Dialogue 6: Covid 19 - Responses from the Kurdish Women’s Movement

This is session is part of the Webinar "Dialogue on Alternatives in the Time of Global Crises".

Dialogue 6: Covid 19 - Responses from the Kurdish Women’s Movement

with Dilar Dirik (Kurdistan)

In this sixth session, we will carry on a conversation about the perspectives, challenges and progress of the Kurdish Women’s Movement in the context of the global crisis and pandemic. The role of women, jineology and the struggle in Rojava as a source of inspiration for radical alternative processes on a global level.
  • Date: 26th June
  • Time: 13:30 (UTC/GMT)
  • Duration: 90 minutes


Participants: Dilar (D); Ashish (A); Shishtree (S); (all other letters refer to participants who asked questions)

D: So in this sense, the Kurdish Freedom Movement has long been, especially for the last few decades, seeking alternatives beyond the nation-state, recognising that in fact it is the nation-state that has not only separated the Kurdish people’s homelands and also created all kinds of crises, including ecological catastrophe, including conflict between ethnic and religious communities, not only in the suppression of actual rights that should be granted by constitutions or by international agreements, human rights of course, but also on a much deeper level that actually there is a whole cosmology that is being erased, that is not nation-statist, that actually means that indigenous ways of seeking meaning in life have been erased as such with the nation-state system. So, the writings of the imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan have been very formative for the development of the theory of the Kurdish Freedom Movement which is based on a paradigm of three pillars: radical democracy, ecology, and women’s liberation. So these three aspects, these three dimensions are seen as the antidote to the nation-statist, capitalist and patriarchal system because we’re talking about a system that goes beyond just the oppression of the Kurdish people but in fact a system which, in the words of Öcalan, has over the course of 5000 years with the formation of the state as a system, of centralist administration, of the suppression of peoples, constantly fuelled violence and domination inside societies. So what Öcalan describes as capitalist modernity as being a product of this 5000 year old statist civilisation is basically capitalist modernity, a 500 year old history of colonialism, of industrialism, of ecocide, of systematic violence against women, and also the establishment of the nation-state as such, as a primary agent of politics and political acting. So against that is the idea of a democratic modernity. What could a different modernity look like? Of course this is a discussion that has been led in many parts of the world, especially in the Global South. What is modernity? Do we want to have something that is outside of that? Or can we have alternative modernities? Can different modernities exist parallel to each other? What is modernity is a very contested term and what the Kurdish Freedom Movement is suggesting is that the so-called forces of democratic modernity which are those that have been historically excluded from the statist civilisation, that they are at the forefront of establishing, of building free life, but in a very organised and structured way so it’s not the idea of a revolution in the abstract, but rather how to create forms of what other people so call forms or institutions that enable free life. So who are the forces of democratic modernity? They are those who have been historically excluded from the kings and empires and the powerful classes, so it’s the women, young people, youth, the workers, artists, travellers, indigenous communities, so all those who have been objectified over the course of the establishment of this eurocentric and imperialist idea of modernity which is also of course very strongly connected to positivist sciences. So how can we revive, or rather enable, different life forms from also having a way of manifesting themselves and proposing their version of truth and meaning in life, and how can these forces organise themselves is through transnational ways of making connections beyond borders, so basically what this means in the Kurdish context is that against the nation-state and its exploitation of people we need to start out by building communes, assemblies, congress like structures that relate to each other in a confederal manner and within that system, the women’s movement is actually autonomously organised which means that the women’s movement is actually creating a women’s system, again starting with women’s communes, women’s assemblies in the cities and towns, women’s congresses in the national kind of context, and also beyond those states also a wider umbrella movement of the Kurdish Women’s Movement which is a wider congress where all of these different structures basically send delegates to. So this establishes a more horizontal and direct way of establishing one’s own system and the women’s movement has its own kind of diplomacy, it has its own decision-making mechanisms that are outside the control of the general movement but of course it’s part of it.

So why I’m saying all of this is to understand here the logic of doing politics differently by building bridges across movements, any by creating movements within movements as well. So, for example, for that the question of autonomy is very important and I will just quickly elaborate on that before I explain what this all has to do with the idea of crisis in the Kurdish Freedom Movement, and also solutions to crises. So basically, the idea of autonomy is not again, in this nation-statist sense, to have a sphere of power and control in which people listen to one entity, but rather autonomy as a practice, as a social relation as well. For example, as I mentioned, there is the general Kurdish Freedom Movement that is struggling against oppression and colonisation by different states and against capitalist modernity, but at the same time there’s a women’s movement within that which has its own forms of self-organisation and self-determination. So why is autonomy here a social relation? It’s because the women’s movement has the task of being the more revolutionary, the more radical of the two, it is tasked with radicalising permanently the rest of the movement, to push the rest of the movement always further to the more progressive, the more kind of liberationist, so in that sense the women’s movement is the left wing of the freedom movement, it is the motor, together with the youth, the women’s movement and the youth movement are autonomously organised, they are basically the drivers of change. They ensure that Kurdish society for example doesn’t remain frozen in time. So, also within the Kurdish Freedom Movement, the Alevi communities, the Hasidic communities and other religious groups for example, they have recently begun to have their own congress-like structures, sometimes they call them federations, sometimes it’s a congress, there’s the Democratic Islam Congress, there’s the Alevi Federation, there’s the […] People’s Assembly for example. So what’s their role? It’s not just to have this kind of a liberal, pluralistic kind of open civil society approach, but rather all of these assemblies ensure that the minorities, or whatever whether they’re minority or not, that all of these different identities that mean very much to the people who claim them, and they are part and at the heart of many of the conflicts that we experience in the region, these enable people to take decisions on their behalf, to protect them, for example the Alevis and the Hasidis need forms of self organisation in order to not be made vulnerable to other religions for example, but at the same time these are all individually tasked with democratising internally so within that again you have the women who are autonomously organising and so on and so forth.

So young women for example are seen as the most dynamic force of change, so they have the specific mission of basically being the avant-garde of the social change, so in this sense this also all relates to how the Kurdish Freedom Movement views diplomacy and what we don’t actually call diplomacy but strategic relations or strategic alliance building with other movements, so in this kind of environment where the movement is not just thinking about the 4 countries over which Kurdistan is spread as a problem, but also in a more universal way, so analysing the Kurdish issue in a way that relates to other more global issues. So, for example, what does Kurdistan have to do with the global arms trade? What do the problems that we experience in the Kurdish context, for example the inability of people to re-engage with the peace process that was very important to stop the war and the violence, what does that have to do with European liberal democracies that actually don’t support this process, but that support authoritarianism in the region, and the wars in the region? So we can look at Kurdistan in order to make wider claims about the region, and to discuss perspectives on how to overcome them. So in this sense, the women’s movement does not just focus its identity on being Kurdish, but on how can our movement also be a perspective for global women’s struggles and feminist movements? Of course we recognise that in each country, in each place, town, even village, the problems look different, but what are the words, the vocabularies, the practices that we need in order to establish a form of relating to each other that renders the borders that divide us meaningless. So, rather than defining internationalism for example in the old school way that’s between alliances between states that resist imperialism, how can we build alliances with social movements? That should be the new internationalism of the 21st century. Is a confederal way in which social movements relate to each other by recognising all the things that they have in common in their struggles. This is important, especially now, just to come to the Covid-19 crisis, what has been done, I said I would share photos but I’m not sure if it’s possible now, but I will try to share my screen. Can you see my screen?

