From the chaos of the Syrian Revolution the existence of a radical experiment in democracy has slowly emerged. The project in Rojava, in the north of Syria, has been instigated by the Democratic Union Party (the PYD) and its militias the People’s Protection Units (The YPG), and the all-female Women’s Protection Units (The YPJ), in alliance with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK). The PKK itself appears to have experienced its own (r)evolution, with the conversion of its leader Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned by the Turks since 1999, away from the desire to create a Kurdish State and instead adopting an idea of “libertarian municipalism” inspired by social ecologist Murray Bookchin. Instead of a highly centralised state, which was once its aim, the PKK now claims that it sees its aims for the Kurds to be living in free, self-governing communities, based on direct democracy and paying no heed to national borders.[i]

Three non-contiguous autonomous areas or cantons, Efrin, Cizire, and Kobane, have been set up. In every canton there exists a Legislative Assembly, an Executive Assembly, a Constitutional Assembly, and Regional Assemblies, as proscribed under a written collective political structure (the Social Contract).[ii] Delegates to the Assemblies are elected with an ethnic balance reflecting the population of the area, and guaranteeing a 40 per cent female presence, and a model of co-presidency means each political entity always has both a female and a male president.

RoyavaCantonsAfter visiting the area in December 2014, Janet Biehl described how power flows from the bottom upwards in this system through several tiers, namely the neighbourhood, district, city, and canton. All levels are made up of delegates whose role is only to convey the wishes of the people to the next level up.[iii] Saleh Muslim Mohamed, co-president of the PYD, has described how this system is leading to the education and politicising of the people, “You have to reject the idea that you have to wait for some leader to come and tell the people what to do,” he explains, “and instead learn to exercise self-rule as a collective practice…The people themselves educate each other. When you put 10 people together and ask them for a solution to a problem or propose them a question, they collectively look for an answer. I believe in this way they will find the right one. This collective discussion will make them politicised.”[iv]


“Free Kurds do not recognize borders”. Image from

Some anarchists have dismissed the experiment as merely another statist project creating a new ruling class and government. The link with the PKK in particular has meant that the situation has been problematic for some; for example, the Anarchist Federation has criticised Ocalan’s Stalinist past and doubted his commitment to radical democracy, and anti-capitalist ideas.[v] Also, they point out the negative aspects of a planned dual structure which would see the assemblies running alongside a parliament based along western democratic lines.

Other commentators though, notably the anarchist anthropologist David Graeber, have been more accepting of the project, and argued that it is revolutionary and offering an example to an alternative way of organising the world.[vi]   There is also a viewpoint that while the Rojavan project may not be anarchist, it is worthy of support for it’s democratic confederalism opens up space for further changes, and could be inspiring for rebels elsewhere.[vii]

This is an incredibly brief overview of a situation that has generated a huge amount of words over the last few weeks. Arguments have been flowing back and forth over the question of whether anarchists should be supportive of the Rojava project. For those interested, the resources below may help shed some light on the various discussions and points of view.

Further reading:


Useful article describing the workings of the democratic confederalism of Rojava:

Regular news from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan:

A link to a book length examination of Rojava based around interviews by members of a solidarity group who briefly visited the area in 2011, which, while being clearly from a perspective sympathetic to the PKK, provide thought provoking glimpses into the practical implementation of a new left vision:

A couple of useful articles giving an overview and explanation of the adoption of Bookchin’s ideas by the PKK under Ocalan’s direction and a brief sketch of their implementation in Rojava:

 Local anarchist perspective

An interview with the Kurdish Anarchist Forum:

The interview can also be found in issue 12 of Imminent Rebellion:

 Anarchists supporting the project

An interview with David Graeber, the anarchist anthropologist, championing the Rojava project:

More from Graeber with his examples of how he sees the Rojava revolution as being anti-capitalist:

An ‘Anarchist Communist’ reply to the Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA) article below:

Anarchists critical of the project

An article casting aspersions on the true revolutionary nature of the Rojava situation:

A critical article recently published on the Ideas and Action website of the North America-based Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA):

Various articles on Rojava, OcalanBookchin and Ocalan, by Janet Biel, including useful sociological and historical background:

 Further reading:

If you appetite is whetted then heaps more resources are listed here:


[i]’s-war-not-class-war-25122014 [Last accessed 06/01/2014]

[ii] [Last accessed 06/01/2014]

[iii] [Last accessed 06/01/2014]

[iv] In an interview with Green Left Weekly [Last accessed 06/01/2014]

[v] [Last accessed 06/01/2014]

[vi] [Last accessed 06/01/2014]

[vii] [Last accessed 06/01/2014]