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Democratic Confederalism in the Middle East




In his Manifesto for a Democratic Civilisation, Rêber APO conceptualised the revolution in Kurdistan as an Internationalist Revolution that aims to create an alternative to capitalist modernity within the Middle East by developing the possibility for communal coexistence between the different nations, peoples and ethnicities of the territory under the framework of Democratic Confederalism. According to Rêber APO:


“Democratic Confederalism is based on the historical experience of society and its collective heritage. This is not an arbitrary modern political system, but rather a system that accumulates history and experience. It is the offspring of the life of society. The State is continually oriented towards centralism in pursuit of the interests of power monopolies. Just the opposite is true of Confederalism.”


In his analyses, Rêbertî argues that the Middle East will undergo a process of radical change and geopolitical reformulation by the year 2030. Indeed, since the Arab Spring of 2011, regional hegemonic powers have exacerbated regional conflicts with the aim of gaining access to raw materials and establishing control over geopolitically strategic territories. Numerous states and political organisations, from the agents of capitalist modernity like Turkey and NATO, Iran and Russia to local powers like Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and others, are all directly and indirectly involved in these disputes. Each nation has its own interests, plans, and strategies to acquire local power and establish itself in the international financial capitalist market.


It is evident that these contemporary disputes did not arise without precedent. Rather, the roots of these problems and the conflict in the Middle East spread over thousands of years, directly linked to the formation of civilization in lower Mesopotamia and the institutionalisation of hierarchical and patriarchal mentalities in the form of the Ziggurat1 and the structure of emerging empires. This mentality and new social organization led to the destruction of different nations, ethnicities and peoples through their compulsory assimilation into a new historical-cultural-religious apparatus. While the appearance and forms of this civilisation have shifted considerably before reaching its contemporary manifestation in the fallacies and masks of liberal democracy, the hierarchical and patriarchal structures required for this civilisation to exist have remained consistent.


As such, solving the problems we face today means directly recognising the roots of nation-statism. 


The process of European colonialist and imperialist expansion between the years 1500 and 1900 was yet another factor in deepening the contradictions within the Middle East. The existing problems involving distribution, division of territory, local disputes, ethnic disputes and mineral exploration were intensified from the moment that occupants from another continent took over the region's lands, declared them as their own, and violently enforced their rule.


There are currently 15 internationally recognized countries in the Middle East. For many centuries, this region belonged to two Empires, the Persian Empire, which extended from the easternmost portion of the Mediterranean Sea region to the Indus River, and the Ottoman Empire, which had a large territory in the western portion. For years, these two empires disputed with each other and with European countries for regional hegemony. Seeking to raw materials, cheap labor and a consumer market to continue its industrial development after the independence of American countries, Europe began to colonize Africa and Asia. With this, the two empires that occupied the area now known as the Middle East suffered great territorial losses. At the end of the First World War, France and Britain divided the territory of the Middle East between them, creating the dependent protectorates they desired rather than the independent States they had promised. Thus, most of the current States of the Middle East emerged in the 20th Century only France and Britain’s permission.


The May 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement signed by the British, French and Russian states established a foreign, colonial and Eurocentric system of governance in the Middle East.


 American President Woodrow Wilson's powerful fourteen-point speech two years later in 1918 helped cement the legitimacy of the notion of self-determination and autonomy for minorities like Kurds and Armenians. In August 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres was signed, apparently to allow the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Kurdish areas in order to allow the formation of an autonomous Kurdish state. In fact, Articles 62, 63 and 64 of the Treaty of Sèvres explicitly detailed the nature of Kurdish self-determination in unambiguous terms. However, the abandonments of these promises in favour of the Treaty of Lausanne, which established Turkish borders within Kurdish territories, marked the start of a long process of state violence and oppression.


For the Kurds, Lausanne is a document that continues to shape and legitimise their marginalized and subjugated position in the Middle East.


The birth of Turkey was accompanied by colossal human rights violations, ethnic cleansing and extensive policies of violence and assimilation that lasted decades, to the detriment of minorities, especially the Kurds. For example, between 1915 and 1918, more than 700,000 Kurds died, out of the 1 million deported from central and western Anatolia. In the period 1918-1938, due to a series of massacres, including the Kochgiri, Amed, Zilan and Dersim massacres, among others, more than 1.5 million Kurds were deported or massacred. In the period 1984-1999, more than 4,000 villages were destroyed, 3 million Kurds were ethnically cleansed and forcibly deported, with tens of thousands massacred in the process.


These punitive policies have continued to this day.


Consequently, the Kurds, especially those in Southern and Northern Kurdistan, would launch a series of resistance struggles that were met with brutal and disproportionate levels of state violence. Through these actions, the status of the Kurds as a subjugated nation against whom cultural genocide and denial of basic rights is deemed permissible was cemented. This process has been repeated throughout the Middle East in different nations, in different forms, and against different peoples, yet always under the nation-statist since civilizational mentality that proclaims national unity through the motto


“One flag, one people, one language, one nation”


 Under this logic, people and groups within a national territory whose existence contradicts this motto must be denied, assimilated, or eliminated.


