Kurdish Autonomous Administration in Rojava

24 November 2015

Sabr Darwish

Syrian writer and researcher

Translated by: Lilah Khoja

Historically, the city of Qamishlo has housed a large number of Kurdish and non-Kurdish parties, most prominent of which was a group that played a pivotal role in historical events within the city. Specifically the uprising in 2004, when the Kurds fought against the Assad regime. During the beginning of the 2011 Syrian uprising, many Kurdish parties regrouped, and engaged in the revolutionary movement, seizing the upper hand in Qamishlo city affairs, and imposing control following the withdrawal of Assad’s forces from most areas.

On July 19, 2012, various Kurdish forces seized control of large areas in Syria, including Syrian cities heavily populated by Kurds. After Assad’s forces withdrew militarily and from various state institutions, the vacuum was filled by these Kurdish organizations. The new swathes of land now controlled by the Kurds began to function autonomously.

Between mid-2012 until the beginning of 2014, there was no complete central government but initiatives to build a civil society were underway. In the meantime, a coalition of political and civil parties formed the “Democratic Society Movement,” on December 12, 2011. Another body was formed on December 19, 2011, calling themselves the “People of Western Kurdistan Council”. These two organizations led to the formation of a group called “The Governing Bodies of Regions and Cities”. They called to form a “Community”, which played a role in the management of Syrian villages that were under Kurdish oppositional control.

Across the board there was participation by various Kurdish parties, independent activists, revolutionaries, and feminists, among others vying to provide a democratic system of self-governance through multiple institutions. In many cases there have been disagreements, due to historical political differences between the many Kurdish parties.

About two years after this experimental coalitions, it had set a model for managing the “liberated cities,” and a “democratic autonomous project” was announced on January 21, 2014. These initiatives were backed by the political forces of Rojava and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The democratic autonomous project

An initiative by the PYD was called to shift to the second level of managing Rojava territories. They submitted a draft of the “Democratic autonomous project,” to be the final step towards autonomy. It is based on the “Charter of the social contract,” [1] formed by all groups within Rojava. This pact brought together 52 parties, institutions, organizations, and youth and women’s groups [2].

On August 13, 2013, PYD leader Asia Abdulla announced the initiation of phase two of their autonomous proposition, during a press conference in the city of Qamishlo. She declared the formation of a legislative, transitional administrative body for the region [3].

On that basis, the Rojava council adopted the project, and directed its initiation. On September 8, 2013, the council agreed to a number of initiatives that they signed off on: The formation of a committee to draft a temporary constitution with all groups in agreement for a maximum of 40 days. The formation of an interim government composed of members from all parties involved, their goals being to maintain the democratic processes, for the duration of the temporary constitution [4].

Despite the support given to this project by the many regional groups, from the moment of its inception it has encountered objections from the “Kurdish National Council”. After its completion, but before going public with the declaration, a few Kurdish parties pulled out of the agreement, without complete explanations. Among them were the Kurdish Leftist Party (headed by Mohamad Musa), and the Leftist Democratic Kurdish party (headed by Saleh Kodr). The project, however, was not affected significantly because of these withdrawals.

A Young Democratic Union

On November 12, 2013, the birth of the first autonomous institution named the “Interim Joint General Management Council”, which included 86 members [5]. Emerging from that body, the commission invited “Committeeto Oversee the Completion of the Autonomous Project, composed of 60 members. They held their first meeting on November 15,2013, electing a committee composed of 19 figures across the political and social spectrum of the region. Their mission, according to a statement issued by the commission, was to: draft the joint interim project plans, prepare a social contract, and prepare the electoral system [6]. Their final statement stressed that the project “does not carry any agenda seeking to divide Syria, but on the contrary, it is a part of the solution. A pluralistic, democratic model, that welcomes participation.”

