Ro­java: Syria’s so­cial­ist en­clave

The Week Middle East - - News -

Big­ger than Bel­gium, with a pop­u­la­tion of some four mil­lion, Ro­java is the an­tithe­sis of its neigh­bour Daesh: a secular, multi-eth­nic ter­ri­tory de­signed on prin­ci­ples of so­cial­ist democ­racy, gen­der equal­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity. The PYD, which gov­erns it, is af­fil­i­ated to Tur­key’s PKK and takes in­spi­ra­tion from the phi­los­o­phy of PKK leader Ab­dul­lah Öcalan. Öcalan him­self started out as a mil­i­tant Maoist; and the PKK is still widely con­sid­ered a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion. How­ever, he has been in a Turk­ish pri­son ever since 1999, when he was cap­tured in Kenya, with the help of the CIA. In jail he has mu­tated from rebel leader to philoso­pher, and ad­vo­cates the cre­ation of sep­a­rate Kur­dish com­mu­ni­ties within their ex­ist­ing states. He also holds that the prob­lems some of Mid­dle Eastern so­ci­eties – cor­rup­tion, bad gov­er­nance – can’t be solved with­out achiev­ing full equal­ity for women. The PYD supports this view. It has an all-fe­male fight­ing force, the Women’s Pro­tec­tion Units, which has played a cru­cial role in the civil war, and a fe­male po­lice force deal­ing with sex­ual as­sault and rape. But the odds are stacked against Ro­java’s utopian ex­per­i­ment, which is op­posed by Tur­key, and at odds with Iraqi Kur­dis­tan; while the PYD it­self has of­ten been ac­cused of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.

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