A: It says you have started screen sharing so it should work.

D: Yes, you can see the screen now?

A: Yes.

D: Ok, so this is for example a photo from just a few weeks ago, when the municipality of Batman, which is a Kurdish municipality in Turkey, a majority Kurdish city, where the People’s Democratic Party was basically there because more than 100 municipalities have been won in recent years, that have actually been implementing many of these radical democratic approaches, had projects for environmental activists who have been consulting these municipalities, they have a quote-shared system which means that there is one woman and one man, so the Turkish government has recently seized the majority of these municipalities which, as I mentioned were involved in all kinds of progressive projects, they abolished to co-presidency system, they abolished the women’s project, they abolished many of the things that were done, and this was in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, where the Turkish state knew that the people could not protest because it was not allowed, because any way people get beaten and tear-gassed in protest in Turkey many times and get injured. There are currently more than 10,000 political prisoners in Turkish prisons that have also been exempted, excluded from the so-called Covid-19 amnesty. So the Turkish army has been attacking, as I mentioned earlier, Kurdish people in different parts of Kurdistan, inside Turkey, inside Syria, inside Irak, this warfare has continued throughout the Covid-19 process.

So, just in October 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic really went global, Turkey had launched an invasion of Northern Syria where the Kurish people had been exactly implementing those ideas that I mentioned based on ecological women’s liberationist and radical democratic structures, before they were even engaged in the war with ISIS, Turkey is now occupying these regions, it’s an illegal occupation, they have destroyed all of the gains that the women had made there, the autonomous women’s system that had been established there, so for example, these are photos from marches that were organised and the motto of this past November International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women was Occupation is Violence, so the women’s movement was making clear that the Turkish army’s occupation attempts was not just killing the people there, the children of these lands after ISIS didn’t manage to do that, but at the same time that the whole idea was actually a war on women, and these are some of the women’s marches that were done and we’ve seen that especially the extremist forces that collaborated with the Turkish state have specifically targetted women. Either mutilating their bodies, either specifically going after female politicians like Hevrin Khalaf, and three or four days ago, three Kurdish women were killed in the city of Kobani, these are two of them, and they were activists of the women’s movement so in a Turkish drone strike, they were murdered, and only yesterday, again, several civilians were killed in Turkish airstrikes inside Irak.

So the reason why I wanted to show these photos is also to give you a sense of that. Whilst the whole world was engaged in the struggle against Covid-19, the Turkish army continued its military operations in three different countries against the Kurds, always saying that they’re fighting against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, the PKK, which they consider terrorist, but at the same time we’ve seen that civilians are actually being targeted, women’s activists are being targeted, and in fact the entire system is that the Kurdish Freedom Movement wants to establish, which again as I said is not a seperatist project, it’s a project that tries to create an alternative life form, self-determination, within the existing borders by rendering them meaningless. So, I can explain some more details if people are interested in that, but the point here is that, what does this mean? And what does this have to with the work that you as a group are also doing? It’s to recognise that many of the problems that different communities are facing, whether it is issues around citizenship, or whether it’s rights, or religious, or ethnic or linguistic, cultural rights, whether it’s violence against women, whether it’s the arms trade, militarism, ecocide, these things are all interconnected so what we are trying to say when we talk about the Kurdish issue is not just in a very simplistic way to say that the Kurds are oppressed and the Kurds are poor people, we need help, we are actually saying that the time of asking the system for help is over because the system is designed in such a way that Turkey cannot be held accountable. Turkey is the second largest NATO army. Turkey is a member candidate of the European Union and the European Union has given Turkey a fortune to deal with the so-called refugee crisis and we know that every day people are dying in the Mediterranean sea on the way to Europe. So the whole system that also holds the monopoly on the discourse around human rights and international law, is implied. So, what can people in these kinds of contexts, in colonised contexts, in contexts of violence, who can they resort to? Other than their own self power? So what does this then say about the right to self defence for example? Or the right to self determination? Who is the arbitror here? So the proposals of the Kurdish Women’s Movement and the Kurdish Freedom Movement is in the sense that we need alternatives also on a global scale. It’s not just that the Kurdish people need alternatives to the states that colonised them, but we need a new Middle East. We need a new world system. And how can we do that? By not relying, by not putting all of our energies into systems like the United Nations and others, but to create alternative global confederations. So this is the ultimate goal of, or not the ultimate goal, the ultimate goal is the liberation of all, but one way to establish that is to start from the local with the communes and assemblies, and this has been done, of course there are crack downs all the time inside Turkey for example, but in Rojava, Northern Syria, this is the kind of system that was built. Inside Europe as well, we have assembly structures, we have an umbrella structure for the Kurdish society, organising around these principles as I said, and also the Kurdish Women’s Movement in Europe. So, we have within the Kurdish movement these confederal structures, but what we now want to do is to also strategically ally with people that we also consider as the forces of democratic modernity, so it’s not about alliances only between peoples or between states, we need alliances as movements, alliances as people who are part of that change that we want to see, and of course in this sense the pandemic, and also for example ecological catastrophe, is one of the things that needs to develop a consciousness of how all of these issues are connected because we’ve seen with Covid-19 that all the states have tried to seek their own nation-state solutions, but the pandemic itself goes beyond borders, it does not recognise borders, yet there was a very business focused, business orientated, money orientated way of dealing with the question, and we’ve seen that in all countries the poorest and most vulnerable people have been targeted. So what is the prison for example? What is the prison system’s role in this? What is the role of healthcare? What is the relationship between ecology and health for example? These are also more of the philosophical questions that the Kurdish Freedom Movement wants to discuss with people around the world. But I guess just more concretely, I can say that inside Rojava and Northern Syria for example, despite their lack of means, despite not receiving aid from the World Health Organisation directly for example, or from other places because of the embargoes imposed on them, people build based on their own experience of now having led their own healthcare system over the past 8 years, since 2012. They built a Covid-19 hospital within a very short period of time.

Also, inside Turkey for example in Northern Kurdistan, people immediately said we are actually used to military lock down, we know what a lockdown is because we have experienced it, because of the wars imposed by the Turkish army, we know what it means to survive under these conditions, so we can not trust with our lives, we cannot trust the state with our lives, so what can we do? So they established, immediately, the Kurdish movement there, the political party there, a mutual aid initiative, a solidarity initiative for families who are better off, to support families that need more help. Inside Europe as soon as the pandemic started to also kick off, the movement established committees in order to ensure that the community is doing well, but also to reach out to other communities. The women’s movement initiated a campaign against domestic violence because we’ve seen of course everywhere in the world violence against women has risen in the context of the pandemic, also of course the exploitation of women’s labour, all of these things around social reproduction as well. So, an awareness campaign was stated that was also done with men who were saying that we cannot consider ourselves as liberationist people if we continue to use violence against women, so all of these things were understood in a related manner. We cannot divorce something like the pandemic from issues around violence against women, or people’s lack of connection now with nature for example, or the exploitation of some people’s labour, the fact that some people were just spared from the pandemic and others weren’t. So, what does the pandemic also show us about the logic and mentality of capitalism? And what kind of alternatives do we need? And we say that we need alternatives that are based on first of all more horizontal ways of doing politics, and to become societies, to not just assume that society is a mass of random people and that’s it and if you’re a strong political party you can convince people, but to actually activate the desire that exists inside society, to manifest itself, to become society through self organisation, to become societies by creating structures and institutions in which people can directly actually engage and participate in the political process. So, this is what we mean by becoming society against the state, to not just be passive and objectify ourselves, and this is what makes the movement I think ultimately a very hopeful one, because hope is found in the idea that actually Kurdistan is a very conservative, patriarchal society but we’ve made many important steps in the movement for example, things are still happening, people are much less reliant on the state, they are much more confident in their ability to organise themselves, and they have, in the context of the pandemic I think, we have seen actually that in some cases the Kurdish community was able to handle the crisis even without means, because there was a political culture of self organisation.

