After the authority of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad collapsed at the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the Kurds took advantage of the vacuum to set up government without a state. There is no top-down authority, even within the military. One Y.P.G. commander gently corrected me when I addressed him as “general.”In the modern era democratic experiments have appeared before, mainly in times of civil war, most famously the Paris Commune. In a state of crisis that forces everyone to get along or die, they can work for a while. In peace, they tend to slide back into bureaucracy. Is that inevitable? I suspect so. For one thing, one of the biggest political groups in Syria, the supporters of sharia and an Islamic state, are mostly on the other side of the temporary border. If peace is ever made those people will have to be incorporated back into the state; presumably in any sort of democratic set-up they would have to be given a political party. It would be a lot harder for every one to get alone with a bunch of ex-al Qaeda men at the table.
“We have no ranks,” he said — and sure enough, his uniform bore no insignia of seniority. “We are a team.”
Alongside the men of the Y.P.G., fighters from the Women’s Protection Units, or Y.P.J., also fight at this front. Behind the lines, too, women are prominent in the forums in villages and towns that are part of Rojava’s democratic experiment.
Most of Syria has broken up along ethnic lines. But in Rojava, members of the Arab and Assyrian minorities are deliberately included. . . .
Self-government in Rojava means that, as much as possible, decisions are made at the local, communal level. In one village, women and men sat separately, reflecting local tradition. Like most political meetings, it was lengthy and sometimes boring, with the usual long-winded speeches (but not all from men). But anyone could speak, without distinction, and young and old alike stood up to debate jobs, medical services, even the menace of kids riding their bikes too fast around the village.
But the regular appearance of such self-rule makes me optimistic about our species.