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Emancipatory Transformations: Engaging Radical Democracy in Kurdistan

3rd November 2016 @ 8:00 am - 4th November 2016 @ 5:00 pm

A public event and workshop on 3-4 November in Brighton, UK focused on the remarkable political transformations happening in Rojava (Western/Syrian Kurdistan) in the midst of bloody conflicts and a humanitarian crisis.

In the region, citizens are experimenting with ‘democratic confederalism’ and ideas from feminism and ecology as part of an ambitious project of radical democracy and social justice. The workshop aims to help participants learn, explore, share, and think of future possibilities for direct democracy and democratic confederalism.

The workshop is part of a series of Transformations events exploring what we can learn from rapid transitions and transformations.

Rojava event poster3 November: Public event

Revolutions in Rojava and Beyond: Perspectives on Democratic Transformations

Brighton Dome Studio Theatre
New Road, Brighton
4pm to 8pm

Screening of short activist-produced films, followed by a panel discussion with Janet Biehl, Ercan Ayboğa, and Dilar Dirik.


Panel: Janet Biehl and Ercan Ayboğa on Revolutions in Rojava and Beyond

More information (Eventbrite)

4 November: Invite-only workshop

Emancipatory transformations: engaging radical democracy in Kurdistan

Workshop at the University of Sussex. More info/questions: Amber Huff ([email protected])

Video from the event

Andy Stirling: Introduction

Andy Stirling (SPRU), co-director of STEPS, introduces the workshop with a short talk on STEPS Centre thinking about how transformations relate to democracy.

Debbie Bookchin: Confederalism and its critics

The journalist and author Debbie Bookchin introduces democratic confederalism, the idea at the heart of Rojava’s political system, and traces its history and evolution, including the ideas of libertarian municipalism proposed by her father Murray Bookchin.

Solidarity statement

Around the time of the workshop, arrests were made in Turkey of leading figures from the HDP, an opposition party, and around 170 media outlets were shut down by the Turkish government. The workshop produced a solidarity statement in response to these events.

Read the solidarity statement (Google Docs)

Blog commentaries

Rojava, where water is more expensive than oil
Cemal Özkahraman, 21 December 2016 (openDemocracy.net)

Learning from Rojava: exploring democracy in the midst of the Syrian war and beyond
Patrick Huff, 12 September 2016

Trump and Brexit: what’s the alternative?
Ian Scoones, 11 November 2016

About the events

The many conflicts ravaging the Middle East pose profound questions regarding seemingly intractable and intersecting questions of democracy, political and ethnic pluralism, gender oppression, and ecological despoliation; questions that confront not only the region, but in varying forms, the entire world. As such, they highlight common challenges for humanity. These questions have received some radical and innovative answers in Rojava (Western/Syrian Kurdistan) where an ambitious project of radical democracy and social justice is being implemented despite formidable challenges, including a total war against ISIS.

Central to this project are the principles of democratic confederalism, plurinationalism, revolutionary feminism and social ecology as integral dimensions of the radical wing of the wider Kurdish freedom movement. The Rojava revolution therefore represents a novel form of emancipatory praxis that has profound implications for the region and beyond.

Its attempted conjunction of direct democracy, communal economy, gender equality and ecological consciousness under the most unfavourable local and regional conditions in a region ravaged by sectarian conflict calls for engaged and critical dialogue by academics and activists. This is necessary in order to address both its achievements and limitations, to unearth and engage with many questions that remain suspended between a precarious present and uncertain future, and to ask what broader lessons it holds for our understanding of transformative democratic practice in the Middle East and beyond.


This workshop aims to bring together a diverse group of researchers and activists to mutually learn, explore, share, and think of future possibilities for direct democracy and democratic confederalism through the examination of real-world grounded examples from contemporary movements in Rojava (Western Kurdistan) and Bakur (Northern Kurdistan), with careful consideration of the historical context and dynamics of contemporary and past struggles and challenges.

Themes include:

  • The significance of understanding transformations to democracy for understanding transformations to sustainability
  • Confederalism and its Critics
  • Contextualising democratic transformations in Kurdistan
  • Conceptualising transformations
  • Ecology, Economy and Development
  • Comparative perspectives on transformative practice

These events have been organised through collaboration between the ESRC STEPS Centre, members of the Sussex Kurdish Community, Brighton Kurdistan Solidarity, and members of the UK-based Kurdish Solidarity activist community.

About the Transformations series

TransformationsWhen in the past have societies made rapid transitions, and what were the circumstances that drove them? What can we learn from these times, positively and negatively to enable the transition we need to make today in the face of climatic upheaval and fossil fuel dependence?

The Transformations series, co-organised by the New Weather Institute and the STEPS Centre, aim to change the conversation about transition in the UK. Through informed public discussion and engagement we will gather opinions, capture outcomes and stimulate debate about how to facilitate the speed and scale of the transition.

See the Transformations event series page for more details.


3rd November 2016 @ 8:00 am
4th November 2016 @ 5:00 pm
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STEPS Centre and Sussex Kurdish Community

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