National Self-Determination versus the Global ‘Counter-Terror’ Regime:
CAMPACC research and public outreach project
Workshop on Kurds 21 February 2015, SOAS, London.
The Democratic Confederal Model in Theory and Practice
Thomas Jeffrey Miley:
Since the descent into civil war in Syria, revolutionary forces have seized control of the Kurdish region of Rojava. Underpinning this revolution is a social and political project of self-determination closely associated with the ideas and leadership of Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan has been in prison in Turkey since 1999, and since his imprisonment, his thinking on the questions of nationalism and self-determination have evolved considerably. Most importantly, he has explicitly abandoned the aim of an independent Kurdish nation-state, and claims to respect existing nation-state borders while simultaneously attacking the state as an institution, and embracing in its stead a model of “democratic confederalism” for application throughout the Middle East. In this paper, we will assess the model of “democratic confederalism.” We will begin by situating Öcalan’s model in the context of longstanding debates on the revolutionary left about self-determination in theory and practice. We will then turn to evaluate the model of “democratic confederalism” that has been institutionalised by the revolutionary forces in Rojava. The evaluation will focus primarily on two questions: (1) to what extent does the model embody self-determination understood as radical democracy? and (2) to what extent has the goal of a Greater Kurdish nation-state been transcended in practice?
Thomas Jeffrey Miley is Lecturer of Political Sociology in the Department of Sociology at Cambridge. He was a a Garca Pelayo Fellow at the CEPC in Madrid (2007-2009). His research interests include comparative nationalisms, the politics of migration, and democratic theory. Recent publications of his include “Democratic Representation and the National Question in Catalan and Basque Politics” (JPCS, 27, 3, 2014); and “Blocked Articulation and Nationalist Hegemony in Catalonia” (Regional and Federal Studies, 23, 1, 2013).