Recognizing these historical origins is fundamental to understanding the processes and problems faced today in the Middle East, especially when we think about the practice of Democratic Confederalism for the entire territory.


A clear example of how the nationalist state solution cannot provide an answer to these problems is the Israel-Palestine conflict.


 Usually, the conflict is analyzed only in its contemporary period, from the formation of the state of Israel in 1949 following the mass forced displacement of the Palestinian people the previous year, in what became known as the Nakba. Since then the conflict has deepened and deteriorated. On October 7, 2023 a new chapter was opened as Hamas launched an unprecedented military offensive against the Zionist state of Israel, who declared war on the Palestinian people and mobilised 300,000 reservist soldiers – the largest mobilization in Israel's history. Fascist leader Benjamin Netanyahu promised to turn the Gaza strip into a cemetery when he said that “Hamas fundamentalists have opened the gates of hell under Gaza”. Shortly afterwards, a salvo of military missiles was launched on the city and killed dozens of civilians. At the time of writing the text, there are already more than 1000 dead and 4000 injured on both sides of the conflict, in around 48 hours since the start of the military scale.


In the end, those who suffer the consequences of this war are the people and civil society, whether Palestinian or Israeli.


 However, as long as the discourse remains on a nationalist and fundamentalist basis, this cycle of violence and deaths will be doomed to repeat itself endlessly, while the pile of bodies continues to grow. The problem is repeated in different territories, whether in an internal dispute for control of trade and exploration routes, as is what is happening in Libya and Sudan at the moment, or due to outside interests that involve hegemonic powers in the capitalist world, as in Syria since 2011.


Between 2005 and 2015 the number of migrants living in the Middle East more than doubled, from around 25 million to around 54 million, according to an analysis of data from United Nations agencies. Most of the increase in migration, especially after 2011, was the result of armed conflicts and the forced displacement of millions of people from their homes and their home countries. The capitalist system promotes immigration due to its economic, political, and social interests in a region that resists the attacks of modernity and neoliberalism. Alienating and influencing young people whose lives have no prospects for improvement and presenting Europe as a promised land of civilisation is one of the key mechanisms of this special war waged daily against the youth of the Middle East.


The youth of Kurdistan serve as a practical example of how the system target the youth. 


Immigration laws serve capitalism in two ways. First, they secure cheap foreign labor when the domestic economy needs it. Secondly, they allow greater control over the entire workforce. Most of the advanced economies of the capitalist world were built on migrant labor, meaning it is no coincidence that the target of this systematic policy of creating immigrants and using them as labor is youth.


During the refugee crisis generated by the war in Ukraine, the different treatment between European immigrants and immigrants from the Middle East or Africa became evident, as all European countries opened their doors and offered housing and jobs to these immigrants free of charge.


A European television presenter's analysis made headlines around the world when he analysed the difference between Ukrainian and Syrian immigrants, treating one as a civilized society and the other as uneducated barbarians.


Today, due to this reality, young people who emigrate to the centers of capitalist modernity are scapegoated and seen as dangerous criminals by a large part of the local population, who do not accept the cultural and historical differences of different realities. Under the colonizing and Eurocentric gaze, European societies see these immigrants as second-class human beings, fit only to serve them (this is evidenced by the jobs assigned to immigrants and their social marginalization). Most of these young people and their families end up living in refugee camps, treated like prisoners on parole and always viewed with suspicion. Influenced by this reality and still believing in dreams of personal aspirations told by the misleading advertising of digital media, these young people find themselves at a cruel and apparently insoluble crossroads. Either they accept the reality imposed by the system and their social marginalization, their arbitrary coexistence and constant distrust, or they submit to organized groups that use the theme of social chaos for their own benefit. It is no wonder that European nationalist groups use this argument to bring up the anti-immigration issue, trying to mask its racist and fascist reality.


To fight against this depressing and inhumane reality, it is necessary to delve deeper into Rêber APO's paradigm and the solutions presented by him, especially in the understanding of the Democratic Nation and Democratic Confederalism as alternatives to capitalist modernity. Regarding the topic he says:


“Democratic Confederalism can be described as a type of self-administration, in contrast to the administration of the Nation-State. However, under certain circumstances, peaceful coexistence is possible as long as the nation-state does not interfere in the core activities of self-administration. Such interventions would require the self-defense of civil society. Democratic Confederalism is not at war with any Nation-State, but it will not stand idly by in the face of assimilation efforts. Revolutionary overthrow or the founding of a new state does not create sustainable change. In the long term, freedom and justice can only be achieved within a dynamic, confederate and democratic process. Neither total rejection nor total recognition of the state is helpful to the democratic efforts of civil society. Overcoming the State, in particular the Nation-State, is a long-term process. The State will be overcome when Democratic Confederalism has demonstrated its ability to solve problems related to social issues. This does not mean, however, that attacks by nation states should be tolerated. Democratic confederations will maintain their self-defense forces at all times. Democratic confederations will not be limited to organizing within a given territory. They will become cross-border confederations when the societies involved so wish.”


