Rojava, Syria, youth, YCR

We Have Started Young and Young We will be Victorious: An Interview with the Organised Youth of Rojava [YCR]

This interview was carried out by Hannah Kohlmann and Michael Knapp and published in German on Kurdistan Report in 2016. This version is modified from an English translation by Reddit user franzpeterbla.

Rojava, Syria, youth, YCRAt the end of October, a delegation of activists from a wide range of social spheres of the emancipatory movement, from the youth movement to representatives of parties, stayed in Rojava and conducted a series of interviews.

Many of us did not visit Rojava for the first time and in all areas the change, the development of the project in Rojava, was felt. The cantons of Kobanê [Kobanî] and Cizîrê [Jazira] had been linked and a lot of new possibilities were arising. Interest in the model of Democratic Autonomy [Term first used in German for Democratic Confederalism] was great. For example, in Gîre Sipî [Tell Abyad], a majority Arab town, the first direct democratic councils had been founded and many of those who had fled before the terror of the Islamic State (IS) had returned. The alternative, democratic economy, was expanding despite the embargo. The first large cooperatives had emerged, in which more than 2,000 households were self-sufficient. New alliances had been formed, such as the Democratic Forces of Syria (QSD), in which the People’s and Women’s Defence Units (YPG and YPJ), together with the Arab Quwet al-Sanadid, Liwa Suwar ar-Raqqa and Suryoye groups, brought the IS decisive defeats.

Cities like the Druzean-Suwayda in southern Syria had also declared their democratic autonomy. An alternative structure, which one day can cover all of Syria and the Middle East, is thus on the horizon. Even now, these successes represent an opportunity to broaden the basis of the model of democratic autonomy into society. And here, too, the saying of Abdullah Ocalan, quoted often in Rojava, holds true: “We have started young and young we will be victorious.” The youth movement here plays a decisive transformative role. For while the forces of the rule of the elderly, the gerontocracy, which is reflected everywhere in a confinement of the youth, contribute to the preservation of the status quo, the youth has the chance to be a force of initiative able to offer new answers to the question of “How to live?” and also to implement them. The Kurdish movement has therefore always understood itself as a youth movement, whereby youthfulness also refers to the ability to be a proactive force. It is not without reason that the youth movement in Rojava is autonomously organised so that it can organise and manage itself as a youth movement. In this context, we would like to present you an interview with the youth movement of Rojava, YCR.


The revolution in Rojava is of great importance to the whole world. Can you describe the beginning of the revolution from the perspective of the Syrian youth?

At the beginning of the revolution there were uprisings that took place throughout Syria. This created an imbalance, the presence of the state and the possibility of the state to maintain control everywhere were weakened. Many young people who today have their place in the revolution had been like me at the beginning, studying at universities in Aleppo or other cities. When the uprisings and the revolution began, we took to the streets together. It was the feeling of freeing oneself from long-occurring oppression and being free to express oneself without the fear of the regime. With the rise and spread of the uprisings and our own participation in it, we began to question the system we had lived in and where we had been students. We questioned what we are actually studying at the universities, what we are being taught there, and analysed that we are actually only trained as an extended arm of the regime, ultimately taking our place in the state to live our lives this way.

During this time there were many demonstrations, which were attacked by the state. Many of us were hurt, and we finally realised that the state cannot give us anything, because our well-being is not in its interest. So we decided to take our well-being in our own hands. The role of youth in the revolution became clearer and clearer to us over time. The youth crystallised itself slowly through its radicalism, which was reinforced by the increasingly tougher oppression of the regime. We realised that we cannot continue to struggle with the system without really stepping out of it, so we decided to separate ourselves from this state and the system, to be part of the construction of a self-determined autonomous system and to go to Rojava.

And how do you organise yourself as autonomous youth in Rojava?

Yekîtiya Ciwanên Rojava (YCR) is the umbrella organisation of the youth movement in Rojava. The organisation of the youth takes place from the bottom up, as in all areas. We are therefore also building our own local councils and committees at the street, district, city, village and regional levels. However, young people are also always represented in the councils of the entire population in order to represent and defend the will and interests of the youth.

An important area of our work is the organisation of social activities. We are doing this by creating youth sports, art and culture committees. We are not just concerned with building a political system, but a different life altogether; a new life for the youth. The sports, art and culture committees are always formed according to the needs of youth and the population. Of course it makes no sense to set up a committee for football if all the youngsters like volleyball. Or it makes no sense to build a volleyball field, if everyone wants to play the guitar. Our work also includes providing the necessary resources to make sports at all, such as sports grounds and sports clubs, etc. Even if one could say that organising social activities is a task for society as a whole, it is especially one for the youth, as they see it as their own affair and so they get on and do it.

Another task is the work in schools. In the senior classes, in particular, we are building youth committees so that the young people can solve their problems in a self-organised way within the schools and can represent their own will to the teachers. This should not be understood as an opposition to the school system, but about representing the will to defend proposals and interests, and being able to push through in discussions. We want to involve all pupils in the organisation of youth, as all the young people meet in the schools and this is also the place where all the problems and perspectives of the young people are concentrated and best solved. In Qamişlo [Qamishli], for example, we have set up a youth centre specifically for pupils where the young people can educate themselves outside the classroom, where there are classes in different languages and all sorts of other social activities.

The Youth is also part of the defence of the revolution. When the YPJ / YPG Women’s and People’s Defence Forces were set up, members of the revolutionary youth also joined, and took the defence of Rojava into their own hands. As youth, we organise our own units of defence. Wherever it comes to warfare, to various engagements with the enemy, we are ready as the youth to support the defence units of the YPG / YPJ. But also independently of concrete war actions, self-protection units of the youth are set up in villages and cities to defend them. Whatever you build, however you make life beautiful, if you cannot defend it, it has no meaning for the revolution and for society.

