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Exclusive: Kurds in Rojava have taught the rest of the world how to implement Bookchin’s ideas, Bookchin’s longtime companion says  

Exclusive: Kurds in Rojava have taught the rest of the world how to implement Bookchin’s ideas, Bookchin’s longtime companion says  
Kurdish fighters in Rojava, 2017.

Peregraf- Renwar Najm

Kurds in Rojava have taught the rest of the world how to implement Bookchin’s stateless, assembly democracy as a result of their particular experience, says Bookchin’s biographer and longtime companion, Janet Biehl in an exclusive interview with Peregraf.

In spring 2004, Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), via his lawyers who were still authorized to meet him, asked to be put in contact with American anarchist thinker and social theorist Murray Bookchin. Ocalan sent him a letter, told him he considered himself Bookchin’s “good student” and was thinking of applying the notions of social ecology in the Middle East.

Abdullah Ocalan both before and during his current imprisonment has thought about and analyzed the PKK movement and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European Blocks. He has also linked the experience and ideology of all the Communist parties in the world with one another, especially in the Middle Eastern Region, and observed that their achievements in real life are not what they claim. However, the trigger point for Ocalan was familiarizing himself with Bookchin’s ideas while in prison. Through his lawyer, Ocalan wrote to Bookchin a few times with a view to adapt his ideas to the context of the PKK, but Bookchin was near the end of his life.

At the beginning of this century, Ocalan realized that Bookchin’s proposed citizens’ assemblies and Confederalism were the right solution for all the nations and ethnic minorities who are living in the countries of the region. He therefore rejected the idea of the nation-state.

Abdullah Ocalan at Imarli prison during Kurdish-Turkish peace talks, 2014

“The correspondence in 2004 was not direct, but was conducted through intermediaries, especially two German solidarity activists,” Bookchin’s biographer and longtime companion, Janet Biehl told Peregraf via email. “Ocalan said he considered himself a social ecologist [the name of Murray’s ideology] and a good student of Bookchin’s. Murray saluted his leadership,” she added. 

Biehl says that it was the first time they spoke to a Kurdish leader, however “in the 1990s we were mainly aware of the Iraqi Kurds and the Gulf War. We felt terrible that Bush had encouraged the Iraqi Kurds to rise against Saddam Hussein, then failed to support them.” She also says that the first time they hear about Ocalan was in 1999 when they watched Ocalan’s “regrettable capture” in Nairobi, “We thought of Ocalan as an anticolonialist Marxist leader, and Murray had been criticizing Marxism-Leninism for a long time as authoritarian, in favor of assembly democracy and ecology. So while we lamented his capture, neither Murray nor I felt any no strong pull toward him.”

The intermediaries thought a dialogue would be a good idea, and Ocalan seemed to want one too, according to Biehl. However, Murray was too ill and depressed to carry out a substantive dialogue.

Bookchin was an advocate of an eclectic form of environmentalist anti-capitalism. In "Ecology of Freedom" (1982), he argued that man’s destruction of the environment is the result of his domination of other men, and only by doing away with all hierarchies – man over woman, old over young, white over black, rich over poor – could humanity avert ecological and economic collapse. In "The Rise of Urbanisation and the Decline of Citizenship" (1987) and "Urbanisation without Cities" (1992), he proposed "libertarian municipalism" as an alternative to representative democracy and authoritarian state-socialism: directly democratic assemblies would confederate into larger networks and eventually topple state power.

Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl

At eighty-three, Bookchin no longer had the energy required to maintain contacts of some duration. Still Ocalan’s views, thanks to Bookchin, gave rise to the foundations of “Democratic Confederalism”, the process now under practical experimentation in The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava.

“Social ecology movements had created institutes and organizations to promote these ideas, but no one had ever deliberately implemented them in a self-governing structure,” said Biehl, “Thank you, Kurdish people!” She added.

Bookchin also sent the following message to the Kurdish people a while before his death: “My hope is that the Kurdish people will be able to implement someday a free and rational society that will allow it to shine again. You are lucky to have a leader as talented as Mister Ocalan to guide you.”

