WATER FOR ROJAVA: An Ecological Society in the Middle East
By Martin Winiecki
In the region of North-East Syria, also known by its Kurdish name Rojava, a democratic self-administration system has been built up since 2012 – a system of “democratic confederalism” based on grassroots democracy, ecology and women’s liberation, in which different ethnic and religious communities live together on their own terms, through autonomy, self-determination, and equality.
The system is based on values of ethnic and religious pluralism, radically democratic and decentralised self-governance, equity between genders, regenerative agriculture and a justice system based on reconciliation and inclusion of minorities. Women are at the front and centre of this movement.
On approximately one third of Syria’s territory, around 5 million people – Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Yazidis and others – have built this autonomous region, demonstrating how a multi-ethnic society can respectfully coexist beyond the constraints of nation state, patriarchy and capitalism. Following their own Charter of the Social Contract, one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, the Rojava experiment has presented a living example of possibility under the most impossible of circumstances.
Food sovereignty and regenerative practices as pillars of the revolution
With the start of the revolution, the people of Rojava begun focusing on increasing their food sovereignty through organic agriculture and agro-ecology. Hundreds of local food cooperatives came into being.
Water has been a critical issue in this. When the revolution in Rojava began, the groundwater level was very low due mainly to industrial monoculture agriculture organized by the Syrian regime over the last four decades, as well as a decline in rainfall as a result of the global climate crisis and centuries of land mismanagement.
The democratic self-administration imposed a moratorium on digging new boreholes to prevent groundwater levels from falling even more. It also created new nature reserves to protect biodiversity, natural water bodies and the few remaining forests.
In early 2018, the Internationalist Commune of Rojava launched the campaign “Make Rojava Green Again” in cooperation with Committee for Natural Reserves, Ecology and Municipalities to support the development of an ecological society in Rojava. The campaign has had three strands: education, practical works, and organizing global solidarity.
Embargo & water shortage: Water as weapon
In 2015, Turkey started to use water as a weapon against Rojava by holding back the water on the rivers which flow from Turkey to Syria through the dams it has been building over the last twenty years.
Then, in October 2019, Turkish state forces and Jihadist proxy forces invaded some areas of North-East Syria, including the region of Serekaniye, which supplies water to almost half a million people in the region around Hasakah. The Alouk water station in Serekaniye was targeted on the first day of the invasion. Since then it has been fixed and then put out of service again repeatedly.
Since the start of the invasion of Serekaniye, Turkish military forces and their allies have continued to attack water infrastructure, burned newly planted orchards and dammed the rivers providing most of the fresh water and electricity to Syria. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently without safe reliable drinking water.
This situation is greatly exacerbated by the threat of Covid-19. In the time of a pandemic, access to water is more vital than ever.
“In the midst of a global pandemic that is overloading sophisticated governance and infrastructure systems, Turkish authorities have been cutting off the water supply to regions most under strain in Syria,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Turkish authorities should do everything they can to immediately resume supply to these communities.”
The people in Rojava need your help
The Solidarity Economy Association launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £100,000 for vital water infrastructure in North-East Syria. Part of the campaign is a coalition of different groups, Aborîya Jin (Women’s Economy) in North-East Syria, not-for-profit NGO Un Ponte Per (Italy), UK-registered charity Heyva Sor a Kurdistanê (Kurdish Red Crescent), Roots for Change (Switzerland), and the Save the Tigris Campaign. The fund will help women’s co-operatives and democratic local municipalities in Rojava with projects like repairing infrastructure damaged by bombings, digging wells and building water pumps for refugee camps, as well as funding long-term projects like co-operative farm irrigation systems and river cleaning initiatives. Despite the ongoing war, people in Rojava are still living cooperatively, rebuilding their lives, their ecology and their economy.
Water is not a weapon. Av jîyan e – Water is life!