{ politics of space }


Kurdish mobilisation in Rojava began in 2011, just as the Syrian uprising was spiralling into a civil war. Institutions that had worked underground for years suddenly emerged into public view, laying the foundations for an autonomous Kurdish project in northern Syria.

The authorities in Rojava announced its constitution in 2014. Even before then, communes organised the first elections and chose delegates for local assemblies and other self-governing bodies.

In line with David Harvey’s argument that the central squares are points for spontaneous eruption, the limited open spaces that the Kurds had under the Syrian regime quickly became the focal points of their revolution.

“The street is a public space that has historically often been transformed by social action into the common of revolutionary movement, as well as into a site of bloody suppression,” wrote David Harvey in Rebel Cities.

Witness testimonies from Rojava describe, rather poetically, how masses of people streamed into the roundabouts, reminiscent of the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt or other central-square fuelled movements during the so-called Arab Spring. On Kobane’s streets, trained cadres were beginning to organise the local people.

It was only in 2011 that the Kurds began establishing communes, one for roughly 100 families in the area.

This model of decentralised self-organisation, labelled Democratic Confederalism, was to become the foundation of the revolution, according to Abdullah Öcalan, Rojava’s ideological leader and one of the founding members of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

With communes at its core, this model of governance would concentrate the power in people’s hands at the bottom, rather than government control from the top, according to Rojava’s ideologue.
This model of thinking was in large part influenced by Murray Bookchin, an anarchist theorist from New York who was greatly admired by Abdullah Öcalan. The latter even professed to be a “student” of Bookchin, and exchanged letters from his prison cell with this unlikely ideologue from across the Atlantic.
The initial self-organisation in Rojava was prompted by the physical establishment of communes and representative bodies that no longer had to operate underground. By politicising their meeting spaces, the Kurds in Kobane were able to start building a political programme.


Benas Gerdziunas