The best books about Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria)

Janet Biehl Author Of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin
By Janet Biehl

Who am I?

I was the partner and late-life collaborator of the late social ecology theorist Murray Bookchin. Shortly before his death his 2006, the Kurdish freedom movement took up his ideas, as Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s thought leader, had recommended them. Öcalan created a new ideology based in part on social ecology, promoting face-to-face democracy through citizen assemblies and councils; the liberation of women; a cooperative economy; and an ecological orientation. In several northern provinces of Syria, activist Kurds started building liberatory institutions based on these ideas, at first illicitly, under the Assad regime’s brutal persecution. Then a few years later, after the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the northern provinces declined to take sides in the conflict but instead created a revolution, turning the democratic, gender-equal institutions they had been building into the polity of self-governing provinces, known as Rojava (now known as the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria). As a result of my connection with Bookchin, I was privileged to visit three times and witnessed the revolution.


I wrote...

Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin

By Janet Biehl,

Book cover of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin

What is my book about?

The first and only intellectual and political biography of the social theorist whose work contributed greatly to the Rojava Revolution.

Murray Bookchin was not only one of the most significant and influential environmental philosophers of the twentieth century--he was also one of the most prescient. From industrial agriculture to nuclear radiation, Bookchin has been at the forefront of every major ecological issue since the very beginning, often proposing a solution before most people even recognized there was a problem.

The books I picked & why

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The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East

By David L. Phillips,

Book cover of The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East

Why this book?

After World War I, the great powers who carved up the Middle East should have by all rights given the huge population of Kurds there a state of their own. But the new Turkish republic made sure they didn’t, and as a result of this historic betrayal, Kurdish people have lived as a minority in several Middle Eastern countries, whose dictatorial governments persecuted them brutally and often still do. Phillips, a longtime champion of Kurdish human rights, surveys their condition and traces their current evolution into a vibrant political community, arguing for international recognition of their right to self-determination.


Rojava: Revolution, War and the Future of Syria's Kurds

By Thomas Schmidinger,

Book cover of Rojava: Revolution, War and the Future of Syria's Kurds

Why this book?

Schmidinger, a Viennese political scientist and specialist in Kurdish studies, focuses on the Kurds’ particular oppression in Syria, where they are the largest ethnic minority. He explains the historical events that led to the Rojava Revolution of 2012 and the new institutions created there, up to the book’s publication in 2017. It is highly readable, sympathetic, and grounded in deep knowledge.


The Kurds of Northern Syria: Governance, Diversity and Conflicts

By Harriet Allsopp, Wladimir van Wilgenburg,

Book cover of The Kurds of Northern Syria: Governance, Diversity and Conflicts

Why this book?

This analysis traces the momentous social and political transformation of northeastern Syria brought about by the Rojava Revolution. It is grounded in a thorough knowledge of the literature on Kurdish politics and the Syrian war. At the same time one of the co-authors, a journalist based in Erbil, had unprecedented access to officials in the self-administration as well as civilians on the ground. The first-hand research and interviews are a pillar of the book, which explores the prospects for Kurdish autonomy with realism and nuance.


The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice

By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon,

Book cover of The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice

Why this book?

This book reconstructs the experiences of several members of the YPJ, Rojava’s women’s militia, about their experiences fighting to liberate Kobane, Hasakah, Manbij, and Raqqa from occupation by ISIS. Based on extensive first-hand interviews, Lemmon focuses on a few representative women who stand-in for the force, bringing their struggle alive with exceptional insight and clarity.


Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women's Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan

By Michael Knapp, Anja Flach, Ercan Ayboga

Book cover of Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women's Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan

Why this book?

Originally written in German and published in 2014, this first full-length study of the revolution is based on extensive research there, including interviews with participants in the revolution. It remains a basic text for any study of the revolution.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Kurds, 21st century, and politics?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Kurds, 21st century, and politics.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, and Daughters of Smoke and Fire if you like this list.