Statelessness and Lawlessness in Rojava - by Nazan Ustundag

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Joined: 15-11-07
May 26 2015 20:27
Statelessness and Lawlessness in Rojava - by Nazan Ustundag

Here are notes from a symposium "State and Law Theory Symposium" In it there was a presentation by Prof. Dr. Nazan Ustundag,who was part of the academic delegation who went to Rojava. In below some notes from her speech. If there are misunderstandings, incomplete things or wrong notes, sorry for that. Words between “ [] ” are mine.

Statelessness and Lawlessness in Rojava
Prof. Dr. Nazan Ustundag

My current work is focused on the transformation of kurdish movement in last few years. I had made interviews in Quandil and Cizre Canton. In my presentation I will deal with three topics:

1) Ideological background of Kurdish movement
2) What this ideology concretely means in Cizre Canton
3) What we learn about state and law from this experiment

1) Ideology
Ocalan has five court defenses that are published as book. The idea of Democratic Autonomy is based on them. He develops this idea while [self-]criticizing the movement and its practices from its beginnings [practices of last 40 years] It is a very eclectic framework but this also makes it a very approachable one as well.

According to Ocalan societies can govern themselves. if they can fulfill at least three basic functions 1) Food 2) Reproduction 3) Self-defense. However capitalist modernity steals this capacity from societies and especially from women and workers. So the aim of Ocalan is to establish moral/political society again. However this is not a nostalgic backward looking project. It is not a resurrection of past values. Social values and traditions should also be revised in terms of gender relations, democracy ecology and from the perspective of workers while building their alternative modernity project. Moreover these revisions must be realized in institutional level in societies. If there will a history of democratic modernity it will be history of the development of such institutions.

Ocalan also proposes a methodology to establish such institution: This method is called "negotiation and struggle". Ocalan mentions this in his 2013 Newroz speech. In overall this means: The Kurdish geography is divided into four different parts. however this should not be considered as a lack or misfortune, this -to the contrary- must be considered as a strength. These parts must engage in negotiation and struggle between themselves [and also other places?] Ocalan defines this widespread and floating geography as a productive force. The process of construction in all four parts continue, however in Rojava unexpected happened and a unique opportinity for construction emerged. It was [establishing a pivotal region to start democratic modernity] originally planned to start from Bakur. however now Rojava will took the lead.

2) Cizre Canton

Cizre is the must multi-ethnic canton among others. There are Alevis, Suryanis, Azeris, Chechens, Ezidis... There are two sorts of governments one the regional government including but not limited to PYD. and also there is TEV-DEM which is based on local councils. The most of the property is deserted in Cizre due to war. However there are still families from different ethnicities who has some capital accumulation still in their hands. Cizre Canton is also part of the city it is not the whole, there is still Assad regime existing in a part of the city. They considered we should not attack the regime and kill the people who supported the regime [and contribute to the war] but engage in "negotiation and struggle" also with them. They have no intention to destroy the state however they have the will to continue their project.

The Cizre Canton has some penal institutions and schools. Cizre is also close to the war in Haskede[?)] so it is not far from war. There is Cantonal government and people's assemblies. They are well aware that any of these can turn into a state and exercise power over people. Their current strategy to deal with it is this: not unifying the power but dispersing it, especially by youth and women's own assemblies, which have power to veto the decisions of the other assemblies [to veto the decisions of the equal assemblies?] They try not to make the cantonal government the real power in the canton.

There are ministries, there are academies. There are cooperatives of Cantons. However these are not cooperatives in regular sense. They belong to the cantons: like cooperative of bakery etc... The cantonal authority has more power in them than workers themselves. Kurdish movement politicizes the daily life of people. The people's assemblies are places where decisions are made, they are also engaged in negotiation and struggle versus the cantonal government. They have recently developed academies where the political consciousness is transferred. There are Communes as economic units. In parallel to all these institutions (academies, communes assemblies...) there are also women or young versions of the same institution that has the right to veto the decisions of activities of the general one.

3) Conclusions [I lost the context a bit here sorry and give the title conclusions myself]

Self Defence: The question of militarism and democracy: How do you defend your system while trying not to become militarized. There are three parts of of self-defense: 1) YPG 2)Asayish 3) The self-defence forces of the assemblies. Academy for example educates Asayish on ideological grounds. They question the concept of jail. As most of these people (Adsayish here) were convicted before due to their ethnicity of political views. They were even tortured in jails or by hands of cops.They are debating on issues like should photos of "convicted" be taken, should they give some sort of number to criminals etc... There are debates about these justice related issues.

About conscription: As people fight against the ISIS there emerged a division between people whose family died in war and others whose did not. This caused strong social problems. Despite YPG and YPJ's opposition the conscription is established forcing at least one person from each family to enter the war. YPG and YPJ still wish to be only a volunteer army. Ocalan is also reportedly critical of how this self-defense was handled against IS. When IS attacked people run away becoming refugees. This shows that the instruments of violence were not democratized enough, people could not defend themselves. Now the issue of self-defense should be given proper importance.

