The Social Defense Forces (HPC) have been an important expression of radical democratic self-organization in Rojava and northern Syria since 2015. They are the democratic counter-model to state security forces.
The Social Defense Forces (Hêzên Parastina Civakî, HPC) were established in 2015 and quickly spread throughout the self-administered areas of northern and eastern Syria. The HPC model revolutionized the development of democratic public security institutions. Instead of being affiliated with a state and only claiming to serve society, they come from society and are controlled by its direct democratic institutions. They are not subordinate to any ministry, but act locally and are under the control of the defense commissions of the communes. The communes are the smallest self-governing units and consist of representatives from 50 to 300 households. They are not only the smallest units, but the units in which the greatest power is to be concentrated. Most of the tasks that state institutions assumed before the revolution have fallen to the communes, including public security. Not only did the HPC play an important role in the fight against ISIS, they also intervene in incursions and conflicts and have their own autonomous women’s force, the HPC-Jin. In order to anchor the social defense forces even more deeply, permanent information work takes place.
The ANHA news agency, based in northern Syria, spoke with representatives of the HPC and HPC-Jin in Dirbêsiyê in Rojava. Nûra Mihemed from the HPC-Jin stated: “We defend Dirbêsiyê and all the villages connected to it. We will continue to protect the peoples from the aggressive policies of the Turkish state in the region and overcome the plots against the people. We will train everyone on weapons. Everyone must develop the ability to defend themselves in order to ensure the safety of their own lives and property. Self-defense is the most important achievement of the revolution. Everyone must be aware of this.”
Îmad Biro from the HPC management said: “Our region is going through a delicate phase. We will inform the public regarding the Turkish state’s attacks on the region’s achievements. We will protect the democratic nation and self-government.”
“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”
The past centuries have witnessed many anti-colonial and revolutionary struggles launched and fought with the aim of liberating people and their land from exploitation. They have aspired to gain peoples’ self-determination and self-empowerment, and a life of freedom, welfare and justice for everyone. In that pursuit, many liberation movements in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East were able to force colonial powers to retreat physically from their territories, but not all of them were as successful in realizing all their declared aims. In fact, quite often, it was a group of new national elites who managed to secure political power and establish another rule without introducing any compelling changes in the structures of state and power. That was disheartening for the freedom fighters who had strived for genuine change, and, often, that feeling of disenchantment permeated down to the following generations. It seemed, as if, Margret Thatcher’s cynical declaration that, “There is no alternative to capitalism!” was tacitly accepted as destiny by people.
But, the human spirit continues to hope and strive for a better future. If we look at the first formations of communal life in which women played a leading and uniting role; if we listen to the pluriversal cosmovisions all around the world; and if we continue the search for giving meaning to our own lives on this planet, we realize that ecological, political and ethical societies based on the values of democracy, solidarity and justice have always existed, and still endure. We can learn from the resistance of the Zapatista, and the indigenous communities in Latin America who continue to defend their lives in the proximity of the Mother Earth; we can reach out to the village assembly of Mendha Lekha in India, which decided to collectively own and cultivate its land. And, we can draw inspiration from the democratic confederal organizing of communes in Kurdistan, as well as from the solidarity of neighborhoods resisting evictions in Palestine or Catalonia.
Need for a Paradigm Beyond State, Power and Violence
These efforts inspire us to face up to the challenges of the contemporary world: how can we forge a mindset, which is democratic, and establish a way of life that does not reproduce hierarchical power structures? And, how can we defend democratic, egalitarian social structures against the chokehold of the capitalist hydra? These questions have also been key to the reflections of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish people’s freedom struggle launched in the vanguard of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). His analysis of the contemporary society proposes that the liberation of life and society can become possible only beyond the construct of state, power and violence. He laid the foundation of a paradigm change in the Kurdistan Freedom Movement. Despite having been arrested extra-judicially in 1999, and subsequently incarcerated in isolation on the Imrali Island in Turkey, Öcalan’s thoughts continue to inspire comprehensive discussions in the movement as well as in the Kurdish society, in all four parts of Kurdistan and the diaspora. He rejected the Machiavellian precept of “the ends justifying the means”, and asserted that “the revolutionary means have to be as clean as the revolutionary aims”, echoing Audre Lorde’s assertion that “it is impossible to dismantle the house of the master with the tools of the master.” Öcalan further affirms that state, power and violence cannot become the instruments of liberation, as they themselves have been the means of societal oppression. These key points have paved the way for a strategic reorientation and reorganization of the Kurdish freedom struggle firmly based on the pillars of women’s liberation, ecology and radical democracy. This process has opened out into the establishment of Democratic Autonomy, Democratic Confederalism and Democratic Nation as alternatives to oppressive, patriarchal and nationalist state structures.
Unity of Democratic Spirit and Body
During the last two decades, the Kurdish people together with the people of other cultures and ethnicities in the region have started to build structures of self-organizing in all four parts of Kurdistan on the basis of these concepts.
The authoritarian regimes in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria have had disparate colonial policies, and even though the conditions under their respective rules have also differed, oppression has been a common phenomenon in all the countries. Yet, the Kurdish people have negotiated these difficult circumstances using a common spirit, which is described by the term, Democratic Nation. This underscores the attainment of a nation as a democratic society through voluntary participation of individuals and communities, guided solely by their free will. Contrary to a nation-state, it is not based on the hegemony of one language, ethnicity, religion, culture or an enclosed territory. The term, Democratic Nation, further highlights a shared existence of different cultural, social or religious communities built on the foundation of a common life, a shared economy and a set of ethical principles. This novel spirit has found its body in the structure of peoples’ self-administration, namely Democratic Autonomy and Democratic Confederalism.
A women’s workshop in Rojava. Pic. Jineoloji Research Center
Democratic Autonomy denotes the creation of a substantial societal framework consisting of local and regional people’s councils, cooperatives, academies and self-defense forces outside of the existing nation state operating through the oppressive apparatus of its bureaucracy, police, army and other government institutions. With and through these structures of grass-roots democracy, the society can develop its own socio-economic policies, educational system etc. and fulfill the needs of its people without being dependent on the state. This framework is also known as State + Democracy, which simply means that it’s not necessary to overthrow the state in order to build grassroots democracy. On the other hand, by building people’s democratic, autonomous structures within an existing state structure, it’s possible to make the state diminish in its relevance. As a result, the ability of the state to exert power – including structural and militarist violence – over the lives of individuals and society reduces considerably under this new framework. Such a confederal system of organizing, which unites communities based on peoples’ congresses and assemblies across arbitrarily drawn borders, has already been established under the umbrella of the Union of Democratic Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) and the Kurdistan Women’s Communities (KJK). Importantly, for the Kurdish society, the principle of Democratic Confederalism is an essential mechanism by which it can reunite and bring into an integrated system the soul and limbs that had been chopped off by the physical presence of nation-state borders and their corresponding mentality.
The earliest and most resolute steps towards building Democratic Confederalism were taken in North Kurdistan in 2005. This is where majority of the Kurdish people live, and also have a long history of resisting and organizing against the Turkish autocratic regime. Subsequently, when various popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes and dictators took place in North Africa and the Middle East in the spring of 2011, the Kurdish people in Syria also took the initiative to claim their socio-economic and cultural rights and assert their political will. In Rojava (West Kurdistan), despite the repression and nationalist chauvinism they had suffered under the Syrian Arab Republic, the women and peoples had established a solid organizational foundation for taking control of their lives through clandestine political work and community organizing spread over a period of thirty years. In the last ten years, the society in West Kurdistan has continued to build this alternative system of Democratic Autonomy based on peoples’ communes, councils and assemblies in order to meet its vital needs. But, this has not been an easy process, and in the following sections I will address the challenges that have emerged, with the focus on the relations, and the contradictions, between power and democracy.
Women Challenge Power
In the Kurdish language there are two different expressions that we can use for translating the English term ‘power’: Hêz or Desthilatî.
