Thanks a lot for your time. Firstly, can you introduce yourself and your work?
I am Zelal Jeger, the co-chair of TEV-DEM, Tevgera Civakê Demokratîk [the Movement for a Democratic Society].
For this system – it’s no problem if I talk at length? – when we consider the situation in Syria, in Rojava, Kurdistan, the Kurdish people were always searching for something. Something to represent their identity and their will. But the oppressive state system always meant that the people were divided.
In Syria, it wasn’t only the Kurdish people who were divided. The Kurds had no rights, the Arabs likewise. Though there was an Arab governments, the [Arab] people had no rights. The Syriac Christians had no rights, the Armenians had no rights. The Yezidis had no rights. There were no human rights. An oppressive system oppressed the people, and enriched itself and immiserated the people. For example, our homeland is very rich in resources, but our people live like the very poorest. Look at the situation of Rojava – the people here are poor.
For this reason, there was always a reaction of the people against the system. They always displayed their anger. Before the present system, there was PYD and the [women’s movement] Kongra-Star. These were activist movements, against the state, where a struggling people resisted. In the name of PYD, people like Bave Cudi, Ustaz Osman… Bave Cudi died in prison. Nasli Kechel was a member of PYD, a woman, who died in prison. Ustaz Osman from Kobane was tortured, before witnesses. They released him to his family, and he died. There are many people who spent ten years in prison.
There was always a reaction of the people. When the Arab Spring started, both the Arab people and the Kurds rose up. Their response was very serious, so they could stand against the system and take responsibility for a system of their own, their own freedom. From 2011, the start of the revolution, if we look back across these ten years, we see that people have arrived to a certain level of consciousness that they have to protect themselves. On the spiritual level, on the military level, on the organisational level… they know well how to govern themselves. A learning process has occurred.
At first, it was very difficult for the people. After the state system was smashed here, the people struggled to govern and lead themselves. Slowly, in many places, they came into bitter combat with many jihadi factions. In Sere Kaniye, there was bitter fighting, in the Sheikh Maqsud neighborhood in Aleppo, in Afrin, bitter fighting against those who called themselves the “Free Syrian Army”, especially [al-Qaeda offshoot] Jabhat al-Nusra. The people conducted a great resistance, and defended themselves. After ISIS emerged, as you know, in Kobane, Manbij, Raqqa… When there was the state system, they didn’t allow the people to live freely. When ISIS came, they beheaded people. ISIS’ system meant that people would have accepted the return of the state system. The system of the Baath regime did not behead people, but it suffocated them. They suffocated you and killed you: ISIS beheaded you and killed you.
Now, we see that however much we organise ourselves as a people, this much we can defend ourselves. We said, what shall we do? And we announced our new system, the Autonomous Administration [AA]. The AA is not just Kurds. It’s Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Chechens, Syriac Christians, Chaldean Christians… whichever people live here. Because all kinds of peoples live here, it’s a mosaic of the peoples of Syria. It’s an advantage for us, that there are all kinds of peoples here. The people here came together, and when the Kurds faced hardships, the Arabs took care of them. When the Arabs faced hardships, the Kurds took care of them. When the Assyrians faced hardships, the Kurds took care of them… and we completed one another. We took care of one another. This created a connection between the people. For example, under the Baath regime, there was division – Kurds against Arabs, Arabs against Assyrian Christians, Assyrians against Syriacs… But the system of the Autonomous Administration brought everyone together.
When everybody came together, everyone was happy. This is the essence of the democratic system. That everybody comes together. Consider a flower garden. The flowers are of many colors. One flower is pink, one white, one blue… and when you look at it, it is pleasing to the eye. The Autonomous Administration is a system like this. Of course, we have made mistakes. For example, as TEV-DEM, we represent the civilian population. When there are errors on the behalf of the AA, we bring them up and point them out. We say, “that’s wrong, it shouldn’t be like that.”
The Autonomous Administration is a system for a ‘democratic nation’. The ‘democratic nation’ is what we call our alternative to the nation-state. When you create a democratic nation, and all live together, at that time then the state system is no longer needed. Our system was built up on this basis, with [devolved] cantons and regions. Now, when the system of cantons and regions was built up – with Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor, Manbij, Kobane, Jazira… everybody has their own canton and own region. Each region has its own leadership, and governs itself.
