, we construct them for the days of our international summits only: they are temporary parliaments.” With a sparkle in her eye she smiled and said: “If you would ever make one in Rojava, we would keep it forever.”

A parliament for the Rojava revolution

That evening, political and artistic imaginary met. And that very same night, Osse, Hassan, and my team began to draw and develop a new public parliament for the Rojava Revolution. But this time, as Osse had suggested, it would be a permanent one.

We began drawing lines. But this time, they were not the lines of yet another state, yet another occupation, yet another wall or separation: as Nafisi wanted, they were new lines.

The first line we drew defined that the parliament had to be a public space: a people’s parliament, accessible at all times, for all layers and organizations that form the autonomous self-government of Rojava. The parliament was no longer to be separated from the public sphere, but had to become one with it.

The second line we drew defined that the parliament had to be circular; a parliament that rejects formal hierarchies between speakers and public; a parliament that embraces the fact that the revolution of Rojava rejects all monopolies of power.

The third line we drew defined that the parliament had to be founded on six pillars: six metal arches, each of which would carry a foundational concept from the Social Contract that resulted from the Rojava revolution. Written in Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian these pillars would carry the foundational principles of the revolution, namely Democratic Confederalism, Gender Equality, Secularism, Self-Defense, Communalism and Social Ecology.

The fourth line we drew defined that the parliament would be covered by fragments of six flags: six organizations that form the texture of grassroots movements and coalitions that continue to shape the Rojava revolution. Six fragments of flags that, when perceived from within the parliament, form a new whole, a new flag in which the stars and suns that decorate so many of the emblems of the organizations in Rojava construct a new confederate whole.

The fifth line we drew was the overall shape that all these components would construct together: a sphere, a new world.

In many ways, we, as the New World Summit, thought that a parliament could only be revolutionary by being temporary. But through the revolutionary imaginary of Rojava, a new parliament became possible: a stateless parliament for a stateless democracy.

The Kurdish Sun

Now the public parliament is being built: by the hands of artists, workers and revolutionaries alike. The concrete, circular heart of the parliament has become visible. The first arches of the parliament have been erected. Artists such as Abdullah Abdul help us paint the enormous canvasses that will cover the structure.

On October 17, 2015, a delegation of twenty-seven international guests stood together with the people of Derîk and the representatives of the Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava to celebrate the parliament’s coming into being. Revolutionaries from Rojava stood side-by-side with representatives of the Scottish National Party, the Popular Unity Candidacy in Catalonia, the Amazigh World Congress from North Africa, Feminist Initiative from Sweden and the National Democratic Movement of the Philippines: an internationalist blessing for a new world in the making.

As the music started, and a dance around the new parliament began under the remaining light of the Kurdish sun, Osse stood and watched the parliament. This time she stood with many.

She had said it herself many times: “Our revolution is a revolution for humanity.” It seems that humanity is beginning to see that. We certainly do. The revolutionary imaginary of Rojava taught us the profound possibilities of a new world. And now, we, as artists, hope to make our own modest contribution to make that imaginary a reality for all.

Biji Jiyana Nu Rojava.


Jonas Staal is a visual artist, PhD researcher on Art and Propaganda in the 21st Century at PhDArts/Leiden University and founder of the artistic and political organization New World Summit.

The author wishes to thank Renée In der Maur, Dilar Dirik and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei for their editorial support in writing this article. Also thanks to artist Golrokh Nafisi, who truly does honor to Mazou Ibrahim Touré’s saying that “Slogans are the poetry of the revolution.”



Cizre cries for help: “Turkey’s Kobane” under siege

By Joris Leverink On September 11, 2015

Post image for Cizre cries for help: “Turkey’s Kobane” under siegeAs the conflict in Turkey spirals out of control, dozens of people have reportedly been killed in Cizre and the army shows no signs of lifting the siege.

Photo by Sertaç Kayar, showing HDP-deputy Osman Baydemir scuffling with riot police on the road to Cizre.

Tanks shelling the city center. No-one allowed in or out. Electricity and water have been cut, as well as phone lines and internet access. The people have dug trenches to stop armored vehicles from entering their neighborhoods and have hung sheets in the streets to prevent being seen and shot by snipers.

While the above reads as a report from Kobane, from when the Syrian town was still under attack from the so-called Islamic State (IS), it is in fact a description of the current situation in Cizre, a predominantly Kurdish town in southern Turkey.

Cizre under attack

Since the Turkish government imposed a curfew in Cizre last week, its citizens have been forced to remain indoors, risking being shot by snipers as soon as they step out. The city is under total lock down, which means that for at least a week people have had no access to fresh food or water, medical services, or anything else for that matter. Even the wounded are not allowed to be transported to the hospitals, as a result of which a number of civilians have died from non-lethal injuries due to blood loss and infections, among them a baby of less than two months old.

Due to limited phone and internet access in Cizre news from the besieged town reaches the outside world only piecemeal, meaning that reports of what is going on inside the town are difficult to confirm – a very worrying sign in and of itself.

In order to break the siege – and the silence – the co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş has been leading a marchin an attempt to reach the town on foot. At several instances this march was blocked by the police upon orders of the Minister of Interior Selami Altinok of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who has argued that the HDP lawmakers are not allowed to enter the town “for their own security.”

While trying to circumvent the police blockades on the roads leading into town by following small trails through the fields and mountains, the HDP co-leader suggested that Cizre was being punished for voting “84 percent for the HDP” during the last elections in June. Demirtaş called Cizre “Turkey’s Kobane”, comparing the plight of the town and the resistance of its citizens to the Syrian Kurdish town when it was under attack from IS.

“In Cizre, 120,000 people have been held hostage by the state for a week,” he added. “They put ice on the corpses to stop them putrefying, because burials are banned.”

One of the most heart-breaking stories spoke of the young girl Cemile Çağırga, who was reportedly shot by the police in front of her house – under what circumstances remains unknown. After succumbing to her injuries her family was unable to transfer her body to the morgue due to the curfew and the threat of being targeted by snipers and artillery. For several days Cemile’s body was kept in a fridge in the family’s home before the young girl could be buried.

Violence spiraling out of control

The siege of Cizre occurs at a time when the recent upsurge in violence in the country’s southeastern Kurdish region appears to be spiraling out of control. An ambush by the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK on a military convoy left at least 16 soldiers dead – or so the state media reported – followed two days later by another deadly attack on a police van, killing another 11 officers.

