The Syrian Kurdistan, Rojava is yet another de facto autonomous region on the world map, unique in its troubles and successes. Claiming its freedom as part of the Syrian Civil War, Rojava is assertively polyethnic, secular and wary of majoritarianism. In the midst of a war torn Middle East, Rojava is the promised land for many ethnic minorities and secular Muslims.
Under modern Syria, the Rojava region underwent a whitewashing of its culture with waves of Arabization. Places with Kurdish names were renamed in Arabic in the 1960s and 70s. Kurdish language education was forbidden. Property, employment and political rights were largely denied. In 1962, more than 120,000 Kurds were denied citizenship and deemed stateless. The number later increased to 350,000. Tensions escalated to an all time high during the Qamishli uprisings, where posters of Saddam Hussein, who had slaughtered tens of thousands of Kurds, were raised during a football match to mock the Kurds. In the protests that followed, hundreds of Kurds were killed by Syrian security forces.
So when government forces withdrew from three Kurdish enclaves to fight on the frontlines of the Syrian Civil War in 2012, local Kurdish militias, led by underground parties such as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council (KNC) took control. Establishing the Kurdish Supreme Comittee (KSC), the Kurds put People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia to the task of defending the areas. After YPG established control in Kobani, Amuda and Afrin, the KSC formed a joint leadership for administration. There was an initial drive to integrate the Kurdish opposition to the Assad regime, but the plan was abandoned when the Syrian opposition summit was held in Turkey. Of the 12 Kurdish parties, only two attended the summit.
On 2 August 2012, the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change announced that most Kurdish majority cities were no longer under Syrian government control. PYD officially announced its regional autonomy in January 2014. Elections were held, legislature elected and the Consti-tution of Rojava was approved. Currently, Rojava is busy re-opening schools, establishing community centers, and pushing back ISIS to gain control of further territory.
The constitution of Rojava guarantees cultural, religious and political freedom for all people, explicitly states the equal rights of women and mandates elimination of gender discrimination. The ideological patron of Rojava and its socio-political contract is Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader imprisoned in Turkey, who had always been an icon in the region. Ocalan had issued a “Declaration of Democratic Confederalism” in 2005, calling upon people to establish autonomous municipal assemblies – what he called “democracy without a state”.
In Rojava today, there is an emphasis on equal political representation of all ethno-religious groups, such as Kurds, Arabs, Turks, Chechens, Syriac Christians, Armenians, Circassians, Yazidis, Assyrians and others. Rojava also has a co-governance policy, in which each position at each level of government has a female equivalent of an equal authority to a male.
Rojava’s political ideology has been described as anarcho Athenian-style democracy, with shades of both socialist practices and capitalism, a new hybrid of welfare capitalism and cooperative business. Most remarkably, nationalism is frowned upon, and humanism and trans-nationalism is preferred, making Rojava a promising place for minorities seeking refuge. Polygamy, forced marriage and child marriage are banned, and civil marriage and inter-religious marriage are not just allowed, but actively promoted. There is no taxation, direct or indirect, on either people or businesses. The administration raises money through tariffs and through selling oil and other resources. In 2016, the wall Street Journal reported that traders in Syria experience Rojava as “the one place in Syria where they aren’t forced to pay bribes”.
Under the Ba’athist parties of Syria, school education was only in Arabic. In 2015, primary education in a single native language of choice, either Arabic or Kurd, or a bilingual education was enforced, with English as another mandatory language. There are plans to even introduce Syriac- Aramaic. Assyrian was later added to the curriculum. Rojava remains the only region in Syria today where international media and journalists can operate with few restrictions.
Rojava’s most important defense force remains the YPG, famous for its’ women fighters. Other militias include Army of Revolutionaries, Syriac Military Council and Al-Sanadid forces. These forces, including YPG are under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces, fighting in the Syrian civil war to bring about a democratic revolution. YPG also partnered with FSA in a cooperated military stratagem called the ‘Euphrates Volcano’ joint operations room. It was Euphrates Volcano that expelled ISIL from the city of Raqqa in “Operation Wrath of Euphrates”
Rojava is the black swan of the Middle East, it’s most audacious anomaly. It is a haven for humanists displaying a tightly-knit community in the middle of mass displacement. It respects individualism despite a dominant cultural tendency for tribal affiliations and loyalty. Even within itself, it seems to have conquered the realities of human nature which had supposedly kept the socialist dream from ever becoming reality. If this adherence to a moral code is a compulsion of war, or a truly sustainable conquest of prejudice and cynicism, only time will tell.