And we also created a system on the level of North and East Syria (NES). So that there are united decisions being taken. Some decisions are taken autonomously. In some fields, Raqqa, for example, is autonomous, and is different to Jazira. It can take autonomous decisions as a result. But there also some decisions which affect the whole of NES. These decisions are taken by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria [AANES]. This is an advantage, that one can govern oneself. It’s not bureaucratic.
The autonomy of the cantons and regions is always to the forefront, but on matters like war, economy and so on, AANES takes decisions. These two aspects of the system complete one another. They don’t block one another.
We could say it’s a two-way system?
Yes, a two-way system. It both protects autonomy from the bottom, and allows a chain up to the top. The thing which allows this land to be successful is the cohesion of its society. [‘Civakbûna civak’, ‘the society becoming a society’]. The solidarity of the people.
And how did you create solidarity among the people?
We can analyse it like this. The war that is being conducted in the Middle East is a capitalist war, against the coming-together of society. The Middle East has some regressive characteristics, yes. But its society has protected its cohesiveness. What is the capitalist system? It promotes individualism. Whereas our system promotes the cohesiveness of society. These social values, which have been protected in the Middle East, have both positive and negative aspects. We separated these aspects from one another. What does this promote? A level of consciousness. When you know a society, this comes to the forefront.
We say, “these are your positive, and these your negative, aspects.” At that time, society reflects and thinks, “I have both positive and negative aspects.” What do they do then? They act with consciousness. Now, the society of the Middle East possesses these values, but it doesn’t know it. They do what the oppressive system tells them to do, and prevents these social values from spreading by promoting what is wrong. What do we do? According to the thought of Abullah Ocalan, who created the concept of the ‘democratic nation’ as a manifesto for us, we share knowledge with our society.
For example, Ocalan lived many years in Syria, in Rojava, in Lebanon. The whole of Syria knows Ocalan. The Arabs, Syriac Christians, Assyrians and Kurds all know him. They know what his perspective is. If you go to the Arab tribes and say, ‘Ocalan said this,’ they will respect it. Because they recognized his wisdom, that he doesn’t differentiate between people. That he doesn’t differentiate between Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians, and doesn’t differentiate between old and young, or rich and poor. Ocalan wants to give people will, to create free people, and show them how to think freely. He embraced the people.
Practically speaking, what do we do now? We put Ocalan’s thought into practice. How do we do this? With knowledge. For example, we created many academies, TEV-DEM academies, academies of the civil society institutions, academies for teachers, academies of the AANES, everybody created their own academies. At these academies, one receives all kinds of education about a democratic society and way of organising. What happens then? Contradictions don’t emerge between two different people. Now, in America, there are black and white people, right? It’s not like that with us. If you are white or black, it doesn’t matter. You’re a human. We built our society on this basis. When you don’t distinguish between people and say ‘that’s a Kurd, that’s an Arab’, when you don’t say, ‘that’s black, that’s white,’ then you create social cohesiveness, connection between society.
We’re around 75% of the way toward achieving this society.
Right, but I think there are still difficulties in translating this ideology from theory to practice?
Sure. We must criticise ourselves for these difficulties. There are some things that we still could not get our people to understand. We couldn’t create that level of understanding among the people. We have academies, where we educate the people. But at the same time we are in a revolution, in a condition of war… we lost 12,000 martyrs. From those 12,000, 3000 were Arabs. There were also Syriacs. The majority are Kurds, because this revolution started among the Kurds. However, people from all parts of our society lost children in this war. What does this create? When the blood of Kurds and Arabs and Christians soaks the same land? It means that no any difference remain between the people who live on this land. You and I are equal on this land. We must live like this.
