Rojava: Direct Democracy for Syria’s Kurds

Rojava: Syria’s Unknown War

VICE News (2014)

Film Review

In this documentary, a VICE news journalist illegally crosses the Turkish border to provide viewers a tour of Rojava, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria. This is an ethnically diverse (with Christians, Jews and Sunni and Alawite Arabs) farming region possessing 60% of Syria’s oil. The Kurdish YPG (male) and YPJ (female) armies provide security (from terrorist attack) for the region, with assistance from farmer militias of other ethnicities. Men and women serve (unpaid) on an equal basis, although women are preferred as snipers. They supposedly make better snipers because “they’re more patient.”

Rojazava is presently under siege from Al Nusra, Islamic State and Al-Sham jihadists. Based on passports the YPG recovers from dead jihadists, most are foreign – from Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Turkey, which has sealed the Turkey-Rojava border to humanitarian aid and journalists, allows foreign jihadists to cross freely into Rojava. They have been strongly criticized by both the US government and Human Rights Watch for doing so.

Rojava: An Experiment in Direct Democracy


Zaher Baher, who visited Rojava in May 2014, has posted a report of his findings on  It’s his view that that Syrian Kurds, in founding the self-governing province of Rojava, have taken a distinctly positive route in contrast to other Middle East and North African countries that participated in the 2011 Arab Spring. The story of Rojava has been largely ignored in the corporate media.

Various commentators have favorably compared Rojava’s experiment in direct democracy to the self-governing communes Spanish Republicans formed during the Spanish Civil War (see Workers Self-Management Committees) or to the self-governing communities the Zapitistas have formed in Chiapas (see The Zapatistas are Building the World We Ask For

The citizens of Syrian Kurdistan believe that the revolution must start from the bottom of society and not from the top, that it must be a social, cultural and educational as well as political revolution and that final decision making responsibility must rest with the people themselves at the community level.

The Structure of Rojava Self-Governance

In January 2014 the Rojava People’s Assembly established a Democratic Self Administration in all three cantons of Kurdistan (Al Jazera, Kobany and Afrin). The DSAs, which are autonomous, are charged with implementing the decisions of the “House of the People” and overseeing administration in the local authorities, municipalities, education and health departments, trade and business organizations, defence and judiciary systems etc. Each DSA is made up of 22 men and women and organized to enable people from all backgrounds, nationalities, and religions to participate.

In Syrian Kurdistan, there is also strong support for the WPJ (the Women’s Protection Units), which have been created to fight the traditional women’s oppression (manifested in high legal tolerance for rape, domestic violence, underage and forced marriage, and honor killings) that characterizes most of the Middle East. For more information about the WPJ, see The Women’s Revolution in Rojava

The Communes are the smallest and most active cells in the House of the People. Communes form on the basis  of direct participation of people in the villages, on the street and the neighborhoods and the towns. Their role is to build agricultural and commercial cooperatives and to discuss and solve issues of education, security and self-defense. They meet weekly and decisions are made by all commune members over age 16. Each Commune has their own representative in the House of the People and in the neighborhood, village or town where they are based.

 The Role of Established Political Parties

 In his article, Baher expresses reservations about the role of the PYD (Democratic Union Party), United Democratic Party and PKK (in Kurdistan Democracy Movement) in driving the mass democracy movement in Syrian Kurdistan. As political parties, all three groups operate as hierarchical organizations with orders and commands issuing from party leaders to the grassroots. He sees Tev-Dem (Tevgera Civaka Demokratîk), the multi-ethnic coalition that established the Peoples Assembly, as holding the opposite view – that revolution must start from the bottom. Many members of Tev-Dev movement have never been members of the PKK or PYD and do not believe in state powers and authority. As the Communes and TSAs grow and develop, Baher believes the power of the organized political parties is diminishing.

Rights of Non-Kurdish residents of Syrian Kurdistan

The population of Al Jazera (over one million people) is 80% Kurdish, with the rest of the population consists of Arabs, Christians, Chechens, Yazidis, Turkmens, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians. 80% percent of the population is Kurdish. In Al Jazera, there are more than twenty political parties. The majority of non-Kurdish parties oppose the PYD, the Tev-Dem and the DSA for their own reasons. Nevertheless they have total freedom to carry out their activities without any restriction. The only restrict they face is a ban on fighters or militias under their own control.

International Support

At present, there is no support for the DSAs or Tev-Dem from China, Russia or from the US and their allies – despite the fact Syrian Kurds are the  main opposition fighters against ISIS in Syria.

People can follow the ongoing development of Rojava as a self-governing direct democracy at Rojava Report

Photo credit BijiKurdistan, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons