Great news! The DIASCON team will be hosting two panel sessions on “Diasporas and peace” at the 2022 European Peace Research Association (EuPRA) conference in Tampere from 1-4 June! The title of the conference is “Empowering Peace: The Role of Civil Society in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation” and we look forward to presenting our ongoing research and engaging in exciting discussions with the rest of the participants. Read more about EuPRA and the conference here, and stay tuned for the upcoming programme and additional details!

 

We are happy to share with you that the DIASCON handbook is now fully available online and can be found here: DIASCON HANDBOOK

The  handbook is a result of interviews, workshops and additional research conducted in the frame of the DIASCON project and is intended for practitioners working with diasporas and migrants, civil society organizations and policy makers. It deals with the challenges that diaspora groups originating from areas of conflict face in host country contexts, and further highlights transformative creative practices that can be developed by both diaspora groups and policy makers for overcoming these challenges. 

Our handbook ‘Diasporas and conflict transportation: Challenges and creative practices’ is now ready in print and we are very excited! The handbook is a guide for practitioners working with migrant and diaspora communities and it focuses on inter- and intra-diaspora relations in countries of settlement, as well as on relationships between diaspora organizations, policy makers and policy making. It describes the challenges that diaspora groups originating from areas of conflict face in host country contexts, and further highlights transformative creative practices that can be developed by both diaspora groups and policy makers for overcoming these challenges. 

The handbook is based on interviews with diaspora organizations, with institutions working with diasporas and migrants, with relevant NGOs, as well as on additional research conducted in the frame of the DIASCON project. It also relies on the results of our tripartite workshops held in 2020 and 2021 gathering researchers, civil society organizations, diaspora representatives, and policy makers located in various European countries (notably Denmark, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Ukraine, and the UK).

The handbook will be available online soon! 

Held at the University of Zürich on September 23rd and 24th, project members Bruno Lefort, Élise Féron and Bahar Baser each presented in the workshop “Dealing with the past: transnational dimensions dimensions and diasporic experiences”. Their presentations dealt with transmission of conflict memories in different diasporic spaces. More information and the abstracts can be found here

DIASCON project researcher Élise Féron recently published a chapter entitled ‘Gender and Diasporas’ in Routledge Handbook of Feminist Peace Research, edited by Tarja Väyrynen, Élise Féron, Swati Parashar and Catia C. Confortini. You can find the handbook here: https://www.routledge.com/Routledge-Handbook-of-Feminist-Peace-Research/Vayrynen-Parashar-Feron-Confortini/p/book/9780367109844

By Cæcilie Svop Jensen

 ‘The Kurds are no longer the forgotten people. The world has opened its eyes to the Kurdish nation and undermined the saying ‘no friends but the mountains’’.

The above quote is from an online Facebook post from 2019, in which a Kurdish diaspora organization in Denmark voiced its appreciation of the support for the Kurdish struggle it had received from another Danish organization. With a history of marginalization and oppression, the Kurdish people, in particular those in Turkey, have been fighting a decades long fight for independence and rights in ‘Kurdistan’, a geographical area that spans Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran (Candar 2013). What the quote suggests, is that in the context of Denmark at least, something is happening discursively that change the conventional conflict dynamics and invokes a sense of (seemingly unprecedented) support for the Kurdish struggles. These dynamics are at the center of my research on Kurdish and Turkish diasporas in Denmark, in which I look at online mobilization patterns to investigate how the Kurdish/Turkish conflict is reflected in online mobilization of the diasporas.

Despite their large communities and decades-long migration history, little academic attention has been given to the Kurdish and Turkish diasporas in Denmark (Schøtt 2019), making a study of how they mobilize and potentially transport conflict in the Danish context of great interest. Kurdish and Turkish immigrants and descendants constitute the two largest groups of ethnic minorities in Danish society (Danmarks Statistik 2020; Serinci 2011). Despite occasional clashes between Kurds and Turks (Birk 2019), levels of direct, physical violence seem relatively low compared to for instance Germany (Baser 2017), but communities remain quite mobilized, nonetheless. The visible presence of opposing communities for instance via demonstrations or physical clashes therefore makes for an interesting study for comparative purposes (Emanuelsson et al. 2015). In my research, I tracked four diaspora organizations that are visible and active on Facebook and geographically located in Copenhagen. Online mobilization of diasporas in the context of conflict transportation is similarly rarely investigated and when it is, it is often essentialized as long-distance nationalism and seen as both removed from offline settings or as a space for radical expressions of conflict (cf. Turner 2008; Martin 2019). The choice of using online sources of data collection and digital ethnography, was therefore also an attempt to fill this gap and look at the potential of online data collection for the study of diasporas and conflict.