The system of the AANES represents this. All the parties there are now are equal, and may participate in the AANES, without discrimination. There are some parties with only a small membership. Some have 100 and others hundreds of thousands of members. So one will be given a quota of two seats, and the other a quota of ten. Why? Because the numbers aren’t the same. This is how we conduct democracy here. And we treat this as fundamental. Raising one’s hands to vote is less important than reaching an understanding. For example, if we put something to a vote, and you receive more votes, and you win and I lose, fair enough – we do it like this. But before we vote, we discuss for hours, until you and I reach a consensus. In this discussion, we will come to understand who’s wrong and who’s right, and then we will vote on this basis. Then there won’t be incorrect decisions. What’s the democracy they have now in Europe? They vote on their viewpoints, but they don’t discuss them. The viewpoints of those who are in control of the system are to the forefront, and they only have limited discussions. We have very long meetings here, right? I just came now from a meeting. It lasted 6 or 7 hours. Because we have to reach an understanding. So that people can take decisions, there has to be consensus. This is true democracy. Understanding one another, and then voting or adopting a position on this basis. Then, when you understand one another, you won’t get annoyed with the decision.
Maybe we can take this last meeting as an example. You were just in a meeting of the Manufacturing Union, right? What subjects were discussed, what were the problems, how did you reach this consensus?
TEV-DEM unites all the syndicates that there are in civil society, all the unions. The doctors, the lawyers, students, teachers, workers… all have their own syndicates, connected to us. The Manufacturing Union is the same. We hold meetings. For example, with the Manufacturing Union, we discussed how we can create a council for those who work in manufacturing, so that they can represent all of those who work in this fields – both in factories, and those who work with their hands [ie. in the garage district of the city]. So they can protect their rights.
For example, if the Autonomous Administration doesn’t respect their rights, in this way we can protect them. To this end, we need to be organized. What is this organization? The solidarity of society. For example, let’s say there are 1000 people here working in the manufacturing district. If they aren’t organized, how can they defend their rights and take care of themselves on a piecemeal basis? If they are divided, they will just have to submit to rulings. But when they’re organised, when they have this solidarity, they can go to their syndicate and reach a shared perspective, as an organisation and not just as individuals.
Then, the organisation they are dealing with – that is, the Autonomous Administration – will have to listen to them, to the viewpoint of civil society. We talked about this today, how we can organise our civil society. So they can work as easily as possible.
It’s the same for all the fields of employment: for all workers, so they can take care of themselves, ensure their rights in the workplace are respected. For chauffeurs, for example, we are creating a system for them. In this way, we overcome the problems that are faced by our people. We point out the mistakes which are committed by the Autonomous Administration, and they correct them. The civil society and the Autonomous Administration complete one another, within one system. The system of the democratic nation is completed by civil society and the AANES together.
There are still practical errors being committed, because our level of knowledge is still lacking. We have to bring the civil society up to a certain level of understanding. Those who participate in the Autonomous Administration at the highest levels of leadership must overcome the oppressive mindset, and create a democratic mindset in its place.
So that we can listen to one another and reach decisions, and not just speak about the laws [ie. in a legalistic, inflexible manner], about the constitution. No. We want to create an ethical and politically-engaged society. What is such a society? Politics is knowledge, and an ethical society is one which can protect its own values. With its knowledge, it can project its own identity, its own people. Now, in courts, it’s conducted like this – there are only the laws, and you must proceed according to them. But we don’t want a legalistic system like this. There are still many things we must do to overcome this, both by increasing the level of knowledge in civil society, and ensuring that the laws we use match up to our democratic principles.
There are still shortcomings in this area, because we are living in the context of a bloody war, and our system is still a young one. Now, we are experiencing an economic crisis, and this too creates a grave influence on civil society. Why? Because this region has few products of its own, everything is brought from outside. We are surrounded, and so the products which arrive from outside are very expensive [ie. the region is under an effective embargo, so basic products arrive via the black market, which drives up prices]. The Syrian Pound has also lost a lot of its value. So the people are facing a serious increase in prices.
How are we going to overcome this crisis? We are discussing this now. Today, this was one of the subjects we discussed with the manufacturers’ syndicate. We want our people to work with conscience. They have to work with conscience and humanity, whether importing, trading, manufacturing… Rather than buying things, hiking up the prices and selling them, they should take only a small profit for themselves, and sell it at a small mark-up. This is also connected to developing consciousness.