Hêz connotes strength, and could be identified with a natural or democratic ‘authority’ that resists injustice, cares for the well being of society and affirms everyone’s dignity. In Rojava, we can experience this essence of hêz in the personality of the women – especially mothers – who went out on the streets to force the Syrian army forces to withdraw from the Kurdish regions in 2012. We observe this hêz in the eyes of the women who have taken up arms to defend their homeland against the attacks by ISIS and the Turkish army. And we can feel the hêz of women who are rejecting patriarchal norms that perceive them as the honor and property of the family, and who are insisting on speaking for themselves and taking their own decisions. This hêz is present in the women who have celebrated their liberation from ISIS by burning the black niqab, and wearing their colorful clothes again. It is the hêz of women who became teachers although they were refused school education either by the state because they were undocumented Kurds, or by their parents simply because they were girls. The hêz of women is manifested in the active and leading role they play today in politics as equally responsible co-chairs in all structures of Democratic Autonomy, and at all levels – from the communes to international relations. This hêz of wisdom and creativity allowed women to establish an autonomous women’s system including self-organization in the fields of economy, education, health, justice, self-defense, arts and culture. It also motivated them to insist upon the implementation of the general principles on women’s rights and freedom, know as the ‘women’s law’.
The women of Rojava have taken up arms to defend their revolution.
The Strength of Communal Resistance, Self-Defense and Organizing
Furthermore, we continue to experience the society’s hêz in the ongoing widespread discussions and actions to build up a democratic education system, which ensures that learning is imparted to all the communities in their own mother tongue. The hêz is instrumental in solving problems like insufficient water supplies, poverty due to the embargo, and the rising value of the dollar. It also inspires the community to fight a perpetual war, as well as defend the harvest under the scorching summer sun and against the fires caused by the acts of sabotage conducted by ISIS, and the Turkish and Syrian regimes. Last but not the least the hêz of society became obvious, when thousands of people from all generations and all parts of Kurdistan joined the resistance in Kobanê, when thousands of people from all the regions of Rojava joined the convoys headed to Shengal to rescue the Ezidis from the genocide committed by ISIS, and repeated that act when Efrîn, Giresipi and Serekaniye were bombarded and invaded by the Turkish army.
All these examples underscore the point that hêz – namely the courage, the democratic will, the dignity and the integrity – of women and the society, is constantly in conflict with, and under attack, by another form of power which we translate in the Kurdish language as desthilatî. The literal meaning of this term is ‘the raised hand’. It is the opposite of ‘bindestî’, which means ‘being under the hand’, and is translated into English as ‘subjugation’. The dichotomy of desthilatî (power) and bindestî (subjugation) is fundamentally antithetical to the perception of hêz, the ethical distinction and the political sensibility of democracy. Here, it is important to stress that democracy does not imply a capitalist state that simply allows its citizens the right to vote in a representative government every 4 – 5 year. Democracy, in fact, is an alternative to the state. It is the hêz of the communities to resist against any oppressive desthilatî-power, and to govern themselves without the state and without becoming a state.
Democracy is fundamental to an open and free society, where individuals and groups are political subjects and govern themselves on the basis of collective consensus. This concept as well as the construct of Democratic Autonomy spread quickly to other places, too. When the Kurdish defense forces, YPG-YPJ and SDF, liberated broad areas in Northern and Eastern Syria from the tyranny of ISIS, they also adopted it for their own administrative purposes. The model is evolving continually. Kurdish representatives are participating in the regional peace process using the precepts of Democratic Autonomy, and are also striving for its recognition by the international community. But, all through these positive developments, the Kurdish representatives continue to maintain their spiritual and physical autonomy and freedom.
The experiences of building Democratic Autonomy in the Rojava region for the last ten years, has strengthened the conviction that this model can help resolve the protracted conflicts and other issues in Syria, the Middle East and even other parts of the world.
Participants at a protest march in Rojava. Pic. Jineoloji Research Center
Building our own houses with our own tools
The most important challenge of democracy is: How do we overcome the mentality, habits and structures of power that have conquered and colonized the hearts and minds of individuals as well as the society for so long?
