The economy in Cizîre/Rojava is functioning on a survival basis. The other cantons, Afrin and Kobanê, depend on the wealth of Cizîre. Our economy is vital for the others.
We are paying all costs for institutions of self-government and public services.
We have no surplus to reinvest. We don’t have the means to develop our economy. We need it to invest in other areas, but we can’t. We’re not able to create an environment where everyone can a chance to work, where professionals can get jobs, because we don’t have the means to create companies.
The social economy income is all we have. The costs are growing because of the war. And the self-government’s administration, which we have to finance, has more members now.
If we get no opening to the outside world, our economy will stay the same, and there will be no development. But we need outside investment. To organize it, the government has passed a law called “open economy” to organize it. Any outside investor would have to respect the economy.
But there’s been no development. The resistance in Kobane has been discussed in the world, but officially Rojava doesn’t exist. International organizations that want to act here are told that they have to go through the KRG or Damascus.
There is a political embargo against us. The Turkish state sees nothing good happening here. Our boundary with Turkey is 900 kilometers long. In Afrin there is a border crossing, but it’s closed. Kobanê had a crossing, and Cizîre had three. They’re all officially closed.
When Al Nusra was occupying Sere Kaniye [in 2012-13], the border crossing was open. But after Al Nusra was expelled, Turkish officials closed the border—with a concrete wall. We need to open the Turkish border, so that all our cantons have access to the outside world. Within Syria, our neighbor is ISIS. With Iraq, we have just a small border. Three months ago, after ISIS occupied Sinjar Mountain, the KRG opened the border gate, but unwillingly. For now we have only the border crossing at Semalka with Iraq. What we call our brothers in KRG, in South Kurdistan, they just act in their own interest to open their borders; if it weren’t in their interest, they’d close it.
We need to change this situation internationally, to be recognized by the international community, to force Turkey to open the border crossing.
Q: It sounds like you are calling to the outside world invest in the existing system. You say you can’t be self-sufficient, but autonomy, as in “democratic autonomy,” means self-sufficiency. Yet you are asking for outsiders to help. Also contradicting democratic autonomy: you spoke about a centralized economy, which would be an economy founded on a state. Isn’t there a big contradiction between the political and economic paradigms?
Hemo: Yes, even in this war situation, we want to be self-sufficient. But let’s have no misunderstanding. To raise the quality of life as a whole, we need some kind of industry, we need electricity. Our oil industry is very primitive–we can just barely produce diesel. We need to build a refinery, but we need $300 million for that. Unfortunately the community cooperatives can’t pay for it.
We need electricity. To build ourselves a power plant would cost us $400 million, but we don’t have it. Community cooperatives can’t finance it. Yet we still need electricity. So we need help from outside, private or public.
We don’t have any factories to produce fertilizer for the farmers. We have all the raw materials to produce fertilizer, but don’t have the factories. We have to buy fertilizer from Iraq now. We need $5 million to build a fertilizer factory. Community cooperatives can’t provide have that money.
But we need them to come here so that we can build a kind of social economy together.
That’s why I described the system in terms of the three different economies. All three together constitute our economy, and we have to develop all three of them. The main activity will remain the social economy, but it cannot stand alone. If we were to insist on social economy alone, it’d last maybe one or two years. We have to finance the war. If the war situation becomes stable enough that we can develop industry, we will open to the outside world, in the open economy. If there is any opening, we have to develop industry.
Q: How big is the open economy? How is it implemented?
Hemo: We passed a law for it, but up to now we’ve had no investors. They have no access to our country. No one from outside has come and invested here. All the investment is local. The private companies are all local.
What about the Kurdish diaspora? Can it link to the open economy?
Hemo: We are open to them, but no one is active. There’s no direct help. Perhaps it’s possible. Please organize it.
Q: Could other oil-producing countries, like perhaps Venezuela, help with refineries?
Hemo: We have some ties, and some people promised things, but practically they have done nothing. There’s been some communication, but … if you know of a company, please help.
Q: What about the airport?
Hemo: The Qamişlo airport is occupied by the regime. Building an airport could be a project to develop the economy here, if someone is willing.
Q: How would you like the economy to work ideally?
Hemo: Our main focus for development would be on the social economy. But it will coexist with the open economy and the private economy. For instance, we need factories related to agriculture. We need processing facilities. We need fertilizer, cotton processing. We produce petroleum, but we need facilities to produce plastics, benzene from it. If there is an opening, we can create facilities. We need some kind of common economy, and factories should be communally owned. But we won’t create a state economy, or a centralized economy. It should be locally organized.
Transcribed and edited for organization and conciseness by Janet Biehl. The translator used the phrase “community economy,” which was what originally appeared in this article. But the correct name is “social economy,” and it has been revised accordingly as of October 2015.