rojava’s third way


Rojavans (I’ll call them by that name because while they are mostly Kurds, they are also Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, and others) then faced a choice of aligning themselves either with the regime that had persecuted them, or with the mostly Islamic militant opposition groups.

Rojava’s Kurds being relatively secular, they refused both sides and decided instead to embark on a Third Way, based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader who rethought the Kurdish issue, the nature of revolution, and an alternative modernity to the nation-state and capitalism.

Initially, under his leadership, Kurds had fought for a state, but several decades ago, again under his leadership, their goal began to change: they now reject the state as a source of oppression and instead strive for self-government, for popular democracy. Drawing eclectically from sources in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology, Öcalan proposed ‘Democratic Confederalism’ as the name for the overarching program of bottom-up democracy, gender equality, ecology, and a cooperative economy. The implementation of those principles, in institutions not only of democratic self-government but also of economics, education, health and gender, is called Democratic Autonomy.


The level of improvisation was striking throughout the canton. The more we traveled through Rojava, the more I marveled at the do-it-yourself nature of the revolution, its reliance on local ingenuity and the scarce materials at hand. But it was not until we visited the various academies — the women’s academy in Rimelan and the Mesopotamian Academy in Qamishlo — that I realized that it is integral to the system as a whole.

The education system in Rojava is non-traditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience.
Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they “search for meaning,” as we were told, in intellectual matters. They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.


jan 2015 – interview with janet biehl

You can’t make a revolution just any day, he would point out; history has to be on your side; only at times does a “revolutionary situation” develop, when it’s possible to change the system. He lamented that all too often, when a revolutionary situation came around, the revolutionaries weren’t ready for it. They longed for an opportunity to make change, but they did not organize in advance, and so when the revolutionary situation developed, they missed their chance.

When we met with Nilüfer Koc, co-president of the KNK, she defined Democratic Autonomy not in terms of democracy but expressly as “unity in diversity.”


dec 2014 – David Graeber after 10 day visit to Rojava:

this is a genuine revolution..

I’ve spent my life thinking about how we might be able to do things like this in some remote time in the future and most people think I’m crazy to imagine it will ever be. These people are doing it now. If they prove that it can be done, that a genuinely egalitarian and democratic society is possible, it will completely transform people’s sense of human possibility. Myself, I feel ten years younger just having spent 10 days there.


It seems to me for that very reason it’s our responsibility, as intellectuals, or just as thoughtful human beings, to try to at least think about what something better might look like. And if there are people actually trying to create that better thing, it’s our responsibility to help them out.


jan 2015 – pointless jobs – 200 tube posters:


feb 2015:

anarchists vs isis 

Despite all the obstacles facing them, the people of Rojava are, right now, the only large-scale movement on the entire planet implementing a real, working alternative to the state and capitalism. Like the Spanish anarchist federations and the Mexican Zapatistas before them, the people of Rojava have chosen to do the impossible: to create a new society while fighting as one of the smallest forces in a regional war, a tight-rope walk through a dodge-ball court. Only time will tell if they can pull it off.


feb 2015 – 3 fold economy – coops

community, war, open


march 2015 – video – 23 min:

Our World has gained exclusive access to Rojava, from the frontlines, to the politicians and refugee camps.


april 2015 – David Harvey on defending rojava:

Efforts are being made to establish an anti-capitalist system based on self-reliance. It involves the setting up of communes, collectives and cooperatives. Important steps have also been taken in education. I would like to go to Rojava to see things for myself.






june 26 2015

Islamic State kills at least 145 civilians in Syria’s Kobani


oct 2015 – by Carne Ross

I asked the brother of the murdered man why he didn’t want the killer to face further punishment. His eyes moist with grief, he replied, no: “social peace” was more important than punishment. This was a better way, he argued: what good would be served by a long punishment of the perpetrator? I was staggered and moved. I thought of the barbarity of Rikers Island prison, which I would fly over on my way home to the US. No one in that country would claim that a system premised on punishment over reconciliation has achieved “social peace”.


If you wanted a society freed of coercion, you must abolish the ultimate practitioner of coercion, including violence: the state itself.


Carne Ross is a former British diplomat and author. He visited Syria for the documentary film, ‘The Accidental Anarchist’, produced by Hopscotch Films and Mentorn Media with support from the Sundance Institute for release in 2016


dec 2015 – via rt of Rutger‘s

Lezen! over de Rojova Revolutie. Schokkend hoe David Graeber kritiek wegwuift.


