The best books about Rojava (Kurdish region of Syria)

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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

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

Janet Biehl Why did I love 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.

By David L. Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Kurdish Spring as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kurds are the largest stateless people in the world. An estimated thirty-two million Kurds live in "Kurdistan," which includes parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran-today's "hot spots" in the Middle East. The Kurdish Spring explores the subjugation of Kurds by Arab, Ottoman, and Persian powers for almost a century, and explains why Kurds are now evolving from a victimized people to a coherent political community.

David L. Phillips describes Kurdish rebellions and arbitrary divisions in the last century, chronicling the nadir of Kurdish experience in the 1980s. He discusses draconian measures implemented by Iraq, including use of chemical weapons,…


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

Janet Biehl Why did I love 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.

By Thomas Schmidinger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rojava as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Kurdish territory of Rojava in Syria has become a watchword for radical democracy, communalism and gender equality. But while Western radicals continue to project their own values onto the revolution, the complexities of the situation are often overlooked or misunderstood.

Based on over 17 years of research and fieldwork, Thomas Schmidinger provides a detailed introduction to the history and political situation in Rojava. Outlining the history of the Kurds in Syria from the late Ottoman Empire until the Syrian civil war, he describes the developments in Rojava since 2011: the protests against the regime, the establishment of a Kurdish…


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

Janet Biehl Why did I love 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.

By Harriet Allsopp, Wladimir van Wilgenburg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Kurds of Northern Syria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on unprecedented access to Kurdish-governed areas of Syria, including exclusive interviews with administration officials and civilian surveys, this book sheds light on the socio-political landscape of this minority group and the various political factions vying to speak for them.
The first English-language book to capture the momentous transformations that have occurred since 2011, the authors move beyond idealized images of Rojava and the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) to provide a nuanced assessment of the Kurdish autonomous experience and the prospects for self-rule in Syria. The book draws on unparalleled field research, as well as analysis of the literature…


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

Janet Biehl Why did I love 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.

By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Daughters of Kobani as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The extraordinary story of the women who took on the Islamic State and won

"The Daughters of Kobani is an unforgettable and nearly mythic tale of women's power and courage. The young women profiled in this book fought a fearsome war against brutal men in impossible circumstances-and proved in the process what girls and women can accomplish when given the chance to lead. Brilliantly researched and respectfully reported, this book is a lesson in heroism, sacrifice, and the real meaning of sisterhood. I am so grateful that this story has been told." -Elizabeth Gilbert, author…


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

Janet Biehl Why did I love 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.

By Michael Knapp, Anja Flach, Ercan Ayboga

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Revolution in Rojava as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new kind of society is being built in Syria, but it's not one you would expect. Surrounded by deadly bands of ISIS and hostile Turkish forces, the people living in Syria's Rojava cantons are carving out one of the most radically progressive societies on the planet today. Western visitors have been astounded by the success of their project, a communally organised democracy which considers women's equality indispensable and rejects reactionary nationalist ideology whilst being fiercely anti-capitalist.

The people of Rojava call their new system democratic confederalism. An implementation of the recent ideology of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan,…


You might also like...

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Kurds, politics, and special operations?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Kurds, politics, and special operations.

The Kurds Explore 21 books about the Kurds
Politics Explore 688 books about politics
Special Operations Explore 10 books about special operations