In Denmark, the online mobilization of Kurdish and Turkish diasporas can be seen as a reflection of conflict, with visible processes of conflict transportation taking place in on- and offline spaces. While symbols, images, group boundaries and discourses are transported and used both in online spaces as well as offline demonstrations and gatherings, mobilization patterns also suggest a much more complicated picture than a simple transportation of conflict. Rather than mobilization being the result and reproduction of the Turkish/Kurdish conflict, it is intertwined with issues such as Muslim rights, women’s rights, other conflicts, equality and Danish welfare state values. The conflict is further reframed in the context of Europe by tying the security of Europe to the security of the Kurdish population in ‘Kurdistan’, the former depending on the latter. This reconstruction of conflict narratives reflects a process of autonomization (Féron 2017), in which conflict can involve different actors and flexible or changing objectives and stakes as it is reenacted in a completely different context.

Additionally, I found that the Danish context influences the repertoires of action used by organizations who navigate in different discursive opportunity structures (Koopmans 2004) than in the countries of origin. While support for the Kurdish struggles is prevalent in Denmark (as the quote also suggests), support for the Turkish government in public discourses is almost non-existent. This affects mobilization in a way that seems to proliferate the involvement of outside actors. In Denmark, ethnic Danes in particular have embraced the support for the Kurdish struggles to an extent where they not only mobilize in collaboration with diaspora organizations, but also mobilize autonomously of them, for instance through demonstrations or even by founding their own support organizations. As such conflict transportation in Denmark is highly influenced by actors that have no prior connection to the conflict, and it influences dynamics in a way that, as the above comment suggests, can even reverse traditional perceptions of Kurdish solidarities.

Organizations mobilizing in support of the Turkish government mobilize to a much larger extent as a reaction to Kurdish mobilization in Denmark. While Kurdish mobilization is mainly triggered by events in the countries of origin, Turkish mobilization is mostly a result of Kurdish mobilization in Denmark, at least if tied directly to the conflict. Turkish organizations benefit from much less public support than Kurdish organizations and they mobilize often for other issues, causes and even conflicts. These processes of deflection or avoidance by the Turkish organizations, in which the stress is put on other issues than the ones with little public support, can therefore potentially be explained as a process of conflict autonomization, where both conflict and mobilization become influenced by and influence the Danish context.

Long-distance nationalism fails to explain the full extent of these mobilization which can be better understood in the context of conflict autonomization. This concept sheds light on more complex dynamics of transported conflicts and helps to understand them as deeply intertwined with both the Danish context and transnational events and actors. Autonomization additionally leaves room for investigating the mitigating effects of conflict transportation, namely how autonomization processes can create or be conducive to varying degrees of ‘peaceful’ co-existence, for instance through practices of avoidance or deflection in the host country context.

My research further suggest that rather than looking at online mobilization as something that is removed from the on-the-ground processes and offline actions, digital spaces allow us to look at both online and offline patterns of mobilization as they are intertwined and influence one another. As has been argued in previous blogposts on DIASCON, the use of digital ethnography, or simply looking at online data when investigating diasporas, should therefore not be seen as inferior to conventional ethnography or offline sources of data. Lastly, online mobilization should not be seen as solely a space of long-distance nationalism and radical behavior. Rather, digital ethnography can be useful as a tool to understand some processes of mobilization that are highly connected to offline mobilization and influenced by host as well as home country settings and other transnational actors.

References

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

Birk, C. (2019). Tyrkere og Kurdere har været i konflikt i årevis i Danmark: Derfor stikker de hinanden. Berlingske Tidende, published August 24 2019, available at: https://www.berlingske.dk/danmark/tyrkere-og-kurdere-har-vaeret-i-konflikt-i-aarevis-i-danmark-derfor

Candar, C. (2013). On Turkey’s Kurdish Question: Its roots, present state, prospects. In Bilgin, F., & Sarihan, A. (2013). Understanding Turkey’s Kurdish question. The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

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

Emanuelsson, AC., Baser, B. & Toivanen, M., (2015). Introduction to peace-building, post-conflict reconstruction, and return migration: a multidimensional approach on the Kurdish diaspora. Special Issue. Kurdish Studies Journal. vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 128-150.

