News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan
(ANF/AFRİN) In a new interview for ANF, Seyit Evran has spoken with Professor Dr. Ahmet Yusuf, who was made President of the Committee On Economy and Trade of the Afrin Autonomous Canton following its proclamation of autonomy this past January. Dr. Yusuf spoke about the prevailing economic model in the world, and the attempt in Rojava to build an alternative economy around a social communal model as laid out by Abdullah Öcalan. “Because this model” Dr. Yusuf says, “is the model by which the history of humanity will be brought back to life our chances of winning are high.” Evran’s interview with Dr. Yusuf has been translated into English below.
-How do you assess the social and economic model set forth by the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan?
Mr Öcalan’s economic perspective, thought and propositions are not of the “third course” [developed in the West]. Nor do I think they have much to do with politics. We can see this when we look at them together with the thinking which emerged in the West in the course of historical economic development. Here we can understand where Öcalan’s thinking fits in.
The world experienced a revolution in 1492. In 1498 it experienced another. The results were hardly beneficial but they have come to be remembered as revolutions. Let us accept them and assess them as such. In 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. In 1498 Vasco da Gama was exploring Africa and passing behind Africa was able to reach India. Following these two encounters a period of savagery and oppression begins on earth. The wealth of the locals whose land had been ‘discovered’ were seized. The foundations of the capitalist nation-state were being laid in the flows of Mercantilism. The nation-state, whose foundations had been laid in this period, became much stronger during its classical period in the 19th Century. The savagery which emerged with this development was of its own creation. It also has the name of capitalism. It looked upon life, communities, societies and nature only with the eyes of the colonialist. Externally it developed through oppression, colonialism and pillage, while internally it did not recognize the right to life of the poorer classes. Representatives of the church also played a role in this developments, for example Robert Malthus. Economic developments in the world grew along this first course.
The second course began with the publication of the Communist Manifesto developed under the leadership of Karl Marx in the 1840’s. Existing savagery and oppression in the market was to be taken from the capitalists and transferred to the state. The second course developed in opposition to the first. The 20th Century saw a little development in this direction but it was not able to produce a solution for the social or economic problems of humanity. Nor could it solve the problem of freedom for communities, peoples and cultures. Communities were only considered with respect to economic factors. For that reason the problems of freedom, equality and justice could not be solved. This [second] course was shaped by Marxist-Leninism. It became concrete in the guise of the Soviet Union. It saw some development. However it was also organized as a dictatorship of the Proletariat. Capitalist countries closed themselves against it in fear. They were seized with fear that communism would spread from Eastern to Western Europe. For this reason certain social and economic schools of thought founded in the West came out with a third course. This was a new course. Its goal was to obstruct the spread of Communism in Europe, to prevent it. They planned to accomplish this by return some of the rights seized from the poor and from workers during capitalism’s development. This third course became stronger through the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. This course created a beautiful life for the workers of Germany, France, and Switzerland. Workers became the bearers of other rights than just labor rights. In the Scandinavian countries workers achieved this at a very high level.
In 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union this course disappeared. Capitalism took back the rights which it had recognized for workers out of fear of communism one by one.
The course set out by the Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Öcalan emerges in the 1990’s after this collapse. It strengthened as it went forward. For that reason I don’t think that calling it a third course quite fits. In fact it sounds as if it is an attempt to identify it with the third course that has collapsed and is disappearing [in the West]. This course, whose foundations were laid in the 1990’s, becomes laid in more general terms after 1999. The details became clearer after 2007. Because in these years a crisis of capitalism was emerging. In my opinion this course is a fourth course as regards the economy. Not the third course. It is a course that rests on society, social development, life and the organization of life. It is a course which comments on and evaluates Capitalism, Marxism, and the opinions of Rosa Luxembourg. It is a course which is against a monopoly economy. It is a course that will protect the existence of communities in so much that it is a course that pays attention to ecology to the utmost. It is a course that will find a solution for the social and economic problems of the people of the region and the world. Of course for this course to develop it must be well presented. We cannot keep it to ourselves. We need to familiarize [others] with it through practical steps.
-Why were you particularly interested in Öcalan’s ideas?
In Economics we read about the ideas of Capitalism and Marxism. We read ideas produced by people from Western countries. They developed many different theories from which to approach our region but until now none of them have produced any positive results for the people or the peoples [of this region].
