The "Make Rojava Green Again” campaign was launched in early 2018 by the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, in cooperation with the Committee for Natural Reserves of the Commission for Economy), and the Committee for Ecology (of the Commission for Municipalities and Ecology of the self administration in Rojava) with the aim of supporting and developing the ecological society in northern Syria. The campaign has three strands: education, practical works, and the organisation of global solidarity.
The development of an ecological and democratic consciousness is the basis for understanding the balance between humanity and nature. It is about more than just scientific knowledge and a rational understanding: in order to overcome the alienation of people from nature, and thus from themselves, humanity today must go back to nature, to experience and appreciate it in order to protect it. For this reason, theoretical/educational work at all levels of society as well as concrete experiences in and with nature will be essential parts in the construction of an ecological society.
Education for internationalists
The Internationalist Academy, which has been under construction since the summer of 2017, will be the centre of our educational work. Here, internationalists can be trained according to the principles of radical democracy, women's liberation, and ecology, and prepared for work in Rojavan society through intensive language and cultural education. There will be lectures, seminars and discussions about the necessity for the ecological society, what it could look like, and what steps will be necessary to achieve it. Complementing the theoretical training at the Academy, all internationalists will get the chance to develop a true sense of nature through physical work in the affiliated tree cooperative and the reforestation projects we support. The practical work with the soil, and the handling and care of the plants and animals in the academy and tree nursery, will show the possibilities – the beauty - of a life in harmony with nature. With the help of internationalists, we want to develop an environmentally-conscious mentality and an understanding and practical knowledge of ecological living, both among ourselves and throughout the political structures and society of Rojava.
The Academy — which, along with the life and work within it, is still under construction — is designed according to ecological principles. How best to utilise water, soil, air, energy and waste is not only discussed in theoretically, but also actually implemented. In doing so, we want to minimise our own contribution to pollution as well as become an example to similar projects working for a more ecological Rojava.
Education in society
Internationalists will work with the local structures to organise education for the development of ecological awareness and knowledge. It will take place in schools, youth centres, municipalities, communes and other institutions. This part of the curriculum will also involve leaving the classroom: trips to the Hayaka nature reserve, participation in planting work, and the establishment of school gardens will make nature more vital and relevant.
Afforestation of the Academy grounds
In autumn 2018, we are going to begin the afforestation of the Academy grounds. 7,200 square meters to the west, north, and east of the Academy will be planted with 2,000 trees, mostly pines and fruit trees, such as apple, pistachio, pomegranate, cherry, pear, fig and apricot. These will be irrigated and fertilised with the grey-water and organic fertiliser produced in the Academy itself. Over the next few years, olives, grapes and oak trees will be planted in an area of 12,500 square meters on the rocky slope to the south of the Academy, thus creating a forest that protects the environment and provides a safe haven for local flora and fauna.
Waste management and recycling
Separation is the basis of waste management at the Academy. Organic waste (such as leftover food and paper) is immediately separated from non-organic waste (such as plastic or metal). Avoiding mixing the waste eliminates the unpleasant and time-consuming task of re-separating them later. The non-organic waste is further subdivided by type.
Instead of burning or burying the inorganic waste and polluting water, air and soil, the waste is separated and stored. The first separation is between waste that poses a direct hazard to water and soil, such as batteries or electronic waste, and non-hazardous plastic or metal waste. Hazardous waste is stored away from where it could contaminate water sources. The non-hazardous, non-organic waste is cleaned for hygiene reasons and also stored. Plans are underway to recycle plastic and metal waste, either on the Academy site itself or in future joint projects with the democratic self administration structures.
The organic waste produced by the Academy is converted into fertiliser and used. This avoids hygiene problems that arise when this waste is disposed of in landfills, and also saves costs incurred by the purchase of chemical fertiliser. Food leftovers, paper and cardboard are collected and composted. After a few months, the compost turns into nutrient-rich humus that can be used to fertilise trees and vegetables on the Academy grounds. The Academy is expected to produce around ten tonnes of organic waste each year, which in turn will produce around one tonne of humus. The grey-water from our sinks and showers will also be used for irrigation and fertiliser, and the dry toilet system reduces the amount of black-water produced, allowing for the ecological use of the resulting waste as fertiliser.
Drinking water comes from a well in the Academy grounds. The wastewater can be divided into two categories: grey water (i.e. the water from showers, the kitchen etc.) and black water from the toilets. Most of the Academy's grey-water is collected and used for both irrigation and fertilisation. This prevents pollution and saves water and fertiliser. The grey water is first sent to a tank where sediment and grease is filtered out. From there, the water flows to another tank, where it is stored for use. The grey-water is then used, mainly for watering the trees. This system saves around 2,500 litres of water a day. The black-water produced is stored in a separate tank. The research on the technical implementation and use of black-water as a fertiliser at the Academy is still ongoing.