And how do the young women organise within the youth and society?

As young women, we organise ourselves autonomously in all areas, so also in the youth movements: a movement of the revolutionary young women is Tevgera Jinên Ciwanên Şoreşger. Within the youth, in society as a whole, or even on a military level, it is still necessary to organise autonomously as women, to build up one’s own defence, one’s own representation, one’s own administration, one’s own autonomous organisation, as society has in parts not yet accepted us as an equal power and part of society. In municipalities and councils there is thus the so-called gender quota (40% for both men and women). In addition, all representatives of the women can only be nominated by the women themselves, and nobody from the overall movement or from the youth movement can interfere in the affairs of the young women.

In the phase of the revolution, the organisation of young women is most important to us. That is why we are continuing to educate ourselves ideologically, to build our next practical steps on that. For us, education means not only to read a book theoretically, but also to create awareness, to find strength and to improve oneself on every level. Recognising together where problems lie and finally overcoming them together can also be a kind of education to learn of one’s own strength and power.

One of the fundamental themes within the organisation of women and young women is the creation of their own science, Jineoloji, the appropriation of knowledge about themselves and their own history, their own person, their own gender. We also see that there are still many problems. Recognition and understanding are not yet reached everywhere. Our history is full of oppression as well as resistance. The history of the Kurdish women is full of symbols, of women who have fiercely resisted and have fallen, such as Heval Zîlan or Heval Bêrîtan and most recently in Kobanê, Heval Arin Mirkan. They stand for thousands of women who have left their lives in this struggle for freedom, for revolution and the defence of the achievements. That is why it is no question for us to ever say that the revolution is realised, since the moment is the heritage of these women. The revolution goes on and on, it creates revolutions in itself and has to renew itself again and again to be a revolution.

What obstacles did you have to face as a youth in building the revolution?

The youth movement was naturally a thorn in the eyes of the state because it knew that the uprisings of the youth, their defence and their autonomous organisation were a prerequisite for the success of the revolution. The state has thus tried to limit our work by arresting juveniles, infiltrating us with agents and spreading lies. But we didn’t give up. We continued, strengthened our organisation and built its foundation.

Our response to the increasing repression was ultimately to build our system with our own hands. The impact of the state on young people and the population as a whole and their dependence of the state can only be destroyed by creating our own system and by involving young people and the population to finally cut ties with the state. But society has also placed obstacles in our way by not acknowledging our own will and our own goals. But with time and through the struggle that we have unceasingly continued for years we have finally succeeded and are now recognised.

It was always clear to us that no one would give us anything for free, and that as youth and young women, we had to fight for our own will and our recognition. Our aim is to reveal the extent to which the gerontocratic attitude of society influences the youth, and to dissolve the gerontocracy. In practice, however, this is not so easy.

You have just spoken of gerontocracy, the rule of the elder. How exactly does gerontocracy work and how do you resist it as a youth?

The gerontocratic system equates age with experience and concludes that people with a higher age should have more experience and thus should have more right to participate in decisions and decision-making processes. Gerontocracy can find its expression in institutions, that is, in the way society is managed and by whom, but it is also reflected in the way the youth is viewed by society. We stand as the youth against this system. Experiences are not just related to age, since the way of life, the ideology and the implementation of the ideology in life are what is important. It depends on the conviction and the will. Gerontocracy aims at not recognising the will of the youth, and especially the youth as an autonomous organised identity. Young people who have their place within the self-administration or within parties and who are recognised as members of a body or a party are not recognised on the basis of their identity as organised youth. For us as young people, the basis for the establishment of our own system it to uncover and dissolve the influence of the gerontocracy on the youth.

Our action against this gerontocratic system is our independent and autonomous organisation. Education is also a very important part of our defence, in order to create an awareness within the youth so that it is able to participate in the development of its own system and in all social events with its own identity. We also have our own academies, which are organised by young people and serve as self-education. The young people can get to know each other better, recognise their own problems, but also their strength and power. Education is offered on Kurdish history, the problems of the revolution, the youth organisation and its history, the history of women, the freedom of women and also on gender struggle. In addition, the various personalities are also analysed there, and an attempt is made to develop ones own personality within the revolution and the struggle.

Why were the youth movements organised in the west of the country unsuccessful?

All these youths were involved in the uprisings, but they have not managed to overcome the isolation and fragmentation in order to unite as the youth. That’s how they were dispersed within society, had no common power, and so were unable to create a shared ideology or consciousness. They have not succeeded in recognising the Gerontocracy as a basic line and therefore could not find unity. The fundamental difference is that we have developed a collective ideology and a collective consciousness. Here there is a collective defence, a collective build-up process, a collective revolution.

I would like to point out the resolute self-determination of the youth movement in Rojava. As the youth, we have the task of expanding the revolution in Rojava to all Syria and the Middle East and to create a democratic Syria and a democratic Middle East. This path has not yet been completed, but we will continue it with 100% determination. We see today that the revolution in Rojava, however small it geographically is, has a great impact on the world as a whole and especially on the young people of the world. It has triggered movements among different young people in the world. There are young people who go to Kurdistan, join in and work here on the basis of hope and confidence. Many friends from Europe and other countries of the world are fighting on the front line, as did Şehîd Avaşin and Şehîd Dilsoz who fought here in Rojava to defend the revolution and its values.