In relation to this question we have to be aware that our society’s existence has always been communal and democratic. Social development has been made possible by creativity, solidarity and cooperation, and not by power and violence. This is the democratic hêz of the mother-clan society that has continued to resist domination since Neolithic times. On the other hand, the 5000 years-old history of patriarchy, state civilization, wars and colonization in the Middle East have burnt deep scars of alienation into people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Whether it was the myths of the ancient societies, organized religion itself, or the positivist sciences, they all have been designed to persuade women and other exploited sections of the society that it was their destiny to be subservient to men and the ruling classes. Power hierarchies between men and women, and between rulers and the people were codified by utilizing soft and hard measures, and also by structural as well as physical violence. The fear of punishment for disobedience was complemented by inducements and rewards for collaboration and servitude. The matrix of patriarchal state power and hierarchies alienated and divided social relations, and diluted the democratic norms and beliefs of the tribes that once had their origins in mother clan societies. This is the reason why it has been so difficult to break and overcome the preeminence of power, both as a concept as well as practice.
Since the beginning of the revolution in Rojava, our daily life has been full of examples, which demonstrate the advancements as well as the challenges on the way of overcoming the impact of destructive power structures just by practicing democracy. I have chosen the example of the colloquial called ‘women’s law’ to illustrate some of the processes and discussions in the communities of Rojava, as well as North and East Syria, which challenge patriarchal power. These have been effective in addressing the relevant issues but sometimes they’ve also been controvercial.
Even before people’s power could force the Syrian regime to withdraw from Rojava, women started to build up their own organizational structures to dismantle patriarchal power. They also started constructing their own houses using their own tools. Emîne Omer describes this process:
“In the beginning there were only a few women who were willing to take on the burden of responsibility. We didn’t even have our own rooms, but we really enjoyed our work. To stop the violence against women, we built up our first women’s center, which we called ‘Mala Jinê’ (Women’s House).”
Women’s Law and Justice
Xeliya, a young member of the Women‘s Justice Council shares the difficulties they faced in building an alternative system of justice:
“Until I started this work, I had hardly ever got out of home. And then suddenly I was confronted with the very serious problems of women and society. In the beginning, we mostly listened to our male colleagues because that was what we had learned to do. But, then we got together with the other women who had started this work. At first we cried together as we listened to women’s pain and despair. But, increasingly, we began to exchange ideas and figure out solutions. The discussions, as well as the constant self-reflection and questioning that women participated in became the source of strength for us in finding the right solutions. By asking ourselves, “what does justice for women mean?” we also gained the self-confidence to contradict our male colleagues and express our own opinions. We built our own foundations. Because of our socialization as women we have different approaches to social problems, perceive the same event in different ways, and come to different conclusions.”
The rigorous process of discussion with the women in the communes led to the drafting of “the basic principles and general regulations regarding the situation and the rights of women”. This was done to ensure gender equality in all spheres of private and public life. Women of all national and religious communities like Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmens, Chechen, Ezidis, Muslims and Christians participated in this exercise. In 2014, the “General Council of Democratic Autonomy” formally adopted the draft. It comprises of 30 principles to ensure, “that women can develop on all levels, achieve a beautiful life, and defend themselves and their legitimate rights against all forms of oppression and violence.“
Since the enactment of the “Women’s Law”, the women’s movement in Rojava has campaigned in all the neighborhoods and villages of the region to create awareness and acceptance of these principles. In the beginning, the general male reaction was quite negative. But slowly, with educational programs at schools and with the assistance of other popular education academies, the laws are gaining widespread acceptance. Many women have revealed that their husband’s attitudes towards them, as well as the relations within the family have improved after they had participated in popular education programs on the principles of a democratic family, women’s history or Jineolojî.
Challenging Patriarchal Mentality and Violence
At present, the bans on underage and polygamous marriages are the most controversial and undermined points of the “women’s law”. Not just men, but sometimes women, too, claim that these provisions do not correspond to “social reality“, or have been introduced “too early”. Xelîya describes some discrepancies between the intention and the effects of the ban on polygamous marriages:
“Before the revolution, it was common for men to ‘get’ several wives. It was usually a very bad situation for women. They were used and played off against each other. But now, some men are pushing their wives to divorce so that they can marry a new woman. This is often perceived as much more humiliating by the ex-wife. Women’s laws alone are not enough; the mentality and morality of society have to change. ”
Women in the communes are raising awareness against patriarchy as part of their work to solve family and tribal conflicts. Pic. Media Team, Jinwar.