Feron, É. (2017). Transporting and re-inventing conflicts: Conflict-generated diasporas and conflict autonomization. Cooperation and Conflict, vol. 52 (3), pp 360-376

Koopmans, R. (2004). Movements and media: Selection processes and evolutionary dy-namics in the public sphere. Theory and Society 33 (3– 4), 367– 391.

Martin, M. (2019). Rwandan diaspora online: Social connections and identity narratives. Crossings (Bristol), 10(2), 223–241. https://doi.org/10.1386/cjmc_00004_1

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

Serinci, D. (2011). Hvor mange Kurdere bor der i Danmark?. Jiyan, published online Oc-tober 2011, available at: https://jiyan.dk/hvor-mange-kurdere-bor-der-i-danmark/

Turner, S. (2008). Cyberwars of Words: Expressing the Unspeakable in Burundi’s Dias-pora. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies: Diasporic Tensions: The Dilemmas and Conflicts of Transnational Engagement, 34(7), 1161–1180. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691830802230455

 

Written by Bruno Lefort

 

Because the word diaspora originally designates the dispersion of peoples from their homeland, we commonly think diasporic identities in the light of a triple context: their country of settlement, their country of origin, and the transnational space in-between. This becomes even more evident when it comes to reflect on the nexus between diasporas and conflicts. The notion of conflict importation, in particular, emphasizes how the presence of populations originating from war torn areas – or sharing alleged resemblances with specific conflict zones, be it cultural, religious, or ethnic – can lead to the displacement of these battlefronts in the host societies. Although such risks exist, often due to the deployment of transnational networks of mobilization, we should be careful not to lock diasporic populations in confined identities by assuming naturalized bonds between them and their supposed homeland. In the scholarship on diaspora, this danger of essentialization has been aggravated by what Nina Glick Schiller has called the “ethnic association fetish”[1]. By focusing on organized groups, typically with strong political agenda, studies tend to overemphasize the connections that indeed exist between parts of the diasporas and distant conflicts. To avoid reducing diasporic experiences to mechanical identification with and mobilization for homeland politics or conflicts, it is important not to limit our attention to organized collectives and restitute the diversity of diasporic lived realities.

In that perspective, zooming in people’s family and personal trajectories offers an opportunity to critically reexamine the complexity of diasporic identities and, by extension, the possible dynamics shaping their relations to given conflicts. During my fieldwork among Middle Eastern diasporas in Canada, it rapidly became apparent that the general dichotomy between “home” and “host” was misleading. It tends to infer an always-identical movement, often along a North–South divide, wrongfully presented as a unidirectional displacement toward peace and/or opportunities. Dominated by the image of economic success, this trope implies that migration ultimately equates to a teleological drive toward development and security, disregarding the agency of the people on the move. In fact, microanalysis unsurprisingly establishes that migration trajectories do not track along such a simplistic path, but rather follow manifold circuits with a succession of stages and back-and-forth movements. Reconstituting these itineraries allows to grasp the complexity people’s experiences of displacement and trajectories of identification.

 

Example 1: Back and forth across the Atlantic

Born in Canada in the mid-1990s, Mona[2] followed her family back to Lebanon before moving to Saudi Arabia. After she completed high school, she returned to Canada with her mother and siblings. Her father stayed behind as his professional position in Saudi Arabia was considered too much of an asset for the family to abandon. Although she strongly identified as Lebanese and actively took part in the Lebanese student association of her university in Montreal, she nonetheless had strong connections with Saudi Arabia. She also noticed how much the diasporic life distorts so-called cultural identities. In particular, while the Lebanese commonly emphasize the strength of their family bonds as a point of differentiation with other Canadians, she critically reflected on the reality of this assumption. Indeed, in her own life, the distance between her father and the rest of the family generated a sense of disconnection and a growing concern of alienation.

 

Example 2: A “diaspora” within the diaspora

Sylvia was born and raised in Senegal. Her father’s and mother’s families left Lebanon for West Africa in the 1930s and 1950s respectively. After getting married, they moved to Canada for their studies. They later returned to Senegal where they pursued their professional careers. When Sylvia reached university, the entire family settled back to Canada. Once in Montreal, Sylvia tried to connect with fellow Lebanese students, but often failed to feel part of their group, mostly because she never visited Lebanon, nor spoke Arabic. It was only with Lebanese originating from the West African diasporas that she was able to find common grounds. She expressed a complicated relation to her Lebanese identity and her difficulties to understand the divisions that resulted from the history of Lebanon, explaining that for her the intergroup conflicts were unnoticeable in Senegal.