We are in the 21st century, an era in which everybody and every nation is seeking to increase their own capital. Capital is the basis of oppression. Even if you want to resist oppression, you need a lot of money! Capitalism is like that. And the oppressive system has made itself dominant the world over on the basis of capital.
What do people do, then? There are those who own trading shops. In order to enrich themselves, they add a heavy mark-up to their products and take money from the people. We want to put an end to this. People should work according to conscience, not profits. Let both you and the others make enough to live on. This goes for everyone, traders, businesspeople, manufacturers, factories… People shouldn’t seek excessive profits. Everybody should achieve a modest profit, and society should complete itself in this way.
So we can come through this economic crisis in this way. That’s for one. secondly, due to the economic crisis, the AANES will be able to set up some projects which are intended to achieve economic autonomy, so we can live according to our own means. For example, vegetables, all kinds of vegetables. During the [Second World] War, the people of Germany lived off potatoes. Where are you from?
I’m from the UK.
Ah, well, the Germans lived off potatoes, right? What Britain lived off I don’t know.
We also ate a lot of potatoes.
Well, for example – what we can grow here, we should, rather than importing things from outside at an expensive price. We should take care of ourselves here, for a cheap price. When things are your own, they’re cheap – when they come from outside, they’re expensive.
So the AANES is busying itself with these economic projects, the farmers as well, the civil society. Everybody is working to this end, how we can take care of ourselves. This is the solidarity of society. In this way, we can make our own society successful, our own system successful. If we can make this system of the AANES stand on its own two legs, despite all the difficult conditions we face, by developing this society’s consciousness… if we can spread this democratic mentality in our society.. 50% would be enough. It doesn’t have to be 100%. With 50%, we can make steps toward creating a democratic society.
Maybe now we can turn our attention to the first years of the revolution, 2012, 2013… At that time, the regime forces withdrew from North and East Syria, without major clashes. And then, this system was built up from zero. How was this achieved? What difficulties did you face and how did you overcome them?
Now, when we talk about 2012… on the 19th July – in a month it will be our anniversary – we threw the regime out of our region. When the regime left, everyone said, ‘if there’s no state system, the people can’t organise and lead themselves’. Our people thought the same thing. When the regime left, there was nothing left here. They even took the garbage trucks with them when they left! They did this with knowledge.
Petrol, for example. Our region is rich in petrol but we don’t have any refineries so we can turn it into diesel or benzine. We had no diesel, and so no electricity. We only found bread with difficulty. Everything was expensive. But the people led themselves.
What did the people do? From the young up to the old, 7 up to 70, men and women… they were on the frontlines of the war. They were starving hungry. From 2012 until 2015, we experienced great hardships. We refined diesel over open fires, and got a little diesel as a result. We had no money to buy wheat, to buy motors or generators to get electricity… we were 24 hours without electricity.
And we faced attacks from our enemies. The regime left, and the Free Syrian Army attacked us, Jabhat al Nusra attacked us, our enemies tried to set Kurds against Arabs, for example in [the town of] Tirbe Spi, the Turks sought to set Kurds against Arabs.
In [the town of] Til Temir, they sought to set Arabs against Kurds. In Heseke, they wanted to set Arabs against Kurds, in Qamishlo to set Arabs against Kurds… they tried to create problems between the Assyrian Christians and the Arabs, to create problems between the Syriac Christians and the Arabs… It was a great crisis.
These were crisis years for us, both economically speaking, and organisationally. In terms of putting our system to work. We still hadn’t set up the AANES. At this time, it was TEV-DEM which oversaw the political system, which made everything work.
Now, TEV-DEM has changed its work, and for the past year and a half has represented the civil society. Before, the whole political system was based on TEV-DEM. The political parties were organised through TEV-DEM, the armed forces were linked to TEV-DEM, the people organized themselves via TEV-DEM. As a civil society movement, we carried out the revolution. We created the communes, starting from small, and created organization. We increased the people’s level of knowledge.
We asked, how are we going to overcome this crisis? In truth, from 2012, 2013, 2014… in 2014, we announced the AANES. But after this, another year passed in which the AANES didn’t know how to lead this society. Why? Because leading a society isn’t something easy, it’s not a joke… But after a year, and going through some experiences, we recognized that leading society, and representing the interests of civil society, are two different things. Before, we were carrying out these two functions mixed-up together.
In 2015, we newly arrived to a position whereby the society would carry out its self-organising, and simultaneously the AANES, as the leadership of the people, would steer society through this crisis. To this end, we created crisis committees. A crisis committee for the economy… a military crisis committee for the war… A political crisis committee… so we could carry out diplomacy, and make our voice heard in the media.
Like now, how long have you known about the revolution?
Of course, I’ve known about the revolution for a long time. I’ve been here for two years.
You’re here since two years. But I guess you’ve followed what’s happening here since around that time, when we established the crisis committees. You knew there was a revolution here, standing on its own two legs.
How was the revolution? Across all of Syria, people rose up, in Dara’a, in Damascus, in Aleppo, people rose up against the regime. Many of them rose up against the regime in the name of Arabs. But afterward, how did it go? They created military battalions, and at first, our relationship with them was good. We were against the regime, and so were they. We weren’t an armed force, at that time. We wanted to create a democratic system in Syria, without fighting. We wanted to instigate a change in mentality across Syria. But they took up weapons, and we said, ‘very well, we will support them’.
But after we saw, one of these battalions became the Sultan Murad Division – they were [controlled by] the Turks. We saw that another was connected to Qatar, another connected to Saudi Arabia…
We saw that the whole Free Syrian Army was connected to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and I don’t know where else… they weren’t acting according to the interests of Syria, nor the interests of its people. Wherever they went, they looted. We saw that they were emptying the revolution of its meaning.
So we rose up, and defended the revolution. As the Kurdish people, we protected the revolution, and allowed it to remain standing. If we had done like [the other FSA factions], and allowed ourselves to get connected to somewhere else, now there would be no revolution, no Rojava, no uprising, and no resistance.
The Rojava revolution, or the revolution in North and East Syria, has become a flame of freedom to the whole world. We worked on this basis, and we still didn’t cut off our connections with them.
When they attacked Sere Kaniye [in 2014, when this Kurdish-majority city was attacked and partially occupied by Jabhat al-Nusra before YPG drove them out], we saw them, we said to them, ‘why don’t you go and attack the regime? Why are you attacking us?’
They said, ‘you’re not Muslims. That’s why we are attacking you.’ They thought like that. We understood that this is not a ‘free army’, fighting against the oppressive regime to create a new system. We understood that they were fighting a sectarian war, saying ‘this is Sunni, this is Alawite, this is Yezidi, this is Muslim…’
They didn’t see the Kurds as Muslims [note: the Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims]. Muslims should not kill Muslims. But according to their thought, whichever Kurd they saw they should kill. Whichever Assyrian or Syriac Christian they saw, they should kill, because they aren’t Muslims.
But if you’re a Muslim, they won’t kill you. Whichever Yezidi they saw, they should kill. We understood that this had nothing to do with the revolution. What did we do? We stood up against them. We saw that there’s no difference between us, if you’re a Muslim, Christian, Jew, Yezidi… whatever you are, Alawi or Sunni, it doesn’t make any difference.
We see everyone as humans.
But, if you strike me, I will defend myself. If you approach me in friendship, I will give you my hand. We saw their situation was different, that they wanted to empty the Syrian Revolution [of meaning]. It is we who protected the Syrian Revolution. We struggled for the revolution, and they attacked us. For example Shengal [Sinjar, the ancestral homeland of the Yezidis where ISIS conducted a genocide in 2014 until Kurdish forces including YPG intervened to liberate the Yezidis], on the 3 August 2014, entered into a very serious situation.
YPG left here and marched to Shengal. I went myself, not as part of the military, but as a civilian. As part of TEV-DEM, not as part of a military force. When the people left as refugees, we organised cars and sent them to them. I went to the top of the Shengal mountains. YPG were there, fighting, and we liberated the people and brought them to Newroz IDP camp, near Derik [in North and East Syria]. We went there, we filled cars with people and we sent them away. We organised this. Why? Because we must care for this people as well. At that time, we didn’t say, ‘they are from Iraq and we are from Syria, it’s not our concern.’ There is a border between us and them… but we saw these were a people who, without excuse, were being killed. On what basis? On the basis of their identity.