Consequently, women in the communes, in the [re]conciliation committees of the people’s councils and the Mala Jinê (Women’s House) raise awareness about the negative consequences of the patriarchal traditions and emphasize the need for discarding that mentality. In the beginning, they were often ridiculed and sometimes even physically threatened. However, with their tireless commitment, they have increasingly won respect from the society. Older women, in particular, are taken seriously as authority figures, as they have the experience to find and mediate just solutions. They have even been able to solve a large number of family and tribal conflicts that had persisted for decades and could not be solved by the Syrian legal system. Members of Mala Jinê explain:
“Our work is based on social interactions and that creates mutual understanding within family settings. We lay emphasis on the harm created by male dominance and the advantages of respectful family relations for everyone. On average, each Mala Jinê [in each town and surrounding area of Rojava] deals with 50 problem cases a month, of which we can solve around 20 simply through mutual understanding.”
However, if it becomes difficult to find a solution to a problem, then the case is passed on to the Women’s Justice Council. In those cases, where physical violence or death threats against women arise, the Asayişa Jin (Women’s Security Force) gets involved. Thereupon, women can seek refuge in safe houses, whereas the aggressors are taken to justice.
Although, the laws and sanctions are not sufficient to challenge the patriarchal order and the perpetrators of violence, the “Women’s Laws” have functioned as an effective means of uncovering and condemning violence against women. Many women emphasize that the principles set in the law have given them strength and courage to take up the fight against sexist violence and discrimination in public as well as in their own private lives. These laws have advanced a collective understanding of social ethics, and also helped establish democratic principles within partnerships and family relations.
The confederal network of the women’s movement, Kongra Star has facilitated the implementation of the women’s law and also propelled social change towards strengthening women’s self-awareness, empowerment and economic wellbeing. By working, organizing and learning collectively, women have secured the possibility of more options in life. Up until very recently, it was difficult to imagine a mother living on her own with her children after a divorce or the death of her husband. Today, projects like women’s cooperatives or the women‘s village called Jinwar have enabled single mothers to determine the course of their lives and ensure care for their children within a community of women. The co-chair system in which women and men collectively represent the will of the group, and coordinate the works of all communes, people’s councils, and in all fields of life has empowered women’s role in society, as well as in many families. Today, women who once were seekers of help are themselves working actively at Mala Jin and in the women’s councils, or have joined the women’s defense forces to protect the lives and rights of other women.
Women celebrating Naoroz, the Kurdish New Year in Rojava. Pic. Jineoloji Research Center
The discussions, and the consequent changes in the lives of women, families and the larger society as a consequence of the women’s laws are one example of the many attempts that have been made to establish a democratic system, mentality and a way of life. We can conclude that the common values and principles of Democratic Autonomy have laid the corner stones of a democratic society and freedom for everyone.
In a time of deep despair, human and ecological crisis, the example of Democratic Autonomy in Rojava has created hope, and given new inspiration to people in Syria and the Middle East. In fact, a lot of people in other parts of the world have become a part of this process and are connecting it to the struggles in their own regions. Despite all the shortcomings and numerous obstacles during the last decade, we have learned that the democratic confederal organization of society can fulfill many spiritual and material needs of society. We have learned that democratic transformation is a continuing process, which requires constant societal and self-reflection. Our achievements are not assured forever, if we do not protect and advance them.
We’ve learned about our shared pains and aspirations by listening to each other, and by sharing our experiences of life and struggle; while singing songs and telling stories of our ancestors in our own languages, as women from different communities. We have learned that we can find solutions to the problems in our lives when we blend wisdom with spirituality, and our analytical and emotional intelligence. These are our tools for dismantling the houses of the masters. At the same time, we’ve also created new tools for building our own houses and gardens – we’ve constructed a democratic society, by uniting our political thoughts and beliefs with our way of life. By transforming our needs and hopes into communal organizing and actions, we now experience democracy as an alternative to state and power.
The Rojava Revolution is alive, and spreading its wings.