So, in this sense I think I will stop here because I am probably running out of time, the point I was trying to make is that to think about the liberation movement of Kurdistan not just as a Kurdish issue, but as an international and transnational issue, as an issue that is also directly related to questions that people for example in India are experiencing and other parts of the world are experiencing, and to understand that these struggles are connected, and for that connection to be understood, the way we need to relate to each other needs to change. We cannot just stand in solidarity with each other, but we need to find ways of actively struggling together, and for that I think we need new methodologies, we need new platforms, we need to create new vocabularies as well, and of course this is why I appreciate being part of this kind of event because I think there are good occasions to learn about each others’ situation and to find out what we have in common, so that we can also walk together in common in the future. So thank you so much for giving me the chance to speak here.

A: Thanks Dilar, Shishtree before you start, can I request Dilar to just introduce her presentation in 2-3 minutes because we lost the first 2-3 minutes of her presentation? Just for the recording and if all of the participants can be a little patient just for Dilar to reintroduce just the first couple of minutes if you can, then we’ll patch it together.

D: I will try to repeat it but I don’t actually have anything written down so I don’t know exactly what I said. So I was saying thank you for having me. So, what the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us is that many of the issues around the world are connected to each other, that it is not possible for us to find solutions, sorry I’m very confused about what I said at the beginning.

A: It’s ok, don’t worry, we’ll figure it out, Shishtree go ahead.

S: So, thanks everyone for your patience, and thanks Dilar for this wonderful talk. I think there are some very interesting lessons that are emerging, and in fact some interesting points that we could discuss about and maybe direct questions based on that, I think one of those points of how institutions that are sort of at the meta scale, how we actually find alternatives to that is a big question that is usually asked and also asked about how we think about macro change. So that is one of those things that puzzles people a lot. And, this idea that you bring about how we can bring, or build alliances, among networks and groups, also is interesting because usually we are also stuck in this sectoral work that we do that makes it difficult for us to build alliances between feminist networks, to ecological networks, or networks working on racism, so how do we actually bridge those alliances, and show that we are interconnected and life is interconnected and our work has to be interconnected. And I think what is interesting is how social movements organise themselves transnationally and what are these learnings that emerge from movements that are located in different parts of the world but what are those values and principles that connect together? I can see that there are so many ideas and so many connections that we can build among various alternative initiatives but there is a lack of space of being able to bring them together. So I think these are some of those very interesting things that I could gather by coming in between your talk, so thank you very much and I guess there are a lot of questions that have already come in, and I would like to invite my colleagues either Vasnar or Ashish who can take up these questions and maybe direct them towards Dilar, and yes thanks.

A: Thanks Shishtree, yes we have 6 or 7 very interesting questions already. So what we will try and do is to invite the people who are asking the questions to see if they can open their mic and speak. So, the first question from Nepal is about factors attracting marginalised people to participate. Would you like to ask that question yourself?

B: Yes thank you Ashish, I would like to thank Dilar for her very exciting and motivating presentation regarding this social movement, I am wondering if she could highlight some of the major factors that attract the marginalised people to associate with this campaign of this movement because in Nepal, when we start any movement of marginalised people, later on those kinds of movements are hijacked. Sometimes not funding these projects, and other factors, come to the ground and hijack all of these movements. So in this context, how is your movement able to be so strong? Thank you.

D: Thank you very much for this question. So should I go one question at a time or should we take several?

A: Yes Dilar what I will do is that if the questions are connected to each other I will point that out, but when they are individual and unconnected you can go ahead, so this one, please go ahead.

D: Ok, yes thank you so much for your question. I think it’s a very important one and I would say that this has a lot to do with the way in which the movement has developed. It’s a decade old movement and it started with idea of the need for the decolonisation of Kurdistan from the States that occupy it, and in that sense it was a typical, for the time, Marxist Leninist self-determination project, and really resonated with the people because the Kurdish people in all of the countries that they live in, tend to be among the poorest and they are also mainly rural. So, the Kurds as a group were mainly, most of them, for as well, on top of not being able to exercise their rights, because in many ways, in Turkey for example, for decades the Kurdish identity had been erased. It doesn’t exist. Kurds don’t exist. The Kurdish language was banned and people were not allowed to speak their language. So there was a consciousness among people that something isn’t right, but on top of that there were socio-economic reasons. So that’s just some of the objective factors, but I think what at the time mobilised many people, especially the women as well to join it, was of course also the socialist appeal, but on top of that it was the idea that this movement was here for the people’s liberation in a very broad sense. But with the paradigm shift that took place over the decades, I think more people have been attracted to it for different reasons. But I guess from the beginning leadership has been very important. For example the role of Abdullah Öcalan as a very progressive thinker, as a person who has always written about patriarchy, who has always written about the need for young people to be involved in the revolutionary process, and things like that were important quite early on, but then later, especially in the 1990s, his increasing focus on the need and importance, the vital importance for women’s autonomy actually, that women should not be at the mercy of the movement or him but that they need their own party, their own arms struggle, their own everything really, so that attracted a lot of women. But at the same time, this is a secular movement, but it does recognise the need for all of the different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups to be able to participate.

So the shift away from a very abstract idea of Kurdistan as a free state, if you read the older writing of the movement people were saying it’s an ideal in the distant future that didn’t actually have many concrete ideas about what it would mean to run a State? What does it mean to have power? But what attracts people now, especially from minority communities, especially the poor, that’s basically the main constituency, the social base is a marginalised one, but also at the same time you have people who have joined and went to the mountains directly from the university or elite institutions, become guerilla fighters, is the redefinition of socialism not as a State-led project, but actually as a project that creates spaces, a confederation of different autonomous structures in which people have a way of directly becoming political agents, and political subjects themselves. So, I think the practice is actually what convinced people in that sense. For example, inside Northern Syria, thousands of people who have no formal education, who previously didn’t have anything to say about what their neighbourhood should look like, now through their communes, through their assemblies, they have platforms to voice what they want to see, and of course it doesn’t mean that everything runs very smoothly, it doesn’t mean at all that, but it is something that allows people to actually think about also being an agent, and I am also an actor in life, and I can do this.

But I have to say, also in terms of the objective stuff, development, the capitalist development industry reached Kurdistan relatively late so that whole complex should not be underestimated. For example, capitalism kicked off in regions we call Kurdistan much much later because they were neglected, because the State didn’t want development to take place, they wanted to keep the people like that. But inside Iraq, in Kurdistan for example, you see this kind of NGO-isation proliferate and of course that pacifies people away from political processes. But I think that this was also a strong factor as well, that actually the State was authoritarian, the State was a failed State but that’s a context that happens in many places in the Global South, but usually there’s this whole civil society NGO complex that replaces that, but in Kurdistan there was a gap, there was a vacuum there and I guess that’s where the revolutionary movement was also able to flourish without that pacifying object of the global development industry.

