In the mid-2010s, the Islamic State advanced rapidly through Iraq and Syria, capturing territory and terrifying the inhabitants. However, a group of Kurds in Northern Syria representing the de facto autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, in an area known as Rojava, successfully fought the Islamic State and attracted the attention of the world.
Many people from all over the world went to Rojava to fight, but a lesser known story was making the rounds in the crypto world: some volunteers traveled there to build blockchain and technology literacy and experiment with the potential of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC). ) to serve as an instrument for revolutionary change. After all, Rojava promotes decentralization, autonomy and self-sufficiency – does that sound familiar?
In episode 10 of The agendahosts Ray Salmond and Jonathan DeYoung were joined by DarkFi co-founder Rachel Rose-O’Leary and community member Kato, who discussed their volunteer work in Rojava and how those experiences inspired and related to their current involvement with DarkFi, an anonymous blockchain protocol .
Rojava’s blockchain and crypto experiment
O’Leary traveled to Rojava in late 2018 after feeling disillusioned with the crypto space and how far it had seemingly strayed from its early cypherpunk roots. “I was convinced at the time that Rojava was a place where the ideals of crypto were realized and tested,” she said. O’Leary was inspired by Amir Taaki, an early Bitcoin pioneer who himself traveled to the region to volunteer.
Meanwhile, Kato first discovered crypto while already in Rojava. “I actually got interested in crypto and in privacy technologies because of the real need of the people,” he shared. “I saw the actual use cases, and a lot of people around the world started using crypto for practical purposes, like sending money around.”
“If you don’t have a working banking system or don’t have access to it, which is the case for most of the world, it’s much more efficient. And especially when dealing with persecution and political repression. And often it is actually the only way you have.”
O’Leary spent much of her time “volunteering building educational infrastructure, especially in the field of technology” – including introducing people to crypto and blockchain. “It is a very interesting environment for crypto due to the fact that there are no banks,” she shared. “There is also no state. So cryptocurrency is a really interesting financial paradigm for that kind of context.
Related: “Privacy has become a taboo,” says crypto-anarchist project DarkFi
When asked if crypto education will continue in Rojava in 2023, Kato replied, “There are technical academies and training centers in Rojava, and even new ones have opened in recent years.” The work remains difficult, however, because “the war exerts enormous pressure, not only on technical education, but on all social areas.”
Privacy comes first
O’Leary co-founded DarkFi, an anonymous Layer-1 blockchain protocol of which Kato is also an active community member. For O’Leary, privacy is essential to communities’ ability to operate freely and autonomously, and the anonymity provided by encryption represents a 21st century tool that allows people to fully express themselves:
“If people are under constant surveillance by a huge surveillance apparatus and a surveillance state, then they are not allowed to play sports […] their moral and political society.”
When asked about the future of privacy and whether it is possible to break free from the mass surveillance paradigm, Kato said that “we will be fighting that battle for a long time, and much longer than decades”, adding: “It may be the most fundamental struggle of human society.”
But is there light at the end of the tunnel? Kato believes that through decentralized tools like blockchain, “we have this technology to be able to develop our own financial and economic systems that are actually democratically run by the people who use them based on what they really need.”
“There are times in history when technology reconfigures the nature of power, and the printing press is a common example,” O’Leary added. “I think we have a similar situation now in cryptocurrency, where it’s hard to see right now because we’re just at the beginning. But the basis of power is currently being reconfigured thanks to these technologies.”
To hear more about Kato and O’Leary’s conversation with The agenda — including their take on venture capital finance, decentralized finance, and solarpunk vs. lunarpunk – listen to the full episode on Cointelegraph’s Podcasts page, Apple Podcasts or Spotify. And don’t forget to check out the full lineup of Cointelegraph’s other shows!
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This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to and should not be construed as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Update (April 28 at 1:23 PM UTC): This article has been updated to reflect that Kato is an active DarkFi community member, but not a developer