Peacebuilding as Counter-Insurgency | Self-Determination vs Global ‘Counter-Terror’ Operations

CAMPACC: Peacebuilding as counter-insurgency by Dr Vicki Sentas

The Kurdish movement is well acquainted with the effects of the global listing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organisation. In many ways the listing regime is an extension of Turkey’s counter-insurgency approach to the armed conflict. That is, listing is a form of warfare collectively targeting the Kurdish people. The intended aim of listing is to delegitimise the PKK in order to suppress its political support from the population. The criminalisation of Kurds in the diaspora and the mass repressions of the Kurdish movement in Turkey, are deliberate strategies to contain self-determination, not collateral effects. Critically, the ban on the PKK is widely understood as a barrier to any sustainable peace process.

This presentation draws on some of the findings of the forthcoming report, Building peace in permanent war: terrorist listing and conflict transformation (by Boon-Kuo, Hayes, Sentas and Sullivan). The report examines the impacts of terrorist listing on peacebuilding in Somalia, Palestine and Turkey. I will firstly overview how listing of the PKK impedes political resolution of the conflict, and the particular implications for the concept and practice of self-determination. My focus is with the diverse approaches of international NGOs to the resolution of the conflict and to Kurdish self-determination. NGOs who work in conflict resolution and mediation have raised concerns about how their work is potentially criminalised by terrorist listing when interacting with listed groups or the movements connected to them. Whilst the Kurdish movement has long called for the PKK to be listed, very few if any peacebuilding NGOs have taken up this call, with some instead advocating for ‘exemptions’ for peace builders from terrorism laws. I argue that NGOs largely sustain the power of terrorist listing through a counter-insurgency approach to conflict management. Of course, NGOs can, and some do, disrupt the hegemony of listing. I discuss some of these approaches and outline resources within emancipatory peace building and anti-colonial traditions that might strengthen solidarity with Kurdish self-determination.

The Democratic Confederal Model in Theory and Practice


Since the descent into civil war in Syria, revolutionary forces have seized control of the Kurdish region of Rojava. Underpinning this revolution is a social and political project of self-determination closely associated with the ideas and leadership of Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan has been in prison in Turkey since 1999, and since his imprisonment, his thinking on the questions of nationalism and self-determination have evolved considerably. Most importantly, he has explicitly abandoned the aim of an independent Kurdish nation-state, and claims to respect existing nation-state borders while simultaneously attacking the state as an institution, and embracing in its stead a model of “democratic confederalism” for application throughout the Middle East. In this paper, we will assess the model of “democratic confederalism.” We will begin by situating Öcalan’s model in the context of longstanding debates on the revolutionary left about self-determination in theory and practice. We will then turn to evaluate the model of “democratic confederalism” that has been institutionalised by the revolutionary forces in Rojava. The evaluation will focus primarily on two questions: (1) to what extent does the model embody self-determination understood as radical democracy? and (2) to what extent has the goal of a Greater Kurdish nation-state been transcended in practice?

National Self-Determination versus the Global ‘Counter-Terror’ Regime
Beyond the nation-state: the Kurdish Workers Party PKK and the redefinition of self-determination

The objective of this contribution is to discuss and explain how the PKK developed a new understanding of the right to self-determination on basis of a critique of the state and nation-state form. I will define what we need to understand by the PKK, followed by a discussion of the self-evident way in which the nation-state is taken for granted as context or destiny of social action and practices. After that, I will discuss the concepts of democratic autonomy and democratic confederalism. I will discuss how these concepts emerged from a critique on the nation and the state and show how these concepts are embedded within or related to a long political tradition of thought and linked to a rich history of practices. Then, I will explain how, through thinking with the concepts of democratic confederalism and democratic autonomy, we might be able to address fundamental problems in representative democracy. In the final section, I will discuss how the PKK’s understanding of the right to self-determination changed from a state-centered approach to a people and connectivity-centered approach.

For more information:

Women of the World Unite at Rojava border