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People gather during a 'Stop Erdogan, Free The Rojava Revolution' Kurdish protest against the Turkish government policy on the 10th anniversary of the Kurdish Rojava (Siryan Kurdistan land) Revolution at Neptune Square on July 19, 2022 in Bologna, Italy. (Photo: Roberto Serra,Iguana Press/Getty Images)

We Celebrate 10 Years of Rojava: A Visionary Social Experiment Under Threat

The people of Rojava pose a core threat to any existing government—especially those with imperialist ambitions—by showing the world a viable model of peaceful multi-ethnic coexistence, grounded in lived political, cultural, and ecological autonomy.

Martin WinieckiAlnoor Ladha

Ten years ago, an auspicious experiment started alongside one of the most atrocious bloodsheds of this century. In July 2012, as Assad's troops faced an armed insurrection in southern and central Syria, a popular Kurdish-led uprising in northeast Syria quickly filled the power vacuum. By 2017, the Rojava revolution encompassed 5 million people—Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Armenians, Yazidis, and others. Guided by one of the most democratic constitutions in the world, the people of Rojava have established a system of decentralised self governance based on popular assemblies, gender equity, and radical inclusion of minorities. Striving towards a post-domination, post-extractive, post-state society, the Rojava revolution rests on a deep recognition of the necessity of women's leadership at every level of social and political life, a community-based system of restorative justice, respect for all living beings and regenerative agriculture.

Standing with Rojava means joining in the work of reclaiming autonomy and experimenting with concrete ways of life beyond nation-states, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Its 10th anniversary may have seemed unlikely when the community first formed and their continued existence is testimony to the outstanding resilience and commitment of the people of Rojava, who willingly accept the consequences of their actions. From their inception, they needed to defend the revolution against significant hostility: Turkey to the north, Daesh (Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and the Assad regime to the south and Iraqi Kurdish neighbors to the east.

In 2018 and 2019, just briefly after Rojava's military, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), had defeated Daesh, Erdogan and his Jihadist allies invaded and occupied the Rojavan canton of Afrin and launched an armed assault on larger territories, carrying out war crimes and forcing half a million people to flee their homes. In the occupied areas, the majority Kurdish population continues to suffer from what the United Nations calls a "grim" human rights situation, rife with ethnic cleansing, forced displacements and seizures of land and properties. Despite a ceasefire agreement, Turkey has led a perpetual war with consistent drone attacks, which has barely been reported in Western media.

The reason for this relentless crackdown however isn't "terrorism," as Erdogan repeatedly claims. The people of Rojava pose a core threat to any existing government, especially those with imperialist ambitions, by showing the world a viable model of peaceful multi-ethnic coexistence, grounded in lived political, cultural and ecological autonomy. As the visionary Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is currently in a Turkish high-security prison with a life sentence, writes: "The real power of capitalist modernity isn't its money and its weapons, [but] its ability to suffocate all utopias […] with its liberalism."

Rojava's momentous anniversary is overshadowed by threats of an even more devastating assault. Erdogan is currently beating the drums of war, likely hoping to profit from nationalist sentiments in the run up to the presidential election next year. In April, he launched the latest offensive against Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq, and in May threatened he would initiate a new incursion into Rojava. He makes no pretense of his intentions to crush the revolution. His plan is to permanently occupy a 30 kilometer-wide strip along the 600km border between Turkey and Syria and to carry out massive population engineering: displacing native populations and forcibly moving up to one million, mostly Arab Syrian refugees, into the area.

Turkey cannot proceed with this plan without the tacit and/or open support of NATO allies, as demonstrated in Erdogan's recent blackmailing of Sweden and Finland. The United States, meanwhile, plays a Machiavellian double game to serve its own strategic agenda. Under Biden, as under Trump, the United States simultaneously uses its leverage over the SDF to undermine the grassroots structures within Rojava and to supply the largest share of the weapons with which Turkey threatens to invade Rojava.

The future of Rojava is at grave risk, at a time when the global significance of this unfolding experiment is even more important now than it was ten years ago. As liberal democracies seem incapable of addressing climate chaos, mass species extinction, food system collapses, social and racial injustice and other pressing crises, while finding themselves increasingly challenged by totalitarian claims to power, the Rojava revolution—along with the Zapatistas in Mexico and  other kindred movements around the world—offers a compelling alternative vision for reviving politics as a collective force for worthy and necessary social transformation.

As leaders from social movements, communities and First Nations from around the world, we salute the people of Rojava for their lived example of possibility and their unfathomable courage. Even as we mourn the use of force, we stand with the recent call from 34 political parties and movements in Rojava to close the airspace of northeast Syria and to "put pressure on the Turkish state to prevent its attacks and bring it to account for its crimes against humanity."

To be effective, our solidarity must go beyond words and appeals. Standing with Rojava means joining in the work of reclaiming autonomy and experimenting with concrete ways of life beyond nation-states, capitalism, and patriarchy. We may not be able to overcome these outdated systems immediately; however, we can create more and more spaces outside the life-denying logic of capitalist modernity. Ensuring these spaces have appropriate contexts to flourish, and creating, supporting, and amplifying decentralised autonomous communities is the critical work for our times. What happens in Rojava may determine our collective future.

This letter includes the following signatories:

Sami Awad Holy Land Trust, Palestine 

Debbie Bookchin Emergency Committee for Rojava, Turtle Island (USA)

Gail Bradbrook Extinction Rebellion, UK 

João Camargo Climáximo, Portugal 

Noam Chomsky Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Turtle Island (USA)

Gigi Coyle Beyond Boundaries, Turtle Island (USA) 

Salim Dara Rural Solidarity, Benin 

Silvia Federici Professor Emerita of Social Science, Hofstra University, New York, Turtle Island  (USA) 

Tiokasin Ghosthorse First Voices Radio, Turtle Island (USA)

David Harvey Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography, CUNY Graduate  Center, Turtle Island (USA) 

Jason Hickel Visiting scholar, London School of Economics, UK 

Miki Kashtan Nonviolent Global Liberation Community, UK 

Ashish Kothari Global Tapestry of Alternatives, India 

Alnoor Ladha Culture Hack Labs, Turtle Island (USA) 

Sabine Lichtenfels Tamera Peace Research & Education Center, Portugal

Woman Stands Shining, Pat McCabe Diné elder, Turtle Island (USA)

Cláudio Miranda Favela da Paz, Brazil 

Lynn Murphy Transition Resource Circle, Costa Rica 

Kumi Naidoo Former Secretary-General of Amnesty International, South Africa

Carne Ross Former British diplomat, UK 

Aida Shibli Global Campus, Palestine 

Rajendra Singh Tarun Bharat Sangh, India 

Marina Sitrin Associate professor at Binghamton University, Turtle Island (USA)

Carlin Quinn Education for Racial Equity, Turtle Island (USA) 

V (formerly Eve Ensler) One Billion Rising, Turtle Island (USA) 

Martin Winiecki Institute of Global Peacework, Portugal


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Martin Winiecki

Martin Winiecki

Martin Winiecki is the global coordinator for the Tamera Peace Research Center in Portugal.

Alnoor Ladha

Alnoor Ladha is the Executive Director of The Rules, a global network of activists, organizers, designers, coders, writers, and researchers dedicated to changing the rules that create inequality and climate change. He is also a board member of Greenpeace International USA.

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