The rising Islamic State, self-proclaimed Caliphate, being an avatar of the most ferocious elements in Islam, brought into popular consideration the cause of the Kurds. They become the first community which actively confronted IS on their own turf in Syria and now in Iraq. Who saved thousands of people, besieged by the IS forces and dying of thirst and hunger. Who are now becoming the outpost of civilisation, stopping a new aspiring world power from flooding Iraq, Turkey and possibly Europe.
Newly surged popularity came not a day too early. Kurds, being oppressed in every state their native territories lay, were excluded from European focus much too long. Especially in Turkey, they were treated as #1 enemies of the state, with all consequences of being the collective scapegoat, used to channel all frustration and hatred. The “police” units in Kurdistan were in fact as militarised and as aggressive as the state forces deployed in Northern Ireland, Palestine or recently in Ferguson, MO (toutes proportions gardees). How it is to be a Kurd in Turkey was partly experienced by the Gezi Park and Taksim Square protesters, when the government pacified them, using troops brought from the Kurdistan area.
The most prominent and persistent political body of the Kurds is PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, has been kidnapped in 1999 in Kenya and transported to Turkish Imrali prison island, where he stays imprisoned in ever since, guarded by over 1000 of Turkish soldiers. First 10 years he was the only prisoner there. During his imprisonment he wrote several books and keeps influencing both PKK (and Kurds at large) and Turkish political discourse, calling for political and peaceful ways to solve “The Kurdish Question”, while clearly stating that the self-defence is their right as well.
Today, with the Kurds becoming better known as the defenders of European civilisation against the Islamic State, there is possibly an opportunity window for PKK and Ocalan to have their autonomy acquired with a support from international community. But this is quite a different story.
Just recently, in one of my information streams, I received a link to a book, written by Ocalan. Its title, “Democratic Confederalism“, suggests the content. It is a “political blueprint” for the Middle East.A political program that aims to provide long-term and large-scale change in the Middle Eastern political reality.
I have read many political programs. Most of them lacking any contact with reality, joining irrelevant diagnosis with impractical wishful thinking. Some, while diagnosing real and acute problems, proposing either obscure, esoteric or internally contradictory concepts. Some, finally, simply stating that what we need is another personal change of leadership, or just better, finer, bigger version of the same pitiful system that we try to stop from ruining the humanity.
Even among freedom-lovers, among those who really start from the grass-root movement, there is a drive towards a “franchise” or other unifying and centralising concepts, thinly veiled by the “networking” rhetoric.
But Ocalan book is quite a different breed
His program, strongly rooted in Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism is based upon the radical critique of the bourgeois nation-state and capitalism, as pillars of the social order, on the local, regional and global scale. Upon that, Ocallan builds a model of stateless confederation of communities, acting within the realm of participatory democracy; they are not supposed to unite, they are supposed to network; they are supposed cooperate; They are supposed to support each other. The base for such a structure is quite minimalistic, while radical. Rejection of the nation-state; full appreciation of equality of women; violence to be used only as one of the self-defence tools for the community; direct, participatory democracy; communalism. Ocalan also clearly declares groundwork and the long march strategy over violent revolution. Combined, his concepts sound like quite an anarchist-ish project (do not tell the comrades from libcom.org, who have criticised the idea two years ago already). Even if this is not the case, it is definitively a big leap of faith, from the former Marxist approach, that used to be PKK’s political line. But even as radical as it is, it is backed up by actual political power of PKK and their daily praxis. And also by the reality of the Kurdish “parastate” in Iraq – and their struggle against the Islamic State.
Critique of the Nation State
As Ocalan puts it, the nation-state is a historical culmination of power. Previously dispersed, sometimes competing, various factors of power aggregate into a single organism; transcendent, living god of a nationalistic religion; mighty apparatus of institutional violence; social and ideological monoculture, shredding every diversity and turning it into a pulp of a homogeneous “national” society.
Under the nationalist disguise, Ocalan claims, today’s nation states are nothing more than local governors, responsible only to international capital and superpowers. He points that the whole international law makes it impossible to run as “grass root state” – legally, state can only exist, if other nation states acknowledge it. Otherwise it will be invaded and dismantled – recycled for the benefit of its neighbours.
Quite clearly, other oppressors are not expected to support the existence of any state-ish organism, denying their own founding principles: state-centric nationalist idolatry, conservative, state-subordinated and descriptive-only science; overwhelming patriarchal sexism, social engineerng backed up with the monopoly of violence.
Ocalan perspective, naturally, is mainly the Middle East and especially Turkey and Kurdistan. However, as he also suggests, the critique of the nation state has global reach. And his narrative resonates with similar critiques, expressed by many (not only anarchist) communities around the globe.
The right of self-determination of the people includes the right to a state of their own.However, the foundation of a state does not increase the freedom of a people.
says Ocallan. This is how he starts the conceptual groundwork. His proposals are relatively simple (while hard to implement).
- Political diversity and participation are supposed to keep most of every community “in the loop”. People are expected to be politically active. Their involvement is crucial for the efficiency of the whole system.
- Social heritage and accumulated knowledge as the glue-together political factor. Instead of being processed into a unified “nation”, communities preserve and cultivate their collective identity, contributing to the common pool of memes.
- Ethical and political awareness – empowerment of the society. Everyone stay active, everyone stay informed. No political decision will be outsourced to the state (or any other institution). Any representative, any official – they are only mouth and hand of the community that designated them.
- Empowerment of women. In his critique of the nation state, Ocallan sharply describes the “internal colonialism” which puts women into being “a sexual object and commodity”. Changing this is both the goal and the way to introduce new political model. Currently around 40% of the Kurdish forces, fighting the IS, are women. There is also a separate women formation, called YPJ (Women’s Protection Unit)
- Ecology. Understood as a “social ecology” coined by Bookchin, this aspect of the blueprint is almost invisible in the book. Just few days ago, however, The Roar Magazine published an extensive article, providing a lot of background information and triggering quite a heated discussion.
Certain ideological eclecticism is visible in the constructive part of the book. It is good, as we have already had way too many orthodox recipes, being implemented per fas et nefas – usually at the cost of their victims. As much as the firstworlders’ critique of Bookchin may be legitimate, it may well be that the Middle East benefit from introducing them.
The Confederation of the Middle East Nations?
There are no simple problems in Middle East. Not to speak of the solutions, which very often seem to be non-existent. Ocalan tries to describe various Middle East nations in a way suggesting they all would benefit from adopting the Democratic Confederalism. Considering the nexus of vested interests and the geopolitical importance of the region, I cannot really extend my optimism beyond the vision of a “Confederated Kurdistan”, networking various – not just Kurdish – communities, under military protection of “People’s Protection Units” and Peshmerga. Establishing such an area in a close vicinity of Europe would already be a game changer. The concept promoted by Ocalan is very close to what Mexican neo-Zapatistas execute for over 20 years now. PKK starts from much harder position, due to their long and proven track of nationalist and violent actions. It will be much harder for them to convince international “progressive” audience that the conversion towards communalism is true and thorough. From the other side, however, as long as there is a real threat from the militant Islamic State, Kurds will have probably enough support and resources to sustain. It will be really interesting to see their advances and struggles – and to learn from them.