From Resistance to Freedom: Struggles for Self-Determination from Rojava to British Columbia

October 29, 2016

Saturday, October 29, 10:30AM–5:00PM, Room 1700, SFU Harbour Centre

Co-sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities

Admission

Employed: $10–20
Student/Unemployed: By Donation

Conference on the Rojavan Revolution

The Kurdish regions of northern Syria (Rojava) are conducting a remarkable social experiment. In brief, in the vacuum created by the Syrian civil war, Rojava is experimenting with a form of organization that might best be viewed as ‘anarchist’, or to use a newer variation, ‘communalist’. The key ingredients in this revolutionary process stress the absolute equality of all peoples regardless of sex, gender, race, or ethnicity. Building a truly sustainable relationship between people and the environment is a key concept termed “social ecology”. Decision making in Rojava is bottom up across the board. Individual regions of Rojava, cantons, have voluntarily chosen to confederate. Rojava has its own armed forces to protect the people of the region that is structured into a people’s militia called the YPG. A separate wing of the YPG is a women’s militia, the YPJ. In both, officers are elected by their soldiers. Remarkably, the YPG and YPJ operating with very few resources have been the most effective fighters against ISIS. Indeed, not only have the YPG/YPJ largely driven ISIS from Kurdish territory, the Rojavan Revolution philosophically stands as the polar opposite to the medieval barbarism of ISIS.

The revolution in Rojava is broadly based on the seminal writings of the late American political theorist Murray Bookchin. It combines the concepts of social ecology of Bookchin with the notion of ‘democratic confederalism’ as it has evolved from the work of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. The latter in adopting an anarchist position realized that the Kurdish people do not necessarily need to have the formal structure of a ‘state’ in order to develop their own autonomous and free society.

In spite of the current success of the revolution, few people in North America know much about Rojava or the revolution there. Even for many on the ‘left’ the nature of the revolution is not well understood. In fact, the events Rojava are sometime viewed through a rather dogmatic perspective that equates the help the YPG has received from the United States/NATO with Rojava having become a participant in a new form of ‘neo-colonialism’ for the region. This view is quite incorrect, but speaks to the need for a broader understanding of the events in the region and their historical context, particularly amongst those on the left.

Rojavans view their revolution not only as the best way forward for themselves, but also as a potential model for other communities, especially those struggling for autonomy. Whether this revolution will survive, however, is very much the current question. In recent days, the circumstances on the ground have changed dramatically. Turkey has moved its army into the region and brought in auxiliary jihadi fighters in an attempt to block the YPG and roll back the Rojavan revolution. 

Conference Themes

  • History of the Rojavan Revolution
    • The Kurds and the search for sovereignty and autonomy;
    • Abdullah Ocalan, Murray Bookchin: Democratic confederalism and social ecology;
    • Tev Dem and the emergence of Rojavan democracy.
  • Fighting for the revolution
    • The YPG/YPJ and the fight for Rojava and the revolution;
    • ISIS, Syria, and Turkey: what the future holds.
  • Struggles for Autonomy in British Columbia and Canada (and elsewhere)
    • BC First Nations communities;
    • Environmental protection;
    • The ongoing and looming battles.
  • Does the Revolution in Rojava have lessons for us here?
    • Democratic confederalism and the Canadian state.

Speakers

Nissy Arif, teacher and Kurdish activist.
Cody Bergerud, Victoria based activist and former YPG medic and participant in Tev-Dem.
Alex Moreau & Baz Andok (nom de guerre), Vancouver based veterans of YPG and Tactical Medical Unit (TMU).
Firat Kabak Batman (nom de guerre), Swedish Kurd who is serving in the TMU.
Chris Shaw, Vancouver-based activist.
Freda Huson, Unis’tot’en Spokesperson.
Steven Henderson, Vancouver-based communalist.
Ama Tierney, US based journalist and activist.

Moderator/Facilitator: Stephen Collis

Schedule

10:30AM–10:40AM: Stephen Collis (facilitator), Opening remarks and structure for the meeting
10:40AM–11:10AM: Nissy Arif
11:10AM–11:40AM: Cody Bergerud 
11:40AM–12:20PM: Alex Moreau, Baz Andok, and Firat Kabak Batman (or alternate, TBD)
12:20PM–12-30PM: Coffee/bathroom break
12:30PM–12:50PM: Chris Shaw and Baz Andok
12:50PM–1:30PM: Lunch break
1:30PM–2:00PM: Steve Henderson
2:00PM–2:30PM:  Freda Huson
2:30PM–3:00PM: Ama Tierney
3:00PM–3:15PM: Coffee/Bathroom break
3:15PM–4:15PM: Panel and general discussion (can go to 4:30 if there is sufficient interest)
5:00PM: End