Home News Radical Democracy and Self-Governance in Kurdistan

Radical Democracy and Self-Governance in Kurdistan


Though Kurdish politics in Turkey is dominated by a nationwide liberation motion, the motion makes no specific attraction to nationalism and adopts a radically crucial stand in the direction of the nation-state (Miley 2020; Sunca 2020). The motion envisages the co-existence of plural political communities at native, municipal, provincial, regional, nationwide, and transnational ranges (Akkaya and Jongerden 2013; De Jong 2015; Jongerden 2017). It has developed a mannequin of presidency referred to as Democratic Confederalism, which aspires to ascertain a multi-layered system of political communities primarily based on residency and cosmopolitan membership (Akkaya 2020; Baris 2020; Colasanti et al. 2018; Hunt 2019). The mannequin promotes a system of plural political communities wherein sovereignty is not ‘understood to be the unique prerogative of the central authorities of the state, however, moderately, a set of capabilities that may finest be exercised at completely different ranges of society, relying on the character of choices that have to be made and the style of their most acceptable implementation (Worldwide Convention of Consultants Report 1998: 17, cited in Bayir 2013: 9).

An important side of the mission is that it positions itself towards territorial sovereignty of the nation-state (the shape), political participation by consultant democracy (the political system), and unique citizenship primarily based on affinity (membership). Within the Kurdish mannequin, the shape is a coexistence of scattered autonomous political entities reminiscent of communes, villages, neighbourhoods, districts, cities, federations, and confederations; whereas confederations ideally stretch throughout the borders of nation-states.

In accordance with the mannequin, native assemblies delegate political energy by way of delegates despatched to metropolis councils and regional assemblies (Akkaya and Jongerden 2015; Jongerden 2019; Rojava Info Middle 2019; Tax 2016). In different phrases, residents train political energy instantly and delegate representatives solely when the matter will not be solely within the jurisdiction of the native political group. Thus, political energy runs counter to the way in which it runs in parliamentary democracy: it flows from beneath to the highest, not the opposite approach round. On this political system, there isn’t any central nationwide parliament with the privilege of exercising sovereignty. The political system on this mannequin combines establishments of direct and semi-direct democracy with political events, thematic councils reminiscent of girls, ecological and youth councils, and with civil society organisations. Lastly, membership relies on residency, not on cultural or nationwide identification. What we witness right here is the start of a political group apart from the nation-state, delivered by a nationwide liberation motion.

Political Communities in North and West Kurdistan

‘“Our goal”, the chair of the council defined, “is to face the issues in our lives, in our neighbourhood, and clear up them by ourselves with out being depending on or needing the state”. Others add that “the state is a hump on the again of the individuals,” and “we attempt to dwell with out the state”’ (Councilmen from the town of Diyarbakir in North Kurdistan, quoted in Akkaya and Jongerden 2013:196)

The quote above expresses, in a nutshell, the prevailing view of politics within the Kurdish motion. The type of political group rising from this quote is knowledgeable by Aristotelian face-to-face political group: the autonomous commune, a nose to nose group that contains 100 to 300 households (relying on the dimensions of the autonomous settlement) is on the basis of the Kurdish mannequin (Biehl 2014; Rojava Info Middle 2019; Tax 2016). Moreover, the Kurdish mannequin envisages and experiments with direct democracy by assemblies and councils at each stage of decision-making, which embrace communes, neighbourhoods, cities, districts and cities. Direct democratic political participation is related to Athenian democracy (though that isn’t correct in response to John Keane (2009)). Accordingly, there may be loads of reference to historic Athenian democracy within the paperwork of the motion (Rojava Administration 2014) in addition to within the literature on the Kurdish mannequin and within the writings of the architect of the mannequin Abdullah Ocalan  (Akkaya and Jongerden 2013, 2015; De Jong 2015; Leezenberg 2016; Sary 2016; TATORT Kurdistan 2011, 2014; Yegen 2016).

Murray Bookchin, the political theorist thought of to be the supply of inspiration for the Kurdish mannequin, is thought for his imaginative and prescient of political group modelled on Athenian democracy (Bookchin 2015). The mannequin relies on the complete political autonomy of communities of residence reminiscent of villages, neighbourhoods, cities, and cities.[1] These communities are assumed to own, by nature, the proper to self-rule and self-defence. This makes them political communities in and of themselves. The mannequin additionally explicitly dismisses establishing a Kurdish nation-state (Öcalan 2011).

Why ought to a nationwide liberation motion dismiss nation-state altogether and envisage a political group apart from the nation? What historic dynamics and which theoretical rules inspire Kurdish Liberation Motion to develop a mannequin of political group primarily based on residential citizenship, direct/semi-direct train of political energy, and a fragmented sovereignty of plural, horizontal political entities?