Biehl who had travelled to Rojava a number of times and witnessed the new structures being put into action, believes that Bookchin’s stateless, assembly democracy turned out to be an excellent prescription for the Kurdish people, the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation-state. “They have implemented it, adapted it, expanded it, learned from it, added to it, and modified it, as a result of their particular experience, so that it meets their needs. They have taught the rest of the world how to do it.”

Turkey, however, has taken a hardline stance against Rojava administration from the very first day and has lunched several military offensive into north-eastern Syria in the last five years in which they occupied several Kurdish cities including Afrin, Tell Abyad (Girê Spî‎) and Ras al-Ayn (Serê Kaniyê‎).

“Clearly Turkey under the AKP is an autocracy and loathes any suggestion of democracy. It is at war not only with the PKK but also the HDP, attempting in every way possible to suppress that legitimate parliamentary party,” Biehl said.

“The AKP also fears Kurdish self-determination of any kind, preferring to physically annihilate Kurds rather than permit them any rights or freedoms, let alone a democratic self-administration.”

Janet Biehl in Rojava

In 2006, when Murray Bookchin died, the PKK assembly referred to him as “one of the 20th century’s greatest social sciences specialists. He introduced us to social ecology and contributed to the development of socialist theory so that it could move forward on more solid ground. He demonstrated how to turn a new democratic system into a reality. He proposed the concept of Confederalism, a model we consider creative and feasible. Bookchin’s theses on the state, power and hierarchy will be applied and put in practice in our struggle… We put this promise to the test by becoming the first society to establish a tangible form of Democratic Confederalism.”

Now Ocalan is spending his 21st year in prison from where he developed his theories and adopted Bookchin’s model of governing. Thus far there is no any sign for his freedom, even Turkish authorities rarely let his lawyers and family meet him in a time Ocalan is considered as the sole key to solve Kurdish question in both Turkey and Syria.

Janet Biehl believes that freeing Ocalan would restart Kurdish-Turkish peace talks, or rather, start a new peace process on a sounder basis, “It [freeing Ocalan] would signal a willingness on the part of Turkey to accept the inevitable and address Kurdish rights and aspirations.” She adds: “It would bring new attention to Ocalan’s ideas, spreading them further around the world. And it would reinvigorate the commitment of those in North-East Syria to build their new society on the strong basis that Ocalan provided.”

Exclusive: Kurds in Rojava have taught the rest of the world how to implement Bookchin’s ideas, Bookchin’s longtime companion says  

2020-05-11 19:54:15

Peregraf- Renwar Najm

Kurds in Rojava have taught the rest of the world how to implement Bookchin’s stateless, assembly democracy as a result of their particular experience, says Bookchin’s biographer and longtime companion, Janet Biehl in an exclusive interview with Peregraf.

In spring 2004, Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), via his lawyers who were still authorized to meet him, asked to be put in contact with American anarchist thinker and social theorist Murray Bookchin. Ocalan sent him a letter, told him he considered himself Bookchin’s “good student” and was thinking of applying the notions of social ecology in the Middle East.

Abdullah Ocalan both before and during his current imprisonment has thought about and analyzed the PKK movement and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European Blocks. He has also linked the experience and ideology of all the Communist parties in the world with one another, especially in the Middle Eastern Region, and observed that their achievements in real life are not what they claim. However, the trigger point for Ocalan was familiarizing himself with Bookchin’s ideas while in prison. Through his lawyer, Ocalan wrote to Bookchin a few times with a view to adapt his ideas to the context of the PKK, but Bookchin was near the end of his life.

At the beginning of this century, Ocalan realized that Bookchin’s proposed citizens’ assemblies and Confederalism were the right solution for all the nations and ethnic minorities who are living in the countries of the region. He therefore rejected the idea of the nation-state.

Abdullah Ocalan at Imarli prison during Kurdish-Turkish peace talks, 2014

“The correspondence in 2004 was not direct, but was conducted through intermediaries, especially two German solidarity activists,” Bookchin’s biographer and longtime companion, Janet Biehl told Peregraf via email. “Ocalan said he considered himself a social ecologist [the name of Murray’s ideology] and a good student of Bookchin’s. Murray saluted his leadership,” she added. 

