By Cæcilie Svop Jensen

 

The inherent transnational dimension of diasporas brings challenges to the study of these groups. Fallacies include methodological nationalism, ethnic or national essentialism and securitization (see Faist 2012; Féron and Lefort 2019; Féron 2020). As Faist notes, methodological nationalism treats the state as a  semi-natural political and social configuration, while fetishism with ethnic and national ties homogenizes diaspora communities (Faist 2012). Viewing state institutions as the main social context in which migration occurs makes the state the only relevant entity for the study of migration. This renders invisible dynamics among diaspora communities not limited to state boundaries or frameworks and as such limits the understanding of diasporic behavior. The challenges to research on diaspora groups, however, exist not only in the research arena, but figure in media coverage and policy making concerning diasporas as well.  

The violence erupting in Dijon in France a few months ago serves as a useful starting point for discussing the framing of diaspora communities and their behavior by media and policymakers and the implications these framings have for understanding the configurations at play in these communities. The violence broke out following an attack of a 16-year-old member of a Chechen community (AFP 2020). During a 4-day period of unrest, torching of cars and bins as well as physical violence took place in Dijon and the area of Gresilles. The riots were described in several media outlets and by policy makers as ‘gang related’, ‘criminal activity’ and ‘Chechen violence’ (Al Jazeera 2020; Dailymail Online 2020; The Guardian 2020; BBC 2020) and Marine Le Pen, far-right political leader, called for ‘tougher action’ on immigrants in order to control the violence and prevent other similar situations (Euronews 2020). 

Féron argues that the analyses of and literature on diasporas often fail to grasp their complexity and configurations as political actors operating in and across national and transnational spaces (Féron 2020, p. 28). This is often reproduced in the way media and policymakers engage with and understand the actions of diaspora communities. She argues how diaspora politics needs to be treated as a series of actors not limited to home and host states – instead of this bilateral approach to diaspora politics, the disruptive nature of diasporas in interstate politics needs to be recognized (ibid). In the case of Chechen diasporas, for instance, much media coverage on the incident in Dijon reflects such a bilateral approach and perpetuates the above mentioned essentialism; actors are largely homogenized as ‘the Chechen diaspora’, the events reduced to a ‘settling of scores’ between Chechen community and residents of Dijon, or described as criminal activity (see BBC 2020; AFP 2020; Dailymail Online 2020;).   

Framing the activities as criminal affects how the agency of the actors is viewed. It criminalizes their motives and makes superfluous the study of deeper relationships while simultaneously presenting the violence in Dijon as representative of entire diasporic communities. One coverage noted that ‘at the core of this unrest is the thirst for revenge in the Chechen community’ ( EuroNews 2020 , 1.00 min). Political motives of diasporic communities, for instance, are glossed over – in the coverage, it remains unclear against whom exactly the actors want revenge. The ways in which local actors engage with national, regional, and/or transnational actors are similarly ignored. The broader interconnections figuring in the contentious spaces in which these groups operate seem to be somewhat disregarded by media coverage and by policy makers. Diasporas need to be seen as ‘hybrid political actors’ (Féron 2020), not limited to home and host state politics and ties. Not taking stock of what Féron refers to as diasporas’ ability to move across levels and spheres of engagement (Féron 2020, p. 28) makes it hard to understand the dynamics at play in diaspora politics and the intersections of diasporic communities. This understanding is paramount when engaging with these communities – failure to acknowledge this results in an inability to act and respond properly in situations involving diasporas. 

Violence involving Chechen diasporas have occurred recently in Nice and Toulouse as well, and in Dijon, people allegedly arrived from Belgium and Germany to partake in the violence (The Guardian 2020) – these translocal and transnational ties are mentioned but left largely unexamined. As Le Pen’s comment illustrates, there are obvious consequences to this essentialist framing. Sökefeld (2006) states that although diasporas can be understood as imagined communities, they have very real consequences and effects. Research suggest that diasporas and their actions and strategies are very much shaped by and shape the country of settlement and the home country, but several other factors operating in both national and transnational spaces indeed affect diaspora communities as well (see for instance, Baser 2016; 2017; Féron 2017). Focusing on criminal activities only or limiting coverage to violent clashes in and among the communities render these configurations invisible. As has been previously noted, investigating how diasporas sometimes mobilize for conflicts in countries or regions from which they do not originate is of great interest (Féron 2017). The Chechen diasporas, for instance, have been mobilizing in support for the conflict in Ukraine and Syria and members of the diasporas residing in several European countries have gone to fight for the separatists in the Donbas region and in conflict zones in Syria (Berlingske 2014; Altantic Council 2018). It serves as just one example of how diaspora behavior and politics are not limited to home or host state frameworks. Essentialist framings help problematize diasporas as a security problem as well. Violence-centric coverage leaves out other ways in which diasporas engage and do not engage in conflict. Another useful example is the coverage of Kurdish and Turkish diasporas in Europe, where clashes and violent behavior are amply covered, though rarely beyond essentialist and securitized visions of diaspora behavior.  