Their identity is Kurdish and Yezidi. and on this basis, they were being killed. So we took care of them. In Kobane, during the siege [when ISIS surrounded and nearly seized all of this Kurdish city], people came to help us from Turkey, from Iraq, from Tehran… not only Kurds, but Turks, Arabs, Iranians…
From America too, and from Britain, from Germany. Why? Because everyone saw this was a war to protect humanity. This was the great victory in Kobane, this is what was achieved. Solidarity among the people. Consider, in the revolution in North and East Syria, we didn’t just achieve solidarity between our peoples, but between the whole world.
There were protests for Kobane in more than 100 countries. This is solidarity, the social solidarity which was created. This was the victory of our society.
We want to create this spirit, this spirit which was lost, we want to draw out again. For example, Raqqa was the capital of ISIS. Should we leave Raqqa like this? Since ISIS made it their capital, should it just stay like that? No. We said, ‘our people are there,’ Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Syriacs… we have to take care of them. With its own strength, SDF defeated ISIS there. They defeated them in Manbij, in Tabqa, until Deir-ez-Zor. On the 23 March 2019, ISIS were totally defeated. We experienced many difficulties, thousands of our youngsters sacrificed their lives.
And each of those who died was lifted up. In their hearts, their mothers rained blood [ie. were distraught], but because they knew what their sons and daughters were sacrificing their lives for, each of those mothers stood up at the funeral and said, ‘”for this cause, I will sacrifice all my children! For the freedom of our homeland.”
This is the spirit which we created. this is what enabled us to remain standing on our feet, those mothers, who made it clear that resistance is life. Through resistance, we are triumphant. If you give in, you are lost. This is the spirit we created, the difficulties we experienced, in order to create such a mentality.
12,000 people died fighting ISIS. it’s no joke. 12,000 human beings… thousands of children left without a father, as orphans… thousands of mothers crying for their children every day… And apart from this, the hunger… nobody helped us from outside.
Those organisations who now give us a certain amount of support do not do much to support our people. How many [refugee/IDP] camps do we have? Perhaps 15. Consider the Afrini refugees in Shebha, how many thousands of people live there? In Manbij, there are 3 or 4 camps, in Raqqa, 3 or 4 camps, 6 or 7 here [in Jazira], and no-one helps us. [note: per UN figures there are 800,000 IDPs and 1.94million people in need of humanitarian assistance in North and East Syria].
The oppressive state system does not help humanity. What do the people do? When the people of Sere Kaniye were driven out as IDPs [during Turkey’s 2019 invasion of NES], what did the people here do? They saw what they had in their homes… and they were hungry themselves, but they took food and things from their homes, blankets and pillows, and gave them to the IDPs. That is the solidarity of society. When society takes care of itself like this… if it wasn’t like that, no-one would have remained in this land.
Our people took care of one another, and so remained in this land. Maybe a number ran away at the start, in an initial wave, when we experienced violent attacks. The people didn’t know what was going to happen yet. They were scared. A number of them fled, but the others remained.
And those that remained have lived among war for 10 years now. This is another aspect of the people’s resistance. Our system has remained standing on this basis, the solidarity of the peoples.
As you said, this system was set up ten years ago, and is still standing to this day. Nonetheless, until today the autonomy of this region is facing great danger, now and in the future. How do you aim to protect this region from that danger?
I want to address something else, before I move onto that topic.
There is another reason for this system’s success – that women have stood up on their own feet. Women played a very important role. Whether a mother or a young girl, whether an activist or a politician, these women stood up on their own feet. For example, Arin Mirkan, or Hevrin Khalef… Hevrin Khalef was a politician, a woman for the future. [Note: Arin Mirkan blew up an ISIS tank with a handgrenade in Kobane in 2014, killing herself in the process,while Hevrin Khalef was brutalised and shot dead by Turkish-backed fighters who stopped her car during the 2019 invasion] She was creating a democratic future for Syria. There are hundreds and thousands of women taking their place in the military, political, organisational and administrative fields.