In response to these attacks nationalist groups around the country took to the streets en masse. In many cases these marches started as protests to show their indignation and anger, but they quickly turned into lynch-mobs targetingKurdish neighborhoods, shops and individuals. A nationalist mob marching through a downtown Istanbul neighborhood was heard chanting “We don’t want a [military] operation, we want a massacre!”

Offices of the HDP were a popular target of the masses brandishing Turkish flags, hands held high up in the air making the “sign of the wolf” – a gesture emblematic of an ultra-nationalist organization called the Grey Wolves, which has been accused of countless racist and xenophobic attacks on Armenians, Kurds, Syrians and even Pope John Paul II. After two nights of attacks around 130 of the party’s offices were left destroyed or burned, windows broken and party signs torn down or covered with Turkish flags.

The HDP is perceived by many nationalist Turks as the political wing of the PKK, and as such as a terrorist organization in and of itself. The party’s historical success in the June elections, when it collected an unprecedented 13 percent of the vote and was able to send 80 delegates to the national parliament – the very first time a pro-Kurdish party entered Turkish parliament in the country’s history – angered many nationalists and AKP supporters alike.

Nationalists – represented in parliament by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – fretted about seeing what they perceived as “Kurdish terrorists” inside the parliament; and AKP supporters saw their dream of Erdogan being installed as the 21st century Sultan shattered when the party lost its absolute majority.

Both parties have reasons aplenty to be wary of HDP’s success. Another Kurdish victory in the upcoming November elections would seriously curb their aspirations to see their respective dreams of a Turkish utopia come to pass: an ethnically-pure country free of Armenians, Kurds, Greeks and Arabs in the case of the MHP; and a revived sultanate under the “auspicious” leadership of Erdogan in the case of the AKP.

The upsurge of violence in the east should be analyzed in light of the national elections of November. Plunging the country into war immediately after the coalition talks have broken down serves two purposes. First, it attempts to show that without the AKP at the wheel, the country is ‘doomed to disintegrate into chaos and violence’. Second, the escalation of violence is encouraged because of the belief that in times of crises people turn towards a strong leader who promises to restore peace and tranquillity — if only the people would grant him exceptional powers to do so.

A cry for solidarity

And while the party leaders cook up their plans to restore their power, it’s once again the ordinary people that suffer most; the mother who was shot by a sniper while holding her new-born baby in her arms; the young boy who got bored of sitting indoors days on end and decided to sneak outside for a quick peak, and got shot; the seven children who had to cover their mother’s dead body with bottles of frozen water to stop the body from decomposing because she couldn’t be buried after she was shot to death.

The siege of Cizre continues in a blatant violation of all morals and values that are supposed to determine the actions of a “democratic country.” It is outrageous that Turkey, especially as a NATO-member state, is allowed to target its own citizens, torturing them collectively in the name of ‘securitization’ and ‘fighting terrorism’.

In the case of Kobane the collective outcry of the international solidarity movement made the city’s plight impossible to be ignored. Let’s draw our lessons from this experience and raise our voices in solidarity with the people of Cizre, Silopi, Sirnak, Yüksekova, Sur and all those other towns, neighborhoods and villages that are being punished for demanding freedom, tortured for refusing to give in, arrested for simply being Kurdish and shot on the streets for daring to venture out of their homes.

Cizre is not alone, and it’s about time we’d let the world know.

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English.



Building autonomy in Turkey and Kurdistan: the DAF

By Corporate Watch On September 3, 2015

Post image for Building autonomy in Turkey and Kurdistan: the DAFIn this interview the DAF discusses the history of anarchism in Turkey, their initiatives in the anti-capitalist struggle and the Kurdish freedom movement.

In May this year, Corporate Watch researchers traveled to Turkey and Kurdistan to investigate the companies supplying military equipment to the Turkish police and army. We talked to a range of groups from a variety of different movements and campaigns.

Below is the transcript of our interview with three members of the anarchist group Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet (DAF, or Revolutionary Anarchist Action) in Istanbul during May 2015. DAF is involved in solidarity with the Kurdish struggle, the Rojava revolution and against ISIS’ attack on Kobane, and has taken action against Turkish state repression and corporate abuse. They are attempting to establish alternatives to the current system through self-organization, mutual aid and co-operatives.

The interview was carried out in the run-up to the Turkish elections, and touches on the election campaign by the HDP, the pro-Kurdish Peoples‘ Democratic Party. Soon after the interview took place, the HDP passed the threshold of 10 percent of the total vote needed to enter the Turkish parliament.

The DAF members – who all preferred to remain anonymous – began the interview by talking about the history of anarchism in the region.


DAF: We want to underline the relationship between the freedom struggle at the end of Ottoman times and the freedom struggles of Kurdistan.

In Ottoman times anarchists organized workers’ struggles in the main cities: Saloniki, Izmir, Istanbul and Cairo. For example [the Italian anarchist, Errico] Malatesta was involved in organizing industrial workers in Cairo. The freedom struggles of Armenia, Bulgaria and Greece had connections with anarchist groups. Alexander Atabekian, an important person in the Armenian freedom struggle, was an anarchist, translating leaflets into Armenian and distributing them. He was a friend of [the Russian geographer and anarchist, Peter] Kropotkin and distributed Kropotkin’s anarchist leaflets.

We are talking about this as we want to underline the importance of freedom struggles and to compare this to the importance of support for the Kurdish struggle.

Corporate Watch: what happened to anarchists after the Ottoman period?

Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, at the end of the 19th century, Sultan Abdul Hamid II repressed the actions of anarchists in Turkey. He knew what anarchists were and took a special interest in them. He killed or deported anarchists and set up a special intelligence agency for this purpose.

Anarchists responded by carrying out attacks on the Yildiz Sarayi palace and with bomb attacks at the Ottoman bank in Saloniki.

The government of the Ottoman Empire didn’t end with the Turkish republic. The fez has gone since but the system is still the same.

At the beginning of the [Kemalist] Turkish state [in 1923] many anarchists and other radicals were forced to emigrate or were killed. The CHP, Mustafa Kemal’s party, didn’t allow any opposition and there were massacres of Kurds.

From 1923 to 1980 there was no big anarchist movement in Turkey due to the popularity of socialist movements and the repression of the state.

The wave of revolutions from the ’60s to the ’80s affected these lands too. These were the active years of the social movements. During this period, there were revolutionary anti-imperialist movements caused by the Vietnam war, youth organizations, occupations of universities and increasing struggle of workers. These movements were Marxist-Leninist or Maoist, there were no anarchist movements.

In 1970 there was a long workers’ struggle. Millions of workers walked over a hundred kilometers from Kocaeli to Istanbul. Factories were closed and all the workers were on the streets.