 

Example 3: Mobility and memory of a distant path

Fouad spent all his childhood and youth in Lebanon, before moving to Canada to complete a doctoral degree in Montreal. However, he nonetheless referred to a complex family itinerary. While his father was originating from Palestine, where he was born before being expelled to Lebanon in 1948, his ancestors actually travelled the other way around, leaving Mount Lebanon to establish themselves near Haifa. Fouad often insisted on this past – as well as on the fact that his parents belonged to different religious groups – to underline his ability to adapt to different surroundings. As he himself became a father in Canada, he stressed that he was careful not to confine his son to a single identity, language, or cultural heritage.

These examples of complex itineraries immediately highlight the multiplicity of the resources available for people. Individuals and families took decisions to make the most of the situations in which they were thrown. They also used these diverse experiences to make sense of their life trajectories and construct their sense of belonging, playing with manifold contours and degrees of possible identifications. Exercising their agency, people identified and refused to identify more or less strongly with particular categories of belonging allocated (or simply available) to them in everyday situations, opening up an array of “competing regimes of difference”[3] that they could use to position themselves in interactions. For many among my interlocutors, their awareness of these possibilities even incited them to revendicate alternative identifications disconnected from any personal or family national, ethnic, religious, or cultural background. As Sylvia once put it to me:

Khalil Gibran wrote in one of his books: ‘you are rich of all cultures’. (…) I grew up in Senegal, then I arrived in Montreal, and I’m originally Lebanese…this is in my blood, I cannot change it. (…) I also studied in a French school and I learned other languages like Spanish. (…) When I came to Canada, I realized that I could easily go to Cuba. So, I went and I immersed myself into the Cuban culture. Because I have a passion for dance (…) and I love Latina dances. (…) I would love to do an internship that would allow me to visit South America, but through danse. (…) It’s amazing, when you danse, you immersed yourself into cultures. (…) Yes, I’m Lebanese but as I often told my parents, if I were born in another culture, it would be the culture of Latin America…Spanish or Brazilian…that’s also my universe.[4]

The way people played with these complex identifications could of course be interpreted differently. Sometimes, it appeared that they were trying to adopt what Ranita Ray coins “identities of distance”[5], that is, definitions of identities that evade the stereotypes associated with their marginalized and racialized condition. This could help to present a non-threatening image of themselves, distanced from the dominant images associating Lebanon with conflict and more generally Arabs with radical Islam. However, their aim might also be to simply escape identity assignations imposed on them by the majority population and multicultural institutions, and, in doing so, reaffirm their sense of self and local attachment. In many ways, their efforts reminded me of the elusive move between being acted upon and taking action at the heart of Michael Jackson’s existential anthropology[6].

For us in the DIASCON project, the reality of diasporas’ complex itineraries serves as a powerful reminder. It calls for a careful reexamination of the existing understandings of diasporic identities to better take into account how people shift between multiple (and often interconnected) possible identifications in their daily lives. Fundamentally, this urges to move away from culturally and spatially essentialist concepts that presuppose natural connections between territories, cultures, and belonging. It is especially true when it comes to study the relations between diasporic populations and conflicts. In that perspective, the notion of conflict importation proves particularly problematic as it ultimately assumes a mechanical transposition of conflicting identities between contexts. Instead, we intend to focalize on the eminently political events, actors, and contingencies that shape the nexus between diasporas and conflicts.

 

[1] Nina Glick Schiller. 2013. “The Transnational Migration and Paradigm: Global Perspectives on Migration Research”, in Migration and Organized Civil Society: Rethinking National Policy, edited by Dirk Halm and Zeynep Segin, 25-44. New York: Routledge, p. 29.

[2] All names are pseudonyms to protect people’s anonymity.

[3] Neriko Musha Doerr. 2015. “Commitment of Alterity and Its Disavowal: The Politics of Display of Belonging”. Ethnos, 80 (2), 149-165, p. 162.

[4] Interview with the author (Montreal, April 2017).

[5] Ranita Ray. 2017. “Identity of distance: How economically marginalized Black and Latina women navigate risk discourse and employ feminist ideals”. Social Problems, 65 (4), 456–472.

[6] See, for example, Michael Jackson. 2005. Existential Anthropology: Events, Exigencies and Effects. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.