The Kurdish mannequin steers away from statehood as a result of its architect Abdullah Ocalan has made his life’s work to develop a substitute for the statist Turkish nationalism (Baris 2020). Kurdish nationwide liberation actions in North and West (Turkish and Syrian) Kurdistan, thus, impressed by the architect and his mannequin, have been striving to ‘liberate’ Kurdistan and Kurds with an ideology that dismisses statehood and nationalism (Akkaya 2020; Matin 2019; Öcalan 2020).

The Kurdish mannequin has atomic communities on the centre of its ethical and political philosophy and envisages a social order with out cultural hierarchies within the type nations, ethnicities, nationalities and so forth. The statist Turkish nationalism, alternatively, places the State on the centre of ethical and political philosophy and imposes a hierarchical order on cultural classes primarily based on this statist outlook. Statist Turkish nationalism means that the nation has the prerogative to dominate different teams as a result of it ‘has a state of its personal’ (Mohammadpour and Soleimani 2019; Özdoğan 2010; Yesiltas 2014). Adherents of this logic deduce, from this assumption, that different teams will not be equal, in dignity and rights, with nations, as a result of they ‘lack’ a State of their very own (Bacik 2016; Baris 2020; Gökay and Aybak 2016). The truth that there isn’t any Kurdish state, for example, is taken because the proof that they don’t deserve one. In the event that they did, the argument goes, they’d have discovered one in some unspecified time in the future in historical past. Absolutely, this isn’t traditionally correct, as a result of there are states and state-like entities based by Kurds all through historical past (Özoğlu 2004), however that isn’t the purpose. The purpose is that the Turkish political elite appears to have satisfied themselves that that is the case, as a way to keep and legitimise the establishment that’s based on the dominance and superiority of the Turkish identification and denies the Kurds the cultural rights and territorial autonomy they’ve been demanding because the institution of the Turkish republic (Gökay and Aybak 2016; Xypolia 2016).

As an illustration, Birgül Ayman Güler,  an MP of the principle opposition Folks’s Republican Social gathering (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi-CHP), additionally a professor of political science at one of the vital prestigious universities in Turkey, the Ankara College, said that ‘You can not persuade me that the Turkish nation (Türk Ulusu) and the Kurdish nationality (Kürt milliyeti) are equal’[2]. The assertion implied that ‘Kurdish nationality’, as a political class, is secondary to the superior one; i.e. the Turkish nation. This interpretation depends closely on the formal/authorized narrative (additionally the mainstream one), which means that the ‘Turkish nation’ is the one and sole political group in Turkey and that it’s all-encompassing. Furthermore, membership on this single political group, in response to Article 66 of the present structure, relies on Turkishness: ‘Everybody sure to the Turkish State by the bond of citizenship is a Turk’. Consequently, there isn’t any room for an additional group to turn out to be the premise of political rights and prerogatives or to assert political company.

The precondition of being a nation, in response to this mainstream view amongst Turkish politicians, is having a state of their very own. It follows that the Kurds don’t have any state of their very own and that they can’t be thought of equal in ranks with the Turkish nation. Contrasting with this narrative, the prevalent opinion among the many Kurdish political elite and intelligentsia means that two separate nations, Turkish and Kurdish, exist in Turkey and that they based the state in alliance and partnership. Thus, they’re equal in rank and needs to be equal in political and authorized standing. They demand that the Kurdish nation needs to be constitutionally recognised because the equal, constituent accomplice in Turkey.  

In one other occasion, the previous deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc said that Kurdish is ‘not the language of a civilization’ (Derince 2013), and therefore, it couldn’t be thought of equal to the Turkish language. Subsequently, no level of demanding the identical safety and/or promotion accessible to the Turkish language for the Kurdish language as properly. Kurdish can also be seen as a language that has not produced sufficient literature to be valued equally in comparison with Turkish. When actually, the first cause for that has been the restrictions imposed by the political institution on training, publication and broadcasting in Kurdish in Turkey for the final 9 a long time (Cemiloglu 2009; Coşkun, Derince, and Uçarlar 2011; Derince 2013; Zeydanlıoğlu 2012).

Departing from the statements above, it’s a matter in fact for Turkish politicians, teachers and statespersons to conclude that the Kurds, as a group, shouldn’t be thought of as a nation and therefore will not be mature sufficient to rule themselves. {That a} typical nineteenth- century colonial mindset is at work right here wouldn’t be far-fetched a deduction. This mindset is pervasive in Turkey due to a specific nationalism there: statist nationalism. 