Was there any awareness of anarchism in Turkey at all at this time?

During these years many books were translated into Turkish from European radicalism but only five books about anarchism were translated, three of which were talking about anarchism in order to criticize it.

But in Ottoman times there had been many articles on anarchism in the newspapers. For example, one of the three editors of the İştirak newspaper was an anarchist. The paper published [Russian anarchist, Mikhail] Bakunin’s essays as well as articles on anarcho-syndicalism.

The first anarchist magazine was published in 1989. After this many magazines were published focusing on anarchism from different perspectives; for example, post structuralism, ecology, etc.

The common theme was that they were written for a small intellectual audience. The language of these magazines was too far away from the people. Most of those involved were connected with the academia. Or they were ex-socialists affected by the fall of the Soviet Union, which was a big disappointment for many socialists. That’s why they began to call themselves anarchists, but we don’t think that this is a good way to approach anarchism, i.e. as a critique of socialism.

Between 2000 to 2005 people came together to talk about anarchism in Istanbul and began to ask: ‘how can we fight?’. At this time we guess that there were 50-100 anarchists living in Turkey and outside.

Can you explain how DAF organizes now?

Now we get 500 anarchists turning up for May Day in Istanbul. We are in touch with anarchists in Antalya, Eskişehir, Amed, Ankara and Izmir. Meydan [DAF’s newspaper] goes to between 15 and 20 cities. We have a newspaper bureau in Amed, distributing newspapers all over Kurdistan. Until now, it is in Turkish but maybe one day, if we can afford it, we will publish it in Kurdish. We send Meydan to prisons too. We have a comrade in Izmir in prison and we send copies to over 15 prisoners.

A few months ago there was a ban on radical publications in prisons. We participated in demos outside prisons and we managed to build enough pressure so that now newspapers are allowed into prisons again.

The main issue for DAF is to organize anarchism within society. We try to socialize anarchism with struggle on the streets. This is what we give importance to. For nearly nine years we have been doing this.

On an ideological level we have a holistic perspective. We don’t have a hierarchical perspective on struggles. We think workers’ struggle is important but not more important than the Kurdish struggle or women’s struggles or ecological struggles.

Capitalism tries to divide these struggles. If the enemy is attacking us in a holistic way we have to approach it in a holistic way.

Anarchy has a bad meaning for most people in society. It has a link with terrorism and bombs. We want to legitimize anarchism by linking it to making arguments for struggles against companies and for ecology. Sometimes we try to focus on the links between the state, companies and ecological damages, like the thing that Corporate Watch does.

We like to present anarchy as an organized struggle. We have shown people on the streets the organized approach to anarchism.

From 1989 to 2000 anarchism was about image. About wearing black, piercings and “mohawks”. This is what people saw. After 2000, people started to see anarchists who were part of women’s struggles and workers’ struggles.

We are not taking anarchism from Europe as an imitation. Other anarchists have approached anarchism as an imitation of US or European anarchism or as an underground culture. If we want to make the anarchist movement a social movement, it must change.

DAF’s collectives are Anarchist Youth, Anarchist Women, 26A cafe, Patika ecological collective and high school anarchist action (LAF). These self-organizations work together but have their own decision-making processes.

Anarchist Youth makes connections between young workers and university students and their struggles. Anarchist Women focuses on patriarchy and violence to women. For example, a woman was murdered by a man and set on fire last February. On 25 November there were big protests against violence against women.

LAF criticizes education and schooling in itself and tries to socialize this way of thinking in high schools. LAF also looks at ecological and feminist issues, including when young women are murdered by their husbands.

PATIKA ecological collective protests against hydro-electric dams in the Black Sea region or Hasankey [where the Ilisu dam is being built]. Sometimes there is fighting to prevent these plants from being built.

26A cafe is a self-organized cafe focusing on anti-capitalist economy. Cafes were opened in 2009 in Taksim and in 2011 in Kadıköy [both in Istanbul]. The cafes are run by volunteers. They are aimed at creating an economic model in the place where oppressed people are living. It’s important to show people concrete examples of an anarchist economy, without bosses or capitalist aims. We talk to people about why we don’t sell the big capitalist brands like Coca Cola. Of course the products we sell have a relation to capitalism but things like Coke are symbols of capitalism. We want to progress away from not-consuming and move towards alternative economies and ways of producing.

Another self-organized collective, PAY-DA — ‘Sharing and solidarity’ — has a building in Kadıköy, which is used for meetings and producing the Meydan newspaper. PAY-DA gives meals to people three times a day. It’s open to anarchists and comrades. The aim of PAY-DA is to become a cooperative, open to everybody. We try to create a bond which also involves the producers in the villages. We aim to have links with these producers and show them another economic model. We try to evolve these economic relations away from money relations. The producers are suffering from the capitalist economy. We are in the first steps of this cooperative and we are looking for producers to work with.

All of these projects are related to DAF’s ideology. This model has a connection with Malatesta’s binary model of organization.

These are anarchist organizations but sometimes people who aren’t anarchists join these struggles because they know ecological or women’s struggles, and then at the end they will learn about anarchism. It’s an evolving process.

As DAF we are trying to organize our lives. This is the only way that we can reach the people who are oppressed by capitalism.

There is also the Conscientious Objectors’ Association, which is organized with other groups, not just anarchists. Our involvement in this has a relation with our perspective on Kurdistan. We organize anti-militarist action in Turkey outside of military bases on 15 May, conscientious objector’s day. In Turkey the military is related to state culture. If you don’t do your military duty, you won’t find a job and it’s difficult to find someone to marry because they ask if you’ve been to the army. If you have been to the army, you’re a “man”. People see the state as the “Fatherland”. On your CV they ask whether you did military service. “Every Turk is born a soldier” is a popular slogan in Turkey.

Is Kemalism [the ideology associated with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk]as strong a force as it used to be?

Kemalism is still a force in schools but the AKP [the ruling Justice and Development Party] has changed this somewhat. The AKP has a new approach to nationalism focused on the Ottoman Empire. It emphasizes Turkey’s “Ottoman roots.” But Erdoğan still says that we are ‘one nation, one state, one flag and one religion.’ There is still talk about Mustafa Kemal but not as much as before. Now you cannot criticize Erdoğan or Atatürk. It’s the law not to criticize Atatürk and the unwritten rule not to criticize Erdoğan. The media follows these rules.

Can you talk about your perspective on the Kurdish freedom struggle?

The Kurdish freedom struggles didn’t start with Rojava. Kurdish people have struggled for hundreds of years against the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish state.

Since the start of DAF we have seen Kurdistan as important for propaganda and education.

