A conversation with the Wan Economic Commission

By Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson, published in Corporate Watch’s recent book, Struggles for Autonomy in Kurdistan, May 2016

The DTK has set up a number of regional commissions to deal with areas such as ecology, economy, education, language, religion, culture, science, diplomacy, women and young people. We interviewed Mehmet Cengiz, Doğan Çelikbilek and Rıza Tan from the Wan (Van in Turkish) Economic Commission, which was set up by the DTK.

Corporate Watch: Can you tell us about the work of the Economic Commission?

Economic Commission: The spirit of our work is Mr Öcalan. With his ideas and his books, we try to establish democratic autonomy. We have different commissions for specific areas under the umbrella of the DTK. For example economy, ecology, religion, culture, law, education, health and gender. We are  the Economic Commission.

In Wan, we started by organising five workshops and after that we organised a conference on the economic politics of Kurdistan. After the conference we established an Economic Commission in Wan and tried to organise in all of the city. We cooperated with the mayors and local government in Wan [Wan municipality is held by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which supports the movement for democratic confederalism].

If we talk about our ideology about economy, in socialism the main organisational ideology is collectivism. In our ideology and way of work, our ideology is communalism. Capitalism is individualist, so we try to establish something more communal and more public, consisting ofall ofthe public. If we can do this in the economy and other places we will be able to say we have been successful. Capitalists think of Kurdistan as a big market. People in Kurdistan cannot produce the things they need. They produce for capitalism and sell for capitalism and export.

Our main concern is that we need to free our land, energy and water, and then we can be free. We will make them communal for everybody. They will be common, not private.

With communes, public assemblies, co-operatives and unions, we try to build democratic autonomy. What is important for us is local produce. People who live here must produce something and consume it as well. Instead of being a market for capitalism and industrialism, we need to be more productive.

We are just at the beginning. Maybe we will make some mistakes but after a while, with experience, we will be successful. We are lucky, thank god, that capitalism isn’t very strong in Kurdistan, not as much as in Istanbul, Ankara and other countries in Europe. We will start with the villages, not  the cities. Our work is more about the villages and the countryside.

CW: What have you done so far?

We depend on an organised public. For this we need assemblies. We are setting up four honey co-operatives in the villages – this region is famous for its honey. We have also opened a market.

We are thinking of establishing markets in other places. We are interested in other experiences too, like Kibbutzes in Israel and Spanish Mondragon co-operatives, and lessons from Latin America. We have studied and critiqued the Soviet kolkhoz and sovkhoz co-operative systems from an anti-state perspective.

Wan market

Wan market

CW: What will you do after establishing co-ops here?

We are going to create our own markets, avoid the intermediaries and provide for our own people. For example, we will create public open bazaars. With local bazaars we are going to give life to those communities and co-operatives. Ifyou go to the bazaar in Wan now, you will see that everything is from China. If we have a local bazaar and we produce our own honey and eggs in the villages, we will sell it. Our co-operatives don’t produce as much as they can, they just produce as much as they want and need. If the villagers can live from it, it will be successful. Our co-operatives are going to be built as communes. Our goal in the villages is for all of the families to be part of the co-operative. There can be some exceptions if families don’t want to be part of it. But we want at least 60% of families to participate in it. Every family will be part of the assembly. The participation of women should be 50%, and a minimum of 40%. We want equality. Some villages are very conservative so this can be difficult to achieve, but we are doing this step by step. We look for equal existence.

CW: Will the co-ops make a profit?

Of course they will make what they need, but if they produce more than they need they will sell the surplus. They will share the profits equally. Everyone is equal in a co-operative. For example, if they are given 100 sheep and there are 20 houses, each house will get 5 sheep. All ofthe communes will own the tools to make the produce. If they need something, they will buy it together.

CW: Tell us about the village assemblies?

There is an assembly, for example, of 250 people. 10% ofthe assembly form the council ofthe assembly. Two people, one man and one woman, are spokespeople on behalf of the assembly. If they want they can choose two women, but never two men. In Mr Öcalan’s ideas, he says that women are the main producers and that the economy depends on women. If women take part in economics, the communal economy will be more powerful. Every six months there is a small election and they choose their council and spokespeople. There are some ethical rules, some written, some unwritten. If somebody does something bad, the assembly can have a meeting and decide about that problem. In the assembly there is a small jury, known as the Commission of Justice. You bring your case there. It can be about anything. Don’t think that assemblies are just about the work of the economy. The main idea of democratic autonomy is less government and state, and more public, more communes.

Nowadays the state controls justice. Prosecutors and judges decide alone. We don’t do it like that. We have a culture and history. For example, in a village if there’s a problem, the older people sit and talk about it and they have an idea about how to solve it. We have tried to create the same thing. The Commissions of Justice mainly consist of elderly people and cases don’t go to the government. They try to sort out the problem without government involvement. The Commissions of Justice are elected, but some people can not be in that commission. There are ethical and political rules. You must be someone who is expected to work for the equality ofeverybody. For example, there are some village guards in the villages [the village guards are a paramilitary organisation armed by the Turkish state to counter the PKK]. A lot of the time they work with the government and work against Kurdish people. So villagers would not want them to be in the Commission of Justice. It’s up to the villagers to decide who shouldn’t be in the Commission of Justice. Another example is that if someone has four wives, the women ofthe village possibly won’t want that person to be part of the Commission ofJustice. These rules are created by each village and each assembly.

If a decision is about the village, the village decides. If it is bigger, the village depends upon the assembly of the town. For example, there might be a problem about water catchment. If it’s a problem concerning four villages then the four village assemblies talk together about the problem. If one village doesn’t let another village have water, if this can not be sorted out it would go to the assembly of the town. Or we have institutions such as the municipality, the mayor and the state to sort out technical problems. But if it is about people then the assembly ofa town can sort it out. In the assemblies there is the spirit of organisation. People making laws in Ankara aren’t efficient. People ask for help from the government but it doesn’t sort out the problems.

There are big fights about land, caused by the government. In the past the government came and divided up land, creating clashes with local people. This is a problem of the last century. Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic the government has created these problems in all parts of Kurdistan. If you have assemblies, you can sort out these problems more easily. Everyone knows who has owned the land historically.

CW: How does democratic autonomy work on a regional level?

Every neighbourhood and village has their own assembly. Every assembly has their council [a group of representatives elected by the assembly].

CW: How often do the assemblies meet?

The council meets once per week. The assembly meets each month but if they need to they can call more meetings. Spokespeople and the council can invite the assembly for a meeting.

CW: Do you speak to the other assemblies when you set up a co-op?

In the assembly, all parts must cooperate with each other. For example, if you open a co-op, you need a perspective about gender. Ten men cannot open a co-op. This perspective comes directly from Mr Öcalan. For the economic aspect, if we want to do something about agriculture, the ecology organisations must teach them about land, about organic food, about medicines.

CW: Do you face difficulties in your work?

There are some difficulties. Our institution is very new. We don’t have money, we don’t have buildings, we don’t have tools. We need volunteers. We don’t have a salary. We just work as volunteers. Sometimes we need the help of the municipalities, mayors. We don’t even have cars to go to the villages.

CW: What is your relationship with the state and corporations?

We try not to accept money from the state. When they give money, they try to control you. But if someone gives money without any conditions, this is okay. Companies, too, could take our co-operatives and close them or change them. We don’t accept companies in the co-operatives.

We have mayors. If we want to, we can ask them for help. But we don’t do it. We get the villagers to come and do it together. We don’t accept the ideology of capitalism. We try to do something with the public and with people.

CW: How do you protect yourself from the state?

I have been in prison because I couldn’t protect myself from the state. There is a lot ofoppression by the Turkish government all the time, everywhere. They arrest us, they kill us, but our ideas spread amongst the public. For us, the spirit ofthe struggle is important.

Maybe they can close institutions like political parties, but the ideas continue. In 2008, we tried to establish communes and co-operatives and they arrested more than 10,000 people, but still we are continuing. They have to accept it. In our opinion, all of these things are legal. According to Turkish law they may be illegal, but in natural law these are very simple things and they are our rights.

CW: What about the government imposing things like dams which destroy your projects?
If the government imposes something and tries to throw us off the land, we will fight. Guerillas can also fight and not let them build. The right of selfdefence is a part of democratic autonomy. For example, in Meskan Hill in Colemêrg they tried to open military bases and we protested and struggled against them. Some protesters were killed but we stopped the military base.

The Turkish government looks at the peace process as a tactical question. Their aim is not a solution to the Kurdish question. Their aim is to be permanent in Kurdistan. Whenever Kurdish people are close to freedom, the Turkish government doesn’t want them to be free.

CW: Can you tell us about the academies?

We are going to open an economic and ecological academy in one month’s time. An academy on gender and jineologî [a Kurdish term for ‘women’s science’] is already established. We need money and locations so it’s really hard and sometimes the government arrests people. The purpose of academies is that if we are trying to build an alternative economy we need to share. We don’t teach, we share. When we say academy, we don’t mean university. Our academy is for everybody. We teach ordinary people. Our biggest academies are in the mountains with the [PKK] guerillas.

In our party everyone who works in the field has to have lessons on gender. In Wan we have two Economic Commissions, one is just for women, one is mixed. There are currently ten people in our mixed Economic Commission, seven men and three women, but we are working towards more women joining.

CW: Who determines who is part of the Economic Commission?

The DTK decided who was on the Economic Commission for Wan. They came to the city and took recommendations and names. Now the members of the commission are elected.

After the city Economic Commission, the Wan Economic Commission will build the towns’ commissions. To work in those commissions you have to have knowledge to share.

We don’t talk about education like that of the state, like those with a PhD. We talk about experience. Someone who can only write their name can teach you a lot. In our system, education is a mutual relation. You take and you give.

CW: Can you tell us about the system of co-mayors?

There are two mayors here in Wan, a woman and man. Both are members of the council ofthe assembly. The state has sued people [for standing two candidates for mayor] and they won the case. Legally we can only have one mayor. But in the future they will have to change the law. This is civil disobedience. We think that they will have to allow it in the end.

CW: Can you tell us about your relationship with the municipalities?

In the assemblies, we share the power. With municipalities it’s not like that. Their power comes from the state. Our idea is not just about services, water, electricity. It’s bigger than this. The Turkish system of administration comes from France. It’s very centralised, and the municipalities don’t have much autonomy.

The mayor is a part of our assembly and our assembly has rules. If he or she disagrees with the assembly and exerts their power, we can not accept them as a mayor. But sometimes mayors don’t want to share their power. Just because they’re our mayor doesn’t mean that they are a 100% good person. Mayors are dependent on the DBP. The party and DTK can persuade them to share power. But we don’t want to have to force them.

For example, the women’s movement forced the council officers to start to employ women. We forced the municipality to provide the tools and equipment to make the honey in our co-operatives. They said it’s illegal, but we persuaded them. Sometimes we talk to the mayors and convince and persuade them.