A: Thanks Dilar, I’m going to combine 3 or 4 questions and because I’m doing that, apologies to the people who asked the questions, it would take too long to ask each of you. So, this is about the new internationalism and the architecture of what would be a new governance system. You’ve already given us some ideas in your presentation, but the question is what would this new internationalism mean, what would be an architecture, so for example the whole cities of people’s assemblies, but how would this happen at a global level, let’s say issues of climate crisis or global conflicts and so on? And linked to that also, we can think of this global governance system which is people led, but we also have of course the Nation-States and the corporations which are bearing down on us. And this is like a power over, whereas what we’re talking about is a power to transform power and do things with others. So how will the power to confront or be able to overcome the power over? So this is a bunch of questions about internationalism.

D: Can you hear me now? Thank you so much for these questions as well, I think again it’s actually many of the things and many of the ideals and proposals they develop as like step by step, we have seen that with 2014 and 2015 with the developments in the region, in Kurdistan and beyond the region in general of the Middle East, that more people from around the world started paying attention to the Kurdish issue because of the situation of ISIS, the war in Syria, the situation in Turkey, and so on and for many different reasons, and also seeing the successes and the kind of aspects that make the movement somewhat different from other alternatives that exist, and basically that’s where it comes in I think, the idea of the movement that none of the systems that are currently being imposed on the peoples of the region, on the one hand you have the secular dictatorships who are on the other hand battling religious ideologies, or you have very authoritarian systems or very unsatisfying failed states. So, there are all of these binaries, or the idea that this is all about sectarianism, that this is all about religious wars and sectarian wars. What the movement is saying is that none of this is actually fate, all of these are consciously constructed systems that can be overcome just like patriarchy is a system that can be overcome. So, it’s also about decolonising in people’s minds the idea that oppression is fate and with all these people who recently started to pay more attention to Kurdistan, who have travelled to Kurdistan, I can say for sure that this idea of a new internationalism also become much more concrete in people’s eyes through that interaction, because people have started to organise things together, people have started to go to Kurdistan, people from Kurdistan have started to go elsewhere, and the more people saw connections between the experiences of oppression and experiences of resistance, I think people had more concrete ideas about what would it mean to actually take the movement’s ideas to a more global scale. So, it’s not about having a replacement of the United Nations, because the United Nations is not representative of Nations to begin with, it’s representative of States, so in what ways can we create spaces in which we can come together and so we say for example in the Women’s Movement, the kind of strategic alliance work that we do, is starting conversations, we have done an interview for example with a women’s movement in Afghanistan. How do you define patriarchy? How do you see the links between colonialism and capitalism in your context? Or, how do you define freedom? What is freedom for you? And then we share our perspectives, and then we see how things meet, and there will always be points that people disagree on, or the situation is too different, but this should not be an obstacle to us being able to fight fascism together. So, in this sense, that conversation, the common analysis aspect is important, because I think many times we just expect people to stand in solidarity with each other but we don’t actually share the same perspectives, we don’t have the same analysis of things, we don’t have a common understanding, so in a very broad sense it’s also about establishing common mentalities. This is why we employ terms like the forces of democratic modernity rather than saying the Kuridish people etc. or these people and those people, but anyone who has a moral and political objection to capitalism and the kind of modernities it imposes which kills life, we say those who want to save and defend and protect life, we need to ally and we need to understand the seriousness of that situation. So, in this sense, the movement gives itself also that kind of mission of actually making that connection, of not waiting for someone to come, but to be very proactive in alliance building. So, I would say this is how the power to then develops, that the more people who understand that actually as we organise together, we can create miracles. I think some of the developments in Kurdistan have been really a product of internationalists going there, and internationalists supporting that, now all of the war crimes of the Turkish state, the rights abuses of the Turkish state, in the past they happened as well, in some ways much much worse but nobody listened, but now we have more friends, now we have more people, now we have more people who see their struggles as connected to ours. I think this is something that is really powerful and is also connected with the idea that reformism or the liberal democracy system is just not enough, that’s not enough to save life, that’s not enough to protect life, it’s not what we should settle for, it’s the most minimum thing, the liberal democracy which is also under threat, but it’s not something that needs to be preserved as such, but it’s something that also needs to be transcended if we want to truly, really meaningfully build life. So, that’s again, just to quickly wrap up, that’s where the hope aspect comes in, we need to really believe that freedom is possible, we need to really believe that peace in the Middle East for example is possible, that people don’t fundamentally hate each other, that people are not fundamentally bad, that men are not fundamentally violent, so this is what I meant by that oppression is not fate, but this is something to think historically, to think in terms of systems as part of the educational work that social movements need to do. Otherwise, people will always resort to political parties and directions because they think that this is the only way that we can have some minor change, but once you’re really hopeful and believe that through working together, not just us alone, and this I think again is a very ecological way of thinking about the world, to see the connection of life, the connectedness of different aspects of life, and that I think can be manifested in the connectedness of movements through confederal structures, and the confederal and autonomy thing as I mentioned earlier as a social relation, not as a you do your thing, we do our thing, yes we respect the struggle and you respect ours, but to actually create a culture of exchange, and I think this is why theoretical analysis sharing is also important.

A: Thanks Dilar, and I think one of the important distinctions you made is the difference between the State and the Nation, and we’ll probably come back to that because Jason has another related question to that, and also because, can you hear us Dilar? Also because another attempt at creating this international movement is this new idea called progressive internationalism, but we’ll come back to that because there are some interesting paradoxes there. Miloun had a couple of question, Miloun do you want to ask?

M: Hi Dilar, this is Miloun, I’m a scholar-activist on human rights and I was special rapporteur on the Human Rights Council for some years and I’ve been in touch with some of your colleagues. First of all, I want to congratulate you on your work, and I think you know, but it’s never enough to say that millions of people around the world are truly inspired by your struggle, and very much the fact that much of it is led by women, so congratulations. My question was to do with the solidarity, do you have connections with other occupied and oppressed peoples like the Palestinians or the people of Western Sahara, the Tibetans, you know the minorities in Iran, the Arabs, the Bahai? Is there some connection? I mean in some ways you are further ahead in terms of the role of women, but I was just wondering if there is some connection with other people who are also fighting for self determination? And my second question was, do you have any contact with the independent part of the UN system? The human rights system? The special rapporteurs and others who can assist you in some ways? And the final very quick questions was, in India of course we have this long legacy of non-violence, and I wonder if in your work, in your community, there is any talk of that? I know that arms struggle is something you have haven’t had a choice, you’ve had to go into that given the nature of the Turkish State, particularly, but is there talk of non-violence as a means towards advancing some of the freedoms that you are working for? Thanks so much.