The framings in media and policy making are important as diasporas and migrant communities are profound global phenomena. In 2019, the UN reported that the number of international migrants reached 272 million (UN 2019) making critical media coverage that engages with diasporas as complex hybrid actors all the more necessary. In this context, research plays an important role as well. Research on how this framing might impact policymaking, in terms of the policing of diaspora communities or immigration and integration policy, could help shed light on the very real effects of this type of coverage on diasporas. In this vein, it is equally necessary that researchers build solid links with policymakers as well as make research more easily accessible. Strengthening these links is vital for better engaging with diaspora communities at both the policy level and in society as a whole. 

 

 

Sources

AFP News (2020). French City Rocked By Unrest Blamed On Score-settling Chechens, AFP News, published 15 June 2020

Al Jazeera (2020). France arrests five Chechens after Dijon gang violence, Al Jazeera English, published 18 June 2020

Atlantic council (2018). Chechen and north Caucasian militants in Syria, Atlantic Council, published 18 January 2018

Bahar Baser. (2016). Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts: A Comparative Perspective. In Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts. Taylor and Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315577012

Baser, B. (2017). Tailoring Strategies According to Ever-Changing Dynamics: The Evolving Image of the Kurdish Diaspora in Germany. Terrorism and Political Violence, 29(4), 674–691. https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2015.1060226

BBC (2020). Dijon: Police brought in to tackle Chechen violence, BBC, published 16 June 2020

Berlingske (2014). Boksetræneren fra Birkerød – Putins personlige fjende, Berlinske Tidende, published 13 October 2014.

Daily Mail Online (2020). How Chechen gangs issued a Europe-wide call for vengeance over beating of 16-year-old boy that sparked four days of urban warfare with Arab gangs in Dijon, Daily mail online, published 16 June 2020.

Faist, T. (2012). Toward a Transnational Methodology: Methods to Address Methodological Nationalism, Essentialism, and Positionality. Revue Européenne Des Migrations Internationales, 28(1), 51–70. https://doi.org/10.4000/remi.5761

Féron, É. (2020). Embracing Complexity: Diaspora Politics as a Co-Construction. Migration Letters, 17(1), 27–36. https://doi.org/10.33182/ml.v17i1.758

Féron, É. (2017). Transporting and re-inventing conflicts: Conflict-generated diasporas and conflict autonomisation. Cooperation and Conflict, 52(3), 360–376. https://doi.org/10.1177/0010836716671759

Féron, É., & Lefort, B. (2019). Diasporas and conflicts – understanding the nexus. Diaspora Studies, 12(1), 34–51. https://doi.org/10.1080/09739572.2018.1538687

Sökefeld, M. (2006). Mobilizing in transnational space: a social movement approach to the formation of diaspora. Global Networks (Oxford), 6(3), 265–284. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0374.2006.00144.x

The Guardian (2020). France vows to end violence in Dijon after fourth night of unrest, The Guardian, published 16 June 2020

UN (2019). International Migrant Stock 2019, United Nations, DESA. https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/data/estimates2/estimates19.asp

 

 

DIASCON is hosting its first online workshop on diasporas the 2nd of October 2020. The workshop brings together relevant stakeholders working with diasporas to discuss approaches and challenges related to their work. Participants of the workshop include diaspora-organizations, NGOs and other relevant institutions working with diaspora groups.

The workshop aims to explore the relationships between diasporas, conflicts, accommodation, and host country settings through the following objectives:

  • To share experiences, best practices, challenges, and opportunities when working with diaspora groups;
  • To discuss host country contexts and how these can relate to and influence diaspora politics;
  • To put forward recommendations for practitioners working with diasporas in different contexts.

 

After the workshop, a report on the outcomes and discussions will be made available online. If you have any questions regarding the workshop, do not hesitate to contact [email protected]

Project researchers Élise Féron and Bruno Lefort published their article “Diasporas and conflicts – understanding the nexus” in the journal Diaspora Studies in January 2019. In the article they bring forth alternative approaches to understanding and investigating the conflict-diaspora nexus through a critical examination of current academic literature on conflict-generated diasporas.

