Rojava is a democratic, autonomous region in Syrian Kurdistan aiming to build a society based on equality. They’re multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual and they actively fight for women’s liberation. These efforts could be utopian, were it not for the costly invasions by neighbors like Turkey and IS, and for the needless scarcity caused by ruthless international embargoes.
For the last few years the YPG and YPJ (voluntary Rojava-defending militias consisting of mostly Kurds, but also other ethnic minorities and foreign volunteers) have played a large role in the struggle against IS and the liberation of many oppressed cities in the area. Thanks to air, ground and financial support of the United States, they were able to launch successful offensives that pushed back IS. However, this month, October 2019, the US has decided to stop their support to the Kurds and to withdraw their forces. This has given Turkey a chance to invade Syrian Kurdistan, something they have wanted to do for a long time. Without the support of the US, Rojava is facing severe casualties, possibly genocide.
To give you a very small introduction to what the earth is losing at this very moment, I’m urging you to read the following books. They will give you a more detailed view on how Rojava came to be and what makes it such a special place in such a war-torn area.
Revolution In Rojava
Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy & Women’s Liberation in the Middle East is a collaboration of Michael Knapp, Anja Flach and Ercan Ayboga. It’s translated by Janet Biehl and contains a foreword by David Graeber. If you’re completely new to reading about Rojava, this is a great place to start. The book does a fantastic job of explaining the what, why and how of the revolution that has taken place since 2011. It’s thorough but never overwhelming. Especially interesting is its chapter on the women’s movement. Not only does the society focus on educating and empowering women, but women also partake in the armed struggle through the YPJ militia. This is often the only fact to be reported about Rojava in western media (in a heavily sensationalized way). The authors do a great job of informing the reader about what women’s emancipation looks like for the people of Rojava.
The Battle for the Mountain of the Kurds
The land that is being taken over by Turkey right now is not the first to fall. In 2018 Turkey attacked the canton of Afrin. The Battle for the Mountain of the Kurds: Self-Determination and Ethnic Cleansing in the Afrin Region of Rojava, written by Thomas Schmidinger and translated by Michael Schiffmann, is a book specifically about Afrin. It has been updated to include information about Turkey’s invasion of the region and the consequences of these acts on the population. Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe it. Refugees of the Syrian civil war of all ethnicities were taken in by Afrin when times were tough. Since 2018 these people have been displaced once again, together with the native Kurds. And now, once again, they will have to face a Turkish invasion and the possible resurgence of IS.
Make Rojava Green Again
Not only does the community of Rojava focus on human rights, but also environmental justice has an important place among its core principles. Make Rojava Green Again is a little book written by the International Commune of Rojava, with contributions of Debbie Bookchin. Inspired by the idea of social ecology and pressured by scarcity, the region has put great effort into building an environmentally friendly society that is as preserving and self-sufficient as possible. It has drawn people from all over the world towards the area to work on this ecological revolution. It’s nothing less than hopeful and inspiring and words can’t express what the loss of this project because of the war would mean. The book can be read for free on the commune’s website here.
There’s always more fascinating material to read about Rojava. An important inspiration for the Kurds of Rojava is Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party. His texts touch on many different topics, from the women’s movement to the influence of capitalism on the Kurdish people. Although Öcalan has been kidnapped, arrested and jailed in solitary confinement by Turkey since 1999, his texts have still found their way to the outside world. Snippets of them are getting translated into English by the International Initiative and can be downloaded and read for free. I’m planning to read some of these next.
I hope I have provided you with at least a few tools to inform yourself more about Rojava and its people. It’s a fascinating place and its unique movement is worth following and fighting for. Especially in these dire times, I hope you find some time to learn about the recent developments. If you’d like to also learn more about the refugee crisis that is connected to the unrest in Syria, you can find my blog post about that here.