This type of nationalism holds the sanctity of the Turkish state above all the pieces else and deems pure doing no matter it takes to protect the ‘integrity of the state with its nation’. Constitutional provisions reminiscent of ‘nationwide and territorial unity’, ‘the indivisibility of the state with its nation’, ‘the supreme chief Ataturk[3] and his nationalism’, and the extensively shared, often uttered motto one language, one flag, one nation, one state are primarily directed at preserving the state as it’s.

Statist nationalism in Turkey, thus, is cause d’état par excellence. Federalism, confederalism, territorial autonomy for minorities, devolution of energy to native administrations, recognition of a second official language, training in mom tongue and so forth., the type of political preparations that each society wants to keep up a various society and a peaceful social order, are subsequently not mentioned in mainstream politics in Turkey. The precedence is, in Benhabib’s phrases, ‘to strengthen the state by way of makes an attempt to collect all of the markers of sovereignty within the public authority with the consequence of elevated militarisation, disregard for worldwide legislation and human rights, regressive and hostile relations with neighbours’ (2007:28).

The Kurdish political motion has developed their mannequin of political group  as a substitute for the nation-state basically (Öcalan 2011). However their mannequin can also be in a stark distinction with the statist Turkish nationalism specifically.

Democratic Confederalism

Confronted with this uniformist, monistic imposition of nationwide identification and this strictly statist nationalism, the dominant Kurdish political motion in Turkey proposes a politics that focuses on constructing autonomous and partially sovereign political communities impressed by Athenian democracy in political decision-making.[4] This interprets into establishing pluralist and inclusive political communities in cities and cities of Kurdistan by way of transferring the authority of creating binding-decisions from nationwide political establishments to citizen assemblies. This can be a radical various to the present parliamentary and consultant, procedural political decision-making that concentrates political energy within the parliament on the capital of the nation. As many have identified, consultant establishments can hardly be thought of democratic sufficient (Benhabib 2007; Hardt and Negri 2004; Näsström 2015).

Consultant political establishments are a lot much less democratic in Turkey than in a typical liberal democracy, as a result of bureaucrats maintain far more political energy than elected workplace holders. Governors of cities and cities in Turkey are able to nullifying or overruling each resolution made by municipalities and mayoral assemblies. After a 12 months and half handed because the final native elections, solely six of sixty-five elected Kurdish mayors stay in workplace: the remaining are imprisoned or eliminated (Duvar 2020). Thus, the mission developed by the Kurdish political motion displays their frustration with the draconian central authorities that feeds on consultant nationwide political procedures and establishments.

The Kurdish mannequin, alternatively, grounds itself on a self-rule that’s primarily based on residential sovereignty and autonomy, a formulation akin to Waldron’s precept of proximity (2011:8). The important thing part right here is autonomy, i.e. ‘the acknowledgement that there are a number of and completely different wants, values, and issues, that these wants, values, and issues can solely be correctly acknowledged when localisation guides the main target of social relations, and that they’ll solely be adequately supported and cultivated by place-based mechanisms of self-governance’ (Küçük and Özselçuk 2016:190).

Democratic Confederalism, in flip, refers back to the umbrella superstructure, the free and transnational confederation of these Aristotelian face-to-face communities, cities and cities, in a bid to transcend and remodel the present hegemonic superstructure, i.e. the nation-state into extra democratic political regimes the place plural nations and political communities can coexist. The mission is impressed primarily by Communalism in itsapproach to the political group. A notion developed by Bookchin (2015), communalism promotes small-scale, face-to-face group primarily based socio-political organisation of society after the Historical Greek mannequin. Accordingly, the motion has established a whole bunch of communes in Turkish and Syrian Kurdistan within the final decade, with out demanding help or permission from and principally in defiance to centralised establishments (Küçük and Özselçuk 2016).

The final word goal of the mission is constructing self-sufficient socio-political spatial models (Bezwan 2018; TATORT Kurdistan 2011, 2014). These spatial models are supposed to train a type of political autonomy that isn’t essentially granted by central states. It proposes a much less inflexible regime of border management to permit free motion of peoples and items; it builds political establishments and arranges decision-making processes that make sure the extra direct train of political will (Akkaya and Jongerden 2012; Hassaniyan 2019). The aim is founding an egalitarian society with gender equality, environmental safety and ecology pleasant financial exercise that prioritizes the wants and selections of communes and communities on the grassroots stage (Knapp, Flach, and Ayboğa 2016; Knapp and Jongerden 2014). In that sense, neither non secular nor ethnic or nationwide identification might be the premise of such a mission. Participation of ladies in all decision-making and government our bodies, girls councils and separate girls armed forces are supposed to eradicate male domination; whereas recognition of autonomy and self-defence for cultural minorities inside Kurdistan is supposed to stop cultural hierarchies and nationalist domination. Ecology councils and communes are based to develop another financial and environmental tradition and activism, an egalitarian coverage in financial manufacturing and (re)distribution of wealth.  

