The Rojava Embassy: Freedom and Form
Freedom comes in many forms. These forms contain and activate the potential within every freedom. Forms such as institutions often use freedoms to shape other aspects of society, such as politics. Like freedom, politics also has form. These forms must be shaped and contained in order to be exercised productively, just as water can be shaped and contained in a glass to suit certain needs. However, they need not be stagnant. Freedom can be exercised through free-flowing forms, as well as more stationary structures. What determines the form is its performative aspect, or how the form serves to function in managing people and society in a free, rational, and ethical manner.
For two days, 26-27 November, the New World Embassy: Rojava created a temporal free form inside the City Hall of Oslo, Norway in order to gather and discuss the quest for a truly free way of life. The embassy was part of the Oslo Architecture Triennale, a festival for pushing artistic and architectural boundaries, and it was organized as a collaboration between the Self-Administration of Rojava and Studio Jonas Staal, an Amsterdam based art studio under the direction of Dutch artist Jonas Staal. Politics and art complemented each other, blending the many colorful flags of Rojava together into a mural of symbolism, which provided the perfect arena for the powerful speeches of the international community. Diplomats, artists, scholars, and representatives came together underneath an ideological planetarium to discuss culture, politics, and ideologies in their many forms. Terms and principles such as decentralization, stateless and grassroots democracy, municipalism, democratic confederalism, feminism, and ecology took center stage, standing out as brightly as the suns and stars which graced the dome of the embassy.
Unity in diversity
There was much critique by speakers of the centralized nation-state. Especially the way in which the form the nation-state takes erodes and assimilates the colorful diversity of society through engineering the creation of a singular language, culture, and nation. In the same vein, speakers lauded the importance of democratic confederalism as a model, put into practice in Rojava, which nourishes and protects each ethnic and religious group within its system. In this context, there was also an emphasis on the ecological pillar of democratic confederalism, described as a way of encompassing each unique aspect of the various languages, cultures, religions, and peoples present in Rojava. As Sînam Mohammed, European Representative of the Democratic Self-Administration of Rojava, simply stated: “Our aim is to bring about unity in diversity.”
Video: Some footages from the Rojava embassy in Oslo.
In Rojava, the fight against ISIS, led in particular by the Kurdish women’s movement, is an excellent example of how the celebration of diversity brings about unity. By lifting women up out of the patriarchal system, the women’s struggle becomes not only that of self-defense, but also a struggle against the overall male hierarchal mentality throughout history. This mentality is embodied by ISIS, which fights all values of humanity in general, but particularly of women. Within the women’s movement there is a broader struggle that seeks to reach beyond just defeating ISIS. Asya Abdullah, Co-Chair of the PYD, described this clearly and confidently: “The resistance of women against ISIS is a resistance that aims to achieve a free and democratic life." This free and democratic life is for all, seeking to bring about a unity yet unseen due to capitalistic and patriarchal systems and structures.
An artful garden of people
Art in the form of diversity was also referenced frequently throughout the conference. Just as a garden cannot be truly beautiful with only one kind of flower, neither can a society flourish while stifling the diversity inherent in its people. Rojava has built a rich and colourful garden of peoples, cultures, and languages, despite, as Aldar Xalîl put it, the “garden of mines” surrounding the region. The form adopted by Rojava protects and secures the richness and beauty of these differences, celebrating the fullness that diversity brings to society. Bassam Said Ishak, President of the Syriac National Council, noted this celebratory approach, saying, “I was so surprised when I came back to Rojava to find that upon entrance, the name of my city, Amuda, was written in three languages: Kurdish, Syriac, and Arabic."
The artistic way in which the physical embassy was constructed reflected Rojava’s ideological model. In representing a form that seeks to bring about order from chaos in the Middle East, and Syria in particular, the embassy created a space that was both a blending of and spotlight on the various pillars and principles that allow Rojava to function in a free, rational, and ethical manner. Expressing this form through art lent the model of democratic confederalism a new way to experience how form affects freedom. Brought together as equals in a spherical setting, art created space for discussion, debate, and progression, building upon Theodor Adorno’s idea that “the task of art today is to bring chaos into order."
The embassy provided a fresh perspective on the relationship between freedom and form, but it also highlighted the importance of art and culture within the form that Rojava has chosen. In bringing chaos to order, Rojava’s system encompasses not only the practical, everyday logistics of society, but branches out to ensure the protection and nourishing of art and culture for all. Democratic confederalism recognizes that society must be approached from a bottom-up, holistic perspective, and it merges the pillars of self-defense and ecology to ensure that society continues to have a reason to grow, and something worthwhile to defend. By holding the embassy inside an art installation, these ideals were brought to the forefront, and the dome stood as a quiet commemoration, both covered in symbolism and a symbol itself.
Image: The New World Embassy of Rojava stands at odds with the standard type of embassies of nation-states.
Art as politics
The embassy, as an amalgamation of the political and the artistic, created both a space and desire for social change. While the nation-state detaches art and politics from each other, this embassy combined the two to craft a domain where ethics and aesthetics met and melded.
The significance of this combination, art as a form of politics, was examined in depth by speakers and audience alike. Art can serve as a vessel, carrying the story of the needs and desires of society, but requires artists dedicated to providing meaningful works for collective life. However, these works must be approached carefully, and must stem from addressing people at a grassroots level, rather than seeking value or approval as a marketplace commodity. As Sînam Mohammed said: “Poets, artists, singers, and writers should reflect the pain, suffering, and feelings of their people.” She went on to examine the Battle of Kobanî as an example of a fountain from which flows inspiration for heroic and revolutionary poems and songs.
The New World Embassy: Rojava stood at odds with the standard embassy produced through statecraft. While the main task of the nation-state embassy is to represent and further state interests, the New World Embassy aimed to build bridges and solidarity between oppressed peoples throughout the world, in spite of the capitalism world systems which oppress them. This embassy offered these peoples an opportunity to come together, speak about their struggles, voices their questions, and find their commonalities as they moved forward together in a uniting motion against all forms of oppression. As Salih Muslim stated: “Thanks to this embassy for its efforts in gathering all oppressed people in one place.” May this be the first of many steps in unifying cross-cultural, ethnic, religious, and other struggles in the movement for a truly free form.
Edited by Aviva Stein