Syria, Rojava, coops, cooperatives, agriculture, women, feminism, jineologi, economy

Healer of the Earth

This is a translation of a Turkish language article by Dengir Güneş that originally appeared on Yeni Özgûr Politika, 19th May, 2016

While Naide Zengin was working on building sites in England she had wished to do something for Rojava, so she prepared a greenhouse project. “Finding my country and putting my work into it allowed me to be reborn. In this rebirth there is hope for a brand new world and a future. I have chosen the place I want to die”, she says.

The ground in Rojava was rendered barren by decades of Baath regime policies forbidding the planting of trees, but in the hands of the women of Rojava, the ground becomes fertile again. Women are at the helm of the revolution, and they are determined to play a leading role in agriculture, too. Bistanên Rojava, “the gardens of Rojava”, is a project that’s taking the most assertive steps forward in this area. It’s something like a first aid intervention, bringing life back to land that has been deprived of water and greenness for decades.

The project is important because of its size, and also the fact that it’s something unprecedented. Another aspect that makes it unique is the persona of Naide Zengin, who gave birth to it. Her life story goes beyond the ordinary. She is someone who had to rebel to carve out a space for herself, someone not fitting into the moulds of society. She is a woman who managed to do the impossible. Her head throbbing with anger about the massacre of the Kurds, she looked to Rojava, wondering what she could do. Together with her team, now primarily made up of women, it became her mission to bring fertility back to the soil that had soaked up the blood of so many children.

Anger transformed into productivity

Having emigrated to England eleven years earlier, she defied society’s gender expectations by working on building sites, becoming a supervisor. Be it plastering, painting, digging, assembling and installing materials, she was never afraid to get her hands dirty. During the time of the Kobanê resistance, she came up with the Bistanên Rojava project. It was a product of her inner turmoil and she resolved to make it a reality. “It was the anger that I felt that pushed me—anger at the impassiveness with which the world reacted to the Kurdish people’s suffering. Since then, I have been on a quest to turn this anger into something useful”, says Naide Zengin. She describes the period during which the idea of her project ripened like this: “During the time of the onslaughts on Shengal [Sinjar / Shingal] and Kobanê, we were constantly protesting. I participated in countless actions. But when I returned home in the evening, I knew that the violence went on, yet the world continued to turn a blind eye to what was happening. I thought we could do more than organise street protests. Grappling with all these troubling feelings, I thought about what I could do. I had several ideas, but they were not accepted by the administration in Rojava. In the end, it was the greenhouse project, called Bistanên Rojava that got approved. It took me only three days to prepare it and, in March 2015, I moved to Rojava in order to put my plan into practice.”

Getting to know my country and land

”Why did you come?” – Zengin says she heard this question a lot. Yet she always knew the answer very well; she never had to ask herself this. Her biggest regret was staying for so long in Europe, she says. She summarises her personal development since returning to Kurdistan this way: “I feel a sense of belonging here. This is a land that is mine, soil that is mine, a flag, a people and a work that are all mine. It’s an inexplicable, incomparable feeling to have these things in my life. In Europe I was deprived of them.”

Taking root in Rojava

”This was the best decision of my life”, she says, even as she adds that after taking this step, she was working day and night in order to make her plan come to life. Despite initial difficulties in implementing this project, in September 2015, in the Cizîrê Canton, she managed to overcome all sorts of difficulties, and launched the project within seven months. For this she installed 4,000 metres of irrigation and planted more than 5,000 trees.

The first stage was to create greenhouses on a terrain of 18,000 square metres. Zengin states that she always knew her goals were far-reaching: “We have seed samples which we are going to sow in order to produce Rojava’s own seeds. Seeds, saplings, vegetables, greenhouses—we want to become a force to be reckoned with on the scale of the entire agricultural economy of Rojava. Those of us now working on the project believe one thing: the gardens of Rojava will be the property of the people. We have started in the canton Cizîrê, but we will extend our work to the other cantons as well. Our projects will scatter out like our seeds, and take root in many different places.”

Success is not a pipe dream

The long-term goal is to expand the communal economy throughout society. The people of Rojava have to learn to stand on their own feet in order to break away from dependency on external forces. That’s the reason why every step taken in Rojava’s economy carries a heavy significance: ”There’s a generation of people here who are doing their best to create a better future. The work we do is a part of the revolution. Women’s labour is going to be at the centre of the economy, and the women are going to lay claim to the fruits of their efforts, and they are going to lead society into the future. With our work, we are going to create a communal economy. This is a project which necessitates a lot of sweat and long-term dedication, but the idea of succeeding with it is certainly not some far away pipe dream. If we put in all our energy, we can make it.”

“I’ve found the place where I want to die”

Naide Zengin’s hands have healed the earth and caressed the soil. These hands bear the marks of hard work. Her face bears a smile. She says she invented herself again through this work, which she loves so much. She is determined to have a lasting impact on Rojava with her project. In the past, she made the mistake of leaving her homeland, and she says she does not want anyone to repeat that mistake. So she calls on others: “Given the beauty that we have here, I am sad that there are still people who are willing to risk death and take the road to Europe. We have so much to gain here on our own soil. Before everything, we gain self-respect. If I could speak to those who are leaving, I would say “come to that which is yours, return to your own soil”. During the years I spent in Europe I was constantly working and doing stuff, but it only tired me. When I came here, I finally felt like the work I did gave something back to me; it revived me. In this new birth there is hope; there is progress, and the feeling of being a part of a big society in a brand-new world with a future. Everything has a purpose here, I’ve found the place I want to die.”