#MacFellow @lynseyaddario’s photos from Rojava, an #ISIS-free Syrian enclave: via @NYTmag

Original Tweet:



by bowing to Turkish pressure not to include Rojava the US has rendered Syrian peace talks a ridiculous joke…


@davidgraeber We don’t do peace talks – we stabilize and monetize hostilities and tensions. Peace is less profitable..

Real Media (@RealMediaGB) tweeted at 5:29 AM – 17 Feb 2018 :

WATCH @davidgraeber on Rojava, Syria, Anarchism #DefendAfrin #Rojava (

also transcripted here: []

2 min – rojava: n syria along turkish border.. 2 mn people there engaged in what i consider to be one of the greatest historical experiments
imagine if we listened to the itch-in-8b-souls 1st thing everyday & used that data to connect us (tech as it could be.. ai as augmenting interconnectedness)
growing up w my background (father in barcelona at time anarchy ruled) .. understood anarchism was possible .. (ie: wouldn’t end up just killing each other) .. but hadn’t been an experiment at that scale.. like what happened in spain since.. because everybody is so terrified as people running things.. being told not necessary..
5 min – dual power situation where same guy set up both sides
6 min – saying.. can’t get rid of capitalism w/o getting rid of state.. and can’t get rid of state w/o getting rid of patriarchy.. how do you get rid of patriarchy..? make sure all have weapons.. then anyone w gun has power of top down.. overall mech – all women police force
9 min – leader (who’s in jail for rest of life.. and only one they show a pic of that’s not dead.. because if show one person who’d alive pic.. not democratic).. says.. think for yourself
10 min – army – people’s defense units.. basis is defense.. they always win..

12 min – anarchism isn’t against organization.. it means people aren’t (don’t have to be) compelled to organize themselves.. they believe in organization more than anyone else. . t


if you have a system where anybody can say whatever they want.. and nobody can be compelled to do something that’s obviously stupid .. you’re going to have to make it common sensical..

ie: consensus system.. no one should have to do something they violently object to

public consensus always oppresses someone(s)

13 min – all i believe in.. is taking that basic principle.. that if you can’t force people to do things they don’t want to do or they think is absolutely wrong or idiotic.. then you’re going to have to develop a structure of hearing people out.. that’s the only thing i wouldn’t compromise on.. everything else is like.. what’s the most effective way to do that..t

infra for graeber anarchism law: 2 convos

imagine if we listened to the itch-in-8b-souls 1st thing everyday & used that data to connect us (tech as it could be.. ai as augmenting interconnectedness)

ie: hlb via 2 convos that io dance.. as the day..[aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]..  a nother way

14 min – what they did.. if technical – majority vote.. if moral.. then consensus..

16 min – bureaucracy always creeps in.. ie: language.. language always changes.. no language that is same as it was 1600 yrs ago.. why is that..? people like to play around.. but on other hand.. if you tell people they’re doing it wrong they’ll believe you.. this is the fundamental dilemma that makes bureaucracy possible..

18 min – i feel very strongly that compulsory participation in direct democracy is just as wrong as not allowing people to participate

accidental anarchist
David Graeber (@davidgraeber) tweeted at 10:20 AM on Sun, May 13, 2018:
I am tempted to write something about driving in Rojava. It really shows they haven’t created a state apparatus. No drivers’ licenses, speed limits, plates are optional. Traffic cops exist in towns but only as far as I can see to tell kids “hey you’re 12 stop driving that car!”
Molly Crabapple (@mollycrabapple) tweeted at 10:11 AM – 20 Dec 2018 :
When the Turkish army invaded Afrin, they and their proxies ethnically cleansed the Kurdish inhabitants and carried out looting, kidnapping, and torture. When the US troops leave Syria, the same thing will happen to the rest of Rojava on a far more massive scale (
Matt The-Irrefutable (@Irrefutablematt) tweeted at 4:35 AM – 1 Feb 2019 :
autonomous region of syria rojava that has been fighting isis about to be wiped out by nato and turks as forces amass on the board (
David Graeber (@davidgraeber) tweeted at 4:06 AM on Fri, Feb 01, 2019:
Rojava about to be wiped out by NATO

It is because Turkey is Nato that the western press has to take seriously its bizarre claims that theexperiment in feminist democracy underway in Rojava is itself a form of “terrorism”.

