The Rojava Experiment in Post-Conflict Northern Syria
Panel II-8, 2023 Annual Meeting
On Thursday, November 2 at 5:30 pm
The Rojava experiment
Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, a new autonomous self-government has emerged in northern Syria, known as Rojava. The Kurdish-led Rojava is particularly well-known for its radical progressive ideology, that applies to women's liberation ideals, direct democracy, communal economy social ecology, pluralism, a community-based justice system and a non-state nationalism. In Rojava, self- government is trying to implement a new democratic society, while the war also going on. Despite the major political and military attacks that Rojava is suffering from, it also seems that the self-government managed to successfully implement many new ideals in Rojava's transition from war to peace. In this panel, we will investigate the implementation of those ideals in this democratic experiment, which we find important as Rojava provides a unique opportunity to examine how the militant anticolonial struggle has resulted in a radical and structural change for the inhabitants in the post-conflict societies that followed. By focusing on some of the above-mentioned areas, we will discuss how the "success" in Rojava can be understood. Thereby, it will be possible to shed light on how the democracy experiment in Rojava should be defined. E.g., How can one understand the success of the Kurdish Women's Movement in relation to the other contexts, e.g., the failed Arab Spring, which largely was not able to create improved conditions for women? Where is pluralism in Rojava based and What significance does it have for conflict resolution mechanisms in society? And why left-nationalist movements, who fight for national self-determination, operate with a strong social ecology policy, despite their very limited resources to be able to practice their policy? Answers to these and similar questions and topics will be discussed in this panel which is based on recent ethnographic studies in Rojava. Drawing on the disciplines of political science, sociology, gender studies and anthropology, the participants in this panel will analyze and critically discuss different aspects of the Rojava experiment.
Kurdish women’s success in Rojava
The Kurdish women are developing and implementing their own ideals, including ideals for gender, in the process of constructing a new system of self-government for Northern Syria/ Rojava in this region’s transition from war to peace. In this context, the presentation seeks to understand how women's resistance and their pursuit of freedom is carried out in general post-conflict contexts, and how Kurdish did women manage to implement their women’s liberation ideals in post-conf Rojava. Based on my fieldwork in Rojava from 2018, 2019 and autumn 2022, in the form of observations and interviews with Kurdish and non-Kurdish informants, this paper will examine which ideals and thoughts, Kurdish women’s organisations in the post-conflict period develop, in their attempt to become active participants in political and societal activities with the purpose of creating a democratic form of government. Contrasting women’s disappearance from influence in liberation movements in post-conflict periods and areas, Kurdish women seem to have contributed to and influenced a more radical and tenacious subversion of societal structures and norms. This success requires further investigation. To be able to do that, I pull on the new social movement’s perspective (Della Porta, Donatella & Diani, Mario 2006) and gender theories (Judith Butler 1990; Karen Barad 1998; Sara Ahmed 2004) to examine the complex interaction between individual motivations, collective dynamics, and the greater political and social contexts. Thereby, it will be possible to investigate how women create a collective and political form of protest from below, and experience a development of solidarity among themselves in relation to other actors, including political and public authorities of all genders. It also articulates focus points for assessing how these women may overcome the challenges they experience, how they build their political agendas over time and how they implement their values and norms while establishing democracy.
The revolutionary movement in North East Syria, commonly known as Rojava, has pursued a radical transformation of all spheres of social life based on the principles of women’s liberation, direct democracy, communal economy, social ecology and pluralism. It is also trying to create an alternative justice system which, I argue, represents a practice of commoning even though the movement itself does not use the language of commons, as developed by Silvia Federici, Massimo Di Angelis, and others.
In this paper, I propose and explore a two-part definition of commoning the justice system based on the theory and practice of the alternative justice mechanisms in Rojava. First, these mechanisms constitute a practice of commoning because conflict resolution is not delegated to state institutions that have no connection to the community. Rather, it is the responsibility of the community members themselves. Second, the goal of Rojava's conflict resolution mechanisms goes beyond making restitution to the side that has been hurt or punishing the guilty one. Rather, they work towards reestablishing community balance upset by a disagreement or a conflict, mending community ties and ensuring lasting peace. The focus is thus shifted from an individual misstep and grievance to collective well-being.
This paper is based on the interviews and observations that I conducted during my fieldwork in North East Syria during Summer 2022.
Following the footsteps of anthropologists of the Anthropocene and climate catastrophe, I will argue that communities of North and East Syria are living the realty of environmental catastrophe. Thus the revolutionary experiment unfolding in the region since 2012 can be viewed as a radical feat in securing life on a dying planet. This life affirming trajectory is even more visible when juxtaposed with the necropolitics of both Syrian regime and Turkish state. Through focus on the revolutionary politics in North-East Syria/Rojava, my research perspective aims to bring up the political dimension to the discussion of the impacts of climate catastrophe on local communities.
In my paper I will focus in particular on the relations between two basic, yet contradictory on even symbolic level, resources, namely water and oil. I will analyse what seems to be a paradox of relative scarcity of water compared with relative abundance of oil. I’ll argue that water forms the most important nexus of environment and the political in greater Kurdistan region due to the mutually enforcing effects of climate change and “weaponization” of water by Turkish state. While lack of water forms an existential threat to the political project of AANES, the accessible oil reserves have, as I will argue, dual capability of both keeping the revolution alive and undermining its radical and ecological potentials.
Following the Marxist and materialist approach, combined with ethnographic observations, in course of my paper I will unravel the ways in which those basic resources shape political landscape of North and East Syria and influence lives of the people and grassroots forms of organisation. In conclusion I will reframe my observations form Syria in the wider context of radical politics in late capitalism and Anthropocene.