Rojava: Syria’s socialist enclave
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.