D: Thank you very much for your great questions, and thank you for your words, it really means a lot. To come to the first question, because of the confederal way in which the movement is organised, it also means for example that I am part of the Kurdish Women’s Movement in Europe because I am based in Europe, so my work is primarily based with social movements here, and then our comrades in the Middle East are doing work in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, and so there is also a representation in Latin America, and so on and so forth. So we have also the way in which we get in touch with movements, also, we try to do that with the activists who are there. So, there is actually a long history between the Palestinian struggle, and the Kurdish Freedom Movement, actually the guerrilla fighters of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party they learnt guerrilla warfare from the PLO in the 1980s. So Abdullah Öcalan, one of the first things he did upon leaving Turkey for Syria in 1979 was to get in touch with the Palestinian Liberation Movement, and over time however, this kind of connection that did exist was actively sabotaged by different countries. So, of course the Turkish president Erdogan tries to portray himself as a protector or supporter of the Palestinian cause, but of course at the same time he’s trading with the Israeli state, likewise the Israeli state occasionally expresses their support for an independent Kurdish State, but within Iraq, not anywhere else. Also, some Iraqi-Kurdish parties have links with the Israeli State. So, the Palestinian struggle and the Kurdish political parties, they’re not united within themselves anyway, so there are Kurdish parties that are actively pro-Israel, but my point is that the leftish Kurdish Freedom Movement has always been historically with the Palestinian liberation struggle. But, recently we have been trying to build more concrete relations, especially between the women’s movement. There is now more young very active feminist groups inside Palestine and we’re working with them, and we’re trying to get more connected. In terms of the other regions that you mentioned, I think there are people in the movement who have reached out, and who have been having meetings and dialogues, but I can’t really report on any active working relationship. But for example in the context of Latin America, because there is a very strong representation, and also because some of the ideas resonated with some of the social movements there, there is a lot of connection with Indigenous communities, also with the Zapatistas for example, but not only with the Zapatistas, and in general for example many diaspora groups of oppressed communities inside Europe, who are based in Europe. So those are things that the movement is very very open about. There is no kind of dogma. But oftentimes it’s States that prevent these alliances from forming, or prejudice as well, but that’s something that needs to be overcome.

When it comes to the other questions, I’ll take the non-violence question first, The resort to arms struggles, as you also mentioned, started in the context of the impossibility of a political solution, because actually the arms struggles started right after the military coup in Turkey which established a fascist military regime where the left was decimated, people were executed, they were killings, it was a military regime. And in many ways, the current Turkish State’s policy is a continuation of that because the constitution of Turkey is still the same constitution as the one from the military coup at the time, and also, political prisoners, I mean the co-presidents of the political parties that represents the Kurdish movement, they are in jail, the mayors have been put in jail, lawyers, human rights lawyers, journalists, people are being put in jail, and Öcalan is being isolated, he is the negotiator on behalf of the Kurdish movement when it comes to the peace process, so Turkey has totally closed all means for a possible political solution, and this is something that also the guerilla fighters are stressing. They are saying we are ready for the political solution, and Öcalan did initiate in 2013 a peace process that then was finished in 2015 and the war has become much more intense than ever before, so it’s a tragedy, because as I mentioned, Turkey can actually be held accountable, because Turkey has signed many of the international agreements, Turkey is an EU member candidate, Turkey is a NATO State, there are many different institutions that can hold Turkey accountable, but they don’t. So this recent occupation of the Turkish State inside Syria, again the UN has reported and noted explicitly a special report by the United Nations Commission for Syria, explicitly actually said that Turkey has destroyed the gains of women towards gender equality, all of the institutions that the Kurdish Women’s Movement has built up, all destroyed, and there’s systematic violence in the Turkish occupied region, so this was even acknowledged in that human rights report, that this is kind of like a war on women. So in this kind of context, because people have resorted for example to the European Court of Human Rights, they’ve appealed to the United Nations, they’ve appealed to different institutions, but there is no answer because everyone is acting politically, including human rights organisations like Amnesty International.

I’m not, for example, looking into the case of Abdullah Öcalan, whose situation of isolation amounts to torture, according to Turkish law, European law, and International law, and he is basically the person who will negotiate the peace process, so how can you ignore the fact that the chief negotiator in this very important conflict is not able to talk to his lawyers? For 8 years for example, until recently, for 8 years he had not seen a lawyer. So, these are things that basically lead people to the conclusion that actually maybe the whole international system is not designed to find a solution to the Kurdish conflict. And Öcalan himself also describes that in his analysis of capitalist modernity, his case to the European Court of Human Rights, as an individual, he criticises that because in my personage it’s the Kurdish question that is being questioned, it’s not just about an individual. So, I think these are important aspects which is why the movement actually in its paradigm shift towards a more radical democratic solution, it also redefines its relationship to violence in ways of how to use violence as a means without doing it like the State? How to conceptualise a legitimate self defence as opposed to a militaristic concept? And the women’s movement has interesting philosophical perspectives on that, but as I mentioned, it’s a context in which ISIS has only recently committed a genocide, the Turkish army and other armies are constantly bombarding civilians, and nobody is holding them accountable. So, in that context I think either the international institutions that are in charge of this need to step in, then people can also discuss the idea of non-violence. But, the people who are engaging in the non-violent activism, they are in jail, they have been put in jail, so that’s another problem.

And sorry, I realise I’m taking too long with my answers, but in terms of again having relations with the UN system, the Kurds as a group are not part of, they don’t have representation in the UN for example assembly, there are individual people who work in terms of reporting on human rights abuses, it’s not really my kind of work, so I’m not too familiar with that, but as far as I know, there’s very little effort, there have been attempts especially to push reports on especially the Turkish occupation in Northern Syria also more recently. People often demonstrate in front of UN buildings, but if I can draw your attention to also the Makhmour refugee camp, which is a Kurdish refugee camp inside Northern Iraq, that is technically under the protection of the UNHCR, and it has recently been bombed by the Turkish army as well, a refugee camp with about 15,000 people living there, UNHCR still hasn’t published a statement, so people because of negative experiences with elements of the UN system, people don’t really believe in it I have to say.

A: Thanks Dilar, and in passing you said something about Öcalan until recently was not able to talk to lawyers, does that mean that he’s actually alive? Because for a long time nobody knew whether he was, so that’s great news.

D: Yes he’s alive, I think if he has passed away the Kurdish people would have let the world know. But I mean it’s always a question, because when he gets isolated, people ask if he is still alive because when the coup attempt in 2016 happened, also the island where is imprisoned was attacked so there were reasons for people to think that he may not be alive anymore. So, the recent meetings, the few meetings that did happen with the lawyers, also I have to say are a result of the massive hunger strikes by the political prisoners that went on for 7 months. So that’s what I mean by, how is it possible that people need to go on hunger strike in prison for so many months for this person to see a lawyer? I mean that’s the seriousness of the situation.

A: Thanks, the next question is from Mumbai, just to introduce him, he’s been involved in one of the most inspiring self-rule autonomy movements in central India.

M: Yes, I think with the village community, it’s usually the community who views their right to self determination by a non-violent way, so I am very happy to hear you, and there is in this community village, community, also the role of women in this nonviolent action is very important, so I think it’s going on in a bigger area than you are involved, so my question is that what is a local basic unit of direct participatory democracy? And by which way they are taking decisions because in a non-violent way we want to take a decision, so the majority starts with violence, so are they taking decisions with the majority, or with consensus?

A: Dilar, please go ahead.

