Understanding the Implications of Transcending Nationalism: Democratic Confederalism and the Question of Separatism

By Behnam Amini
Submitted to Session P4772 (Emancipatory Transformations in Kurdistan: Autonomy, Radical Democracy, and Gender Liberation, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Kurdish Studies;
Kurdish national liberation movements have historically faced not only coercive and military campaigns of modern Middle Eastern states but also enormous propaganda machine of these states. The latter has served to justify the tremendous violence employed by these states to suppress Kurdish struggles. Central to the state propaganda machine is the depiction of Kurdish struggles as separatist movements, hence inciting nationalist sentiments of both dominant and oppressed nations against the Kurds. While most Kurdish movements have denied seeking cessation, the stigma of separatism as a quasi-colonial 'divide and rule' mechanism has been quite efficient in order to ideologically discredit Kurdish struggles in the eyes of other oppressed nations and ethnic groups. Although the idea of democratic confederalism is a recent contribution to the literature of Kurdish question, it has been studied and often saluted for its capabilities to address decolonization, democratization, gender equality and environmental issues. However, its potential to undermine the state ideological machinations against Kurdish movements has been understudied.
In my presentation, I will argue that democratic confederalism offers a concrete mechanism to invalidate the stigma of separatism and cement the solidarity of oppressed nations against the state violence. It does so mainly by transcending nationalism and promoting the creation of confederal and democratic structures of self-rule, comprised of commune-based networks of decision-making, within and across nations and ethnic groups. The idea of democratic confederalism as a roadmap for the liberation of Kurdish people is built upon the understanding that the emancipation of the Kurds is not achieved through the creation of a separate Kurdish state, but it is contingent upon the self-rule of other nations of the Middle East through negating and transcending the very framework of modern nation-state (Ocalan 2011). By conducting a content analysis of the notion of democratic confederalism, I will further highlight the specific ways in which transcending nationalism helps to nullify the ideological tool of separatism. Moreover, I will present a comparative analysis of Kurdish movements in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) and the post-revolutionary Iran to demonstrate how democratic confederalism and building connections with other nations are key to political achievements of the former, while their absence in the latter contributed to its failure.