Ashish Kothari speaks with Besime Conca about the “alternatives” emerging in the Kurdish enclave of Rojava in northern Syria and how a bottom up model of democracy is being defended by its people.
Ashish Kothari: Besime, it’s great to meet you here in Tamera, at the “Defend the Sacred Conference”. The “Peace Research and Education Center” has done some remarkable work towards reimagining and reconfiguring our world. What kinds of similarities and potential synergies do you see with the work that you’re doing in the Kurdish homeland?
Besime Conca: Thank you, Ashish. Yes, I’ve been a part of the Kurdish Women’s Movement as well as the Kurdish Liberation Movement, and what we’re proposing is a new way of living that is based on democratic and ecological principles with equality between the genders. This aspiration comes very close to what is being explored and followed here. It was my desire to get to know what explorations were taking place in Tamera and how life is being lived here as part of this project? Coming to this conference is a good opportunity to learn.
The system of ‘capitalist modernity’ has declared to the world that there is no other way of living. But, we have the examples of Rojava and Tamera, which have shown us another way of leading our lives. They are telling us that alternatives do exist!
AK: How would you describe the Rojava Women’s Movement to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?
BC: Today, in Rojava, women can lead a free life, and that’s why they have strongly defended their new existence. As you know, the Middle East is a region characterized by a male-dominated system, and existing along with that is the domination of the nation states, the domination of religious fundamentalism. The Rojava Women’s Movement has opposed this status quo. It’s a project in which people from different ethnic communities can live together – Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen, Armenian, Syriacs, and all the other people that live in this area.
AK: How did they make it possible for everybody to live together in relative peace? As we know that in the rest of the region they are fighting against each other, quite bitterly at that.
BC: That is true. It’s a region where there have always been conflicts between religions, between different ethnicities. And, then, in recent years there have been some dark and awful variations – particularly fundamentalist terrorism. Their attacks are indiscriminate and they don’t care if the victims are innocent people. They attacked the Kurdish people, especially the Kurdish women. But the women have organized and learned to fight back militarily – protecting themselves as well as the communities. They are the living force behind the wider change taking place in the region. And, the Kurdish people have accepted this.
But, first of all, the people realized that they could live with the changes, which came with the introduction of democracy. And, they’ve also acknowledged and respected the efforts made by the Kurdish women, especially their willingness to fight and die for the cause of transformative change. This has inspired the belief in other people in the region that we can live together under a democratic dispensation.
We think this leadership role of the women had an enormous impact on the societies of the Middle East. The women in this region have never had a voice in the decisions that affected their lives. They’ve always been confined to the house. The society, however, saw the Kurdish women in a leadership role, and, in fact, as warriors – a completely unfamiliar yet viable picture of women, performing an important role with efficiency and perfection. They saw an alternative to the existing reality, and they realized that they could accept this political proposal.
AK: How exactly does the decision making work? How is this decentralized form of democracy implemented, from the smallest unit to Rojava as a whole?
BC: So, the system works like this: in every place, every neighborhood, every street where people are living, they can organize in communes and in assemblies. These communes can be of people living in the same area, they can be youth communes or women’s communes. They can be Kurdish or Arab. These assemblies elect their delegates, their representatives. These representatives then take the decision making process to the next level. And this representation has to be equal for men and women. Also, there has to be a fair representation of all the ethnicities. The leaders and the delegates have to represent the diversity within the community – whatever you may be, Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Yazidis, Assyrian …
AK: What impact has this form of representative democracy had on the functioning of the state in Rojava?
BC: Till now, the state had been the decision maker for various communities, but with this new system the people can experience their own power because they are the ones taking decisions on all aspects of their lives. They, however, have to take the initiative, now, to put forward ideas for the governance of their own communities, which ensures the participation of a wide cross-section of people in all the decision-making processes. This is a revolutionary development because most of the time the state (or the ruling elite) takes decisions with its own class interests in mind, and not the interests of the people. With the creation of these communes, councils and so on, this system has brought an alternative alive – for the people to be the leaders of their own lives!
And, of course, because this democratic confederalist proposal is an alternative to the state, and to capitalism, the ruling elites recognize the danger it poses to the status quo. That’s why we don’t say that we’ve achieved complete success, because our efforts are under attack all the time. We’re constantly under threat from those powers that want to attack the project. So, that’s why we urge the people of world, “Come join us, and let’s protect this revolution together, because this is not just a Kurdish revolution, this is an internationalist revolution for all.”
AK: The Rojava region is in Syria. But, the Kurdish homeland stretches into Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Has a similar kind of movement worked in those places?
BC: This project exists in all four parts of Kurdistan, but, of course, it has variations depending on the different situations in each country. It is especially strong in the Bakur region, a part of Kurdistan that is under Turkish administration. This is where the democratic confederalist idea was developed first – in fact even before Rojava. Some time back a coalition of Kurdish and Turkish opposition forces under the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) had won elections to 130 municipalities where they developed and experimented with this system. However, the Kurdish areas have experienced widespread repression from the Turkish administration. And, of course, similar initiatives have taken place in parts of Iran and Iraq. But, in Rojava, because of the political situation in this territory, these political initiatives have developed in a more concrete and successful manner.
AK: Besime, how do you look at the future of the movement?
BC: Our future is resistance, and we will always resist capitalism and ‘capitalist modernity’ because they have always attacked the Kurdish people. After the First World War international capitalist elite divided Kurdistan into four different countries. They also divided the whole of the Middle East into artificial states. Since the Second World War, the Kurdish people have waged a resistance movement against capitalism. The same is true for the Palestinian people, for the Sudanese people, for the people in India … we can see this quite clearly – how people have been disempowered and attacked. But, there is also resistance to repression, and in many places women are leading the resistance. So, we are deeply convinced that the 21st century will be the century of the women’s revolution – and this is our future … Women, Life, Freedom!
AK: It’s true that the Kurdish movement has been enormously inspiring for a lot of us across the world. So, thank you for that!
BC: The Kurdish Women’s Movement has been around for the last forty years – forty years of struggle. And, we are inspired by the revolutions that have occurred all through history. We see ourselves as a continuation of that effort, that we are also playing our role in furthering that struggle. We honor those who came before us and are grateful for the past struggles. They form our treasured heritage.
Besime Conca (pronounced Conja) is a Kurdish activist and politician. She was a member of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (2015-2017).
Ashish Kothari is a co-founder of Kalpavriksh.
This interview was conducted jointly by Ashish Kothari and Shrishtee Bajpai.
Language interpretation by Cintia of the Jineoloji Committee in Europe.
The interview was transcribed by Shrishtee Bajpai of Kalapvriksh.
The interviews published in the REDWeb Conversation series are not based on an exact transcription of the recorded interviews. They are an approximation based on an interpretation as well as a summation of the original interview.
Here’s the video link to the original interview:
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