The revolution in Rojava: an eyewitness account

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by Janet Biehl
ROAR Magazine
October 20, 2016

For decades, three million Syrian Kurds lived under severe repression by the Assad regime, their identity denied and access to education and jobs refused. Despite imprisonment and torture, the resistance grew. When the Arab Spring arrived in Syria, their organizations seized the moment to create a pioneering democratic revolution. The liberation of Rojava began in Kobane, on July 19, 2012. From this day on, the history of social and political revolution entered a new era.

Anja Flach, Ercan Ayboğa and Michel Knapp are longtime activists in the Kurdish freedom movement, working in Germany and Turkey. Together they visited Rojava in May 2014, and with their language skills, contacts and knowledge of the Kurdish movement, they were able to do close fieldwork for a full month. Upon their return, they compiled their observations into a book, Revolution in Rojava, published in German in March 2015. They have made subsequent visits to Rojava and updated the book. In its revised form, Revolution in Rojava is published in English by Pluto Press in October 2016.


Anja, Ercan, and Michel, your book is a deeply insightful contribution to understanding the Kurdish movement’s achievements in Rojava. First, please tell us a little about yourselves.

Anja: In the early 1990s I got to know the Kurdish women’s movement, and we formed a committee with Kurdish and German women. It deeply impressed me that many Kurdish activists saw no separation between the political and the personal, and that a women’s army was being created, of all places, in the Middle East. The German Left consisted almost entirely of students, but in the Kurdish movement, people from the whole population, from small children to the elderly, joined in demonstrations.

In 1994, I traveled to Kurdistan for the first time, with a delegation, to get to know the movement better and to learn from it. The Kurdish people’s determined struggle convinced me of the importance of the movement. In 1995, I participated for 2.5 years in the Kurdish guerrilla army. I wrote two books about the women’s movement, published only in German.

The next years were difficult. Öcalan was abducted and the Kurdish movement went into a deep crisis. In Hamburg, where I live, some other activists and I established a women’s council. At the moment I’m active in the women’s council, and I organize events and write articles. With German friends we discuss how we can implement the principles and methods of the Kurdish movement here in Europe.

Ercan: The Mesopotamian Ecology Movement was founded in 2011 as a network in North Kurdistan, when several ecological groups became active in different provinces. Since the beginning of 2015, it has been restructured as a social movement: in every province of North Kurdistan, it works in “ecology councils” of usually several dozen active members. The main work at the provincial level is carried out in up to twelve types of commissions.

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