The people themselves educate each other. When you put ten people together and ask them for a solution to a problem or propose them a question, they collectively look for an answer. I believe in this way they will find the right one. This collective discussion will make them politicized.”
Salih Muslim, PYD co-president, November 2014
As Aldar Xelîl, a member of the council of Tev-Dem, explained to us, Rojava’s political project is “not just about changing the regime but creating a mentality to bring the revolution to the society. It’s a revolution for society.” Dorşîn Akîf, a teacher at the academy, agreed: “Perception has to be changed,” she told us, “because the mentality is so important for our revolution now. Education is crucial for us.”
The first issue that the revolution had to confront was the language of instruction. For four decades under the Assad regime, Kurdish children had had to learn Arabic and study in Arabic. The Kurdish language was banned from public life; teaching it was illegal and could be punished by imprisonment and even torture.
Following the Rojava Revolution, efforts for the languages, cultures and histories of peoples have intensified in Northern Syria where an education system based on the common life of the peoples that is multilingual and multicultural has been set up instead of the nation-state based single language, single culture and single race systems.
The Arab, Kurdish and Syriac children in Northern Syria receive education in their own languages through the grades 1 to 3. In 4th to 6th grades, children learn the languages of other peoples that they live together with.
One challenge the academy faces is that people in northeastern Syria think they have to go abroad to get a good education. “We want to change that,” said one instructor in Mesopotamian Academy in Qamishlo, dismissing it as a notion instilled by hegemonic forces. “We don’t want people to feel inferior about where they live. In the Middle East, there is a huge amount of knowledge and wisdom, and we are trying to uncover it. Many things that have happened in history happened here.”
Northern Syria Education Committees are implementing the same system in high schools and universities as well. In many centres in the city, Arab, Kurdish and Syriac children are learning each other’s language and culture.
The way people interpret history affects the way they act, said one of the members of the academy to The Region, so “we talk about pre-Sumerian social organization. We also look how the state emerged historically and how the concept has been constructed.” But power and the state are not the same. “Power is everywhere, but the state is not everywhere. Power can operate in different ways.”
Power, for example, is present in the grassroots democracy, which has nothing to do with the state. And Jineolojî regards women as quintessentially democratic. “We look at the political mechanisms— women’s parliaments, women’s communes; and the general [mixed] parliaments, general communes, neighbourhood parliaments. Here in Rojava we always have both mixed ones and women’s exclusive ones. In the mixed ones, the representation of women is 40 percent plus there is always a co-presidency to ensure equality.”
The main objective of the people of northern Syria, Rojava, is to enable the school system to be transferred to society. They interfered with the Nationalism classes and History classes that were given by the state. However, it is necessary to make radical changes in other classes. They made some gender-based changes in the pre-school and kindergarten books. But this is not enough. The mentality that is imposed on to children through the old education system must change.