Şervîn Nûdem has been working at the Jineolojî Academy in Rojava (West-Kurdistan) in the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, since 2016. She works with the women from Kurdistan, Syria and other countries. Şervîn grew up in Germany and was active in the anti-fascist youth and autonomous women’s movement. Her interest in connecting political theory with practice, and communal life with the struggle for a free society led Şervîn to join the women’s liberation struggle in Kurdistan, and to participate in the work of the Jineolojî Academy. The main focus of her work is on popular education programs and collective, communal researches on the historical and social foundations of the women’s revolution and the system of Democratic Autonomy in Rojava / North and East Syria. Şervîn has also been active in the establishment of the Andrea-Wolf-Institute / Jineolojî Academy with the aim of connecting the struggle for democracy, justice and freedom worldwide with women’s wisdom.
In 2021, too, the war in Kurdistan has a great impact on the struggle for an ecological society there. So we need to take a closer look at how these two issues relate to each other and what an ecological stance can look like in times of war. To that end, Make Rojava Green Again conducted an interview with Kamuran Akın from Humboldt University in Berlin.
Would you briefly introduce yourself and explain how you came to deal with the topic of “ecology and war”?
My name is Kamuran Akın, I am a Kurdish political refugee and activist scholar in Berlin. I am doing my PhD at Humboldt University and writing my thesis on the colonial rule of the Turkish state in North Kurdistan. If we only look at the recent history of the Kurds, there has been a war in North Kurdistan for 40 years. But if you look at the history of the Kurds, you can say that this state of war or struggle for existence of the Kurds has actually been going on for 100 years. And I am investigating the destructive effects of this colonial endeavor on the geography and ecology of North Kurdistan through the HPP (Hydroelectric Power Plants), Kalekols (military high security checkpoints), and forest fires. So, in a sense, I am examining how Turkish colonialism affects the geography and ecology of North Kurdistan.
Wars can cause severe environmental damage. Throughout history, it has not been uncommon for drinking water to be contaminated, agricultural land to be burned, or soil to be rendered infertile by salinization. Dams and levees have also often been targeted. How do you evaluate the environmental damage caused by the current war operations in Kurdistan?
It is a reality that has been known for centuries that geography is used as an instrument of war, including ecology. If we look at the example of Kurdistan, we see that in the past, for example, in the Kurdish-Alevi province of Dersim, dams were built for the purpose of repression and counterinsurgency, and military outposts were built on the most important hilltops. A similar policy is being implemented today in almost all Kurdish cities under the guise of the security discourse. And in my thesis, I insist that these geopolitical infrastructure projects (such as Hydroelectric Power Plants HPP, Kalekols and also forest fires) are carried out with colonial intention. Today, these geopolitical infrastructure projects not only serve as a security strategy in the war against the guerrilla, but they also mean the irreversible destruction of the geography of Kurdistan as they are still being expanded. We can already foresee the enormous scale of ecological destruction that began immediately after the completion of the Ilısu Dam, which was built in what was the historic Heskîf (Hasankeyf) and the Tigris Valley. According to official documents of some state institutions, many HPPs built in Kurdistan, especially the Ilısu Dam, are considered `security dams`. Under their concept of “security” we can understand that the local residents and the people of the region, who had returned full of hope to their villages that had been burned down in the 1990s, are irrevocably forced to migrate. In the reports published by ecological activists of the Mesopotamian Ecological Movement (MEH-Mezopotamya Ekoloji Hareketi), there is statistical data about the ecological disaster caused by these dam constructions. For example, cutting off the water supply to Rojava in the summer months, discharging dirty sewage into the agricultural areas of Rojava, and siltation of areas are only the most well-known of the ecological war tools used by the Turkish state in recent years. I don’t want to repeat anything, but share some notes from the interviews I did for my PhD thesis. Today, cancer cases are increasing in Dersim due to gold mining activities involving the use of cyanide. The retention of water by weirs and changing the direction of the natural course of rivers, the ambiguity of seasonal transitions due to the effects of the global ecological crisis have caused the degradation of the ecosystem existing in the region and a noticeable decline in biodiversity. Dams, kalekols and security roads built along a line in Şirnex (Şırnak) and Colemêrg (Hakkari) are turning the nature of Kurdistan into a concrete desert. Burning down all the surrounding forest areas to protect the respective Kalekols, tells us the following: The aim of the Turkish state is to use these three interlinked geopolitical measures as a means of ecological warfare to eliminate the possibility of a future life for the Kurds in an autonomous Kurdistan.
