The gardens grown in ten schools in villages around Kobane are more than just plots of land: they are also a symbol of freedom and the desire to rebuild what violence and war have swept away for too long.
“Our soil is very rich indeed; it’s bright red in color and has a special smell after the rain. It reminds us of the spring which, when it rains, treats us to good harvests of corn, barley and other grains.” These are the words of the Ministry of Water and Agriculture’s delegate in Kobane, speaking about the garden project in local schools, developed partly with the support of Slow Food. The ministry is organized according to the model of a democratic confederation, based on self-government, self-defense, ecology and gender equality within a strongly multi-ethnic context. Rojava, where the Kobane canton is situated, is inhabited not only by Kurds but by a confederation of peoples, and is working day by day on a new model of social coexistence where identity is inclusive and solidarity assumes a central role among all its ethnic groups (Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Circassians and Turkomans).
At Terra Madre Salone del Gusto last September, we met the members of the Kobane delegation, among them Berivan Al Hussain, one of 7,000 Terra Madre delegates from 143 countries. She told us about her commitment to setting up gardens in schools in ten villages, and her efforts to explain how the area ought to be farmed to the people. The gardens are more than just plots of land: they are also the symbol of the freedom of a people and a land regarded as the cradle of civilization—a freedom threatened by the Islamic State, which destroyed many wells and mined farmland, causing the death of many farmers.
Before the war, the Rojava region grew many different crops. But now, as a result of the destruction of the wells, many zones lack water, they manage nonetheless to cultivate crops that do not require a great deal of irrigation. Ancient cultivation techniques developed by the great civilizations that grew up along the Tigris and Euphrates have enabled the local population to return to communal land use. In some villages, semi-destroyed by the war, surrounded by green meadows and freely grazing cattle, families have decided to return and reinhabit land liberated from the violence. The common intent now is to set into motion a thorough reconstruction process starting from the land itself, making it productive once more, consuming its fruits and restoring hope to the many Syrians who are still living in a state of total insecurity.
“In the villages near Kobane we were welcomed by delegates of the Houses of the People, where their assemblies meet to discuss the needs and problems of the community together. The contact persons of the schools involved in the project invited us to their homes to drink çai, the typical red Kurdish tea, before taking us to see the land for the gardens. The first school was in Alpalor, the others were in the villages of Mnazi, Caracoil, Pender, Zalek, Talek, Kazine and Tel Hajeb … The ten gardens will be a “laboratory” in which teachers and their pupils will be able to find out more about biodiversity and care for the land.”
Mustafa, an old teacher at the school in Haleng, told us that before the war 1,000 children used to attend, but today there are only 600. “Motivating contact with the land, starting with the smallest kids, is fundamental. We grew up on this land and we haven’t abandoned it. As a people of farmers and livestock breeders, we have always tended the crops using our own techniques, which are thousands of years old.”
The school principals speak of how the situation has changed since the end of the Baath regime, and in line with the project of democratic confederalism, educational activities are now aimed at promoting the freedom of children in every field. One novelty is the teaching of Kurdish, which used to be forbidden, and of ecology as a fundamental principle of society. They also explain that the cultivation of fruit trees was discouraged by the regime, which favored a corn monoculture. Now, they are planning to grow fig and pomegranate trees and gardens around Kobane for family and community consumption.