Don C. Benjamin, PhD

Dean at Kino Institute of Theology
Elders of the City at the Gate


The ideal of a non-hierarchal society governed by assemblies of elders was an essential social institution in the social world of early Israel (Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, “The Elder” in Social World of Ancient Israel 1250-587 BCE: 121-131. (Baker Publishing Group: Ada MI, 1993).

Abdullah Ocalan launched a Kurdish liberation movement or Kurdish Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) in Turkey using spectacular acts of violence against rival organization and the government to destabilize Turkey’s authority in the Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey.  Once imprisoned on the island of Imrali by the Turkish government in 1998, Ocalan evolved a new world view after reading works by Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities and Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom and Urbanization without Cities. Bookchin proposed a world view he labeled social ecology which argued that all environmental problems stemmed from social issues like racism, sexism and economic inequality. For Bookchin hierarchical relationships are the original sin of western cultures. The destruction of the natural world by human beings, he argues, is a product of the domination of one group of people by another, and only by doing away with all hierarchies – men over women, old over young, white over black, rich over poor – can humans solve the global ecological crisis.


Bookchin called his alternative to capitalism libertarian municipalism using an Hellenic model which was based on his understanding of the face-to-face government of the ancient Greek city states. By 2005 Ocalan had adopted Bookchin’s concept of municipal assemblies as the new paradigm for achieving Kurdish independence – described in his Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan. Ocalan encouraged Kurds in Turkey to create municipal assemblies, which he called democracy without a state. The assemblies would form a grand confederation that would be united by a common set of values based on defending the environment, respecting religious, political and cultural pluralism and self-defense.

By 2015 Kurdish fighters from Turkey had occupied the region of Rojava in northern Syria, and established a society there based on Bookchin’s philosophy as Ocalan understands it. They divided Rojava into communes each using their own assemblies to make decisions for the common good  (Wes Enzinnanov, A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS’ Backyard At a college in Kurdish Syria, Rojava tries to train its future leaders. Nov 24, 2015

Thus the concept of an assembly of elders which appears as a fundamental social institution in the world of the Bible, continues to reappear, not only in the works of philosophers like Murray Bookchin, but in the everyday life of the Kurdish freedom fighters of Abdullah Ocalan in Rojava.