Tom Anderson and Eliza Egret visited Rojava’s cizîrê and Kobanê cantons in November 2015. Read the full book that this article is taken from here.
Whilst in Amûdê, we requested to meet a representative from the umbrella organisation TEV-DEM, which aims to implement democratic confederalism in Rojava. Bedran Gia Kurd, a friendly and enthusiastic man, agreed to be interviewed by us. We asked him how TEV-DEM was formed.
He replied: “This movement was established on the basis of democratic confederalism. The ideas come from the ideology of Öcalan. The first conference to declare the establishment of TEV-DEM was in 2011. This system started from the council movement, and right from the beginning of the revolution, there were many civilians who helped to establish the system, along with the PYD [the Democratic Union Party]. People realised that a political party wasn’t enough and that they needed a civilian movement. TEV-DEM is not only the PYD. There are so many organisations that take part. People mustn’t think that the administration is just the government. All institutions are part of the government. TEV-DEM is the civilian institution of the government.”
Bedran told us that TEV-DEM coordinates the communes and council systems, and that these are the most important part of society, “the basis of our community” . He explained how these systems are structured. Two people are elected as co-presidents of their commune (one man and one woman). After that, there is a council for the whole neighbourhood, where two people are also co-presidents. Then representatives take part at city level. Finally, the co-presidents participate in the election of the council of the whole canton. From this election, co-presidents of TEV-DEM are elected (one man and one woman).
We asked Bedran about the relationship between the Democratic Autonomous Administration (also known as the Democratic Self Administration) and the TEV-DEM movement. He told us that the two are closely related.
“The government is executive, legislative and judicial. All parts work together to form the Democratic Self Administration. We are two parts of the same movement.”
He stated that it is essential to educate people within the movement, and that there are many communes which are educating the population in establishing a democratic society based on democratic confederalism. He told us that they try to teach people about workers’ co-operatives so that all people will learn to collaborate and cooperate with each other and improve the economy of the society.
He also talked about women and youths, and told us about Yekîtiya Star’s role in ensuring that women take their full rights, and organise themselves and take part in institutions. (Read our interview with the women’s union, Yekîtiya Star – now called Kongreya Star – later in this chapter). He stated that youths are important in society, and that within the system of democratic confederalism they are able to take part and improve their situation for themselves.
We asked Bedran about the monopoly of violence, and whether the security forces and military, Asayiş and the YPJ and YPG, are the only organisations with weapons. Bedran explained that communes are being trained to protect themselves, as Asayiş and the military are not always available to protect the neighbourhoods.
We turned to the issues of women and religion. We asked whether religious views are in conflict with the movement for democratic confederalism and the liberation of women. Bedran replied:
“The system of TEV-DEM was established so that all religions and ethnicities can take part in the administration. For example, the Religious Body has representation in the government. The president is Muslim and the two vice-presidents are Yezidi and Christian. So there is no discrimination between religions. Our idea is to establish a democratic nation, and we’re breaking old habits. Ofcourse there is a difference between Arabic and Kurdish people with regards to their attitudes towards Islam and women. Kurdish people are more moderate with their religion…We are not against religion; we are trying to understand it in the right way.”
Changing the subject, we turned to the topic of imperialism. We were keen to ask Bedran whether he thought imperialist interests, either from nation states or corporations, would try to influence the democratic society that is being created, and whether he was worried about this. He replied with a smile that there was, “daily coordination with the US as our enemy is the same” but that this relationship was not permanent and that “if this coordination compromises our project, we will not agree to it.” He went on:
“Economically, we’ve had no help from other countries. People in Rojava haven’t accepted anything from the US or the capitalists. For example, when the US asks Turkey or the KRG for something, they do it straight away, but when the KRG wanted the Peshmerga to fight in Rojava we refused. We have the will and determination and we will not accept any pressure on us to accept other agendas.”
Finally, we talked to Bedran about how people outside of Rojava can support their efforts for self-determination. Unsurprisingly, he stated that Rojava needs international recognition from states, and that they want help to break the siege on the borders with Turkey and the KRG. They also need economic support. We asked Bedran whether he would like to establish relationships, such as with workers’ co-operative networks, in Europe. He told us that it is vital to exchange knowledge and that it’s essential to make relationships with others in order to improve their projects. He told us with a smile, “our door is always open.”