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What’s an Autonomous Zone?

  • July 02, 2020

Rojava was born when a Kurdish militia captured a swath of territory during the Syrian Civil War. “It’s about not being like a state, because the state is seen by many autonomy struggles as actually a system of domination that controls people, rather than provides for them,” Ms. Dirik said.

Decision making in Rojava is also an exercise in consensus building. “Raising one’s hands to vote is less important than reaching an understanding,” wrote Zelal Jeger, the co-chair of TEV-DEM, a political organization in Rojava, in response to questions sent through a representative. “If we put something to a vote, and you receive more votes, and you win and I lose, fair enough — we do it like this. But before we vote, we discuss for hours, until you and I reach a consensus. Then there won’t be incorrect decisions.”

Rojava has also discussed the future of policing. Communes have localized groups of rotating armed volunteers known as Civil Defense Forces. “The logic is that it shouldn’t be people from outside,” Ms. Dirik said. Policing “shouldn’t be, like, ‘Random people who don’t know you just come and beat you up when you make a mistake.’ When people know each other, they also understand what’s going on in that community.”

Robin Makhno, an American anarchist who now lives in Rojava and does not use gendered pronouns, said in an email: “The experiment with democratic confederalism as a post-state way of organizing seemed much more promising than almost anything else being attempted,” In Rojava, they added, it’s possible for outsiders “to really connect with the revolution in genuine ways, to affect and be affected by the struggle to change the society, and not just get a photo op or some kind of war tourism.”

Mx. Makhno called CHOP a “beautiful and exciting development in an otherwise incredibly bleak time for the United States,” and offers encouragement to protesters in autonomous zones.

“The best self-defense is strong community relationships,” they wrote. “Don’t lose sight of the long-term goals, celebrate every victory and love your comrades. You may have to do things less heroic and more difficult than you imagine.”

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