Biehl says that it was the first time they spoke to a Kurdish leader, however “in the 1990s we were mainly aware of the Iraqi Kurds and the Gulf War. We felt terrible that Bush had encouraged the Iraqi Kurds to rise against Saddam Hussein, then failed to support them.” She also says that the first time they hear about Ocalan was in 1999 when they watched Ocalan’s “regrettable capture” in Nairobi, “We thought of Ocalan as an anticolonialist Marxist leader, and Murray had been criticizing Marxism-Leninism for a long time as authoritarian, in favor of assembly democracy and ecology. So while we lamented his capture, neither Murray nor I felt any no strong pull toward him.”

The intermediaries thought a dialogue would be a good idea, and Ocalan seemed to want one too, according to Biehl. However, Murray was too ill and depressed to carry out a substantive dialogue.

Bookchin was an advocate of an eclectic form of environmentalist anti-capitalism. In "Ecology of Freedom" (1982), he argued that man’s destruction of the environment is the result of his domination of other men, and only by doing away with all hierarchies – man over woman, old over young, white over black, rich over poor – could humanity avert ecological and economic collapse. In "The Rise of Urbanisation and the Decline of Citizenship" (1987) and "Urbanisation without Cities" (1992), he proposed "libertarian municipalism" as an alternative to representative democracy and authoritarian state-socialism: directly democratic assemblies would confederate into larger networks and eventually topple state power.

Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl

At eighty-three, Bookchin no longer had the energy required to maintain contacts of some duration. Still Ocalan’s views, thanks to Bookchin, gave rise to the foundations of “Democratic Confederalism”, the process now under practical experimentation in The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava.

“Social ecology movements had created institutes and organizations to promote these ideas, but no one had ever deliberately implemented them in a self-governing structure,” said Biehl, “Thank you, Kurdish people!” She added.

Bookchin also sent the following message to the Kurdish people a while before his death: “My hope is that the Kurdish people will be able to implement someday a free and rational society that will allow it to shine again. You are lucky to have a leader as talented as Mister Ocalan to guide you.”

Biehl who had travelled to Rojava a number of times and witnessed the new structures being put into action, believes that Bookchin’s stateless, assembly democracy turned out to be an excellent prescription for the Kurdish people, the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation-state. “They have implemented it, adapted it, expanded it, learned from it, added to it, and modified it, as a result of their particular experience, so that it meets their needs. They have taught the rest of the world how to do it.”

Turkey, however, has taken a hardline stance against Rojava administration from the very first day and has lunched several military offensive into north-eastern Syria in the last five years in which they occupied several Kurdish cities including Afrin, Tell Abyad (Girê Spî‎) and Ras al-Ayn (Serê Kaniyê‎).

“Clearly Turkey under the AKP is an autocracy and loathes any suggestion of democracy. It is at war not only with the PKK but also the HDP, attempting in every way possible to suppress that legitimate parliamentary party,” Biehl said.

“The AKP also fears Kurdish self-determination of any kind, preferring to physically annihilate Kurds rather than permit them any rights or freedoms, let alone a democratic self-administration.”

Janet Biehl in Rojava

In 2006, when Murray Bookchin died, the PKK assembly referred to him as “one of the 20th century’s greatest social sciences specialists. He introduced us to social ecology and contributed to the development of socialist theory so that it could move forward on more solid ground. He demonstrated how to turn a new democratic system into a reality. He proposed the concept of Confederalism, a model we consider creative and feasible. Bookchin’s theses on the state, power and hierarchy will be applied and put in practice in our struggle… We put this promise to the test by becoming the first society to establish a tangible form of Democratic Confederalism.”

Now Ocalan is spending his 21st year in prison from where he developed his theories and adopted Bookchin’s model of governing. Thus far there is no any sign for his freedom, even Turkish authorities rarely let his lawyers and family meet him in a time Ocalan is considered as the sole key to solve Kurdish question in both Turkey and Syria.

Janet Biehl believes that freeing Ocalan would restart Kurdish-Turkish peace talks, or rather, start a new peace process on a sounder basis, “It [freeing Ocalan] would signal a willingness on the part of Turkey to accept the inevitable and address Kurdish rights and aspirations.” She adds: “It would bring new attention to Ocalan’s ideas, spreading them further around the world. And it would reinvigorate the commitment of those in North-East Syria to build their new society on the strong basis that Ocalan provided.”