Politically, whereas the Turkish political institution subscribes to the ideology of nationalism and the notion of nationwide self-determination, as a result of worldwide legislation solely permits sovereign states or colonized peoples to make a declare to the precept of self-determination. The Kurdish political motion invokes a framework that may be summarised, in Benhabib’s phrases, as ‘republican federalism’, which quantities to:

[T]he constitutionally structured reaggregation of the markers of sovereignty, in a set of interlocking establishments every accountable and accountable to the opposite. There may be, as there should be in any structuring of sovereignty, a second of finality, within the sense of decisional closure, however not a second of ultimacy, within the sense of being past questioning, problem and accountability (2007:30–31). 

Nevertheless, the Kurdish political motion engages this framework with a slight twist to the superstructure, formulating it as Confederalism, however not federalism. Thus, the Kurdish political motion embeds its mission of democratic confederalism firmly throughout the present normative accounts of cosmopolitan citizenship and direct democratic decision-making.


To reiterate, the important thing elements of democratic confederalism are as follows:

First, it means that members/residents shouldn’t be represented by a political class by nationwide establishments, however they need to be members in political decision-making processes by way of native councils and assemblies. That is meant to switch obligation with solidarity;because the bond that holds the group collectively will not be vertical loyalty to a distant central authority, however a horizontal dedication to fellow residents (actually, residents of a metropolis).

Second, it’s all residents, not solely those that belong to a selected ethnic, nationwide or non secular class that is known as upon to control themselves. Within the phrases of a citizen of the town of Kobanê who greeted guests by saying ‘Welcome! This city is yours! It belongs to humanity’ (Taussig 2015:2): the town belongs to everybody.

Third, the authority that’s being claimed is proscribed to self-governing of the town, the city, the village and the management of their pure sources. Sovereignty is thus fragmented and dispersed by a myriad of autonomous political communities.

Fourth, girls participate in each official put up on equal foundation with males, and gender quota is established for committees, councils and assemblies and so forth. as a way to guarantee gender equality. There are combined and women-only armed forces; women-only TV and radio stations and periodicals; and a complete scientific self-discipline, Jineolojî (English: Ladies Science; derived from the phrase jin, which implies girls in Kurdish, and –lojî, the equal of the suffix -logy), as a subject of research for ladies, in Kurdistan.

Fifth, cultural minorities take part in each resolution made about their communities; have the proper to self-defence, training of their languages and cultural preservation – if conventional practices will not be dangerous to particular person human rights.

Contemplating the dominance of theocratic, nationalist, monarchic and imperial visions and fashions of political group which have condemned politics to an oscillation between authoritarian, semi-authoritarian and autocratic regimes, the Kurdish mannequin of political group is promising. This democratic grassroots mannequin of autonomy faces elimination because of the threats posed by the Turkish and Syrian governments. Nevertheless, Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrian and Yezidi communities in North and West Kurdistan appear to be receptive to the mannequin of democratic confederalism (Allsopp and Wilgenburg 2019; Burç 2020; Holmes 2020; Matin 2019). They should be supported by the worldwide group of their bid to ascertain and protect the type of self-government they want to. The Kurdish mannequin, though not with out flaws, guarantees a secular, democratic, pluralistic, egalitarian and environmentalist mannequin of self-rule for all. It’s a historic alternative that should not be missed if peace, concord and coexistence are to be established and preserved in Kurdistan. It’s time for the worldwide group to behave and intervene on behalf of the communities of North and West Kurdistan, to stop the collapse of one of the vital progressive and democratic political experiments in Syrian Kurdistan; and to finish their persecution within the fingers of a spiritual extremist and ultranationalist regime in Turkey.


[1]This autonomy additionally takes a cultural flip when non secular communities reminiscent of Armenians and Assyrians in Syrian Kurdistan, the place they type minorities inside cities and cities, are acknowledged as autonomous, too.

[2] Birgul Ayman Guler’s assertion is on Hurriyetdailynews, 25.01.2013.

[3] Mustafa Kemal, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey. He was given the surname Ataturk (Father of the Turks) in 1934 by the Grand Nationwide Meeting of Turkey.

[4] The primary draft of the Constitution of the Rojava Cantons, drafted by the ally of the Kurdish motion in Syria, had a direct reference to Athenian democracy, but it surely didn’t seem within the later textual content. This is because of the truth that the principle inspiration for the mission of democratic confederalism has been Murray Bookchin, who primarily based his political philosophy on the Athenian mannequin of democracy moderately than the Roman mannequin of republicanism.


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