According to the world system, it is men who must lead nations. No. With us, the nation must be led in an equal fashion [via the ‘co-chair’ system, all political bodies in NES are led by one man and one woman, from the communes up to the top positions in AANES]. This is a key reason for our success, that women have joined everything. And women and men together have built up and defended this revolution.
How will these successes be defended? We lived many difficult years together, but there are many difficult years ahead of us as well. We face at least 5 more years of danger, because the Third World War won’t be over in the next 5 years! Without question.
The Third World War concerns the oppressive powers’ attempts to enforce their search for more capital on the people. To them, it doesn’t matter if 100 or 1000 people live or die here.
Whether they die from coronavirus or in a bombing, it doesn’t matter to them. The only question to them is how they can impose their oppression on the people. For this reason, as North and East Syria, we will be successful to the extent that we can organize ourselves. However much we organise ourselves, this much will be able to defend our system.
So, what are we working on now? to spread ourselves into all fields of society. Those sections where we didn’t reach yet, where we didn’t yet manage to increase the level of consciousness.
Wherever our system of the Autonomous Administration has weaknesses or shortcomings, we will complete it.
What are those places in society, which haven’t arrived to a good level of awareness yet?
We have some people who haven’t really understood our new system yet. Especially Arab regions, also some Kurdish regions. They haven’t reached the level of understanding we would like.
They still have this question in their hearts, as to whether this system will be successful or not. We want to make this known, that they can only make this system successful by struggling for it themselves!
The basis is organising society, developing their level of consciousness, and the dynamic force of the youth – who always remain on their feet, to protect this revolution. Then, you will be successful.
As civil society, also, as TEV-DEM, we recognise that there are parts of our society which need to be better organised in order to take care of themselves. We take this as something essential.
We have to defend ourselves in this way, but also in a military sense. We have to ask ourselves how we can defend ourselves militarily, since attacks against us have not finished. Turkey continues to threaten us, Erdogan continues to say he will cross into North and East Syria.
It’s possible he will attack Qamishlo tomorrow, Kobane, Derik… we don’t know. This is a great danger against our people.
On the diplomatic side, likewise, we want to bring our voice to the whole world. Why does the Turkish state carry out so many attacks against other nations? It attacks Syria, Libya, Iraq… Is there nobody in this world, in America, Europe, or other nations, who can ask Turkey and Erdogan, ‘what right do you have to attack so many different nations’?
But we know this well, that the politics which is now being carried out against us is because all of the hegemonic powers can retain their dominance, the dominance of their system. What does it benefit Erdogan to attack Syria? To attack Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq? To attack Libya, so many kilometers far from him?
He says he attacks us because we’re on his border… so why attack Libya? There’s a problem here, a problem of oppression, in the world. All those who love democracy, all those who stand against oppression, must raise their voices against these attacks Erdogan conducts against the people.
The oppressive state system relies on [those like] Erdogan to retain its dominance. Through Erdogan, it breaks the will of the people, and breaks our homeland. We have to speak up against this.
We can’t say we finished all our work here. No. Tomorrow, we will face a face-to-face war, and we must be ready for this now. We must prepare our society. In all the meetings we have now, the meetings of the people which we hold, neighborhood by neighborhood, commune by commune, we say, “we are in such a situation. On the one hand an economic crisis, and on the other, the possibility that Turkey will attack us tomorrow.”
Our people must be ready on both fronts. They shouldn’t say, ‘where has this come from?’
This is the first thing we tell our people, that they have to make themselves ready. And they are prepared. But who gives Turkey the right to cross onto our soil? We ask the world to account for this. It must be accounted for. Why they attack us, we don’t know.
As a final question… as we said at the beginning, there are these protests in America, where black people, in particular, demand their rights, and are rising up all across America, and in some places have claimed autonomy for some neighborhoods in certain cities. They are experiencing this crisis right now. As the people of Rojava, if the people of America want to change their system, to live in freedom, how can they do it? What steps must they take?
For the African-American population… when there is oppression, whether it’s a dictator, a fascist, an enemy… whenever there are no human rights, and a difference is made between black and white… there will always be a social reaction. Everyone has a right to demand their own rights.
The oppressors and the oppressive system have no right to kill people on the basis of their identity or origin. If someone is a suspect they must be arrested and brought before a court, not suffocated. People have a right to demand their rights.
