Berlin Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg – Interview with Derik Municipality

This report was published by Rojava Information Center on 19 February, 2024.

In 2019, a city partnership between Berlin Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Derik was established. Since then, several projects have been realized in cooperation, including ecological initiatives, service provisions and information exchanges.

RIC spoke to Berivan Hussain and Ciwan Hassan, the co-chairs of the people’s municipality of Derik, regarding the partnership.

What is your work?

Berivan: For two years I have been working in the municipality. In the municipality we are very connected to society: we provide services and help people to meet their everyday needs. There are different departments in the municipality, such as finance, cleaning or services. There is also a water department, whose work it is to check the wells of the city and secure water for the people.

Recently, we established new committees: the relations committee is now tasked to meet with people and find solutions for their problems. We established this committee after we realized that there was a gap in our work. The services department is in communication with the different services departments of the communes and – according to the resources – provides help where needed.

In general, we put a lot of emphasis on working with people: the existence of the municipality is connected to the existence of the people living here. The better we work together, the more can be achieved.

Can you talk about the agreement of cooperation between Berlin Friedrichshain- Kreuzberg and Derik? How did the city partnership come about and what is its purpose?

Berivan: When we first established the system of municipalities in 2014, there were attempts to create friendships with foreign municipalities. We sent out several letters.

In 2018, we reached an agreement with the city partnership association in Berlin Friedrichshain- Kreuzberg. Together, we have worked on the partnership. A committee from here, including the previous co-chairs of the municipality, visited them in Berlin. (Editor’s note: this delegation attended the official recognition of the partnership at Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg town hall in 2019) To prepare the city partnership a delegation from there visited us here: they visited our city, our regions, and saw the current situation of the region. We observed that the understanding of the people of Berlin regarding us have changed after this agreement. As a region, we face a constant misrepresentation in the media. But through these efforts and the files we sent to them, people’s understandings have changed.

Are there joint projects between the two of you?

Berivan: Some joint projects have been done. For example, in the beginning, communes were wanting to develop tree planting. Beans were distributed to communes. Some gardening things were done. We also started working on the Korneesh project together, which is a road from the hospital to the Azadi Square. So far, the project’s structure has been completed, including a plan to plant trees along the road.

Besides these projects, we joined forces to repair buildings that were damaged during the earthquake [6th of February, 2023]. A year ago, the earthquake damaged several locations. In our region for example, the sanitation was damaged and there were several damages in Qamishlo. Therefore, €10,000 was donated, in order to fix the sanitation system. This project helped the local people. It had a very big effect, especially considering that diseases can spread fast through bad sanitation systems, directly affecting the quality of life. Through donations from our city partnership we managed to fix the sanitation system. In November 2022, Turkish aerial attacks took place. Our city partners helped us out by collecting donations in order to fix the generators that operate the water wells. Through these donations a huge burden was taken off our shoulders, as the resources in our region – in NES generally and in Derik particularly – are limited. Through the €4,000 that was donated we managed to fix some of our generators.

Depending on the situation, we try to hold a meeting every few months together. According to both of our capacities we discuss which projects to work on together. In the last meeting another donation of €7,000 was announced. €6,000 was spent on buying two water pumps. While we received this money, Turkiye escalated its war on NES again [in October 2023]. (Editor’s note: the remaining €1000 was spent on renewing the town twinning signs at the entrances to Derik).

Currently, we are planning another project to slowly build up our solar energy capacities. We are hoping to start this project in May; approval from the German parliament (Editor’s note: after further research, the authorization comes from the German State Agency for Development Cooperation of Berlin (LEZ), not the parliament) and the Berlin Friedrichshain- Kreuzberg municipality are pending. The discussions and studies have been completed for this project. For some time now, the people of Derik have struggled to secure their water. The city center is lower than the outskirts of the city, thus the operating wells cannot reach all neighbourhoods. A year ago, a well was dug and is currently operated by generators. The generators are very bad for the environment, therefore the solar energy will be used to serve the people. The project was planned and prepared by engineers and experts. Besides these projects, we send regular updates on the local situation over. As you can see, we have done some great work and we are hoping to expand these efforts in the future: build up more city partnerships, for example between Qamishlo and Berlin. Furthermore, we want to develop more projects in the community sector. Examples could be to build up partnerships between sport teams or unions. For us, it is important to focus on connecting the people of both places, rather than solely the administrations.

What efforts are being made to share things about your system here to people in Berlin? 

