A Free Society Amidst the Chaos of the Middle East
Rojava is a little-known but important story in the Middle East.
February 8, 2015
Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.

In the midst of the violence of the Middle East, a relatively free society has emerged, Rojava in northern Syria, by the border with Turkey. Rojava, meaning “western,” also referred to as Western Kurdistan, is a self-governing, mostly Kurdish region, with a population of 4.5 million. It declared itself autonomous in November 2013, after control by the government of Syria had collapsed. The capital is Qamishli in northeastern Syria. The territory includes Kobane, the city in which there was fierce fighting with ISIS.

The region, established by the Democratic Union Party and the Kurdish National Council, is not recognized as a political jurisdiction by the government of Syria, and the government of Turkey has closed its border with Rojava for trade in goods and for entry by journalists.

The Constitution of the Rojava Cantons declares that, "We, the people of the Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane," establish "a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Syrics, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens."

In response to a culture where women are typically treated badly, in Rojava, feminism is valued, and community “peace committees” have reduced violence within and among families. Women have formed a military force that helped rescue the Yazidi religious minority.

The residents practice what they call “democratic confederalism.” Rojava is divided into cantons, like those of Switzerland. Most of the government's services are provided locally by the three cantons. In response to a culture where women are typically treated badly, in Rojava, feminism is valued, and community “peace committees” have reduced violence within and among families. Women have formed a military force that helped rescue the Yazidi religious minority.

The government of Rojava is the Kurdish Supreme Committee. Its army is the People's Protection Units. The public revenues of Rojava come mostly from selling oil. There are no taxes on wages, production, or goods. Local services are provided by cooperatives.

While some American and European Muslims are joining the violent extremists in the Middle East, others, not so publicized, are helping the Rojava side. They are called the “Lions of Rojava.” Those who want to get involved have an ideological choice.

The situation is complicated by the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Turkey, or PKK, designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. This party should work for peaceful self-governance within Turkey. Peace between the Kurds and the Turkish government would promote a normal border between Turkey and Rojava. Until then, the government of the United States should push on Turkey to open its border to Rojava for trade, journalism, and assistance.

Abdullah Öcalan

The revolutionary ideology in Rojava was led by Abdullah Öcalan, who rejects the structure of today's state governments. Öcalan’s concept of Democratic Autonomy includes a bottom-up democracy, gender equality, environmental preservation, and a cooperative economy. The cantons operate under a “social contract” of self-governance based in neighborhood commune assemblies of several hundred households each, with women as equal participants. Power rises from the bottom up through elected deputies to the city and cantonal levels.

The people of Rojava are fighting not only for their autonomy but also for their ideals of democracy and tolerance. The training of their military includes education about their Democratic Autonomy.

An academic group visited Rojava in December 2014. In their statement of January 15, 2015, the group stated that “we, as a delegation of scholars from Europe, Turkey, and North America traveled to Rojava to learn more about the ideals and practices of this revolution and to witness at first hand, in one of its cantons, its claims to gender liberation and democratic self-government... In Rojava, we believe, genuinely democratic structures have indeed been established... Against all odds, the people of Rojava have advanced a bold program for civic tolerance, gender liberation, and direct democracy. For this, they deserve the world’s respect and its active support.”

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Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.

FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., (May 11, 1946 — June 5, 2021) was an economist who wrote weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary’s commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and San Jose State University.

Foldvary is the author of The Soul of LibertyPublic Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary’s areas of research included public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.

Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.