D: Thank you, thank you Mohan for your questions. So basically the smallest unit of the decision making process is the commune, which usually, it depends, because inside Northern Syria for example, it’s a large region in which the system can be implemented. Whereas, for example we also have these assembly like structures in Europe, but we don’t live all together and it’s a diaspora community, whereas in some Kurdish villages, the entire village is involved in the process. So it depends on the locality as well. But basically at the heart of this whole system of democratic confederalism as we call it, is the commune, and the commune is basically a small group of people, several families, who live in the same place, in the same area, and they have committees, so usually it’s up to 12 committees, among them health, economy, safety, security, education, usually peace and reconciliation committees, and so there’s altogether 12 that focus on different aspects of life, media and diplomacy as well, and in that context in the village, what kind of diplomacy committee do you need? It’s basically the village’s relationship to the next village or to people who come from outside. So these are the committees, but then the villages send their delegates to the assemblies of the town or wherever they live. But in some places there are no communes, there are just the assemblies, so you need to do the groundwork for this kind of system. So you can’t just go into a town and say we have an assembly now but the assembly formation usually comes after several weeks or months of preparation, of educating people, of having public seminars explaining the system and only then they get established. For example, in the previously ISIS held regions in Northern Syria, after ISIS was expelled from these regions, people first established kind of temporary assemblies which had committees that then explained to the people there what kind of system they want to build and what they thought, and so in each place it looks different because some regions are more religiously ethnically diverse, in some regions people have been experiencing the Kurdish movement self organisation for a long time so they’re more familiar, so it all depends on the context, it’s not one universal standard kind of way, but basically the way in which the decisions are taken, and this is also where the peace and reconciliation committees come in, consensus is everything. For social peace you need consensus. And of course you cannot always wait for something to be the product of a consensus, but when consensus isn’t reached, the discussions continue over and over and over again. So, there are some things that are basically principles of the movement. So, for example, the banning of violence against women, so it’s not possible in an assembly to put that up for discussion, to say should, or should we not, exclude people. So there are certain things, for example violence against women, the discrimination against women, that are not up for discussion, that shouldn’t be up for consensus. But other things for example, how to implement how to deal with an issue, they go through the committees that rotate, and also there are the co-presidencies and they also rotate. So, that’s what I can say very roughly, but if you’re interested I can maybe also share some texts which explain these technicalities better than I have now. Thank you for your questions.

A: Great, and it’ll be wonderful to actually share direct experiences of this kind of direct democracy from different parts of the world, very different from what we can call liberal democracy. We have 2 questions on patriarchy and then one or two more and I just want to request everybody that if you can stay on for maybe 10-15 minutes so that we can finish all the questions because otherwise time is up in 5 minutes. Dilar is it ok for you if we go on an extra 15 minutes?

D: Sure.

A: Ok, so the questions on patriarchy because they’re combined, I’m going to ask them myself. One of the questions says that patriarchy is very cultural and systemic, how is this dealt with in the Kurdish region? But also in the Kurdish diaspora for example in Scandinavia? And as an example he’s given honour killings in Iraqi Kurdistan. How do the cultural attitudes of for example lawyers, judges, police get changed to deal with for example something like honour killings? And, how did the movement emerge amidst the fact that it was a very patriarchal society, and what did the men have to say about it? Did they not try to resist or co op or?

D: Thank you for these great questions and I will answer them kind of together. So I guess it’s partly connected to what I was trying to say earlier about the idea that to think about systems, violence and oppression as systems, as historical systems. And it can also be overcome through struggle. So it’s not in the fight against patriarchy, it’s not in the fight against violence against women, to decenter the state or authority, or just larger authorities, means to not surrender the solution to them, to the same systems that are causing them. So, in this context it means that people don’t just rely on the men to change, but they actually start the self organisation process, but they also do need the men to change so the mentality needs to change, so rather than just punishing people for violence, you need to change people and you need to change the society and you need to change the culture so that violence does not happen. So of course there are certain things that have to do with cultural practices and religion and so on, but that’s again where the autonomous self organisation comes into play. A person who is not part of the Alevi community, will not be as able as someone from that community to change and to promote the more beautiful, and the more ethical aspects of that culture, and culture is dynamic, and that’s at the heart also of like the knowledge production of the region which is very orientalistic, and I mean we know this also from Western knowledge production, in the global South in general, many of the things that are problematic or not ideal for many people in our communities, is then portrayed as just culture, as if we’re all frozen in time. Yes, we are part of cultures, but these cultures have changed, and they change every day, we are also as individuals actors in ourselves, we have the right to change our cultures. So, in this sense of course there was huge resistance, there still is massive resistance against some of the ideas and practices of the Women’s Movement, I mean I haven’t really gone into the history of how it all developed just because of lack of time, and it’s a long history as well, but basically the Women’s Autonomy Organisation first started in the guerilla sphere with the first formation of a women’s army and the women’s party, and then the women’s system, and this process again was very much encouraged by Öcalan, so that really helped, when the leader is also the one who is kind of saying patriarchy is actually at the heart of societal issues. So it’s not just class, it’s actually patriarchy, the oppression of women as a first colony, as a first nation, as a first class in history that needs to be overcome for Kurdistan to be free. So, the movement, especially Öcalan’s writings, have put patriarchy, the struggle against patriarchy at the heart of the creation of a free life because without harmony, without peace between the genders in the most intimate relations, there cannot be a society without violence. So in this sense, the women’s movement, when it started to establish itself as an autonomous force up against a lot of pressure from societal conservatives, from revolutionary socialist men who said why are you dividing the struggle? Why are you doing this? But you need to consider it as a method, so the women’s autonomy struggle is a method to change the men, so in this sense this is why it’s a parallel kind of thing, there are the autonomous structures, but the autonomous structures are also part of the general struggle. So for example the co-presidency system which is applied across the movements, from the communes to the political parties to institutions, is actually that the woman who is the president in that co-presidency, she represents the collective will of the women’s movement. It’s the women’s movement that elects the woman co-president, so she’s not just a symbolic person but her task is there to change the man, her colleague, and that in itself is seen as a struggle as to how leadership could function. So, it’s all about changing mentalities and it’s all about making sure that the women’s movement doesn’t separate itself from society. It needs to be a force of change of society, but at the same time it can’t just be a part of a general movement, in order to be progressive it needs to have its own autonomous way. So in this sense I think that many men over time have also seen that this is a good movement, that it’s not a movement to antagonise them, but it actually creates more ethical people if we have a perspective on life that is much more egalitarian. But I have to say that the writings of Abdullah Öcalan have been very important in convincing the men.

A: Thank you, we have three more questions. There’s a follow up question on the issue of the state. Do you want to quickly ask it yourself?

J: Ok, I can do that. Well Dilar firstly thank you very much, personally I join others in what they’ve said, to thank you for your presentation, it’s very inspiring to hear your words and directly from a Kurdish person the kind of experiences and struggles, not only on the ground but in terms of ideas the Kurdish people are going through. However, I have a somewhat hard question to ask, I think I see a contradiction in what you are saying and in what I think is often said, you’ve talked about the desire of the Kurdish movement to reach across borders to build international and trans-national solidarity, but the reality is that you’re still talking about a particular people and a particular homeland and so are others, so what then do you think is the difference between the ‘Kurdish nation’ and the other presently ‘dominant nations’? And between alternative international and trans-national spaces interconnecting such nations or people who desire autonomy, because I think in many ways we are coming back to the same building blocks of social and political formation and in your earlier question about building power I don’t think you really addressed this question of how and when ‘we’, who think of more autonomous processes, build, whether it’s national level unions or international level unions, actually we don’t manage to overcome the same issues of power that nation states do when they build their international systems. So how do you see this question?