Berivan: Some efforts are being made: we are hoping to send a local delegation to Berlin for example. Just like our partners from Berlin Friedrichshain- Kreuzberg visited us in Derik, we would like to visit them, explain our systems. During the visit from Berlin, people were surprised and impressed with our governance system. We built this system despite the constant attacks, like the destruction of civilian infrastructure. These attacks can be considered war crimes, as they go against international agreements not to attack civilian structures. Despite these attacks, the people here resist and they believe in our institutions. Many people are surprised at the people’s will to defend their home and rebuild their cities after every attack, but the people here have a very strong connection to their land.

What difficulties do you face?

Berivan: Besides financial difficulties, the regular attacks make daily work very hard. For example, we plan a project and all of a sudden, attacks start and our focus is forced to shift.

We also face financial problems: our budget is not enough to realize all projects. This shortage is partly influenced by the ongoing war. Moreover, many experts and more generally people who could bring great ideas and opinions, lack the enthusiasm to join our work. That said, we try our best to serve our people.

We are very grateful for the city partnership with Berlin Friedrichshain- Kreuzberg. We see their enthusiasm for this work, which in turn motivates us to do our work the best to our abilities. This is how we work in this region, and we are hoping to be an example for the whole world.

What is the importance of the partnership to you?

Ciwan: I have been the co-chair of the municipality for almost one year. The partnership with Berlin Friedrichshain- Kreuzberg is very important for us, as people from Derik. As people from NES, these partnerships and relationships give us a lot of morale and hope. Despite the war, which continuously destroys the facilities and services that people here need to survive, such agreements give us a lot of strength and fuel our resistance.

Regarding our city partnership work – we have not yet established a high-level cooperation, but we are coordinating and meetings are being held regularly. And they follow our local situation closely, we keep them informed about our projects and we discuss our upcoming projects together. We are very grateful for the projects they helped us to achieve, we really see their constant energy to help and support. And through their donations we could realize projects that helped the local people immensely, such as the sanitation project and the new water pumps.

As their support continues, our strength and morale increases.

What does your communication in times of attack look like?

Ciwan: We have an online chat, so that we can reach each other faster. Whenever something major happens, our partners get in touch with us. For us, this is important, as it shows their concern and connection to us. We see that they believe in what we are building up and that we are on their mind. All of this contributes to us evaluating our partnership as successful.

In regards to our system, I would like to share that we go to great lengths to implement our system under these difficult circumstances. With our limited resources, we have been able to form a community with diverse backgrounds and languages. The municipality takes a major role in our system, the system of democratic nations, and of the DAANES. With this system we try to serve society as best as possible.

Of course we face difficulties, mainly in the security aspect, but also due to low resources. Yet, we try our best. The quality of our work has been evaluated positively by our community. Our work is not an easy one, here in the municipality. The people who work here know this well; we carry a lot of responsibility. Despite the low resources, our determination and will to realize our projects makes a real difference. This is the main reason why I am participating in this work.

Some people are dissatisfied with our low resources, and it is our duty to explain to them the situation, which difficulties we face and what we can do. Similar to a war where people are resisting, it is important that we also resist. It is our work to meet the people’s needs, such as electricity and water – providing people’s everyday needs. Long-term projects are more difficult to implement so far, our main work is to meet people’s every-day needs.

This partnership gives strength not just to us in Derik, but to everyone in NES. We are very happy with the outcomes that have been achieved so far, and with the genuine friendship we are building up. We are open to forming more relationships like this. And so would other cities – for example in Qamishlo and Kobane there are attempts to build up similar partnerships. I am convinced that through these relationships with people’s municipalities, we take a step towards the freedom we are seeking and that this freedom will be fought for by the people, for the people.

Will there be any changes to your organizational system of the municipality with the new social contract? 

Ciwan: The new social contract will empower the councils and institutions. Our philosophy, the basis of the Autonomous Administration, is advanced and open and we consider it as a possible solution to the many problems in this world. Yet, on the practical level, we need to evaluate how much we can achieve, how much has been achieved and how many attempts we have had.

A lot of work has gone into the rewriting of the social contract. It was passed through all the blocks of the community, from the communes to all institutions. The opinions of all groups of society and all institutions were taken into account. On this basis, the contract is for the people, and through it, great steps will and have been taken. Its implementation will remove several difficulties for our work as well. We hope that through its implementation, we will not only change our way of working but the mentality of the people.

I would like to add one last thing. We are immensely appreciative for any support for NES and the Autonomous Administration. I want to finish by saying that we will fight for the formal recognition of the Autonomous Administration.

More Information can be found here.