Although knowledge transfer and creation of ecological awareness will certainly be one of the strategic works in the process of building the ecological society, these educational activities must be followed by concrete steps. One of the biggest problems in Rojava is the lack of forests, which has a negative effect on air quality, soil erosion, the increasing water shortage, and the economic and psychological wellbeing of the population. The planting of trees is a solution to many pressing issues: it reduces soil erosion by wind and water and preserves the fertility of surrounding agricultural land. In areas such as the Hayaka Nature Reserve, reforestation also serves to protect watersheds and restore biodiversity. While economic activities such as timber production or agroforestry can play a role in the long term, massive reduction of CO2 to reduce the greenhouse effect is vital for all humanity. To make all this possible, a lot of work is needed in Rojava; lost knowledge, lack of awareness, and economic challenges call for systematic and practical solutions.
The tree cooperative
An essential part of the ecological strategy of the self administration in Rojava is the development of tree nurseries. Most existing nurseries in northern Syria are owned by private companies, making planting trees an expensive affair for many.
To help solve this problem, we started the construction of a nursery on the grounds of the Internationalist Academy. In 2018 alone, more than 50,000 shoots will be planted and raised on an area of 5,000 square metres. The focus will be on fruit trees, with a special emphasis given to plants that are tolerant of arid conditions, such as olive and oak. The nursery will provide both the Hayaka Nature Reserve and the local political structures (such as communities, cooperatives, institutions and municipalities) with trees and other plants. It will also be a place for practical research. Through targeted interventions and the use of alternative methods and technologies in the areas of water use, fertilisation and recycling, we will contribute to the reforestation of Rojava.
The nursery will be organised as a non-profit cooperative and the work there will be part of the training at the Internationalist Academy. All internationalists will contribute their labour power to the reforestation project. This will allow us to deliver trees at an affordable price. Our goal is to provide trees at about half of the cost of those from profit-oriented nurseries. The surplus of the tree cooperative, after deducting all costs such as transport, technology, construction, tools and working materials, will be invested in the expansion of the nursery (25%); the works of the Internationalist Academy (25%); and in the reforestation of the Hayaka Nature Reserve (50%).
The Hayaka Nature Reserve
The nature reserve of Hayaka is a few kilometres west of the town of Dêrîk, in Cizîrê Canton. It is named after the adjacent village and comprises a mainly poplar-covered forest area of more than 200 hectares and the Lake Sefan reservoir, which was created in the 1990s by the damming of 31 different source streams. Many wildlife and plant species that have been displaced by deforestation and monoculture have found refuge in Hayaka Nature Reserve. Despite habitat loss and hunting, wolves, foxes, wild pigs, many different species of birds and other small animals were able to survive in the small forest areas around the lake. To preserve this natural biodiversity and some of the last forest in the region, the democratic self-administration declared the area a nature reserve in 2014. Hunting, fishing, construction of buildings, and agriculture were prohibited in the reserve. At the same time, the afforestation of the lakeshore began, with a long-term plan to plant more than 100,000 trees around the lake, over a length of 14 kilometres. Work is also being done to establish beekeeping in the reserve, and to make the variety of herbs available there accessible for medical research.
The preservation, expansion and continued afforestation of the Hayaka Nature Reserveis an integral part of the campaign. Both through the practical work of internationalists in the nature reserve and through financial support of the reforestation, we want to develop an ecological perspective for the region that encompasses the local population and their economic needs.
Organisation of worldwide solidarity
The third main aspect of the Make Rojava Green Again campaign will be the organisation of global solidarity. Through our campaign and outreach, we want to build a bridge between the local communal entities of the democratic self-administration and ecological projects in northern Syria, and interested activists, experts, academics, institutions and organisations from all over the world. Of course, one of the best ways to promote this ecological work is to get involved here in Rojava. But this possibility is not open to all people: coming to Rojava is difficult because of the political situation in the surrounding countries, and sometimes the route is completely closed. That's why several months should be planned for any stay in northern Syria. Nevertheless, there are many ways to help: whether in Rojava itself or from outside, solidarity and the struggle for an ecological society know no borders.
Financial support of the works
Although many of the ecological works in Rojava, as well as the work of the internationalists in the tree cooperative and the Hayaka Nature Reserve, are voluntary and unpaid, we, like the other local structures, depend on financial resources. Technology, machinery, tools, materials and transport costs, as well as wages for skilled local labor, cost money. If you want to strengthen the campaign and other ecological projects in northern Syria and safeguard them over the long term, you can contribute to building the ecological society through financial support. To give the projects more planning security, regular monthly donations are even better and are greatly appreciated. All donations will be used to build, maintain and further develop ecological projects in Rojava, beginning with the tree cooperative and support for the Hayaka Nature Reserve.
Knowledge exchange, project development, and ideas for an ecological Rojava
In northern Syria, there is a great need for more ecological awareness, expert knowledge, and committed scientists. Possibilities include remote video exchange, the training of Rojavan specialists here or abroad, or direct work on projects in northern Syria. Just as the world can learn from Rojava in many ways, Rojava also has much to learn from the world. That is why we are looking for interested and committed activists, experts, people with technical skills, and scientists with ideas for planning and implementing ecological projects in northern Syria and for developing a more ecological Rojava. In particular, we are looking for people with expertise and experience in the following areas:
- Sustainable forestry and agriculture in semi-arid regions
- Water use and sanitation
- Ecological sustainability and renewable energies
- Mechanical and electrical engineering
- Physics, chemistry and biology (and especially botany).