How are resources used as weapons today? For example, why is it geostrategically important for NATO to have control over water resources?
In a war situation, weapons can be anything used against an enemy or to gain a strategic, material, or mental advantage by one group, state, or organization over another. Interestingly, the term “weapon” is not formally defined in international law or treaties regulating the use of force. Since the end of the Cold War, researchers have increasingly explored the links between natural resources, security, and conflict. They distinguish several arguments in the literature for possible interactions between violence and natural resources. According to this, the first possibility is that natural resources contribute to the escalation of events and to violent conflicts. Although the biophysical environment is rarely the sole cause of conflict, natural resources may indirectly contribute to the escalation of violence or be part of a broader political strategy. When coupled with political instability, scarce natural resources can fuel conflict over access to shared transboundary resources between competing states, e.g. the Turkish state uses dams to impede the flow of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to neighboring countries such as Iraq and Syria, using water as a threat. It is worth noting that the main factor behind the desire to establish hegemony over neighboring states with water policy, despite existing international conventions, is the presence of the PKK in the region. A second possibility is that the biophysical environment becomes a direct or indirect target in violent conflicts, either as a weapon, victim, or beneficiary of the conflict. For example, it may be “weaponized” and used by one of the parties to the conflict as a direct means of exerting violence against the opposing party. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a well-known example of a conflict in which water scarcity plays a role and is used by various parties as a means of exerting pressure. If we again take an example from North Kurdistan, as I am investigating in my doctoral thesis, the construction of hydroelectric power plants with the help of water blockage or the burning of forest areas can be shown to be means of war. Even though the occupation of Rojava (West Kurdistan) by the Turkish state is tolerated or ignored by NATO members and European Union member states today, everyone knows the extent of the ecocide taking place there. For example, we learn from reports of the international organizations what kind of war crimes and natural massacres are taking place in Efrîn today. Let me end the answer to your question with a personal remark. There are two well-known reasons for the way NATO members, especially the U.S., seize natural resources in war zones. The first is the war for hegemony they are waging as a continuation of the Cold War against Russia and Iran. Second, there is the support of terrorist organizations such as IS and al-Qaeda, especially in the Middle East and African countries, only to then act as problem solvers to end the destruction wrought by these terrorist organizations and gain control of natural resources. In short, Capitalist Modernity continues to exploit the people of the region so that they continue to be dependant, and it is turning the geography of the Middle East, especially Kurdistan, into a dumping ground by war.
How is the ecological paradigm of the Kurdish Freedom Movement being implemented? And what is war doing to this understanding of ecology? What does self-defense mean in terms of ecology?
The revolution is based on an ecological ethic, and there is a reason for that. The nation-state and Capitalist Modernity have deprived society of its own resources and made it dependent on the state and often on the benevolence of the state. We see, for example, in North Kurdistan, a systematic plunder and genocide of the environment. The attempts of the states to prevent any environmental sustainability in Kurdistan are part of the broader war against the Kurds and their revolution. Indeed, the relationship between capitalist nation-states and the environment is more severe than ever before. We have a global ecological crisis, and states are still thinking about their short-term profit, which is causing the destruction of our environment, but also migration flows, war over natural resources, famines, etc. War means destruction. The ecological paradigm is based on the idea of sustainability despite the problems caused by nation states and war policies. For example, the ecological paradigm wants to find solutions from within society, and develop approaches for society to organize itself to solve problems such as water scarcity, desertification, and dependence on oil production, etc. Resilience and strength comes from within society and its own resources. This is something that the revolution in Rojava has shown. Abdullah Öcalan has stressed many times that one must not wait for mercy from one’s oppressors. One must not demand something from the state when the state is acting as an oppressor. He has emphasized that all solutions to society’s problems lie within society. Rojava is a good example of the fact that self-defense does not only mean taking up arms against the enemy, such as the so-called Islamic State, but that self-defense means being equipped with an ideology that allows one to build one’s own system, find one’s own solutions to the problems, maximize autonomy, and make the political system self-sufficient, resistant to attacks, and a role model for the world and other oppressed people.
