B R U N O __D E N I E L - L A U R E N T




Kobane : the soaring of the Rojava

Authors : Bruno DENIEL-LAURENT and Yvan TELLIER

Originally published in Le Monde - 28th January 2015



At the time these words are published, the Kurdish self-defence forces in Kobane are experiencing for over one hundred days the attacks of "jihadists" fighters of Da'esh that are attempting to capture this town in the extreme north of Syria. In reality it's a strange battle, as from the overhanging hills of Turkey international journalists, Kurdish villagers in solidarity with their Syrian brothers, anti Da'esh imams, spies, Turkish anarchists and far-left activists from all around Europe are directly helping each other out.

The scene of the operation is rather strange as it is indeed purged of it's civilian population and without important strategic significance, yet there is a bloody confrontation - which now seems to in the Kurds favour - where what's at stake goes far beyond the Syrian conflict. So, if the Kurdish fighters resist with such fierceness against the toughened Islamists with heavy equipment, it is also because they see themselves as the vanguard of a "democratic revolution" - post-statist, multi-ethnic, secular, environmentalist and feminist. They are offering to extend this idea to all the people in the region. Therefore, what is happening in Kobané is not an epiphenomena of a Syrian war with multi belligerents but rather the birth, from bloodshed, of a new form of governance in the Middle East .

It is in the confusion of the Syrian civil war that the "self-administered" territory Rojava (literally, "Western" Kurdistan) was born. It consists of three separated Kurdish counties - Afrin, Kobané and Cizîrê – which are delimited by their hermetically closed border with Turkey. We started to write these words last November from the Syrian city of Qamishli, the capital of the county of Cizîrê. Here, as in the other two Rojava territories, the Bashar al-Assad power has made room for a self-administration largely dominated by the Syrian branch of the PKK and its Kurdish allies as well as Arabs and Christians.

The task of the provisional government, often made up of ordinary citizens is enormous, since it must manage areas subject to constant attacks by the mujahedeen of the Islamic State, who insured the loss of this autonomous confederation that transcends religious and ethnic differences. The majority of the inhabitants of the township of Cizîrê are Kurds yet a significant minority of Assyrian Christians are settled there- whose mother tongue is Aramaic, - as well as many Sunni Arabs, Armenians, Turkmens, Chechens, Yezidis and even hard to believe some Jews.

Thus directly from the basis of this communal polyphony, the «Social Contract's Charter of the Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava» was announced, which consists of 96 issues that give pride to women and the minorities in the region . This reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau is not a coincidence, as in the premises of the new Mesopotamia University of Qamishli, it is possible to meet student groups chatting with passion about the most colourful aspects of the "communalist" revolution of Rojava. They are raving about the concept of direct democracy and resemble figures like Max Weber, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon or Simone Weil, while getting lost in the rhythmic beats of the Sufi musician Ali Akbar Moradi. Meanwhile, the television's gleaming clips celebrate the glory of the Kurdish fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Popular Defence Unit for Women (YPJ).

From now on in the self-administered territories of Rojava and in the besieged neighbourhood of Kobane, the dream is of a "democratic confederalism", an idea that reaches out to the Kurds and their close ones. This middle-eastern utopia, which responds as the counter-model of the "Caliphate dream" of Da'esh, will still make a lot of enemies. In their sights, they have indeed the Salafi militias, the corrupt theocracies of the Arabian Peninsula, the authoritarian nation states, the tribal structures and the system of world capitalism.

For the youth of Rojava, there is no doubt that Kobane, caught between Da'esh and the passive complicity of the Islamic-conservative government of Erdogan, is the supreme symbol of resistance against the gravediggers of the communalist revolution and is the promise of a social-ethnic dream that extends beyond the strict limits of the Kurdish population. It is not surprising to learn that when the revolutionaries of Rojava started the fight in Kobane, they had other examples in mind, such as jumbled up quotes from the libertarian municipalities of Aragon, the caracoles of Zapatistas in Chiapas or La Commune in Paris. In Kobane, there is also a bit of our national mythology that comes in to play again.

While France seems very far from being passionate about the autonomist revolution of Rojava, nobody in Qamishli has forgotten that it was from a French architect's plans that the city was founded (it has even for a long time been dubbed the "Little Paris of Syria"). In Rojava, there is sorrow that the PKK, despite the advantageous development of its doctrine and its militant practices, continues to be ranked on the list of terrorist organizations by the Council of the European Union, even though it's troops were fighting in the Sinjar Mountains to prevent another massacre of the Yezidis by the Da'esh.

And above all, the most outrageous thing is that the French president, aligning himself unashamedly with the Turkish, advocates the establishment of a buffer zone in northern Syria, which would be equivalent to accepting the outright occupation of Kurdish territories by Turkey, whose primary objective is to put an end to the autonomous experiment of Rojava. But also the Kurds used to say that they do not expect anything from the states, yet everything from the peoples. For now, this is an exciting and glorious story that is written on the borders of Iraq, Turkey and Syria. At the heart of this danger zone, while the Da'esh's fighters dream is to drape everything in black, the people of Rojava seem to be determined to not let us lose hope in the so-called "Arab spring".


Originally published in Le Monde - 28th January, 2015

English translation from French by Shelley Putman


© 2012 Bruno Deniel-Laurent. Tous droits réservés.