Our perspective relates to peoples’ freedom struggles. The idea that people can create federations without nations, states and empires. The Turkish state says the issue is a Kurdish problem, but for us it is not a Kurdish problem, it’s an issue of Turkish policies of assimilation. It’s obvious that since the first years of the Turkish republic the assimilation of Kurdish people has not stopped. We can see this from the last Roboski massacre [of 34 Kurdish cross-border traders by Turkish F16s on 28 December 2011] by the state during the “peace process.” We can see this in the denial of Kurdish identity or the repeated massacres. Making people assimilate to be a Turk and making nationalist propaganda.

The AKP say they have opened Kurdish TV channels, allowed Kurdish language and that we are all brothers and sisters, but on the other hand we had the Roboski massacre which occurred under their rule. In 2006 there was government pressure on Erdoğan at a high level. Erdoğan said that women and children who go against Turkish policies would be punished. Over 30 children were murdered by police and army.

The words change but the political agenda continues, just under a new government. We do not call ourselves Turkish. We come from many ethnic origins and Kurdish is one of them. Our involvement in conscientious objection is part of this perspective. We want to talk to people to prevent people from going to the army to kill their brothers and sisters.

After the 2000s there has been an ideological change in the Kurdish freedom struggle. The Kurdish organizations no longer call themselves Marxist-Leninist and Öcalan has written a lot about democratic confederalism. This is important, but our relation to Kurdish people is on the streets.

Can you talk about DAF’s work in solidarity with people in Rojava?

In July 2012 at the start of the Rojava revolution, people began saying that it was a stateless movement. We have been in solidarity from the first day of the revolution. Three cantons have declared their revolution in a stateless way. We try to observe and get more information. This is not an anarchist revolution but it is a social revolution declared by the people themselves.

Rojava is a third front for Syria against Assad, ISIS and other Islamic groups. But these are not the only groups that the revolution is faced with. The Turkish republic is giving support for ISIS from its borders. The national intelligence agency of the Turkish republic appears to be giving weapons to ISIS and other Islamic groups. Kurdish people declared the revolution under these circumstances.

After the ISIS attack on Kobane began [in 2014] we went to Suruç. We waited at the border as Turkish forces were attacking people crossing. When people wanted to cross the border to or from Kobane they were shot. We stayed there to provide protection.

In October, people gathered near Suruç, and broke through the border. Turkish tanks shot gas over the border at them.

From 6 to 8 October there were Kobane solidarity demonstrations across Turkey. Kader Ortakya, a Turkish socialist supporter of Kobane, was shot dead trying to cross the border.

We helped people. Some people crossed the border from Kobane and had no shelter. We prepared tents, food and clothes for them. Sometimes soldiers came to the villages with tear gas and water cannons and we had to move. Some people came through the border searching for their families and we helped them. Other people came, wanting to cross the border and fight and we helped them. We wore clothing with DAF’s name on it.

The YPG and YPJ [the People’s Protection Units of Rojava, the YPJ is a women’s militia] pushed ISIS back day by day. Mıştenur hill was very important for Kobane. After the hill was taken by the YPG and YPJ some people wanted to return to Kobane. When they went back their houses had been destroyed by ISIS. Some houses were mined and some people have been killed by the mines. The mines need to be cleared, but by who and how? People need new houses and help. We have had conferences and talked about how to help Kobane. There was a conference two weeks ago in Amed.

What is your position on the elections?

We do not believe in parliamentary democracy. We believe in direct democracy. We do not support the HDP in the election, but we have links in solidarity with them on the streets.

Emma Goldman said that if elections changed anything they would be illegal. There are good people in the HDP who say good things, but we think that the government can’t be good because the election system isn’t equal.

In Rojava they do not call it an anarchist revolution, but there’s no government, no state and no hierarchy, so we believe in it and have solidarity with it.

Can you tell us about the bombing in Suruç [we asked this final question by email, weeks after the original interview].

More than 30 people who wanted to take part in reconstruction of Kobane were killed by an ISIS attack. This attack was clearly organized by the Turkish State. They did not even do anything to stop it although they got the information of the attack one month before. Moreover, after the explosion the Turkish State attacked Rojava and launched operations against political organizations in Turkey. Now there are many operations and political pressures on anarchists and socialists and Kurdish organizations. They are using the explosion as a reason to make this political repression on both the domestic and international levels.

We have lost 33 of our comrades, friends who struggled for the Rojava Revolution against the state’s repression, denial and politics of massacre. There are people who are killed by state, ISIS and other powers. But our resistance won’t stop, our struggle will continue, as always in history.

This article was originally published by Corporate Watch and has been republished with their permission.

Corporate Watch is an independent research group that investigates the social and environmental impacts of corporations and corporate power. You can follow them on Twitter via @CorpWatchUK.



From genocide to resistance: Yazidi women fight back

By Dilar Dirik On August 23, 2015

Post image for From genocide to resistance: Yazidi women fight backHaving suffered a traumatic genocide, Yazidi women on Mount Sinjar mobilize their autonomous armed and political resistance with the PKK’s philosophy.

Originally published by teleSUR English.

The old Kurdish saying “we have no friends but the mountains” became more relevant than ever when on August 3, 2014, the murderous Islamic State group launched what is referred to as the 73rd massacre on the Yazidis by attacking the city of Sinjar (or Shengal, in Kurdish), slaughtering thousands of people, and raping and kidnapping the women to sell them as sex slaves.

Some 10,000 Yazidis fled to the Shengal mountains in a death march in which many, especially children, died of hunger, thirst and exhaustion. This year on the same day, the Yazidis marched in the Shengal mountains again. But this time in a protest to vow that nothing will ever be the same again.

Last year, the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) promised the people to guarantee Shengal’s safety, but ran away without warning when IS attacked, not even leaving arms behind for people to defend themselves. Instead, it was the guerrilla of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as the the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) and its women’s brigade (YPJ) from Rojava, who — in spite of carrying just Kalashnikovs and being only a handful of fighters — opened a corridor to Rojava, rescuing 10,000 people.

For an entire year, the Yazidi women have been portrayed by the media as helpless rape victims. Countless interviews repeatedly asked them how often they were raped and sold, ruthlessly making them relive the trauma for the sake of sensationalist news reporting. Yazidi women were presented as the embodiment of the crying, passively surrendering woman, the ultimate victim of the Islamic State group, the female white flag to patriarchy. Furthermore, the wildest orientalist portrayals grotesquely reduced one of the oldest surviving religions in the world to a new exotic field yet to be explored.

