A Commune in Rojava?
Alex de Jong
The siege of Kobani by Islamic State (ISIS) brought worldwide attention to the Syrian Kurdish PYD (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, Democratic Union Party), the leading force in the Kurdish-majority areas in northern Syria. The PYD calls this region Rojava—literally meaning “land of the sunset” but also translated as “West Kurdistan.”
The discourse of the PYD, revolving around terms like democracy and equality and stressing women’s rights, exercises a strong attraction on the worldwide left. Likewise, the struggle of the YPG/YPJ fighters (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, People’s Protection Units/Yekîneyên Parastina Jinê, Women’s Protection Units), organized by the PYD against ISIS, receives widespread sympathy.
In Rojava, the PYD says it is realizing a democratic society with equal rights for women, in which different ethnic and religious groups live together; political power is supposed to be organized through structures of autonomous councils. The PYD maintains that in Rojava a unique revolution is taking place, inspired by the thought of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan, PKK). Even after his arrest in 1999, Öcalan remained the political leader and the movement’s “philosopher.” To begin to understand the experiment in Rojava, and the attitude of the left towards it, one must consider Öcalan’s ideology and compare its claims with developments on the ground.