D: Thank you so much for this very important question and also for your words. Definitely, certainly, I mean the idea that, to use identity to overcome identity is a paradox in itself and part of it has to do with the violence context in which the Kurdish people find themselves in constantly reinforces the idea, and that struggling against nationalist mindsets is actually also very important for the Kurdish Freedom Movement. When I say the Kurdish Freedom Movement, I’m talking about a specific movement, I’m not making a general claim about all Kurdish political parties and ideas, there are some that are just straight up, especially in the Iraqi context, there is an active desire to build a Kurdish state, and to integrate it into the dominant system and to work with Western powers and so on and so forth, but I think here to introduce the concept again quickly written by Abdullah Öcalan, democratic nation, so he’s thinking about the question of identity, the question of religion, ethnic or cultural identities, and what they mean to the people in the region, means that we can’t just expect the Kurdish people or other people to kind of adopt an internationalist approach when they very physically feel that they are being oppressed and attacked as Kurds, as these or that people, and so in this sense he’s suggesting to have a new, a reconceptualisation of the idea of the nation, which is not just a specific ethnic group, but to actually have a coalition of different people with their identities, towards a shared goal, so that for example the political party, the people’s democratic party which was formed inside Turkey was based on that philosophy, of bringing the Armenians, the Kurds, and Turks, like the leftist groups together, to change the meaning of nation and national belonging in Turkey. Likewise in Rojava, in Northern Syria, the social contract that was written there, was written by different ethnic and religious groups together, so in that kind of region where religion is one of the main mobilisation forces for powers that want to pit communities against each other, or where the nation state has created this sort of very hard idea of who is what kind of people, how to overcome that? And I guess here it’s like to think of in terms of a kind of transformation through the same categories. How can we have a society in which really some things will just be kind of cultural expressions, and not fate basically. How can we overcome our identity as fate by making identity as a force of mobilisation? So in this sense I think it’s a mixture, it is totally contradictory and paradoxical, but I guess as a result, step by step, people have started to think for example about their alliances, peace platforms inside Turkey that consider themselves now, although they have different ethnic and religious identities, as a project opposed to the nation state idea. So, what kind of congress-like colourful assembly structures can we build to have alternative nations where our individual selves are not just defined by that. So I’m giving a very kind of clumsy answer to this concept which Öcalan develops in a much more detailed way, so I would mainly recommend like reading that but I completely understand the concern there but I think it’s also because the struggle against nationalistic mindsets indside the Kurdish movement is also a very important one. So this idea is also to make sure that that idea doesn’t further take root in the Kurdish movement, because ultimately if you want to have peace you need to think about identity also, definitely.

A: Thanks Dilar, a couple more questions and then we will wind up. Mina, you had a question, do you want to ask?

M: Hi Dilar, thank you so much for this very inspiring talk. My question is somewhat related to what you just said about reimagining the idea of what a nation is and what nationalism is, and there is a lot of similarity between the situation in Turkey and what is happening in India. And, increasingly we are beginning to see, in our country as well, that there is a very strong plant down on any struggles for autonomy, especially indigenous communities and religious minorities, and even regional autonomy in the case of Kashmir for instance. My question was that in India we are increasingly beginning to see that common citizens are not really understanding and empathetic towards these struggles of autonomy and is that also happening in the countries you know where the larger Kurdish region is? And, if the movement has been able to reach the common citizens of the country to talk about, you know, what you mean by nationalism and why Kurdistan is important? Thank you.

D: Thank you so much Mina, can you just repeat the first part of your question? I had difficulty hearing.

M: Yes, so the first part of my question is, can you hear me now? Ok, so my question was have you been able, has the movement been able, to reach the common citizens of the nations, the nation states, that the Kurdish region is a part of? Is there empathy and an understanding for why the struggle is taking place in the first place?

D: Ok, thank you and apologies for asking you to repeat, thank you for your question. So there is, historically, this has been at the heart of the effort to make the people understand why, and I have to say, the Kurdish Freedom Movement, when it developed in Turkey, Turkish people were also a part of it from the very beginning, among the first leading people were also internationalist, revolutionist, socialist Turkish people, as well as people from other groups. When it comes to reaching the, and this is something that continues to frustrate all the peace efforts at the moment as well, or the lack of peace efforts, is because there is so much censorship in Turkey for example, so much crack down on people who are doing very basic work, so it’s not the criminalisation of fighters, it’s the criminalisation of human rights workers, lawyers, journalists, so Turkey is currently, still several years in a row, according to Reporters Without Borders, the largest jailer of journalists. So, the mainstream media does not adequately report on what is happening, channels have been closed, especially since 2016 since the coup attempt in Turkey, so the few channels that were doing ok work cannot operate anymore, and so the People’s Democratic Party which I mentioned earlier, was basically a party that was formed precisely to meet, to speak with the common citizens across the country, to move beyond the Kurdish movement, to become a Turkey party, to become a party in which all progressive forces in Turkey can ally, they are not invited, they are systematically banned from TV programmes, they are not allowed to speak, they are not given a platform. On top of that of course they’re being jailed and imprisoned, so there is this massive discourse that is kind of being perpetuated and the Kurdish movement being a terrorist one, any kind of legitimate, even the most legal media work is criminalised, so in the eyes of the ordinary people unfortunately, because it’s a very nationalistic country, Turkey, that even in the education system every week the students have to go in front of the Turkish flag and say Lucky is the one who can call themselves a Turk, it’s an incredibly nationalistic mindset, and that creates this kind of atmosphere in which people cannot really reach each other. So the peace protest between 2013 and 2015 was incredibly powerful because there people, activists, were travelling across the country, getting people’s opinions, there were all of these media initiatives to get a sense of, is the society in Turkey, the ordinary common citizens, are they ready for peace? What do they think about it? But all of these efforts have been destroyed unfortunately, so this is the problem mainly. In the other regions for example, there isn’t so much an anti-Kurdish hostility between people so much, it’s the government, the state that are authoritarian, but in Turkey I have to say unfortunately, the government wants to really actively create a mindset in which the people are just systematically being racist towards the Kurds, to the point where people, there’s constantly news about people being lynched for speaking Kurdish in the streets. So unfortunately I think this has to do with censorship a lot, which is why one of the efforts that we’re trying to do when it comes to addressing the question in Turkey, because Turkey is really the main cause of violence in Kurdistan, as I mentioned earlier, not just in Turkey, but also in Syria and in Iraq. Only yesterday civilians were killed by Turkey, so in order to kind of bring back the option of peace, several things need to be done. One is to break the isolation of Öcalan so the negotiation can start again, the other is to advocate for the freedom of the political prisoners, and especially journalists, and politicians, and everyone who is in jail because they have worked for peace, and also to hold Turkey accountable for human rights abuses and war crimes and for its military operations and so on, so I think these things can be done with an international effort, then people inside Turkey will have more space to think about the option of peace. It’s not a very hopeful answer unfortunately, but I think we need to do that work on an international level also to hold Turkey accountable.

