Since the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011, Kurds in northeastern Syria have united and seized control of three large areas, called “cantons.” These cantons form the de facto autonomous Kurdish region of Rojava.
The three democratic cantons of Rojava are: Afrîn in the west, Kobane in the center and Cîzre (or Jazira) in the east. Under the leadership of the PYD and PKK, these Kurdish cantons are undergoing a unique transformation into self-organized regional governments.
Allies Amidst Enemies
Largely left alone by the Syrian government, the Kurds of Rojava are facing a tough battle against ISIS, while simultaneously trying to organize democratic elections and self-government for their fledgling cantons.
Many Kurds in Syria wish that Rojava would reap the same Western support that has been given to other revolutionary Syrian factions.
“I just wish the West would recognise that we are not only the best military resistance against [IS], but we are also closer to the Western kind of democracy than they realise,” said one Kurdish activist from Qamishli who asked not to be named.
Rojava’s Unique Democratic Model
At the center of Rojava’s political philosophy are local committees that draw everyday citizens into decision-making roles on issues such as education, health and infrastructure.
This democratic philosophy was inspired, in part, by Abdullah Ocalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who has been in Turkish prison since 1999 on charges of terrorism.
Critics of Rojava’s approach claim that the PKK is using Rojava to implement a one-party state, but the facts of the matter are that there were six political parties in the Cizre canton’s March 13th elections. Moreover, 237 of the 560 candidates were female.
In a region known for its strict marginalization of women, Rojava’s is a stark contrast to the treatment of women by the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
“We are new to democracy, so each election will be a learning process for us — we want to create a democracy and we have enemies all around us who want to destroy it” said the co-chair of the election committee, Azzedine Ahmed Farhan[Read more about Rojava’s emerging democracy at the Kiama Independent]