Justice: The last year 85% of all cases were solved without need for any courts between people in democratic assemblies. This year they expect much higher percentage. Each city has its justice and truth commissions all cases are aimed to be solved in these except very heavy ones. Justice system works like this: if you have a complain against someone you went to your neighbor assembly and try to work it out. If can not then went to people's house [ I suppose this is related to Tev-Dem] and if still can not they you take your case to Cantonal level. Only 15% of all cases reach this top level. Most of them can be solved without external intervention. As a last word: this is their effort to not to reproduce the state as a representation.

Joined: 17-12-05
May 26 2015 21:42

Thanks kurremkarmerruk!

I think we'd all like to hear more about how decisions are made with the economic cooperatives and where the decisions of the canton supersede the decisions of the workers? Is it a matter of the top of canton elected official setting policy, or is in the local tev-dem council setting policy. Is it different for a bakery cooperative, compared to an agricultural cooperative compared to a cement plant? We have heard already how in Kobane a local council could requisition a large part of a crop for redistribution against the wishes of the grower.

Its interesting to here the YPG/YPJ was arguing against conscription and that it was being driven by the families of those who already lost family members fighting in the war. From the sound of it, it sounded like a law that had been passed on a canton basis and maybe driven up by Tev-Dem, but I hadn't heard that officially yet. In practice, the Desteya Parastinê seems to largely be a mandatory training course with a short, local service period, kept far from the front lines, and trained in very small numbers. The Asayish were not going house to house taking conscripts. Desteya Parastinê just finished its eighth training session which amounted to only 152 fighters. If all trainings averaged 150 graduates (I know some have been 200+) that only amounts to 1200 so far. And with training taking 90 days, even with some training overlapping---the initial groups have already completed their 6 month conscription. The law was passed July 2014, and it sounds like the YPG drug its feet and didn't help implement it until November 2014. Those folks who were recruited in November 2014 would now, according to the law, be demobilized by now. So... at their current training rate, Desteya Parastinê amounts to about 1000 soldiers with a short amount of training, kept away from the front in their home communities. I think it was only in the last month that Afrin said they would implement it. Supposedly, the YPG/YPJ has 65,000 soldiers. I'm unsure whether that is including the numbers of the Syriac Military Council: 2,000+, the Khabour Guards. It probably doesn't include the FSA brigades in Euphrates Volcano, nor the Jaysh al-Sanadid (Shammar tribals).

Its kind of interesting that YPG is willing to arm the Desteya Parastinê and leave them in the rear, even if they are unwilling to use them at the front.

I think this also explains why Salvador Zana as a foreign volunteer with the YPG was willing, able and supported by putting out an anti-conscription position in PYD media.

Joined: 15-11-07
May 27 2015 07:36

You are (all) welcome

My speculations: According to notes: she said the X government has equal power with the workers in cantonal cooperatives. Then later corrected herself "more power than workers" in determining how the things work. I don't know however what this X government is is it the local assemblies or the cantonal government (of different parties) I am not sure if this is same with all the cooperatives however she gave examples of "bread" or such basic production needed for survival of population. I remember reading Cantonal government making the price of bread cheap and fixed and being effectively losing money by selling the bread at that rate (compensating it by selling gas I guess although it is also very basic need, but it is cheap as hell in Rojava I guess and easy to produce as well) It makes sense also in a way if something that is produced has a huge demand for it but it is also required by everyone to survive, that thing can be "collectivized" in a more classical socialistic manner to stop disputes or problems from emerging. I think Kurdish movement could be willing to do that.

However Nazan Ustundag put a definite difference between such cooperatives and communes. She said communes are "economic units" I guess this means communes thrive for self-sufficiency . They do not do their production for general consumption like "cooperatives". So communes are probably different in their decision making process.

Yeah it was very interesting to hear that YPG was against conscription and this also makes "Salvador Zana's" position more understandable. One thing to add though,I still suspect Tev-Dem/Cantonal governments might be aiming for more with the conscription than what is stated above. Because I am pretty sure the difference between those who went to fighting and those who don't, quite possibly also corresponds to a political/economical division between people. I suspect the government also wishes to give the message that you are part of "democratic project" "your non-participation within it or your opposition against it because of your Islamic/Barzanist/Tribal/Wealth position is no excuse." Well of course this is my speculation related to internal political economy of Rojava.

Also maybe it is because of time issues, she mentioned diplomacy and economy also as topic to be covered. But unfortunately notes I have do not cover them beyond what is written above. Also the notes do not include question and answers session. I think they might upload a video of conference, if they do so maybe I can add some more things to the text from the answers.