Women’s liberation plays a central role in the paradigm of the Kurdish Freedom Movement. How is the solution of the ecological question related to women’s liberation?
I am responding to your question as someone who is still going through self-reflections on his own masculinity, so the following can only be read from this perspective and with these limitations. The liberation of women is central to the Kurdish Freedom Movement’s understanding of the liberation of society. Nothing can be regarded separately. Liberation is an organic process and must involve all aspects of life and society. Öcalan refers to women as the first colony and has coined the term “housewife marriage” in which men have systematically deprived women of their freedoms. Again, if we understand nature as a colony, then we see how the liberation of women from patriarchy is similar to the ecological question. In this sense, for example, Jineolojî is an essential component. Even if you have enough organizational and ideological power, it turns out that you are insufficient in defining the sociological foundation if you cannot reflect it in the society. Jineolojî grounds the paradigm of the Kurdish Freedom Movement in a scientific field. She regards science neither as a power nor on a positivist ground, but as a definition of life based on a regime of truth. She does this with serious concerns and honest ambitions. Above all, Jineolojî, born from the struggle against all the destruction caused by the male principle embodied in the male state – the representative of patriarchy – proposes a new model of life under the leadership of women. In this sense, women’s self-decolonization will be a dynamic force in decolonizing all colonial practices, especially ecological destruction, in the geography of Kurdistan. Women’s empowerment and autonomy is also linked to the strengthening of women’s abilities to be self-reliant, financially, socially and environmentally. Currently, we have a great example before us: the armed and political movement of Kurdish women. We have the Rojava Revolution as a great source of inspiration, and there are new life practices that are being promoted by women. In this context, there is the establishment of women’s co-operatives such as Eko-Jin and KED (Woman-Labor-Nature) in North Kurdistan. Or as an example from Rojava: Jinwar, a village built by women for women, including reforestation, planting, irrigation systems and collective principles.
How can the paradigm of the Kurdish Freedom Movement be a solution to this global problem?
Let me try to answer such a seemingly simple but difficult question by standing somewhere between hope and desire, but also with my sympathy for a liberation movement that has high aspirations and its founder as an ideological leader. Against all the creative-destructive policies that capitalist modernity has pursued in its 300-year colonial history, a 45-year-old freedom movement that emerged in a geography like Kurdistan, which is extremely fragmented and oppressed, is challenging this modernity and building Democratic Modernity against it. And it is trying to do so in all areas. This is not a simple task. It is a movement that is fighting and building at the same time. I think that is the difference from classical revolutions. The movement does not say that we will first make a revolution and later build a new life. The paradigm of a self-renewing movement that aims at revolution and sees this goal as a path on which to move forward is attracting attention all over the world today. While a paradigm and an alternative model of life that seek to destroy the entire accumulation of Capitalist Modernity to date is being implemented and further developed in Rojava today, this is fundamentally disapproved of by the capitalist states. While the paradigm of Democratic Modernity is growing stronger and is spreading all over the world, attempts are being made to criminalize it, war is being imported into the geography of Kurdistan, political and ethnic genocides and occupations in Kurdistan are being supported directly or indirectly, and hypocrisy is taking place. To complete my words, maybe we don’t have much time left in such an era of global catastrophe, now we should abandon the critical revolutionary approach and see our shortcomings and accelerate the constructive revolutionary approach by taking care not to repeat old mistakes while building the alternative. In the effort to increase the proportion of freedom in society, we must constantly realize our own alternative and ensure the victory of freedom by having a strong aspiration. The despotic and destructive policies of the fascist and bourgeois governments, which have increased all over the world in recent years, require a hard struggle of all other social movements, especially of the Kurdish Freedom Movement. The only alternative against this colonial order is the adoption and promotion of the methods and means of a continuous struggle for the construction of a new life, as well as the struggle against the destruction by capitalism.
This article was first published in the May/June 2021 edition of the Kurdistan Report.