Who is running this project?
Co-operation in Mesopotamia is a project by the Solidarity Economy Association, a not-for-profit, multi-stakeholder co-operative working to support the growth of the solidarity economy movement. Its core work focuses on education, research and promotion of the solidarity economy – an economy that embodies social justice, diversity and pluralism, co-operation, self-management and ecological sustainability.
Where is Mesopotamia?
Mesopotamia – the land ‘between two rivers,’ the Tigris and Euphrates – is also known as the cradle of civilisation. It’s a historical region that spanned the land now divided by the nation states of Syria, Iraq and parts of Turkey, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It’s an approximate region, without borders. The same could be said of Kurdistan – ‘the land where Kurds live’ – another geographical region which has never been a country, whose people have been divided by some of those same nation states. Unlike the term ‘Kurdistan’, ‘Mesopotamia’ is not bonded to any national identity, and its use reflects the spirit of pluralism that has emerged from the Kurdish freedom movement. Mesopotamia has always been very ethnically and culturally diverse.
What is a co-operative?
Around the world, co-operatives are enterprises based on ethics, values and principles that put the needs and aspirations of their members above the simple goal of maximising a profit. They are owned and run by people – who are members of the co-op – in a democratic way. Members make decisions together about how the business operates, and how its profits are used – either reinvesting back into the enterprise, distributing it to members, or investing it into the community. Members share equal voting rights regardless of the amount of money they have invested into the business. As the International Co-operative Alliance explains, ‘They allow people to take control of their economic future, and because they are not owned by shareholders, the economic and social benefits of their activity stay in the communities (geographic, communities of interest) where they are established’. Co-operatives are businesses that are driven by values – self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, solidarity, and ethical values. They share internationally agreed principles, and act together to build a better world through co-operation.
How many co-operatives are there in Northern Syria?
There are hundreds of co-operatives already in operation in Northern Syria, with new ones being set up very frequently. Approximately 12% of the economy in Jazira, the largest region of Northern Syria, is now based on co-operation.
How are co-operatives in Northern Syria run?
Co-operatives in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria are generally connected to communes or other democratic structures. Sometimes they are set up by women’s movement organisational structures, who help them to get on their feet and offer support as long as they need it. You can read about the guidelines for co-operatives in Northern Syria in their internal document here.
How do people become members of the co-operatives?
Membership (or ‘participation’) is via the purchase of shares. Each participant purchases one or more shares to become a member. The price of shares in any one co-operative is always the same for everyone, but the price does vary between co-operatives. A normal amount might be 20,000 Syrian pounds (SYP).
How much is a Syrian Pound worth?
You can see the current exchange rate here. At the time of writing, it is around 2,900 SYP to the British pound.
Why are there women-only co-operatives?
Women’s co-ops make up around 7% of the economy in the Jazira region of Northern Syria. Delal Afrin, former Head of the Women’s Economic Committee of Kongira Star (or Kongreya Star, the women’s umbrella organisation), best explains why the development of women’s only co-ops are important: “The rights of men and women should be the same regardless of the differences between them. The historic imbalance of power cannot simply be corrected by introducing quotas for women or the principle of co-presidentship shared by one man and one woman. The confidence that men and women bring to the job will be different unless the confidence of women is built up through the self-reliance, knowledge building and training they acquire in the setting up of co-operatives. A society that is able to organise an economy where women are given productive roles is the sign of a mature and reflective society. When the economy is not in the control of men, women will be able to express themselves freely. The freedom of the woman will promote the freedom of the society and of the man. When both men and women become free we will achieve a free society.” You can read the full interview with Delal here.
Do you only publish information about co-ops inspired by the Democratic Confederalism model?
No. In Northern Syria, all, or nearly all, co-ops are part of the Democratic Confederalism project. In Turkey there are many more types of co-operatives. To date our focus has been those co-ops aligned with the Democratic Confederalism model; we do however want to publish more articles about any grassroots co-ops in the region, or ones that are aligned with the values of the Solidarity Economy.
What is the aim of this project?
Co-operation in Mesopotamia (formerly Co-operative Economy in Rojava and Bakur) is building international economic solidarity between co-operative movements in the UK and Europe with those creating a thriving, democratic, and gender-equal society in Northern Syria (Rojava) and Bakur (eastern Turkey). The project provides the only comprehensive resource on the region’s co-operative economy in the English language. Our aim is to build international solidarity between the UK and this region. We do this through: Raising awareness: We’ve published hundreds of articles to date, and we speak all over the UK and, increasingly, at international events, from large conferences to small informal workshops; Research and translation: We research, translate and collate articles on all aspects related to the economy in Rojava and Bakur, from ecology, to direct democracy, to women’s liberation; Building solidarity with Rojava: We’re partnering with women’s economic structures in Rojava to build connections between co-ops there and in the UK, offering a number of ways for co-ops to support the movement, for example by supporting the Water for Rojava Fund.
I have a really great article or resource about co-operatives or livelihoods in North-East Syria or Bakur, will you publish it?
Great! Please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will take a look.
What else can I do to support this project?
We’re continuing to develop ways that people can support the project and the co-operative movements in Mesopotamia. Get in touch if you have ideas, keep an eye on our events page, and sign up to our newsletter for updates.