Democratic Confederalism? Political Experimentation and Institutional Design in Turkish Kurdistan

By Asli Bali
Submitted to Session P5779 (The Kurds: Politics and Identity, 2019 Annual Meeting
Turkish Studies;
This paper assesses the evolution of political demands by the Kurdish community of Turkey from secession to devolution in the context of the most recent negotiations between the Turkish state and Kurdish leaders. "Democratic confederalism" is a novel institutional design proposal that has emerged out of new political experimentation in Kurdistan spanning from Turkey to Syria. Assessing the potential of this innovative approach to decentralization and territorial autonomy requires both an examination of the history from which the proposal emerges and the technical experiments with implementing it under Kurdish rule. The paper begins by offering some background on the context out of which demands for decentralization amongst the Kurdish community in Turkey. Next the paper offers a close reading of the so-called reconciliation process in Turkey between 2009 and 2015 and its impact on Kurdish leaders’ views on devolutionary modalities for greater autonomy. In the third section, the paper engages with published manifestos and political tracts detailing the theory of democratic confederalism that has emerged over the last decade largely in the political writings of Ocalan and his followers. The final section of the paper considers from the perspective of the comparative literature on federalism and devolution innovative approaches to decentralization as a form of self-determination that have been generated by the political experimentation on the ground related to the concept of democratic confederalism.