Hevgirtin is the largest cooperative in Rojava, with branches across the region. It is somewhat similar to a UK consumer cooperative, but owned and run by its members in the local community. This project aims to help people in Rojava by providing them with their daily food needs and selling products at lower prices than other markets.
This article is about the Hevgirtin branch at Tirbespî [Al-Qahtaniyah], where Kocher, our cooperator in the region, first spoke to the manager Munir in July, 2016.
Munir said, “Our coop started six months ago. In the first three months, we showed people what this project is and how they can participate, what their role is, how it works and will be an advantage to them and their community. The second three months were more practical. We bought goods, prepared a place to be a shop and a storage space beside it. We appointed five people, three men and two women, to work in the shop. 29,000,000 Syrian Pounds were invested. Each member of this coop invested a certain amount of money. Shares cost 15,000 SP. Now each share that was invested is worth 21,500 SP. People who want their money back can take all the money they invested and their percentage of benefits. Our aim isn’t material at all. What we want is to raise the level of common work between people, to enable them to be more self-sufficient and get what they need at lower prices. Although we faced challenges at the beginning, we overcame them, and we’ll continue and make Hevgirtin coop bigger and challenge the high prices of local shops with our low prices.”
When Kocher first visited the cooperative in July, the shelves were almost empty. Munir said, “The shop isn’t full of goods because we are in a state of economic siege, all we have got here was bought from Mabrouka and from Bashur [South Kurdistan / North Iraq] months ago.”
More recently, Kocher visited the shop again and found the shelves full. This is due to a partial opening of the Simalka border crossing between Rojava and Bashur. There is now only one woman working in the Tirbespî branch, and on the second visit, the manager was now Muhammad Sino, showing the rotation of such roles in Rojava.
The words “supervisor”, “manager”, “administrator and “coordinator” are used interchangeably in English translations to refer to the joint persons who run these kind of projects, as in all institutions in Rojava. The word in Kurdish is “hevserok”, which basically means “co-leader”.
There is coordination between the many branches of Hevgirtin, with a coordinator in every branch to keep in touch with any changes and communicate with the higher level coordinating body of the cooperative. The other workers take part in selling products and taking care of the place. They all work as a team. The coops are run according to the book of guidelines and basic principles, issued by the TEV DEM. The coordinator who runs every branch should be educated (at least graduated from any of Syria’s universities, preferably with a degree in the field of Economics or Agriculture), have a license, and be an expert in management. However, Muhammed and the other four people who are working in the shop have equal decision-making power about how to run the coop.
Muhammad Sino and the other four people working in Tirbespî sometimes take exceptional decisions according to changes in circumstances, like selling goods cheaper than usual. Before they take any decision, they present a proposal to the Mala Gel [The People’s House], as this represents the people of Tirbespî. After the Mala Gel accept the proposal, they show it to the Economic Council and the council send it to the Hevgirtin centre in Qamişlo [Qamishli / Al-Qamishli], in which heval Zafer plays the role of higher manager and heval Malak is his assistant. Here the proposal finally get accepted.
People can become a member of the coop with one or more shares. The members own the coop. They do almost all the work, but sometimes they hire workers if needed. The coordinators are elected by the members of the coop and are considered to be like the managers. Decisions are taken after meetings between the members. In these meetings they present agenda items, such as adding new members, or if someone wants to withdraw their shares. In cases like these, they apply the guidelines in the book of basic principles.
182 shares were invested in this coop by its members. If the coop is successful, new people can participate and buy shares within a period of six months. Every six months there’s a meeting in which people who have shares can discuss matters like the price of goods, choose the people who will work in the coop, or start new projects. Anyone can buy a share, and the coop and Hevgirtin markets are open to everyone.