Manjib is an ethnically diverse city in northern Syria. In 2014, it was occupied by ISIS (also known as Daesh). In 2016, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, an alliance of armed groups supporting the model of grassroots democracy associated with the Rojava Revolution) had liberated the city.
In accordance with its model of self-organisation and respect for ethnic and religious groups, the SDF helped established democratic organs in the city. It quickly handed over power to the Manbij Military Council and the Manbij City Council to govern itself.
Emel Dede is a representative of the Turkmen people in the Manbij Democratic Civil Administration Legislative Assembly Council. She said that the whole society has the right to work for, take part and to be represented in the autonomous administration.
Dede said: “We have a co-presidency system, we have established our democratic administration under this system, and women are 50% of the administration members (in total we are 132). All the peoples in Manbij are represented in a proportionally way.”
This means, said Dede, the administration is made up of 71 representatives for the Arab people, 41 for the Kurdish people, 10 for the Turkmen, eight for the Circassian and one for the Armenian. “Look, in Manbij there is also one Armenian family and yet they have one representative in the Administration.”
Dede is one of the Manbij Turkmen women who lived under the Syrian regime first, and then the Free Syrian Army and Daesh. She has been working for two years now for her future and the future of Manbij. She talked to Bêrîtan Sarya and Axin Tolhildan from ANF News about this.
You have lived under the [Bashar al-Assad] Baathist regime, the Free Syrian Army and Daesh. Could you tell us about these different periods?
We were deprived of our rights during the Baath period. The state and government were in the hands of a small elite. We are a rich country; there are underground resources and agriculture.
Syria is also a rich country in ethnic terms. Arab, Turkmen, Kurdish, Circassian, Assyrian, Syriac, Armenian — almost all Middle Eastern peoples live in Syria. The Syrian people could not benefit from these resources during the Baath period. Organisations, institutions, schools — everything was at the service of the regime.
After the regime, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) came. As citizens of Manbij, we had only a few institutions and associations. They set up security check-points, they were getting money, harassing people, kidnapping known wealthy people and asking for money, etc. Many bad things happened.
There were not many clashes between Daesh and FSA, they clashed for one night (and two days).
The Daesh occupation was the worst time for Manbij. The Daesh system, which everyone knows, was implemented. They did all sort of things — beheading, throwing people from buildings, harassed, killed. It was a terrible time.
You participated to the liberation of Manbij. How was it achieved?
The Manbij Military Council, the SDF, the YPG/J [People’s and Women’s Defence Units, armed revolutionary Kurdish-led groups that are part of the SDF] launched the operation to free Manbij in June 2016.
The people had called for it. Indeed, people helped the liberation forces throughout the whole operation.
Before the operation began, both the Manbij Military Council and the Manbij Civil Council were established in Sirin. As the Military Council advanced, the Council followed, area after area we were liberating our city. They also provided aid to people such as water, food, shelter, medicine.
The SDF liberated Manbij pushed by the strength of the people. Following the liberation of Manbij with the same strength, mine clearing work began. In a short period of two months, the area was largely cleared of the mines left by DAESH.
How is life and governance organised in Manbij?
The city was heavily affected by the war. Many areas were in debris. The mines were quickly cleared. The bridge was repaired, the schools were cleaned and repaired. The Manbij Civil Administration committees and newly created institutions worked to secure many services.
Four, five months after the liberation of our city, we have reorganised ourselves as the Civil Council. We have established legislative and executive assemblies. We declared the Manbij Democratic Civil Administration.
Then we created our committees. Villages are quite numerous. Communes were established in the town centre and in the villages. The communes formed their own committees according to their own needs.
As a Manbij citizen, one has to really govern themselves, organise their life, despite the huge needs and hunger. We have seen all forms of government imposed on us. There was no democracy in any of them, and we had already experienced Daesh fascism.
We have organised our own life and administration system with great hope and devotion as we have given our blood to liberate Manbij. A safe and secure environment has developed. Women reclaimed their rights and began to play roles in administration as well as in all aspects of life.
Under this system, we got our place thanks to the philosophy and ideas of the leader [in reference to the jailed Kurdish liberation movement leader Abdullah Ocalan’s “democratic confederalism” proposal]. We, as Manbij women, know well: our father, brother, no one had given us our rights. As women, we took our place in the administration, in the military defence, in politics, in public order, in economic area, in traffic control.
The right to work is for the whole society, not just women. Everyone has the right to take part in the administration and speak out. We all worked together. We put our will and our desire together and we got Manbij back on its feet again.
We have Manbij Civil Administration for less than two years, but in this short time we have done things that big states cannot do.
In Manbij, stability, peace, politics, services, in short life has improved a lot, it is more democratic and more liberal.
How is the structure and organisation of the Manbij Democratic Civil Administration now?
There is a co-chair system. Women represent 50% of the administration members, we are 132 in total. Manbij has never lived with such a democratic system.
The Turkish state has threatened Manbij since the liberation day. How do you assess the meeting the US and Turkey had on June 4 in which they reached an agreement on Manbij?
[US-led] Coalition forces helped us after we put Manbij back on its feet. We do not deny this help, but as Manbij people we do not accept this agreement.
Manbij has been liberated with the blood of Manbij women and men. Today Manbij institutions and organisations are being run by the people of Manbij.
If there is a deal on the table, we should at least be a party to this deal. We were not. But we are the legitimate owners of Manbij, we liberated it and brought it back to life.
When you tell your opinion to the US and Coalition officials, what’s the reaction?
We tell them the same: “If there is a deal we have to be part of it.” They also know that there is stability in Manbij. We have repeatedly told them that the Manbij people do not want the Turkish state and the mercenaries here in Manbij.
We gave examples: look at Jarabulus, or al-Bab. How did Turkey bring stability there? Anti-democratic practices, theft, extortion, massacres are happening there.
We asked if there was a written agreement with the Turkish state on Manbij and they said there was no such thing. Turkish soldiers and mercenaries would not enter Manbij. Turkish soldiers would patrol on the other side of the Sajur river.
There is one thing though that makes us think: the Coalition officials only mean Daesh when they say, “We will not allow terrorists to enter here again”.
However, we know that the architect of Daesh is actually Turkey. When Daesh was in Manbij, Turkey was not worried, it did not think its borders were not safe. It has been since Manbij was freed that Turkey has begun to feel uneasy and to talk about security.
What will you do in the coming period?
We will not give up developing democracy in Manbij. We trust ourselves. We started with our own strength.
Of course we have projects for the upcoming period. We built and developed our system. We got results. In the upcoming period, we are considering some changes and transformations in our institutions and organisations. We aim to improve our schools and teachers preparation. We will make further efforts to organise our services better in accordance with our circumstances. We have developed our economy.
We included women in economic activities. Many businesses and cooperatives were established. Agriculture, trade and industry have been revived. In two years, we've done very important things.
But we will not stop. Economy, women, defence, service, youth — every area will see new and more concrete projects.
[Reprinted from ANF News.]