But if someone has complained, that you came and arrested him without respecting his rights – whether he’s white or black – and you tortured him and suffocated him without respecting his identity, this is a crime against humanity.
These crimes against humanity derive from the oppressive system, which gives people the right to eradicate others. Whatever nation you’re in, you have a right to defend yourself against this oppressive system.
But, one must know – on your own, you can’t do anything. If people in America, if black people want to create an autonomous system, they can’t do it alone. They must work with the white people.
How was it with us? I’ll use Syria as an example. We’re in a country which was known as the ‘Syrian Arab Republic’. We’re Kurds. Consider the Kurdish psychology – “I’m in an Arab nation, I’m Kurdish, I am oppressed…”
It’s the same thing. Actually, both we and the Arabs have pale skin, but they’re Arabs and we’re Kurds. On the basis of this identity, we’re killed, suffocated, tortured, eradicated, as I said at the beginning.
47:34 Arabs were always at the top, and Kurds at the bottom. The Kurds had absolutely no power to do anything. But now we changed that dialectic.
We created the system of the Autonomous Administration, which changes the dialectic – we said, ‘Kurds and Arabs are the same’. We and Arabs conduct our autonomous system together.
For this reason, white and black people in America must together set up an autonomous system which can stand against the oppressive system. Then, they will be able to defend their autonomy.
Now they’ve gone and claimed autonomy for one or two neighborhoods – it’s something short-term. For a few days. It’s a social reaction. But what will happen tomorrow? Everything will necessarily go back to like it was before.
No, that’s not a solution. What’s the solution? Democratic people, informed people, academics, those who care for human rights, must come together. Black and white. They have to discuss together, how they can democratize the system in their region.
In America, they have a federal system, right? They should say, ‘how can we make our region [she says ‘canton’, but means ‘state’ in the US context] democratic? How will we be able to make our homeland beautiful together, white and black, Muslim and Christian?
They must work like this. If they work like this, they can create a beautiful homeland in America. But if it’s black against white, it’s not a struggle between the oppressed and the state. It has to be a struggle of the people.
In Syria, our enemies didn’t want it to become like this. The oppressors didn’t want it to be like this.
At the beginning of the revolution, they wanted to do things like this. In [the town of] Til Temir, they stirred up the Arab tribes against the Kurds. Til Temir was surrounded for 12 days by Arab forces.
Who lives in Til Temir? There are Assyrian Christians, Kurds and Arabs. Til Temir was surrounded, not by all the Arabs, but by some of them, the youths. They stirred them up.
We went and discussed with the Arab dignitaries, with the Kurdish dignitaries, with the Assyrian Church, we brought them all together. We discussed, we shared opinions – ‘how are we doing to create unity, without killing one another?’
We put it right, and now we live together. America must do it like this.
People can succeed like this. As black people, you can’t demand your rights unless you have white people alongside you. We can’t limit the discussion to the colour of our skin, or what it says on our IDs, our origins are this and that… killings on this basis must become a thing of the past.
We are people, human beings. We have arrived to a level of understanding, in the 21st century, where we can now ask ourselves, ‘what is democracy?’
Democracy cannot be just a phrase which is spoken or written, held up on placards… What is true democracy? Go and ask Europe or America, and they will lecture us about democracy for hours. But if you look at the practice, there is no democracy in these nations.
I myself don’t see democracy in America or in Europe. I criticise their ‘democracy’. Why? Because they have an oppressive mentality.
Earlier, you said that the democracy of raising hands to vote is not true democracy.
When democracy becomes oppression, it is not democracy anymore. How can you oppress people, and be a democrat? If you’re a democrat, you are not an oppressor; if you’re an oppressor, you’re not a democrat. This is a profound contradiction.
For this reason, the fundamental thing is this. And I hope other people can benefit from considering our revolution. We can share our experiences with them.
Because we’re not just Kurds here – we are Kurds, Arabs, Chechens, Armenians, Syriacs, Chaldeans… all kinds of people.
They can learn from our experiences, we can explain to them, the situation that there is – how we create solidarity among ourselves, how we created our system – together. Alone, we cannot.