TEV-DEM was founded in 2011 to build up the democratic system of communes and assemblies. This is the role that it played in the previous system, in the three initial cantons: Afrin, Jazeera and Kobane. In Manbij, Raqqa, Tabqa and Deir ez-Zor regions, however, the SDC took on the role of implementing the democratic confederalist system throughout society. At the TEV-DEM conference on the 27th August 2018, the new role of TEV-DEM became to organize civil society, particularly through unions.
“After we worked on the establishment of the communes, we handed that responsibility over to the Autonomous Administration, and during this congress [in 2018] we became the third power, organizing those parts of the civil society which is not yet organized.” – Ferhan Daoud, co-chair of TEV-DEM Hasakah
The work of TEV-DEM
Zelal Jeger, co-chair of TEV-DEM, described its new role as follows: “TEV-DEM organize society outside of the Autonomous Administration. But our goal is not to be in opposition, we’re not against the Autonomous Administration. Because our government is not a state, our thinking is not like that of the state. If the people have complaints, we write down the protests of society and we send them to the Autonomous Administration – we criticize it. And so we play a complementary role to the Autonomous Administration within the system of the democratic nation. But if the Autonomous Administration doesn’t listen to us, we will send a message – we will create an uprising,”
TEV-DEM works as an umbrella organization and an assembly for all civil society organizations, such as unions and some civil associations such as the Yezidi House. Its role further extends to organizing those people who are not part of these organizations, and defending the rights of the people. TEV-DEM acts as a counter-power to the Autonomous Administration, “preventing it from reproducing itself as a state and protecting the values of democratic confederalism.”
On the level of North and East Syria, TEV-DEM has two co-chairs, currently Zelal Jeger and Kharib Hisso, and an Administrative Council of 64 members.
TEV-DEM, like the Autonomous Administration, works according to the system of communes and councils, so subdivisions of TEV-DEM are meant to exist in each district corresponding with each level of Autonomous Administration council. The aim is to solve problems at the most local level before referring to a higher level, although if the problem is part of a wider issue then it would be dealt with at the appropriate level. TEV-DEM operates through the 64-member TEV-DEM Administrative Council at the inter-region level of North and East Syria, as well as through offices. This includes a Women’s Office which organizes women in unions and focuses on women’s issues in the local economy.
Locally, TEV-DEM hold meetings twice a month with the co-chairs of all unions, who give feedback and report on their work, and discuss proposals. Criticisms, proposals and problems are raised in the meeting, and then are brought to a higher level. Each month, there is a meeting of each regional TEV-DEM assembly, and every three months there is a meeting of the Administrative Council. Co-chairs from unions and all seven regions sit on the North and East Syria assembly, and present reports from their areas of responsibility. In this assembly, problems, proposals and criticisms which affect all of North and East Syria are discussed. Projects that would have an impact on all the regions are considered (such as the establishment of new unions), and wider questions about the needs of society are discussed.
Case Study – City of Hasakah TEV-DEM
“One of our roles is to solve issues between the unions and the institutions of the Autonomous Administration. At first we try to speak with the institution on a local level. But if we cannot find a solution, we refer to a higher level… And when it’s solved, they report back to us, explaining what solution they reached.” – Ferhan Daoud, co-chair of TEV-DEM Hasakah
Hasakah city, in Hasakah canton, Jazeera region, is one of the larger cities in North and East Syria. It is ethnically mixed, with mostly Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac-Assyrian residents.
Twelve unions have been established in Hasakah: the Workers’ Union (distributes worker IDs, supports 8,000 people on labor issues), the Drivers’ Union, the Intellectuals’ and Artists’ Union, the Teachers’ Union (approximately 3,000 members), the Traders’ Union, the Industrial Workers’ Union, the Lawyers’ Union, the Doctors’ Union, the Agricultural Workers’ Union, the Pharmacists’ Union, the Builders’ Union and the Engineers’ Union.
Role and responsibilities of TEV-DEM in Hasakah:
TEV-DEM Hasakah both coordinates existing unions, and acts as a body providing oversight and support for labor-related issues. TEV-DEM works to strengthen existing unions as well as establishing new ones. This often consists of holding neighborhood meetings to explain the work of TEV-DEM, and discuss how people can defend their rights as workers and organize themselves. TEV-DEM also supports unions, troubleshooting problems and ensuring that they are working as intended.
The city’s TEV-DEM association also tackles broader issues, such as identifying and investigating cases of child labor, which is forbidden. If instances of child labor arise, they seek to ensure that the child can go back to school, make sure that the employers understand the severity of the issue, and also find ways to support the family if financial need is why the child was put to work. They also support communication and coordination on bigger initiatives, for example by facilitating coordination between the Drivers’ Union and the local council to regulate the number of taxi-pool services on a particular road.
Finally, TEV-DEM also supports individuals with issues concerning employment. They help people find work, and many women come to TEV-DEM for support in seeking employment. If a worker has been fired, TEV-DEM can pressure the employer to re-employ the fired worker. For instance, when cleaning workers lost their jobs in Hasakah municipality, TEV-DEM intervened and was able to get the cleaners re-hired.
This article is an excerpt from our report “Beyond the Frontlines – The building of the democratic system of North and East Syria”.