The co-operative movement in Rojava (the democratic, autonomous region in the north of Syria) and Bakur (the mostly-Kurdish region which lies within Turkey’s borders) is growing. Here, co-operatives are seen as an integral part of democracy – and vital to the development and integration of different parts of society. But very little of what is happening with co-ops in the region is written down – what is, is dispersed, and only a small amount of it is in English. Now two organisations are working to change this.
The Institute for Solidarity Economics (ISE) and Corporate Watch have launched a website – cooperativeeconomy.info – to provide an English language information resource for the co-operative and solidarity economy movements involved and interested in Rojava and Bakur. The aim is to create an open space where articles and case studies about co-operatives and the wider co-op economy in each area can be collected, making it easier for people to understand and learn about the alternative economic changes happening in the regions. As well as articles that have been published in English, there are ongoing translations from Turkish, Kurmanji, German, Spanish and Arabic.
Ownership and equality in northern Syria
The ISE aims to support the grassroots movement for a just and sustainable economic system through research, collaboration and taking action to help build on the existing solidarity economy. As a movement, the solidarity economy was born as an alternative to capitalism, with grassroots communities seeking to increase the quality of life for their group or region through not-for-profit efforts. The expression “economia solidária” (solidarity economy) was coined in Brazil in the late 1980s – but the idea has also evolved in name and scope and is frequently referred to as the social and solidarity economy, or the solidarity-based economy.
“The solidarity economy is important because our current mixed economy is failing,” says Mr Massey. “It fails to deliver ecological sustainability. It fails to deliver fairness. It fails to deliver efficiency. The list goes on. We need a new economy that puts people and planet at the centre.”
Although still in its infancy, the co-operative and solidarity economy there is seen as the logical way to approach production
ISE’s partner in the project, Corporate Watch, is a not-for-profit co-operative providing research and information on the social and environmental impacts of corporations and capitalism. In 2015 and 2016, Corporate Watch has been working on a project focusing on Kurdish struggles in Rojava and Bakur.
In both of these regions – and others – people have had ecological destruction used as a tool of control against them for decades, says Mr Massey, so they have had to be “very creative” in organising their opposition. “They have tried many methods of resisting in the past with varying degrees of success but have also watched other opposition movements in the region turn into new forms of repression. This is partly why the new forms of organising in these regions have opted to put equality, direct democracy and anti-sectarianism at the core of their new institutions.”
“Although still in its infancy, the co-operative and solidarity economy there is seen as the logical way to approach production in a manner that reflects those values and methods of organising.”
“The emphasis is on community resilience, self-empowerment and equality, and the new structures being put into place support this. Co-operatives naturally fit into this system.”
On 29 January 2015, after 16 months under siege, the city of Kobanê on Syria’s northern border with Turkey was liberated through the work of several democratic forces. This, and the wider revolution taking place in the country, has provided an opportunity for the ideas and structures that have been simmering for the last 40 years to spread more broadly. “But it also brings challenges, such as an ongoing war, shortages in food and the fertilizer that the local farmers have traditionally relied upon, and large- scale emigration,” she says.
The project has direct communication with people inside the region and is working on developing and strengthening those links. Groups and individuals from Rojava and Bakur are sending in articles, participating in and facilitating interviews and translating documents. “We are also exploring forming a delegation from the UK co-op movement to the region towards the end of this year and we have commitments from several co-ops in Rojava to host and facilitate the visit.”
- To find out more about the ISE / Corporate Watch project, visit cooperativeeconomy.info or email [email protected]
- You can also get involved in other fundraising initiatives like helpkobane.com, which
provides support for reconstruction projects.
- There are other events – like this night of music in Brighton – helping to provide medical assistance to the region.
- You can also find a new fundraising campaign to support agricultural co-operatives in Rojava here.
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