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Rojava, Revolution and Democracy Seminar Series

Ӧcalan and Democratic Confederalism



12 March 2024 


Abdullah Öcalan (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK) is an important figure in the Kurdish leftist movement, and considered to be an important influence on real political and military organizations in Rojava.


Öcalan’s prison writings consider the historical and ideological development of state power from an interesting perspective: Öcalan rejects a ‘state-oriented’ socialist programme (and in that sense some elements of traditional Marxist and democratic socialist strategy), but does embrace the idea of the ‘nation’ as a description of a political community.


‘Democratic confederalism’ is a theory of the political, economic and military organization of the nation without state institutions. Rojava, perhaps a living example of this form of democracy, has arisen from state collapse, conflict, and crisis. Is a catastrophic crisis of existing state and economic power a precondition for the creation of genuine participatory democracy? 


In this session, we consider this question in the light of a reading of Öcalan’s essay, ‘Democratic Nation’. There will be a short introduction to the author and his work before we move into a discussion of the essay. A copy of the text along with a helpful study guide will be made available to participants before the session.



The following articles and readings will help contextualise the discussions for this seminar. Of particular interest is Öcalan's 'Democratic Nation' article, which will help get to grips with the theoretical underpinnings of the revolution in Rojava.

Be sure to check out the seminar guide, reading questions and texts to help you in the seminar. These aren't essential to read, but it will help you to get more out of our discussion if you do!


David Graeber: Why Rojava Matters

Novara Media (17 Oct 2019)

David Graeber explains the politics of Rojava, the autonomous, self-governing region in north-eastern Syria which has been on the front line in the fight against ISIS. He explains how he became aware of the revolution and why its matters for the us. Discussion featuring Michael Walker, Aaron Bastani and David Graeber

Rojava: Syria's Secret Revolution

BBC / Mehran Bozorgnia / Bozorgnia Films (Nov 2014)

Is the Middle East’s newest country a territory called “Rojava”? Out of the chaos of Syria’s civil war, mainly Kurdish leftists have forged an egalitarian, multi-ethnic mini-state run on communal lines. But with ISIS Jihadists attacking them at every opportunity — especially around the beleaguered city of Kobane, how long can this idealistic social experiment last? From the frontlines to the refugee camps, Mehran Bozorgnia filmed in Rojava for the BBC's Our World and has gained exclusive access and a revealing snapshot of Syria’s secret revolution.

Accidental Anarchist: What is the Rojava Revolution?

Carne Ross / Hopscotch Films (2017)

“The future of the extraordinary feminist and democratic revolution in Rojava is now in danger. The US has announced it will withdraw its military forces from Syria, with whom the Kurdish forces have been fighting against ISIS. This will be a green light for Erdogan’s Turkey to fulfill its threats to attack Rojava and eradicate its nascent democracy. There’s never been a more important time to support Rojava. This clip from Accidental Anarchist shows why it matters.” - Carne Ross.

Understanding the Rojava Revolution

The Institute of Arts and Ideas (2 May 2019)

In the shadow of ISIS, the community of Rojava is a flourishing experiment in direct democracy and gender equality. Now it's under attack. Back from Syria, Kurdish rights activist Elif Sarican tells this hopeful story.

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