Ignored is the fact that Yazidi women armed themselves and now mobilize ideologically, socially, politically and militarily with the framework laid out by Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK. In January, the Shengal Founding Council was established by Yazidi delegates from both the mountain and the refugee camps, demanding a system of autonomy independent of the central Iraqi government or the KRG.

Several committees for education, culture, health, defense, women, youth, and economy organize everyday issues. The council is based on democratic autonomy, as articulated by Öcalan, and has met with harsh opposition by the KDP, the same party which fled Shengal without a fight. The newly-founded YBŞ (Shengal Resistance Units), the all-women’s army YPJ-Shengal and the PKK are building the front-line against the Islamic State group here, without receiving any share of the weapons provided to the peshmerga by international coalition forces. Several YBŞ and council members were even arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan.

On July 29, women of all ages made history by founding the autonomous Shengal Women’s Council, promising that “the organization of Yazidi women will be the revenge for all massacres.” The women decided that families must not intervene when girls want to participate in any part of the struggle and committed to internally democratizing and transforming their own community. They do not want to simply “buy back” the kidnapped women, but liberate them through active mobilization by establishing not only a physical, but also a philosophical self-defense against all forms of violence.

The international system insidiously depoliticizes people affected by war, especially refugees, by framing a discourse to render them without will, knowledge, consciousness and politics. Yet the Yazidi refugees on the mountain and in the Newroz camp in Dêrîk (al-Malikiyah), which was created in Rojava immediately after the massacre, insist on their agency. Though some international organizations provide limited aid now, almost no aid was able to cross to Rojava for years as a result of the KRG-imposed embargo.

The people at Newroz Camp told me that in spite of attempts by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to model the camp and its educational system according to its top-down vision, the camp’s assembly resisted, forcing one of the biggest international institutions to respect its own autonomous system. Now, education in literacy, art, theater, culture, language, history and ideology are taught across ages, while commune-like units organize daily needs and issues in Dêrîk and Shengal.

“With all these councils, protests and meetings, the resistance may seem normal. But all of this emerged within a year only, and for Shengal. This is a revolution,” one Yazidi PKK fighter said. “The atmosphere of Rojava has reached Shengal.”

Hedar Reşît, a PKK commander from Rojava who teaches the sociology of Shengal before and after the latest genocide, was among the seven people who fought the Islamic State group at the beginning of the massacre and was wounded opening the corridor to Rojava. The presence of women like her from four parts of Kurdistan enormously impacts the Shengal society.

“For the first time in our history we take up arms, because with the last massacre we understood that nobody will protect us; we must do it ourselves,” I was told by a young YPJ-Shengal fighter, who renamed herself after Arîn Mîrkan, a martyred heroine of the resistance of Kobane.

She explained how girls like herself never dared to have dreams and only sat at home until they got married. But like her, hundreds have now joined the struggle, like the young woman who cut off her hair, hung the braid on her martyred husband’s grave, and joined the resistance.







Photo by Dilar Dirik.

The physical genocide may be over, but the women are conscious of a “white” or bloodless genocide, as EU governments — especially Germany — try to lure Yazidi women abroad, uprooting them from their sacred homes and instrumentalizing them for their own agendas.

Mother Xensê, member of the women’s council, kisses her granddaughter and explains: “We receive armed training, but ideological education is far more important for us to understand why the massacre happened and what calculations people make at our expense. That is our real self-defense. Now we know that we were so vulnerable because we were not organized. But Shengal will never be the same again. Thanks to Apo [Abdullah Öcalan].”

A Yazidi woman herself, Sozdar Avesta, a presidency council member of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) and a PKK commander, elaborates:

It is not a coincidence that the Islamic State group attacked one of the oldest communities in the world. Their aim is to destroy all ethical values and cultures of the Middle East. In attacking the Yazidis, they tried to wipe out history. The Islamic State group explicitly organizes against Öcalan’s philosophy, against women’s liberation, against the unity of all communities. Thus, defeating the group requires the right sociology and history-reading. Beyond physically destroying them, we must also remove IS’ ideology mentally, which also persists in the current world order.

One year ago, the world watched the unforgettable genocide of the Yazidis. Today, the same people who — while everyone else ran away — rescued the Yazidis, are now being bombed by the the IS-supporting Turkish state, with the approval of NATO. When the states that contributed to the rise of IS promise to defeat it and destroy the social fabric of the Middle East along the way, the only survival option is to establish autonomous self-defense and grassroots democracy.

As one drives through the Shengal Mountains, the most beautiful indicator of the change that hit this wounded place within a year are the children on the streets, who whenever heval — “the comrades” — drive by chant: “Long live Shengal’s resistance! Long live the PKK! Long live Apo!”

Thanks to democratic autonomy, the children who once opened their tiny hands and asked for money when peshmerga fighters drove by now raise the same hands to fists and victory signs.

Dilar Dirik is part of the Kurdish women’s movement. She is a writer and PhD student at the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge.



Murray Bookchin and the Kurdish resistance

By Joris Leverink On August 9, 2015

Post image for Murray Bookchin and the Kurdish resistanceBookchin’s municipalist ideas, once rejected by communists and anarchists alike, have now come to inspire the Kurdish quest for democratic autonomy.

Photo by Uygar Önder Simsek.

The introduction to the new book The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy (Verso, 2015), explains how Murray Bookchin – born to Russian Jewish immigrants in New York City in 1921 – was introduced to radical politics at the age of nine when he joined the Young Pioneers, a Communist youth organization. This would be the start of his ‘life on the left’ in which he would turn from Stalinism to Trotskyism in the years running up to World War II before defining himself as an anarchist in the late 1950s and eventually identifying as a ‘communalist’ or ‘libertarian municipalist’ after the introduction of the idea of social ecology.

Even though Bookchin never even attended college – except for a few classes in radio technology right after World War II – he wrote dozens of books and published hundreds of academic articles, besides founding several journals and setting up the Institute for Social Ecology in 1974. Possibly his most important contribution to radical politics was to (re)introduce the concept of ecology to the arena of political thought.

Bookchin opposed the ideas and practices of the emerging environmentalist movements, accusing them of advocating mere “technical fixes” of capitalism, counter-posing it to an ecological approach that seeks to address the root causes of the systemic problem. In his view, capitalism’s fatal flaw lay not in its exploitation of the working class, as Marxists believe, but rather in its conflict with the natural environment which, if allowed to develop unopposed, would inevitably lead to the dehumanization of people and the destruction of nature.

The Next Revolution includes the 1992 essay The Ecological Crisis and the Need to Remake Society. In it, Bookchin argues that “the most fundamental message that social ecology advances is that the very idea of dominating nature stems from the domination of human by human.” For an ecological society to develop, first the inter-human domination must be eradicated. According to Bookchin, “capitalism and its alter-ego, ‘state socialism,’ have brought all the historic problems of domination to a head,” and the market economy, if it is not stopped, will succeed in destroying our natural environment as a result of its “grow or die” ideology.

For years, Bookchin sought to convince anarchist groups in the US that his idea of libertarian municipalism — which, in his own words “seeks to reclaim the public sphere for the exercise of authentic citizenship while breaking away from the bleak cycle of parliamentarism and its mystification of the ‘party’ mechanism as a means for public representation” — was the key to making anarchism politically and socially relevant again.

Libertarian municipalism promotes the use of direct face-to-face assemblies in order to “steal” the practice of politics back from the professional, careerist politicians and place it back in the hands of citizens. Describing the state as “a completely alien formation” and a “thorn in the side of human development,” Bookchin presents libertarian municipalism as “democratic to its core and non-hierarchical in its structure,” as well as “premised on the struggle to achieve a rational and ecological society.”

Much to Bookchin’s frustration, many anarchists refused to adopt his ideas, unwilling to accept that, in order to remain politically relevant and be able to make a real revolution, they would have to participate in local government. Despite having politically matured in the company of Marxists, syndicalists and anarchists, Bookchin soon developed and maintained fundamental critiques of all of these currents, leading not only to the development of his own idea of social ecology but also leaving him with many critics on the left.

Kurdish resistance

In the late 1970s, while Bookchin was struggling to gain recognition for the value and importance of his theory of social ecology in the US, an entirely different struggle was emerging on the other side of the world. In the mountainous, predominantly Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey, an organization was founded that would eventually come to adopt and adapt Bookchin’s social ecology.

The organization called itself the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK after its Kurdish acronym, and in 1984 it launched its first attacks against the Turkish state. These first operations were soon followed by others and eventually developed into a three-decade long armed struggle that has still not been resolved.

The PKK was inspired by Marxist-Leninist thought and fought for an independent Kurdish state that would be founded upon socialist principles. The traditional Kurdish homeland encompasses territories in modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, but had been carved up in the early 20th century, when a deal was struck regarding the division of former Ottoman-Turkish territory in the Middle East between France and the United Kingdom. The borders between Turkey, Syria and Iraq were laid down in the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.

Despite the utopian desire of one day seeing the different Kurdish territories united, the struggle of the PKK focused primarily on the liberation of North Kurdistan, or Bakur — the Kurdish territories occupied by the Turkish state. Over the course of the 1990s, however, the PKK slowly started to drift away from its desire to found an independent Kurdish nation state and started exploring other possibilities.

In 1999, Abdullah Öcalan — founder and leader of the PKK — became the subject of a diplomatic row between Turkey and Syria, from where he had been directing the PKK’s operations after having been forced to flee Turkey two decades earlier. Syria refused to house and protect the rebel leader any longer, leaving Öcalan with little choice but to leave the country in search of another refuge. Not long after, he was arrested in Kenya and extradited to Turkey where he was condemned to death — a punishment that was later changed to life imprisonment.

Öcalan’s capture was a breaking point for the PKK’s independence struggle. Shortly afterwards, the organization revoked its claims to an independent state in favor of demanding more autonomy at the local level. In jail, Öcalan began to familiarize himself with the works of Bookchin, whose writings on social transformation influenced him to give up on the ideal of an independent nation-state and rather pursue an alternative course he termed ‘Democratic Confederalism’.

Several years earlier, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the PKK had already started to critically reflect on the concept of the nation state. None of the traditional homelands of the Kurds were exclusively Kurdish. A state founded and controlled by Kurds would thus automatically host large minority groups, creating the potential for the repression of ethnic and religious minorities in the same way the Kurds themselves had been repressed for many years. As such, a Kurdish state increasingly came to be seen as a continuation of, rather than a solution to, the existing problems in the region.

Finally, having analyzed the interdependence of capitalism and the nation state on the one hand, and between patriarchy and centralized state power on the other, Öcalan realized that real freedom and independence could only come about once the movement had severed all ties with these institutionalized forms of repression and exploitation.

Democratic Confederalism

In his 2005 pamphlet, Declaration of Democratic Confederalism, Abdullah Öcalan formally and definitively broke with the PKK’s earlier aspirations of founding an independent Kurdish nation state. “The system of nation states,” he argues in the document, “has become a serious barrier to the development of society and democracy and freedom since the end of the 20th century.”

In Öcalan’s view, the only way out of the crisis in the Middle East is the establishment of a democratic confederal system “that will derive its strength directly from the people, and not from globalization based on nation states.” According to the imprisoned rebel leader, “neither the capitalist system nor the pressure of imperialist forces will lead to democracy; except to serve their own interests. The task is to assist in developing a grassroots-based democracy … which takes into consideration the religious, ethnic and class differences in society.”

Soon after Öcalan’s call for the development of a democratic confederalist model, the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) was founded in Diyarbakir. During an assembly in 2011 the body launched its Call for Democratic Autonomy in which it demanded autonomy from the state in the fields of politics, justice, self-defense, culture, society, economics, ecology and diplomacy. The reaction of the Turkish state was predictable: setting out on a path of confrontation and criminalization, it immediately banned the DTK.

It is no coincidence that the idea of Democratic Confederalism, as developed by Öcalan, shows many parallels with Bookchin’s ideas of social ecology. In the early 2000s Öcalan had begun to read Ecology of Freedom and Urbanization Without Cities while in prison and soon after declared himself a student of Bookchin’s. Through his lawyers, Öcalan attempted to set up a meeting with the radical thinker to figure out ways in which Bookchin’s ideas could be made applicable to the Middle Eastern context.

Unfortunately, due to Bookchin’s poor health at the time, this meeting never took place, but he did send a message to Öcalan in May 2004: “My hope is that the Kurdish people will one day be able to establish a free, rational society that will allow their brilliance once again to flourish. They are fortunate indeed to have a leader of Mr. Öcalan’s talents to guide them.”

In return, and as a form of acknowledgement of Bookchin’s critical influence on the Kurdish movement, a PKK assembly honored him as “one of the greatest social scientists of the 20th century” when he died in July 2006. They expressed their hope that the Kurds would be the first society to establish democratic confederalism, calling the project “creative and realizable.”

Dual power, confederalism and social ecology

Over the past decade, democratic confederalism has slowly but surely become an integral part of Kurdish society. Three elements of Bookchin’s thought have particularly influenced the development of a “democratic modernity” across Kurdistan: the concept of “dual power,” the confederal structure as proposed by Bookchin under the header of libertarian municipalism, and the theory of social ecology which traces the roots of many contemporary struggles back to the origins of civilization and places the natural environment at the heart of the solution to these problems.

Dual Power:

The concept of dual power has been one of the main reasons why Bookchin’s body of work was rejected by anarchist, communist and syndicalist groups. Rather than advocating the abolition of the state through an uprising of the proletariat, he suggested that by developing alternative institutions in the form of popular assemblies and neighborhood committees — and notably by taking part in municipal elections — the power of the state could be “hollowed out” from below, eventually making it superfluous.

Bookchin’s disposition towards taking over and building institutions of power stems from his analysis of politics as opposed to statecraft. According to Bookchin, “Marxists, revolutionary syndicalists, and authentic anarchists all have a fallacious understanding of politics, which should be conceived as the civic arena and the institutions by which people democratically and directly manage their community affairs.” What normally is referred to as “politics” Bookchin views as “statecraft,” or the kind of business professional politicians occupy themselves with.

“Politics,” by contrast, rather than a kind of inherently evil practice that so many left-wing revolutionaries believe needs to be abolished, is in fact the very glue that binds society together. It is something that needs to be organized in such a way as to prevent any abuse of power. “Freedom from authoritarianism can best be assured only by the clear, concise, and detailed allocation of power, not by pretensions that power and leadership are forms of ‘rule’ or by libertarian metaphors that conceal their reality,” Bookchin writes in his essay The Communalist Project.

The Kurdish embrace of Bookchin’s idea of dual power is clear from the DTK’s mode of organization at the different levels of society. The general assembly of the DTK meets twice a year in Diyarbakir, the de facto capital of North Kurdistan. Of the 1,000 delegates, 40 percent are elected officials who occupy different positions within government institutions, whereas the remaining 60 percent come from civil society and can be either members of one of the popular assemblies, representatives of NGOs or unaffiliated individuals. Decisions made in the assembly are promoted in the city council by those members who occupy seats in both organizational bodies.


The confederal system is also clearly manifested in the organizational structure of the DTK. In The Meaning of Confederalism, Bookchin describes confederalism as “a network of administrative councils whose members or delegates are elected from popular face-to-face democratic assemblies, in the various villages, towns, and even neighborhoods of large cities.” This explanation is an almost perfect fit with the situation on the ground in many places in the Kurdish region — in Turkey as well as in northern Syria.

A clear example is the situation in Diyarbakir, where the council movement is particularly well established. In the book Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan, the situation is explained by members of the Amed City Council (Amed being the Kurdish name for Diyarbakir):

Amed has thirteen districts, and each one has a council with its own board. Within the districts there are neighborhoods, which have neighborhood councils. Some districts have as many as eight neighborhood councils. And some places have councils even at the street level. In the nearby villages, there are communes that are tied to the city council. So power is articulated deeper and deeper into the base.

As Joost Jongerden and Ahmet Akkaya write in Confederalism and autonomy in Turkey: “the DTK is not simply another organization, but part of the attempt to forge a new political paradigm, defined by the direct and continual exercise of the people’s power through village, town and city councils.”

It is worth noting that this new political paradigm is not only advocated by those initiatives that exist outside of the institutionalized political realm, but also by pro-Kurdish political parties such as the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The ultimate goal is not to establish Democratic Autonomy exclusively in the Kurdish regions, but at the national level too, both in Turkey and Syria.

Social ecology

Bookchin’s theory of social ecology is characterized by the belief that “we must reorder social relations so that humanity can live in a protective balance with the natural world.” A post-capitalist society cannot be successful unless it is created in harmony with the ecological environment.

Bookchin argues that “the most fundamental message that social ecology advances is that the very idea of dominating nature stems from the domination of human by human.” Social ecology moves beyond the traditional Marxist and anarchist view of how to organize a non-hierarchical, egalitarian society in that it places the need to avert an impending ecological catastrophe at the heart of contemporary social struggles.

For the Kurds, traditionally a rural people living on agriculture and animal husbandry, maintaining the ecological environment is as crucial as creating an egalitarian society. State-driven destruction of the environment in their mountainous homelands and on the fertile Mesopotamian plain is occurring on a daily basis.

The most obvious example is the GAP project in Turkey, in which dozens of mega dams have either already been built or are under construction. The project is presented as bringing development to the region in the form of employment opportunities at the construction sites, better irrigated mega-farms producing cash crops for export, and providing day jobs for the expropriated small farmers and an upgraded energy infrastructure with the construction of several hydroelectric power plants.

What is perceived as “development” by the agents of the state is experienced in an entirely different way by the people who see their homes and villages flooded, the free-flowing rivers turned into commodities, their lands being expropriated and bought up by large corporations and used for the industrial-scale production of goods that serve no purpose but to enrich the farm-owners in their faraway villas. These large-scale, highly destructive mega-projects expose the urgent need for local control over local environments.

But whereas wresting the natural environment away from the destructive claws of ever encroaching capitalist forces entails a direct confrontation with the state, a crucial first — and potentially even more revolutionary — step involves the abolition of hierarchy at the interpersonal level. Since, as Bookchin argued, the domination of humans over nature stems from the domination of one human over another, the solution has to follow a similar trajectory.

In this regard, the emancipation of women is one of the most important aspects of social ecology. As long as the domination of man over woman remains intact, the treatment of our natural environment as an essential and integral part of human life — rather than a commodity to be exploited for our benefit — is still far away.

In this regard, the emancipatory projects currently underway in Kurdish society are a hopeful sign. Although in many cases social relations within Kurdish families and society are still guided by age-old customs and traditions, radical changes can already be observed. As one activist of the Amed Women’s Academy put it in an interview with Tatort Kurdistan:

Kurdish families still aren’t really open to the new system, Democratic Autonomy. They haven’t yet internalized it. We, the activists, have very much internalized it and it’s our responsibility to make change, to impart the ideas of Democratic Autonomy to families, even if it’s only in small steps. We can start talking about it at home the way we do outside. When our families see how seriously we take it, that will affect them. Of course, discussions are often very difficult. Doors get slammed, people shout. But a lot of perseverance and discussion has also begun to create change in families.

Listen, learn and follow

The developments in Kurdistan — and especially in Rojava, the Kurdish region in northern Syria — have tickled the radical imagination of activists around the globe. The revolution in Rojava has been compared to Barcelona in 1936 and theZapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. The radical left needs its own mythology as much as everybody else, and in this sense Rojava, Barcelona and Chiapas serve as hopeful reminders that there is an alternative; that it is possible to organize society in a different way.

However, by merely placing these instances of radical organization on a pedestal, as a beacon of hope to be revered when times get rough, our support for these struggles is often not very different from the support we display when we cheer on our favorite football team on TV. The Zapatistas in the jungles of Chiapas and the Kurds on the Mesopotamian plains have come a long way by relying on nothing but their own strength and determination. Their relative isolation has allowed for the development of their radical alternatives, but for these experiments to survive in the long run they need more than supporters and sympathizers. They need partners.

“Global capital, precisely because of its very hugeness, can only be eaten away at its roots,” Bookchin writes in A Politics for the Twenty-First Century,“specifically by means of a libertarian municipalist resistance at the base of society. It must be eroded by the myriad millions who, mobilized by a grassroots movement, challenge global capital’s sovereignty over their lives and try to develop local and regional economic alternatives to its industrial operations.”

Bookchin believes that if our ideal is a Commune of Communes, the natural place to start is at the local political level, with a movement and program as the “uncompromising advocate of popular neighborhood and town assemblies and the development of a municipalized economy.”

Ultimately, the best way to support the struggles of the Kurds, the Zapatistas and many other revolutionary movements and initiatives that have sprung up across the globe in the past few years, is by listening to their stories, learning from their experiences and following in their footsteps.

A confederation of self-organized municipalities, transcending national borders and ethnic and religious boundaries is the best bulwark against the ever-encroaching imperialist powers and capitalist forces. In the struggle to achieve this goal, there are worse examples to follow than the ideas set out by Murray Bookchin and the practice of libertarian municipalism.

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English.



One year of Obama’s Iraq-Syria war


5 August 2015

This week marks the first anniversary of the initiation of air strikes in Iraq and launching of yet another US war in the Middle East.

The Obama administration is marking this grim milestone with a qualitative new escalation of the war, rubber-stamping a Pentagon proposal to authorize US warplanes to provide blanket air cover for a small band of mercenaries sent into Syria after being trained, armed and paid by the US military.

These new rules of engagement specify that air strikes on behalf of this force—which numbered less than 60 before its commanders and several of its members were captured and others were killed last week—will be carried out against any purported threat from Syrian government forces.

These orders are a transparent ploy for sending the US military directly into the bloody four-year war for regime change in Syria that has been backed by Washington and its regional allies, using Islamist sectarian militias as their proxies. The only conceivable function of the so-called “New Syrian Force,” which has a roster barely the size of an American football team, is to serve as a decoy to draw fire from the Syrian military and provide the pretext for an all-out US intervention to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

This turn toward deeper intervention and even greater bloodshed is only the latest chapter in a war policy beset by so many dizzying contradictions that its coherent defense is impossible. Instead, the Obama administration has relied on lies and deceit in its attempt to foist the war onto the American public.

It was only a year ago that Obama told the American public that he was ordering air strikes in Iraq and sending in a small contingent of Special Operations troops for the sole purpose of rescuing the Yazidis, a small religious community in northern Iraq, from a supposedly imminent massacre at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

This Sunni Islamist militia had overrun roughly a third of Iraq the previous month, routing US-trained Iraqi troops that fled in disarray. This debacle was the product of the past US interventions, which had killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and left behind a shattered society divided along sectarian lines.

ISIS itself bore the stamp “Made in the USA,” having enjoyed the backing of the CIA and Washington’s principal regional allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in the war for regime change in Syria. It was also strengthened by the 2011 US-NATO war to topple and murder Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. That neocolonial enterprise relied upon similar Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias, many of whose members—along with huge stocks of captured Libyan weapons—were funneled into Syria.

The fate of the Yazidis has long been forgotten. Subsequent attempts were made to sell the new war as an existential struggle against terrorism—that is, against the very terrorists the US had been supporting in Libya and Syria—exploiting the fate of captive Americans beheaded by ISIS.

Then came the struggle to break the siege of the Syrian city of Kobani, with the US Air Force intervening to supply close air support to Kurdish militias fighting ISIS. Various pseudo-left organizations predictably found in the Kurds a rationale for supporting imperialist war.

Only months later, Washington’s erstwhile Kurdish allies have been thrown to the Turkish wolves. In exchange for the use of Turkish bases to bomb Syria, Washington has endorsed Ankara’s bombardment of Kurdish positions as a struggle against “terrorism.” Obama has also embraced the Turkish proposal for carving a buffer zone out of Syrian territory on Turkey’s border in order to further the war for regime change against Assad.

Meanwhile, as made clear by the surprise and dismay in Washington over the latest debacle—the capture of America’s Syrian mercenaries by the al-Nusra Front—the Obama administration’s strategy has been based on fighting as part of a “united front” with this Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda. So much for the “war against terrorism”!

The only identifiable constants in this war are the predatory aims of US imperialism, pursued uninterruptedly over the past quarter century through the use of military violence. The war launched by Obama—who was swept into office on a wave of antiwar sentiment, only to serve as the servile mouthpiece for the US military and intelligence apparatus—represents the continuation of the criminal war of aggression against Iraq launched on the basis of lies in 2003 by George W. Bush. That war, in turn, was a continuation of the Gulf war launched by Bush’s father in 1991.

Each stage in this eruption of American militarism has proven to be more dangerous than the last. This latest intervention in Syria is aimed not only at toppling the Assad government and imposing a US-controlled puppet regime, so as to bolster US hegemony over the strategically vital and oil-rich Middle East, but also at preparing for even more catastrophic wars against the principal allies of Damascus—Iran and Russia.

The logic of US imperialism’s drive for world domination leads inevitably to war with Russia and China and escalating tensions with Washington’s ostensible allies in Europe, confronting humanity with the specter of a Third World War.

In addition to the first anniversary of Obama’s Iraq-Syria war, this week marks one year since the Third National Congress of the Socialist Equality Party (US) unanimously adopted the resolution “The Fight Against War and the Political Tasks of the Socialist Equality Party.

This vital document stated, in part: “Because the United States is the center of world imperialism, the cockpit of international war planning and counterrevolution, opposition to war on a world scale cannot be mobilized without the emergence of a powerful antiwar movement in this country. The American working class must take its place in a struggle of the international working class to abolish imperialism and the capitalist nation-state system.”

The events of the past year—the expansion of war in the Middle East to Yemen and its escalation in Iraq and Syria, the militarization of Eastern Europe and threat of war against nuclear-armed Russia, the ever more aggressive provocations against China—have imparted to this perspective even greater urgency.

Bill Van Auken