The autonomy project was divided into three provinces, namely: the Jazeera canton, Arbin canton, and Kobani. On February 12, 2013, during the second meeting of this council, it was decided that each province will form their own departments, independently, without the formation of a joint management between the three provinces. While Qamishlo was considered the capital of this autonomous region, it recognizes three official languages: Syriac, Kurdish, and Arabic.

After these preliminary steps, lasting from mid-2012 until the end of 2013, the coronation of these efforts in the Legislative Council [7] announced the creation of a “Democratic Autonomy” government. This is split structurally into five divisions, namely: the legislative council, the supreme commission for elections, the supreme constitutional court, local councils, and the executive council (which consisted of 22 field bureaus) [8]. On February 19, 2014, the legislative council held its first meeting post-autonomous declaration. It was held to select the Executive Board, totaling 44 deputies (2 from each field bureau).

They also selected a permanent headquarters for this government body, during the meeting. A group of five people led this committee: Akram Mahshoush, Abdulkareem Sako, Bruwan Mohamad, Hakim Khalo, and Nadhira Korea. They elected Akram Mahshoush to lead this committee, and to relay any decisions through the Democratic Autonomous executive committee [9].

During the legislative council’s second session, held during March 2014, the council approved the election of their senior members, the members of the constitutional court. In late March of 2014, the coordinating bodies of all three provinces (Jazeera, Afrin, and Kobani), were announced in a statement by the Jazeera’s executive board.


The Syrian revolution helped build experience in the management of cities controlled by the opposition, and the building of various civil departments of diverse political and ideological orientation, to manage society. In most cases these experiences were built through great difficulties, not least of which were the daily bombardments by the Assad regime, and lack of support from parties that view this as biased for Syrians.

This autonomous test in Qamishlo and the rest of the Rojava territories, given the context of these experiments that are trying to change Syria for the better, has been an attempt to calm down a situation that has been stirred by the civil war. The autonomous experiment has received wide acclaim, while also facing many criticisms. The overwhelming dominance of the PYD (Democratic Union Party) and its militias, has drawn comparisons to the totalitarian rule under the Ba’ath party. Nevertheless, this experiment in autonomous administration is subject to many complex processes and harsh conditions. The concept of democratic governance is itself at stake, and the challenge will be to push this democractic experience to be the antithesis of the Baathist totalitarian pas which led to this war in the first place.


[1] - To view the content of this charter, see, “Charter of the social contract in the autonomous, democratic regions.”

[2] -For more details, see the radio interview with Mr. Akram Hisso, executive chairman for the Jazeera province in the autonomous region, on Sawt Raya (dated 5/7/2014).

[3] - For more information about the autonomy project, see: “Democratic autonomous region management,” Hasan Remo (1/21/15, on Hawar News Agency).

[4] - For more details about the terms of the agreement, see “Democratic autonomous region management.”

[5] - For information about the parties and organizations that attended the declaration of the interim government in Qamishlo, see the PYD website: http://pydrojava.com/arsiv/index.php/tamazight/969-p-y- (11/16/13).

[6] - For the initial statement issued by the governing body following the inception of the autonomous project, see: a statement to the public from the General Council (11/15/13).

[7] - For the set of rules, procedures and decrees issued by the council, visit their site.

[8] - The names of all formed bodies: Authority on foreign relations, the civil defense body, the interior ministry, the ministry of local administration and municipalities, securities commission, the labour and social affairs commission, the ministry of education, the ministry of agriculture, the health authority, trade and economic commission, a committee dedicated to listing the martyrs, the culture board, the body of communications and transport, the youth and athletics authority, the environmental agency, the tourism and antiquities agency, the body of religious affairs, the commission for women and family affairs, the human rights commission, the telecommunications authority, the authority of justice, and the energy commission).

[9] - “Democratic autonomous region management,” by Hasan Remo was the main source of information in this paragraph (1/21/15), posted on Hawar news agency’s site.

This work is under a Creative Commons license. Attribution: Non commercial - ShareAlike 4.0. International license

Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad