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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Mares: Bookchin And The Kurds

A few days ago, I was reading a New York Times article about Kurdish efforts to rebuild villages ravaged by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, when the name Murray Bookchin all but jumped off the page at me.

Bookchin was a political anarchist and iconoclast who died in Burlington in 2006. He never went to college, but wrote more than 20 books. He successively tried and rejected Communism, Trotskyism, socialism, even traditional environmentalism. At Goddard College in Plainfield, he established the Institute for Social Ecology on the principle that no effective society could be built without due consideration of the environment.

Bookchin advocated a localized, grassroots democratic social philosophy, which he called Communalism - the political expression of which he called Libertarian Municipalism.

Abdullah Öcalan is a Kurdish rebel leader, imprisoned for life as a terrorist by the Turkish government. Two years before Bookchin died, Öcalan began reading Bookchin – and as a result, Öcalan abandoned his Marxist-Leninist approach to social revolution in favor of Bookchin’s non-statist, libertarian municipalist approach. Öcalan developed a vision of direct democracy to create free, self-governing communities that would come together across national borders. Öcalan calls this system Democratic Confederalism.

It's important to remember that the 25 million Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without its own state - since for the last hundred years the Kurds have been dispersed in contiguous parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

In Northeast Syria, with the help of American air power, Kurdish militias comprised of People's Protection Units have successfully opposed ISIS and carved out an area called Rojava where Öcalan's followers have begun to implement his ideas. They say their intention is not to break up Syria, but to lead a long-term social revolution that will acquire the political power to ensure free speech, and gender and minority rights. This hopeful, peaceful vision stands in stark contrast to the cross-border murder and mayhem that ISIS practices from Bagdad to Paris.

It’s remarkable that Öcalan’s followers are establishing a system of directly democratic councils that empower every member of the community regardless of ethnicity, gender or religion. I’m fascinated by the idea that Öcalan, while sitting in a Turkish jail, is moderating his original fierce message of Kurdish independence, at least in part with a grassroots democratic social philosophy that Murray Bookchin developed while living in Vermont.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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