14/11/2014 - 00:00
The Opportunity of History in Rojava

by Can Evren

How to view Rojava internationally, as a struggle that is more than only about Rojava and Kurds? This will be my question for this short talk. A major part of our motivation for organizing this panel today is to challenge some of the dominant representations regarding what's going on in Kobane and Rojava at large. Unfortunately but not unsurprisingly, hegemonic media outlets in the international world have repeatedly reduced the situation in Kobane to primarily a fight against extremism. This is a story we know from many other contexts, since the decades of U.S.-led "Middle Eastern" policy have first seen the region in sectarian and ethnic binaries and then through the binary between radicals/extremists and moderates. Wherever it looks, this lens sees a fight along the same two lines.

We know this story very well: in the post-1990 context, one can say that we have been presented a global division of labor between types of conflicts. It is as if a part of the world, the so-called 'Middle East' can only be home to certain types of conflict: a grand conflict between secular and religious forces, backwards and progressives, between sectarian or ethnic lines. It is as if this geography can hold no political claims of social reorganization but will necessarily be mired in divisions specific to its own cultural particularities or will be merely political in the sense of toppling political regimes and replacing them with new ones. The Rojava revolution, however, ongoing since 2012, and having drafted its own social contract points to another direction. In this social contract "The Rojava Charter," peoples of Rojava represent themselves and their moral and social cooperation in very different terms than those assumed and reiterated in mainstream media or policy frameworks. It is through these new modes of social solidarity that we should hear Rojava.

I want to elaborate a little bit on why this should be our priority in hearing Rojava internationally. The major leap introduced by the charter is that it represents a coherently delineated notion of social rights and principles of a functional democratic social-political system. The mainstream media, on the other hand, repeatedly empties the conflicts from their social content and reduces them to a drama told through categories of the security paradigm. That is, Rojava is represented only as an anti-ISIS force, revealing the foreign policy perspective that sees Rojava as a buffer zone rather than a social world on its own. This we should fight against as much as against ISIS brutality, because suppressing the social content of this revolutionary struggle will foreclose all possibility of imagining and creating pluralist, genuinely democratic, egalitarian social systems in the region and beyond.

For example, the Rojava revolution brings a new approach to the gender question, liberating it from the secular-religious dichotomy that has long imprisoned women's liberation discourses in the region, and which are merely two different perspectives on how to reconstitute patriarchal control. Instead, the social charter tackles patriarchy directly, by posing social conflict on the gender front as an irreducible axis autonomous from, but part of, the general liberation of the society at large. Division of labor and political participation become central tenets to be challenged and reconstituted on an egalitarian basis – gendered division of labor is rejected and political participation of women is ensured by strictly enforced quotas. New educational models have been implemented, such as the Academy of Women's Ideas where a philosophy of women's liberation is thought. As another example we can talk about is what the Rojava revolution understands by the word democracy. In the charter, democracy is extended beyond formal equality before law to really encompass social equality. Democratic political process is not reduced to voting but includes active participation through councils in neighborhoods, cities, and cantons extending from local to trans-local scale. In a similar vein, economic independence does not signify the delegation of goals of national development to a national bourgeoisie but to a society based on an association of laborers under councils, and the reworking of the division of labor between sexes, professions, and other lines of economic partition. Economy also refers to the goal of changing structures of property ownership from private to communal ones, where all natural resources are under public ownership. All these examples makes Rojava a social revolution over and above a simply political one; a new model of society, economy, and politics. That is, it reconfigures a new mode of social solidarity that projects its own representation through its own political system in contrast to many shadow states of the region, which provide diplomatic representation without creating or corresponding to new modes of social solidarity. Moreover, it makes conflict and equality irreducible to an internal fight against an external enemy, recognizing the necessarily antagonistic nature of the social world but putting in place mechanisms to combat internal forms of hierarchy on gender, class, ethnic, and religious lines.

In sharing the charter with the wider world, Rojava does not only ask for international 'help' but issues a call to action to all egalitarian movements of the world. This requires us to see Rojava in the light of the social-political reorganization that the charter offers. And it allows us to represent the struggle in Kobane and Rojava as a departure from the series of conflicts termed in false and hegemonic binaries like Kurds-Arabs or religious-secular etc. This way Rojava joins the history of struggles defined primarily by the political ideals they uphold and the new societies they imagine. This is why one of the leaders of the Popular Defense Forces of Kobane defined the historic resistance as 'the defense of Stalingrad', one of 20th centuries most symbolic struggles against fascism that became a major moment in internationalist anti-fascistic solidarity. Or, this is why anthropologist David Graeber is correct to remind the international community of the legacy of the Spanish Civil War when talking about Kobane. Kobane is many places and many times at once. Although fought under much harsher conditions, using different means, the ideals of the Rojava revolution merge with all the struggles of social transformation across the globe that claim to be inclusive and socially transformative on multiple levels (class, gender, ethnicity) rather than particularist and merely combative. It is therefore our duty to highlight the social content of the Rojava revolution, its subversive character with regard to multiple forms of exploitation and oppression.

To end with, I will talk about one hero among thousands who died fighting in Kobane against ISIS during the ongoing battle to defend the city. This, not because he was extraordinary, but because he was a good friend. A Turkish socialist, Nejat Agirnasli died in Kobane on October 5th fighting alongside the Popular Defense Forces. By his death, he reminded us once more the forms of solidarity the Rojava revolution can represent across large geographies, but also history. Neco died with the alias Paramaz, taking his name from an alias used 100 years ago by Madteos Sarkisyan, who was hanged in Istanbul in June 1914. An Armenian socialist of the Huncakian Party during the turn of the 20th century, Sarkisyan and his socialist comrades, before their execution by the Turkish nationalists, declared their aims to be a non-nationalist society based on the principle of equality. He declared: "What we demand is equality. We are not crude nationalists. Our demand is that Armenians, Turks, Kurds, Alevis, Laz, Ezidis, Assyrians, Arabs, and Copts live together equally in fraternity."

Neco, by his death in Sarkisyan's alias, reminds us, through another door, the geographical and historical significance of the struggle in Kobane and Rojava at large. It is not a surprise that, perhaps for the first time ever, the Armenian Social Democratic Hunchakian Party has sent a message of solidary to Neco's family and comrades after his death. As Neco liked to quote him many times, let me follow him by reminding us of Walter Benjamin's view of history in which the revolutionary struggles of today aim at the resuscitation of all opportunities that was lost in history, a resurfacing of all defeated possibilities for liberation. The struggle for Kobane and the Rojava revolution represents one such struggle.

* This text is a transcript of a speech at the seminar "Feminism and Autonomy in the Rojava Revolution", Duke University, October 28, 2014. The seminar is part of a larger students fight in support of the guerrillas in Kobane that began on October 7, when four international students at Duke University set up camp on west campus for a three-day hunger strike to bring attention to Kurdish fighters as they defended Kobane from an ISIS attack. Because of the absence of any real media or community attention not only to that resistance but also the abandonment of resistance fighters' by the international political community of NATO, Navid Naderi, Can Evren, Eylül İşcen and Darya Mentes decided to act in solidarity with those in Kobane and hunger-strikers all over the world.

 

Original source: http://commonware.org/index.php/cartografia/492-opportunity-rojava


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