A: Thanks Dilar, there’s a question from Jamie but I think he’s already left so maybe you could just respond as part of the recording, which is about the Kurdish movement’s view on sustainability, on environmental issues, on energy, water, food etc. And then I think there’s a question from Milou which I think Shishtree wants to add, so Shishtree you can ask that once Dilar has finished with this one. So you can ask Milou’s and then also wind up. Dilar go ahead on the sustainability question.

D: So as I said, ecology is actually one of the 3 dimensions of the Kurdish Freedom Movement’s idea of democratic confederalism, so having an ecological mindset is not just a matter of having green or environmentally friendly initiatives, the Kurdish people don’t have ownership of the land really, it’s a context in which the states control the means of production, and nature, and use nature actually also in the war against the Kurdish people, build dams to dry certain areas, so the environment is actually also weaponised by states against people very much, so in this context people don’t really have much control over what kind of ecological society they want to build, but in general, philosophically speaking, the movement, the idea, is to live in a manner, you know if you look at the Kurdish people’s way of life, in the rural areas for example, as I mentioned all of the development initiatives are relatively new, so people have been living in a kind of non-destructive way, not to romanticise that, but they didn’t have the power you know to destroy nature to a larger scale in the way in which states do, so in this sense there are also some aspects of the culture which are very much informed by a cosmology that is ecological, where the relationship between other aspects of life is important. So there is also that element, the cultural element, but also like in the ideology of the movement, basically like land or water or electricity, things should be held in common, that commoning is important, that access to these things should be universal, that they shouldn’t be in the hands of ruling elites or companies that can weaponise them against people, but for that a larger infrastructure, that’s something that people simply don’t have control over in this context at the moment, because the states own them, so I can’t give a positive example of how this is actually being, in Rojava more than Syria, to a limited extent, but not really that much. But in terms of the initiatives that people, you know cooperative farming for example, river cleaning initiatives, these things have been done, and are being done. Also, there is the Mesopotamia Ecology Movement, which people can check out their website for example. They have been engaged in all kinds of initiatives but oftentimes it’s a campaign to stop a dam, a campaign to stop the destruction of something, but that’s because they don’t have actual control over these things because of the states. There was another question you said?

A: Yes thanks, so Miloun had a question and Shishtree also wanted to add to it and then she can also wind uo so Shishtree do you want to go ahead?

S: I’ll just say it out aloud the next question and then I guess my question was a little broader, so Dilar there’s a very strong secular strain running through the Kurdish movement, how have you managed to keep away the right wing impulses of Islam in particular as has happened with Palestinians? Does the strong Women’s movement act as a buffer against the fundamentalists’ ideas and acts? And Dilar, my question was about how the modern capitalist societies have actually created the whole secularised notion of life and have sort of taken away the sacredness that is associated with it. So, how does this movement respond to it? And it’s probably also connected to the whole ecological movement because the secular movement is really around the only techniques of how do we ensure ecological relationships. So, how is this very complex discourse of secular and sacredness navigated?

D: Thank you, thank you for these two very great questions. I will maybe try to put them together in a bit because the question of secularism and in a way spirituality, religion, so the Kurdish movement has historically as I said been a socialist movement, religion, Kurdish society is mainly Suni Muslim but not exclusively, there’s the Yazidi community, there’s the Alevi community, the Kakai, so there are many different religions amongst the Kurds but the vast majority are Muslim. But because of the historical oppression of the Kurdish people since the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the quest for national recognition, the leaderships, even when they have totally different politics, have generally been secular, interestingly, but that doesn’t mean that religious conservatism doesn’t play a role. There are some powerful political parties that are, and also there is a huge Kurdish voter base for the Erdogan government and that’s a conservative, religious constituency as well. So I guess the secular aspect comes also from the experience of being especially targeted because people are Kurds and that has united people from many different religious communities in Kurdistan actually to have a shared mindset, that actually the priority is that national identity because that has been criminalised, the language has been criminalised, and religion wasn’t criminalised so it was more of a private thing in people’s lives. But in terms of like things that the movement has done, I think this again is somehow related to the paradigm shift that took place. The movement was in the early years much more kind of not anti-religion, it was never anti-religion as such, it was anti-tribalism for example, it was really clashing with some tribes for example, and ruling elites inside Turkish society, but with that paradigm shift came also an assessment, a reassessment of capitalist modernity, and how capitalist modernity kills that magic in life, it corrupts religion, it corrupts also ways of thinking about life that are not scientifically provable, so how can we take the ethical aspects of religion and to promote them? Which again ties into some of the things that I was saying with the paradigm shift, all of these, like the Democratic Islam Congress and other things were formed to give the people who are practicing Muslims, practicing Alevis and so on, a platform as well, to address those needs as well. So I think the Women’s Movement for sure I can say has been an important aspect in that, to push back against religious conservatism, much of the backlash against the women’s movement also came from religious arguments, this is shameful, like the idea of honour was really redefined or continues to be redefined by the movement and its activists, to the extent to which it can prove itself it got accepted inside society, people saw what the activists were doing and that is was good for them and so they became convinced that ok women should also be able to enter the public sphere. And again, I keep saying Öcalan’s role, but the fact that a male leader was endorsing this, it did play an important role in terms of convincing people. And I guess just to wrap up on that point is that, how to kind of reconnect with life by seeing it as an animate kind of existence that is shared, in which you know lives are connected but also different existences are connected, that actually the defence of nature is also a defence of the self against assimilation, that the urbanisation, cancerous city growth is actually also a way in which people get alienated from life itself, they get alienated through technology from social interactions and so on and so forth, so in what ways can we transform social relations as well, to not normalise violence, to not normalise systems of domination and hierarchy, but to actually say not only in our cultures but also other cultures, actually historically there have been ways in which people have been governing themselves, organising themselves inside the family, so democratising the family is one of the projects of the women’s movement for example, whilst arguing that the patriarchal family is a prototype of the state. We say yes people will want to have families, people will want to have children, people will want to live with their loved ones, but how can we have a different social relation? How can we have a different kind of family? So in this sense it’s all part of a struggle that in a way you can see the Kurdish Freedom Movement, this ideology at least, is also a decolonisation from the state itself. From the patriarchal state that is imposing concepts on people. And I think the critique of modernity is really important here because it’s about redefining what socialism is, to turn communities into agents by giving them platforms of self organisation. I’m sorry for the long answer.

S: It’s great listening to you. So I think there are no more questions, right Ashish?

A: We should wind up anyway.

S: So thank you very much Dilar for this wonderful and really inspiring talk, for great clarity with which you answered and made the presentation, thanks so much, thanks for all the patience with which people stayed on, despite over zoom bonding, we had a really great discussion, and with zoom bonding as the background for the next webinar, we have a webinar on technology and how it can actually be democratised and how we can use technology in social movements, and how it doesn’t become something that dominates us, basically a discussion around technology which I think is so much needed now. So, thanks everyone for joining and is there anything that anyone else wants to add?

A: Could we just ask people to switch on your videos for a second so that we can virtually be face to face?

D: Yes thank you so much, thank you very much, I really enjoyed the questions and thanks for the space. I hope one day we can do this in person.

A: In the Kurdish region.

D: Yes, anywhere, thank you.


Dilar Dirik

Dilar Dirik is a political sociologist and an activist of the Kurdish Women’s Movement. She is a member of Cenî Kurdish Women's Office for Peace. Dilar is also a postdoctoral researcher at the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford.

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