Following the collapse of the Abbasid dynasty not many substantial ideas were produced in the region and the situation remained more or less the same until the end of the 20th Century. Towards the end of the 20th Century Mr. Öcalan’s perspective, thinking, theory and ideas emerged as the free thinking of the region. It became an alternative to Western thinking. Practices were produced to resolve the region’s problems both according to Western thinking and in keeping with the reality of the region – its spirit, its particularities, its traditions, its history and culture. Öcalan has commented on the work of Western academics, economic chairs, etc. as regards their perspectives, thoughts and ideas about the region with a view from the region. And he selected from these that which would work for the region. From this perspective I see a chance of success. I have been able to look at the world economy from two windows. The first window is Western positivism and the second window is the window onto the region which Öcalan has opened in front of me.
‘We Will Change The Economic Model In Syria’
-What are your short, medium and long-term projects to solve the economic problems of the Canton?
We are have taken this course as our main principle in Afrin and all the cantons of Rojava and we are developing our economic projects along this line of thought. Taking this course as our foundation we are trying to organize our economy, to reinvigorate it and to develop it. This course is the course of the social communal economy.
We are meeting with people from all social backgrounds and walks of life. We get their views. We listen to their demands and wishes. Little by little we are developing our projects in accordance with these.
Therefore the economy which we want to create in the Afrin Canton will be a social economy. For that reason we are starting with cooperatives. We are starting with small units of production. We will develop an economy based on agriculture, that is to say production. We will base this mode of production on a foundation by which all the peoples of the region will be included and benefit from it. With such a step we aim to change the economic model in Syria. We will develop projects in which we consider the interests of all the people in Syria. At the same time we will have presented an economic model for the peoples of the region. These are our long term plans.
Carrying them out is not even that difficult. Because the economic infrastructure of our canton is very strong. It is home to rich lands on which all kinds of production can be carried out. There is a lot of manpower. And it is a hard-working, productive manpower.
-Where are your urgent goals right now?
We will begin by finding a solution to unemployment. We will find this in developing a thinking around production that is supported by the land. Because our economic model is a model which takes as its base a production based on the land and animal husbandry. We will encourage everyone to work their own lands based on the needs of the community. We will also develop animal husbandry. During the Baath Regime period animal husbandry had almost been finished off. Animal products were coming to the Afrin Canton and its environs from the outside. It is still this way.
We will attempt to include regional capital investors in this process. But we will not allow them the opportunity to exploit the community and people or monopolize. The Afrin canton is an agricultural canton. For that reason we will solve the problems of our farmers and will contribute to the diversification of their production. We will build small production units, for example we will give more importance to the region’s olive production which up until now has not been given importance. We will move towards small-scale industrialization in our region in which all olive products will be processed.
-Do you have any projects designed to develop economic and commercial relations with your neighbors?
Of course there are. As we consider our possibilities there will be a need for a market for these products. At the same time there are things which must come from foreign markets into our region. We will attempt to go beyond this with trade. For this reason we will try to develop our relations with neighboring countries.
Right now we are experiencing certain difficulties that are a result of the problems being experienced in Syria more generally. For example our canton has received hundreds of thousands of refugees. Together with this came certain difficulties. We are trying to create job, production, and work opportunities for those just coming off the road. We are trying to provide opportunities for work with the small scale production units we have opened. In order to go beyond this we are trying to develop relations with neighboring countries. We are trying to develop relations with Turkey. We will show them that the peoples of Rojava will not be a problem for Turkey but on the contrary a benefit. We will also develop relations with our brother Arab peoples who are living through such difficulties. We will make them a partner in our economic model and projects for a solution. We are inviting all peoples and countries to come learn about the model which we want to implement. We do not want the English, French or American model, we want to return, thanks to Mr. Öcalan, to a model that worked for our region tens of thousands of year. We will succeed in this. Because there is no other model left to try on earth. Because this model is the model by which the history of humanity will be brought back to life our chances of winning are high.
Dr. Yusuf was born in Atmana village in the Raco district of Afrin in 1962. He began primary school in his village and went to Raco to study after the 6th grade. Following the 12th grade Dr. Yusuf went to Aleppo to study as there were no educational opportunities in Rojava. He married in 1991 and is the father of two children.
Dr. Yusuf has worked in different universities around Rojava and Syria. He first became acquainted with the works of Abdullah Öcalan when he was 15 and has been heavily influenced by Öcalan’s thinking around economics, which he has incorporated into his own work and teaching around the international monetary system, international production, agricultural production in particular.