The practice of Democratic Confederalism, today experienced in the Autonomous Region of North and East Syria, in the Rustem Cûdî refugee camp in Mexmûr, and in Shengal, is living proof that a viable and practical alternative is capable of presenting a solution to problems of capitalist modernity.


Under the line of Women's Liberation, Ecology and Democracy, people's organizations and popular participation in the structures of the Revolution present the mechanisms and means to overcome these problems.


 Currently, Rojava's system of democratic autonomy is organized into four levels. At each of these levels there are commissions, made up of representatives and activists, who work in eight areas: women, defense, economy, politics, civil society, free society, justice and ideology. Women's committees have a special status among committees, as they are divided into councils. The women's council (at the communal level, they are called women's communes) chooses the female co-president themselves: men cannot contribute to the decision. Furthermore, women's participation is not restricted to this area alone, in the other seven areas the structure must be comprised of at least 40% women for any decisions to be made.


Within Democratic Confederalism all forms of expression are seen as complementary to the pursuit of a free and communal life, as every nation, ethnicity and religion can express their culture and language themselves freely while still being connected to the democratic system. For example, today in Rojava Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Assyrians, Syrians live together under the same system while sharing the same reality and the same model of organization and sociability.


This reality contradicts the nation-statist argument that integration into a dominant and shared national identity is the only form of peaceful coexistence.


The praxis of Democratic Confederalism proves that respectful and peaceful coexistence between different people is the true path to a democratic and free solution in society. Despite this, it is clear that problems still occur and that the communal and libertarian mentality has not yet completely taken hold, allowing states in the region to manipulate the narrative to produce tensions between groups. Recently, the media of the Arab states, supported by Iranian propaganda, reported an 'Arab uprising within the Autonomous region of Syria against Kurdish oppression', when in fact it was a coordinated action by nationalist Iranian and Syrian militias, aiming to regain strategic regional control and legitimise their actions through nationalist-ethnic discourse. The reality could not be further away, since revolutionary institutions are always made up of members of different ethnicities and religions, always in accordance with the material reality of each location. For instance, the Deir Ez-Zor region is almost entirely Arab, meaning Arabs participate in its municipalities and communes while respecting religious traditions and understanding the local differences between tribes and clans. It is evident that the revolutionary line is present throughout education, which aims to create a free mentality where feudal and patriarchal traditionalism are disconnected from the new society.


For the development of this process, the practical understanding of each reality must be observed, taking into account its historical process, its characteristics and peculiarities and then, together with the people and the revolutionary structures, understanding how to deal with the problems of everyday life. The difference with the nation-state model lies in the seeking of solutions from the base of society rather than by those with wealth and power. As such, power is not delegated to a parliamentary representative alone, but is exercised by each person from their commune to the assembly and municipality.


Having a clear line for the development of a decolonial and anti-patriarchal society is essential for the advancement of a viable alternative for the Middle East.


The práxis being lived in the freed regions of Rojava, Mexmur and Shengal are a living proof that another world is possible, another system is not far from reality, that there is an alternative to the capitalist modernity and its inhuman reality. The internationalist line of this Revolution, since its start, aimed to spread in the region and by its practices become a viable model for all oppressed people. Precisely for this reason, thousands of internationalists were and are present in the free territory of Rojava to learn and deepen their understanding of the Revolution.


A few years ago the conference of the revolutionary youth of the Middle East and North Africa took place.

During this conference, once again, Rêber APO's paradigm was seen as a viable and real way to create another reality in which the problems faced by oppressed peoples come to fruition.. Youth has the fundamental and essential role in the vanguard of this change by organizing itself radically building the foundations of the much desired idea of global Democratic Confederalism. Given its history of colonial violence and state oppression, the Middle East is one of the most viable and necessary places where this reality can come to fruition. It is no wonder that with each passing year the number of young Arabs joining the Revolution and the revolutionary party grows. Rêber APO and the PKK see the renewal of internationalism and the renewal of socialism as shared and mutually reinforcing projects, arguing that "to resist socialism is to resist humanity".


Consequently, to insist on revolutionary internationalism is to insist on our own existence.


Cêmil Cûdî


1 Massive religious buildings built in ancient Mesopotamia that Gods were thought to live at the top of and that only male priests had access to the higher levels of. These structures thus represented an attempt to entrench patriarchy within spiritual affairs.

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