Read the full article here: https://doi.org/10.1080/09739572.2018.1538687

 

In Denmark, few studies are concerned with the Turkish and Kurdish diaspora communities despite the fact that they constitute some of the largest ethnic minority groups in the country. As especially Kurdish mobilization has increased since the outbreak of the war in Syria and with the increasing role of Turkey in the conflict, understanding the complex dynamics both within and among Turkish and Kurdish diasporas is of great interest.

 

By Cæcilie Svop Jensen

 

On May 20, 2020 a Kurdish association in Denmark organized a protest against Erdogan’s recent arrest of elected HDP mayors, at Nytorv in central Copenhagen. The protest was interrupted by a group of people yelling derogatory words and showing signs of ‘the grey wolves’ a Turkish far-right extremist group. It ended in physical violence when a few from the group collided with the demonstrators, causing one of the participants to be ushered to the hospital with a headwound. Last fall, the notion of a “culture of snitching” in Turkish communities caught the attention of the national media, when members of the Kurdish communities in Denmark had allegedly been reported to the Turkish government, accused of supporting the PKK. In 2018, Kurdish men threw firebombs at the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen and during a Kurdish protest later that same year, members of the Kurdish communities were attacked by Turkish men with bats and knives. Although instances of physical violence are rare, the above serves as examples of how the relationships between Turkish and Kurdish communities in Denmark seem to have intensified in recent years. The understanding of these communities and the nature of their (at times conflictual) relationships, however, is all too often simplified and securitized in media coverage as well as overlooked in academic research. Relatively little has been written on the Turkish and Kurdish diasporas in the Danish context, despite the fact that they are among the largest ethnic minority groups in the country. A little over 60.000 of foreigners and descendants in Denmark have Turkey registered as their country of origin (Danmarks Statistik 2020). L’Institut Kurde de Paris (2016) estimates that between 25.000 and 30.000 Kurdish migrants live in Denmark, making it one of the largest ethnic minority groups in the country along with Turks.

In her study on diasporas and conflict transportation in Sweden, Baser notes how the Turkish-Kurdish conflict serves as an interesting case as mobilization in diasporas has been significant, and the conflict takes distinct local, regional, and transnational forms (Baser 2017, p. 675). However, few studies explore to what extent Kurdish and Turkish diasporas transnationalise conflicts in their home country/ies in Denmark (see Schøtt 2019; Østergaard-Nielsen 2001) and in this context no research has been concerned specifically with the inter-diaspora relationships between Kurds and Turks in Denmark.

Since the outbreak of the war in Syria, mobilization of especially the Kurdish diasporas has increased in Europe, including Denmark (Schøtt 2019, p. 14). As has been argued by Féron and Lefort, little research on conflict and diasporas has been dedicated to investigating how conflict might affect and shape diasporas (2019, p. 35). In her research on the mobilization of Kurdish diasporas in Denmark, Schøtt (2019) shows how the war in Syria has had a profound impact on the nature, intensity, and content of Kurdish mobilization. Among other things, she highlights how the participation of Denmark in the war in Syria, as well as a mobilized community of Kurdish diasporas create an environment where both the host-state as well as the diasporic communities are involved in a conflict opposing the same actor (Schøtt 2019, p. 29). Additionally, the increasing involvement of Turkey in Syria brings up the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in diaspora-mobilization for the war in Syria as well (p. 30). As such, the war adds to the complex configurations of diasporic relations. While Østergaard-Nielsen does discuss ‘conflict import’ in her study on transnational linkages in Turkish and Kurdish organization in Denmark (2001), she does not explore the content and structure of the conflictual relationships between the communities. She notes, however, that at the time of writing Turkish political mobilization seemed relatively small, in stark contrast to, for instance, Germany. Conversely, Baser shows how Turkish political mobilization emerged as a response to Kurdish mobilization in Sweden (Baser 2014), making the case of Denmark interesting for comparative purposes as well. Indeed, Baser, Emanuelsson and Toivanen call for research on little known diasporas for exactly this reason (2015, p. 143).

When it comes to the mobilization of Turkish communities in Denmark, the most recent research dates back to 2010. Bak Jørgensen (2010) explores how the structural limits and opportunities to participation and mobilization set by the host country, affect organization in Turkish (including Kurdish) communities in Denmark. Additionally, little research exists on the relationships among Turkish diaspora groups themselves. Since the coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, it appears that divisions between those supporting Erdogan and those with connection to the Gülen-movement have solidified, according to some members of the Turkish diasporas (Hansen and Nielsen 2018). Danish-Kurdish politician Yildiz Akdogan argues for ‘an extreme polarization’ in Turkish communities since the coup in 2016 (Interview in Maach 2018). Members of the Kurdish and Turkish communities have expressed concern for a deteriorating relationship between Kurds and Turks in Denmark. In an interview from October last year, a number of Danish Kurds stated that the level of trust between Turks and Kurds has worsened since the Turkish invasion in Syria (Barrington Rosendahl 2019), and others state how online forums have intensified their language and violent content circulates more frequently (Tuxen 2019).

While the studies mentioned above do discuss the political mobilization of Kurdish and Turkish diasporas in Denmark respectively, the dynamics at play in the contentious intersections of these communities remain to be investigated. The relevance of researching this is only increased by the lack of nuanced coverage in media and an assumption that transported conflicts among diaspora communities are exact copies of those in the home-countries (Baser 2016, p. 23). It ignores their inherent complexity and arguably fails to encompass the entirety of dynamics operating within and between these communities.

 

Resources 

Bak Jørgensen, M. (2010). Turks in Denmark: Patterns of Incorporation and Collective Organizing Processes, Insight Turkey, Ankara Vol. 12, Iss. 1, (2010): 163-183, available at: https://search.proquest.com/docview/211504699/fulltextPDF/1DD3DA8D6F0A44CCPQ/1?accountid=14242

Baser, B. (2017) Tailoring Strategies According to Ever-Changing Dynamics: The Evolving Image of the Kurdish Diaspora in Germany. Terrorism and Political Violence, 29 (4), 674-691, DOI: 10.1080/09546553.2015.1060226

Baser, B. (2016). Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts: A Comparative Perspective. Taylor and Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315577012

Baser, B. (2014). The Awakening of a Latent Diaspora: The Political Mobilization of First and Second Generation Turkish Migrants in Sweden. Ethnopolitics, 13(4), 355–376. https://doi.org/10.1080/17449057.2014.894175

Baser, B., Emanuelsson, A., & Toivanen, M. (2015). (In)visible spaces and tactics of transnational engagement: A multi-dimensional approach to the Kurdish diaspora. Kurdish Studies (London, England), 3(2), 128–150. https://doi.org/10.33182/ks.v3i2.411

Barrington Rosendahl, N. (2019). Mistroen mellem kurdere og tyrkere i Danmark er steget efter tyrkisk offensiv i Syrien, mener kurdere”, Information, published October 26 2019, available at: https://www.information.dk/indland/2019/10/mistroen-mellem-kurdere-tyrkere-danmark-steget-tyrkisk-offensiv-syrien-mener-kurdere

Danmarks Statistik. (2020). Folketal den 1. i kvartalet. Statistikbanken, available at: https://www.statistikbanken.dk/FOLK1C

Féron, É., & Lefort, B. (2019). Diasporas and conflicts – understanding the nexus. Diaspora Studies, 12(1), 34–51. https://doi.org/10.1080/09739572.2018.1538687

Hansen, R. S. and Nielsen, K. A. (2018). Tre dansk-tyrkere forklarer: Derfor er vi splittede i Danmark. Danmarks Radio, published online March 19 2018, available at: https://www.dr.dk/nyheder/indland/tre-dansk-tyrkere-forklarer-derfor-er-vi-splittede-i-danmark

L’institute Kurde de Paris. (2016). Kurdish Diaspora. Fondation Institute Kurde de Paris, available at: https://www.institutkurde.org/en/info/kurdish-diaspora-1232550988

Maach, L. M. (2018). S-politiker om ‘stikker-sager’: Godt nyt for danske Erdogan-kritikere. Danmarks Radio, published online March 9 2018, available at: https://www.dr.dk/nyheder/politik/s-politiker-om-stikker-sager-godt-nyt-danske-erdogan-kritikere

Schøtt, A. S. (2019). Ambiguous Interplays: Kurdish Diaspora Mobilisation in Denmark from Kobane to Afrin. Københavns Universitet, published June 2019, Copehnhagen

Tuxen, M. (2019). Dana oplever spændinger i danske miljøer: ‘Jeg frygter, at det kan ende i voldelige sammenstød. BT, published October 16 2019, available at: https://www.bt.dk/samfund/dana-oplever-spaendinger-i-danske-miljoeer-jeg-frygter-at-det-kan-ende-i-voldelige

Østergaard-Nielsen, E., 2001: “Politik over grænser: Tyrkeres og Kurderes engagement i det politiske liv i hjemlandet”, Magtudredningen, Århus, Institut for Statskundskab

Élise Féron’s article “Embracing complexity: Diaspora politics as a co-construction” is published in Migration Letters, vol. 17, no. 1. In the article, she argues how attempts to understand diaspora politics as produced mostly in host or home countries, fail to capture the complexity of diasporas as political actors. Instead she proposes to focus on transnational and interstate dimensions of diaspora politics and their ability to move across levels and spheres of engagement. 

DOI: 10.33182/ml.v17i1.758