An organiser with KSN Ekoloji working group reflects on the importance of the ‘third’ ecological pillar of the revolution in Rojava.
The 19th of July marks an important date in revolutionary history and of global resistance. This year, it marked the 8th anniversary of the Rojava revolution, which continues to grow, evolve, and resist in the most hostile of conditions, surrounded by war and aggression. The date also marks the 40th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution in which the fascist military dictator, Somoza Debayle, was successfully overthrown by the Sandantisa National Liberation Front, as well as the military uprising in Barcelona in 1936 which began the Spanish Civil War.
In defence of Rojava on the anniversary of the revolution the Make Rojava Green Again campaign, Internationalist Commune, Rise Up 4 Rojava and Women Defend Rojava campaigns called two worldwide days of actions across the 18th and 19th of July. These came at a time when attacks against Kurdish militants in the beautiful mountains of Bashur (southern Kurdistan, northern Iraq) intensified, with Turkey launching major ground and air operations across the region in June. In Rojava itself, Turkish military operations and bombings have been relentless since the invasion and subsequent occupation in October 2019. On 23, June 2020, three women activists, including Zehra Berkel of women’s movement organisation Kongreya Star, Hebûn Mele Xelil and Amina Waysî were assassinated in a targeted drone strike while meeting in one of their own houses in Kobane – the very place where the revolution began 8 years ago on 19 July 2012.
The Turkish state recognises as well as the people of Rojava do, that the health of the revolution depends on the health of the land and environmental conditions it is being built. A central aim of the Rojava revolution is to create a truly ecological society – a society that clearly recognises that “green capitalism” is a contradiction in terms;that we must instead develop systematic ways of living in harmony with nature. That is why the concept of social ecology – the idea that current ecological problems and the climate crisis stem from social problems, and that a new social system is required to solve these problems – is one of three pillars underpinning the radically democratic political framework of Democratic Confederalism across North East Syria, alongside the principles of direct democracy and women’s liberation.
Ecology in times of war
When the Turkish state occupied Afrin in early 2018, its mercenaries purposefully targeted, burned, uprooted and destroyed thousands of olive trees which characterised the region and its people; they burned agricultural land and hectares of wheat fields, looted production facilities, and stole natural resources and equipment, moving them to Turkey and claiming ownership. Since October’s invasion, they have repeatedly attacked agricultural land; burned forests, fields, and villages; sabotaged critical infrastructure and cut off fresh water supplies. Thus, in the liberated areas of North East Syria, each harvest can be seen as a revolutionary act.
Turkey is well-known for its environmentally disastrous hydraulic mega-projects on the Euphrates and the Tigris, bordering Rojava, which have significantly disturbed water flow for the past twenty years. The most recent, notorious Ilisu Dam has already drowned the ancient 12,000-year-old Mesopotamian settlement, Hasankeyf, in northern Kurdistan (south-eastern Turkey), where an estimated 80,000 people have been displaced. Turkey is in an advantageous position on the upstream part of the river, as the dam threatens water shortages to downstream communities in Syria, Iran and Iraq, as well as water flow to other important heritage sites like the Iraqi Marshes. In addition to being wielded as a weapon against Kurdish populations and used as political leverage over surrounding countries, the dam will cause grave harm to the Tigris River Basin and existing biodiversity and ecosystems; countless animal, plant and aquatic life will diminish, and unique livelihoods, cultures and ways of life will be lost.
The building of dams is not the only way in which water is being used as a weapon of war. During the first months of the invasion in October, Turkish forces bombed the main water station in the city of Serekaniye (a name which, in Kurdish, means ‘fountainhead’, or ‘water source’) and its surrounding towns and villages. Since then, the water has been shut-off on five further occasions, denying more than 650,000 people of access to water, just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit. In response, UK-based co-operative the Solidarity Economy Association (SEA) came together with a number of other international organizations and women’s structures in Rojava to launch a crowdfunding campaign for water infrastructure and women’s co-operatives in the region, raising over £100,000 in just one month.
The force which drives the Turkish state to attack Rojava and its attempts to build an ecological society of free women and men is perpetuated by the same force driving the climate crisis – global capitalism. It is the same force that has monopolised the way we live, and which perpetuates the destruction of life on the planet at an exponential rate. History shows us, especially when read through the lens of Jineoloji – the science developed by the Kurdish women’s movement that pays attention to symbolism, mythology, aesthetics and ethics – that it is the patriarchal mindset which generated the enclosed environments (emotional, psychological and physical) in which domination over nature itself eventually gave birth to the first city-States, which in turn served as a base for the development of capitalist modernity.
The war waged on us by capitalist modernity is as much of a psychological, emotional war as a physical one. This is why, now more than ever, it is crucial that we resist not just on the “front lines” where actual war is being waged but in our minds and our hearts. In solidarity and internationalism we do not lose our morale, but affirm with one another that it is through organising, defending and upholding our beliefs and putting into practice the principles of democratic, liberatory and ecological society in our struggles, wherever we find ourselves, that we find true freedom.