Democratic Autonomy

The Constitution of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, officially titled Charter of the Social Contract, is the provisional constitution of the self-proclaimed autonomous region of Syria known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. It was adopted on 29 January 2014, when the Democratic Union Party (PYD), claiming to represent the population of the autonomous region, declared the three regions it controls autonomous from the Syrian government. Article 12 states the autonomous region remains an “integral part of Syria”, tentatively implementing an expected future federal Syrian governance in Northern Syria.

The constitution has gained much international attention and is most noted for its explicit affirmation of minority rights and gender equality and a form of direct democracy known as ‘democratic confederalism’.

On 27–28 June 2016, the executive committee to organize a constitution for the region, to replace the 2014 constitution, presented its draft.

Text of the preamble:

We, the people of the Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobani, a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens, freely and solemnly declare and establish this Charter.

In pursuit of freedom, justice, dignity and democracy and led by principles of equality and environmental sustainability, the Charter proclaims a new social contract, based upon mutual and peaceful coexistence and understanding between all strands of society. It protects fundamental human rights and liberties and reaffirms the peoples’ right to self-determination.

Under the Charter, we, the people of the Autonomous Regions, unite in the spirit of reconciliation, pluralism and democratic participation so that all may express themselves freely in public life. In building a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs, the Charter recognizes Syria’s territorial integrity and aspires to maintain domestic and international peace.

In establishing this Charter, we declare a political system and civil administration founded upon a social contract that reconciles the rich mosaic of Syria through a transitional phase from dictatorship, civil war and destruction, to a new democratic society where civic life and social justice are preserved.


More on the Democratic Autonomy Model

BOOK: Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan: The Council Movement, Gender Liberation, and Ecology by TATORT Kurdistan and Janet Biehl (New Compass, 2013)

TAORT Kurdistan also wrote this article, Democratic Autonomy in Rojava, following a 2-month visit to Rojava.

Janet Biehl, Bookchin, Ocalan and the Dialectics of Democracy (Paper given at the conference Challenging Capitalist Modernity–Alternative Concepts and the Kurdish Quest, which took place 3–5 February 2012 in Hamburg University.

Alexander Kolokotronis delves into the theoretical underpinnings of Democratic Autonomy, in The No State Solution: Institutionalizing Libertarian Socialism in Kurdistan.

This article by Rafael Taylor published in August 2014, The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan, is a useful exploration of Ocalan’s ideas and the theory and practice of democratic autonomy in Rojava.

Michael Knapp explains how the cooperative and democratic economic model being developed in Rojava offers possible emancipation from both capitalist and feudal systems of exploitation.

A conference was held in Hamburg in April 2015 called Dissecting Capitalist Modernity, which brought together scholars and activists from across the world to unpack contemporary capitalism and discuss alternatives, like the ones presented by Ocalan and the Kurdish movement. Participants included International Initiative’s Havin Gunesser, scholar Dilar Dirik, Prof. David Graeber, PYD co-chair Asya Abdullah, MP Selma Irnak, Dr Radha D’Souza, and prominent Marxist geographer Prof David Harvey. The conference included sessions on democratic autonomy as well as lessons from around the world, such as Mexico and Venezuela. The papers and videos are available on the dedicated conference website.