It is because Turkey is Nato, and guards Europe’s borders, that the US and European powers looked the other way or even expressed support when its army descended on the hitherto peaceful enclave of Afrin, in violation of all international law. As the Turkish army did so, it suggested it wouldnot just to ethnically cleanse the Kurdish population and put an end to their ownexperiment with feminist democracy, but also to use the district toresettle the families of the most avid Islamist rebels who might otherwise have migrated to Europe.

Fazil Moradi (@FazilMoradi) tweeted at 5:35 AM – 1 Feb 2019 :
“Turkey remains a #GenocidalState and this is know by NATO States, making’m all #COMPLICIT, Read this powerful and honest observations by @davidgraeber – It’s also important to note how @AlJazeera_World too backs this #GenocidalState (


𝕾𝖐𝖎𝖆𝖒𝖆𝖐𝖍𝖔𝖘 (@skiamakhos) tweeted at 5:15 AM – 26 Jan 2020 :
@davidgraeber @pgcd I’ve never really agreed with Winston Churchill that Capitalism is “the worst economic system, except for all the others”. There are definitely alternatives that work well. The more I read about Rojava, the more I’m convinced that their system of local assemblies could work here. (


Long read: How does it feel to seek new ways to live? Following the eighth anniversary of the Rojava revolution, journalist and activist @hashtagbroom – who has been living and working in North and East Syria for the last two years – explains.
Original Tweet:

As militants of the Rojava revolution – which began eight years ago today – we have the opportunity to transgress these rules, and seek new ways to live. But before we can begin to seek an answer to Öcalan’s question (how to live), we must ask ourselves another: “how do I feel?”

Alcohol dependency is one blunt example of a broader set of cultural, social, economic and – especially – patriarchal practices which limit the emotions we are able or permitted to feel. Love between a man and a woman must be lust; we must feel happy when with our family; we must be greedy with our time and resources if we are to pay the rent. We must drink to feel good: we must feel good, we’re drunk.

here, I and others have found new space to feel.

As militants of this revolution, we are encouraged to ‘give meaning’ to the minutiae of life, to remind ourselves that tens of thousands of our comrades died to make our life here possible. We should grant revolutionary significance to our life in its smallest details, from the morning egg to cleaning the toilet to the way we use our free time.

Our toothpaste, like all our groceries, is delivered by a logistics truck, making weekly rounds of the civil institutions to bring us our daily essentials, just as it would if we were on the frontline in Deir ez-Zor. This system does away with some of the stress attendant to the wage-relation in the West – fuck, I’ll never make it to the supermarket before it closes; fuck, my card’s declined; fuck, I forgot to buy toothpaste – time-consuming, psychologically taxing, above all boring. It is an alteration to the baseline reality of experience, opening new space in which to think, share and feel.

of the stories we swapped like gifts, each not expecting to see the other whole again; of the extra hour we snatched together as the beans proved slow to come to the boil on the hob, and how precious those moments were.

Such moments are not only the result of changes in the fabric of society instigated by the Kurdish freedom movement under the umbrella of the Rojava revolution. They also emerge from the local culture of warmth, camaraderie and hospitality.

Through their refusal of the state form, the people of North and East Syria defiantly place themselves outside the biopolitical consensus, choosing to continue living bare lives without protection under international law.

The pressure to conform to statehood operates on all levels, from the concerned mother wanting what’s best for her children to the geopolitical decisions taken by the Autonomous Administration. In defending itself and its people, the revolutionary movement is necessarily forced to compromise, to take on state form. Such actions are often described with the Turkish loan word mêcbur – the same word you would use to describe the situation in a chess game where there is only one possible move to make.

Conversely, the revolution is at its most vital when it does not try to recoup these qualities, but goes its own way, achieving affects more vital and profound, more difficult to articulate to the West.

By articulating the unavoidable mêcbur move as though it were a choice, the people here have found a way to fill this lack. More than a defence mechanism, this constitutes a reclamation of selfhood.

Ask any grandmother in Qamishlo – she will tell you they don’t know anything about politics, then talk about politics for hours. She will tell you that resistance was the milk on which they raised their children…  for the people of Rojava, life is necessarily resistance.

Here, in the safe-zone where nothing is safe; in the deconfliction zone where war is a constant reality..

It is only in this constant state of emergency that we know how to live, how to feel.

It is at once harder and better to live in the permanent state of exception, where strong, clear emotions – love for the people, hate for their enemies – are easy to find.


45 min video (2018) on communes of rojava: defense, health, peace and consensus, econ, ed, women’s

The Communes of Rojava: A Model In Societal Self Direction
Original Tweet: