International campaign in support of an ecological development in the liberated Kurdish areas of Syria/Rojava
By enormous sacrifices the Kurdish people has liberated big areas in the North West of Syria (Rojava) from the stranglehold of the Islamic State and the Syrian state. Most well known are the hard struggles around the Kurdish town Kobane that was liberated in January 2015. During the withdrawal, ISIS has destroyed everything. Towns, fields, agricultural toils and seed has been destroyed, burned down in order to make the rebuilding more difficult.
Now these areas are being rebuild. Therefore, several projects have been launched in order to assist the population in the liberated areas to raise again. German activists have collected means to start a project of building a hospital in Kobane. Moreover, Danish activists have among other things assisted by donating important hospital equipment. Also school projects have been started around Kobane – a minimum of 10 schools including school gardens, cooperatives, several with a specific women/feminist perspective in order to further economic independency of women which can be seen on this link;
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In August of 2016, a university was opened in the capital Qamishli in Cezire Canton, which collaborate amongst others with a university in Paris (Paris 8), see more;
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But there is still a long way to go. Moreover, the Kurdish liberated areas are under a very harmful trade’s embargo from all their neighbours – Turkey, Iraq and Islamic State/Assad in Syria. For 1 1/2 years, it has consequently been almost impossible to trade commodities, to send post and emergency aid or to enter the liberated areas. As the Assad regime controlled all Kurdish passports, they can hardly travel in order to establish collaboration/trade with other countries.
In order for the reconstruction to succeed it is also essential that agriculture and food production is being initiated as soon as possible as it has fallen dramatically while there was a wide spread shortage of fertilizers and pesticides. A conversion to ecological cultivation methods could give higher yields commissioning employment of non-tilled land, bring it under the till and provide a larger independency from the reactionary neighbours and embargoed goods.
The Kurdish authorities have, despite the enormous challenges, declared that they want to further a change to an ecological sustainable agricultural production.
An ecological agricultural school project
An international and Danish reconstruction project is focusing on furthering the development of ecological agriculture in Rojava.
In August 2015, an initiating group of Danish ecologists, sympathizers and Kurds therefore have initiated a Danish/Kurdish/international Solidarity and Support Association; “Ecological Rojava” which works in order to further an international ecological agricultural school project in Rojava. The agriculture School has several elements and partial projects:
– in the long run to build an agricultural school in Rojava.
– to further the establishment of sheltering trees and berry producing bushes in the draught affected grain producing areas.
– to assist the development of a Kurdish-speaking ecological agricultural education in Rojava for instance by furthering an international academic collaboration of ecological knowledge and methods.
– to include working conditions, sustainable energy and cooperatives in the exchange of knowledge.
– to further the production of ecological quality food which could be sold locally from the school.
– to participate in giving inspiration in collaboration with other liberated Kurdish cantons on the development of ecological agriculture.
The school must support the education of ecological farmers locally so that they can later start their own ecological farms or cooperatives locally.
The trip to Rojava May 2017
To establish a network in Rojava and further the development of the agricultural school project, two persons from “Ecological Rojava” were on a trip to Rojava for a week in May 2017. They undertook the journey with a Danish/Kurdish doctor and nurse, who provided a sizeable amount of medical equipment for the Kurdish hospitals in Rojava.
“Ecological Rojava” visited several Kurdish authorities, agricultural commissions, the university in Qamishli and local farmers to present the idea of attempting an ecological farming development and in the long view, an ecological agricultural school. Even though the ruling political parties, such as PYD (the Democratic Unity Party) and authorities on the highest level want an ecological change, fundamental knowledge of ecological cultivation methods and techniques are absent; also at university level in Rojava.
We lived at a rehabilitation centre/military hospital approximately 2 km from the Turkish border. Here they received mentally or physically wounded soldiers (soldiers in the sense of the people from the guerrilla warfare) from the Kurdish self-defence forces, YPG and YPJ (the women). At the rehabilitation centre, the less unfortunate soldiers assisted those who were badly wounded under medical supervision of a doctor in the production of plaster forms and wooden artificial limbs for hands, arms and legs lost in combat. They also helped each other training the use of these new limbs. Additionally, a psychologist worked at the centre to relieve traumas. Everybody wore uniforms, except the psychologist. They also had small vegetable gardens the wounded soldiers could look after during their convalescence.
Many of the young wounded soldiers were in the early twenties and had no family; there parents had disappeared, been imprisoned in Turkey or other places and some had joined the YPG to participate in the struggle against intolerance and Islamic State’s atrocities, for freedom, internationalism, the right to free cultural structures, democracy and socialism. Although they did find time for humour and laughter, there was an aura around them of restrained seriousness and sorrow that was rooted in their personal stories. As a 24-year-old soldier, whose wife had been killed at a rally right in front of him by the Turkish military in their hometown, and with a small tear in one eye quietly remarked at midnight before he left our room with his rifle on his shoulder for a mission: “War sucks!” YPG and the Kurdish democratic project had become his family. The distance between these young soldier’s stories/reality and the Turkish, Saudi Arabian and Western media’s one-eyed and stereotyped need to stamp impoverished Kurds at the bottom of society as dangerous terrorists is immense. Unfortunately, the Kurdish hospitals lack much necessary medicine and medical equipment that our western NATO-allies, ISIS and Northern Iraq’s embargoes keep out.
Democracy in Rojava
The concept of “Democratic Confederalism” that the Kurds have developed and fight for has an anarchistic history from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and today has the practical consequence of approximately 500 autonomous local “basic popular assemblies” of not more than 200 participants who control and defend themselves. The local assemblies may elect delegates for the next autonomous “town popular assembly” – level, where they may elect delegates for “city- and district popular assemblies” which may elect – as the last level – delegates for the three autonomous cantons of Afrin, Kobane and Cizire. Otherwise, there is no national state. The capital Qamishli is in the autonomous canton Cizire. The concept of “Democratic Confederalism” has an in-built idea of basic democracy, ethnic diversity and feminist approach to the organisation of society, Citizen’s influence and leadership practise. As was the case during the Paris Communes, the delegates can be withdrawn and they are not payed for their participation in the democratic system – not at the highest levels either. As we all know, all the posts in the leadership have a double function – at least: male and female and usually ethnic co-leadership too. We encountered this type of democratic structure in all the committees, canton parliaments etc. we met. We also met a female leader from a non-socialist party who obviously had an entirely different vision for Rojava than PYD’s socialist position, but she told us that she could participate in the democratic forums, like everybody else.
These reflections from one week’s stay should of course not to be taken as the only truth. Many things that we may not have grasped, can have taken place. Nevertheless, the various political representatives we met confirmed these experiences.
Just like PYD’s support according to their own statements varies from 50 – 60 percent in the various autonomous cantons, depending on the different populations groups’ positions, maturity etc. They also state that Barzani’s sister party in Syria – that cooperates with Barzani’s non-socialist Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Northern Iraq, and with the Turks in Northern Iraq that are behind the trade embargo against Rojava and allows the Turks to bomb PKK in Iraq instead of helping their Kurdish brothers and sisters – are represented with various degrees of strength in the three cantons. That KPD, which is completely corrupted in Iraq, operates in Syria and governs the federal provins in Northern Iraq with economic support from Turkey, is allowed to participate in the various popular assemblies in Rojava does say something about the democratic disposition of PYD. Hundreds of arguments for proven injurious activities supported by the KDP are available, but this hasn’t led to their expulsion from democracy in Rojava. This autumn there are new rounds of elections to the various autonomous popular assemblies and areas. It is going to be interesting to see how the relative strength in Rojava may have moved and which political projects that will evolve when ISIS before long has been chased out of Raqqa.
We talked to international activists, who had travelled from for instance Denmark or the USA to Rojava to support the Kurdish troops for self-defence YPG that gathers many different ethnic groups and sacrifice life and livelihood to liberate Kurds and other ethnic groups or religious groups(Assyrians, Arabs, Christian Yezidites etc.) and defend the democratic build-up of the areas. Following af brief trainee period of a month’s duration, which focuses least at the military component, the foreign supporters are placed with different functions of the self-defence troops according to their wishes, if they have any special wishes.
When we drove through the capitol, Qamishli by night, there were no traffic lights or street lamps, but out of the dark by every crossing a number of AK-47-armed Asayish(local security troops) appeared– quite undramatically – and made sure that the drivers had peaceful intentions. Our own chauffeurs – who also carried an AK-47 – greeted their comrades undramatically, so that we could move around effortlessly. – An utmost peaceful experience in a region, where the entire society obviously is in a state of military alert due to the war just a few hundred kilometres away. By the frontiers 20.000 SDF soldiers (Syrian Democratic Forces) under the leadership of YPG had just recently won a battle over the extremely important town, Al Tabqa and the Eufrat damn, which was the last big ISIS-town before the ISIS-stronghold Raqqa. The battle of Raqqa has been going on for a while and SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) are mobilising to set in nearly 35.000 soldiers (more or less half their troops) while writing these lines. The Kurds take these sacrifices upon them even though Al Tabqa and Raqqa are quite a distance from the traditional Kurdish areas in Rojava!
The Kurdish project in Rojava has during the revolution developed to incorporate political visions and democratic structures that reach far outside the “traditional Kurdish areas.” The visions of feminism, ecological change and Democratic Confedralism (originally an American/anarchist influence on Abdullah Öcalan at the prison island Imrali and susbsequently of the PKK and PYD in Rojava) has now become a common unifying vision and perspective for many of the conflicts in the Middle East if you ask the ideologists in PYD. The vision is not particularly Kurdish, but can embrace all repressed ethnic groups and persons. It will be interesting to see if “Democratic Confederalism” can be established in areas where the Kurds are small minorities in comparison with other ethnic groups and what Assad will come up with when the fights die down and he maybe gets the opportunity to regain power over larger areas in Syria.
We gave presentations about cooperatives and Danish experiences with the development of co-operative agricultural companies in different agricultural commissions in Rojava and presented short videos about mechanical weed control in Danish ecological fields. We also established some ecological farming to test the us of nitrogen fixating crops in the university garden, since the ecological plant based fertilising principles are virtually unknown in Rojava. We are planning a new visist later this year to develop further our cooperation in Rojava, visist and document other attempts with ecological change from international activists in the liberated areas and launch more eco-field projects.
Our parallel work with the development of an international academic network at university level between Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France and Qamishli is essential for the accumulation of knowledge and farming techniques for ecological agriculture in Rojava and for it to spread in society subsequently.
Join the campaign!
We made half of a documentary on our trip to Rojava, which is now part of the information- and solidarity work in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. Teasers are available in Danish and English at our website: www.eco-rojava.dk and at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/ecorojava/photos/?ref=page_internal .
Everybody who wants take part in building up one or more of these solidarity projects is very welcome to join the campaign. For instance, our organisation needs people with fundraising, social media and international campaign as well as international academic networking skills.
All national as well as international activists who wish to support a sustainable development of ecological agriculture and renewable energy in Rojava can become members of “Ecological Rojava” for 200 kr./27 Euro per 6 months by depositing the money in “Merkur Andelskasse”: reg.: 8401 Account No.: 1268160.
Learn more about the project at the English website:
Jørgen Holst, Tel.: 0045 71 48 46 65. Jholst4@outlook.dk,
Ecological farmer, Enhedslisten/FI-Denmark