Importation of Homeland Conflicts to the Diaspora
On 9 January 2013, PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) co-founder Sakine Cansiz, and Kurdish activists Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez were shot dead at the Kurdistan Information Centre in Paris. A Turkish man, who had infiltrated Kurdish organizations by pretending to be Kurdish in order to gain their trust and had remained unrecognized for a long time, was arrested in France and accused of executing the three women. Many suspect that he has connections to the Turkish Intelligence Service, although these claims have yet to be proven. The murders occurred at a time when a so-called ‘peace process’ was evolving in Turkey and there were negotiations between the Turkish state and the PKK leadership. Cansiz was not only a legend among PKK members; she was also highly respected among Kurdish diaspora members who belonged to different political parties within the Kurdish movement. On the day of the incident, many Kurds from different parts of Kurdistan who reside in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and other European countries set off to Paris in order to protest the murders. Thousands of people marched through Paris, shouting slogans and mourning the loss of a prominent figure in their struggle.
This protest marked a seminal moment for the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. It not only showed that the movement was truly transnational as members of the diaspora from numerous countries got together in such a short time and synchronized their discourse, pain, struggle and resistance among thousands that crossed the borders of nation-states, but it also demonstrated that in this transnational space Kurds have many friends as the protests included human rights and advocacy groups, French politicians and leftist diaspora groups from Turkey as well as other stateless groups such as Tamils. New solidarity nodes were created in the diaspora spaces besides reproducing the already existing ones. More importantly, this event showed that the feud between the Turkish state and the PKK has become a domestic issue in the host countries where Turks and Kurds reside.
The Turkish–Kurdish conflict has diffused outside the Turkish state borders and it can be observed at various levels: sociability between the two communities, violent and non-violent confrontational encounters, political competition between diaspora organizations, PR wars, Kurdish lobby efforts at local, national and supranational levels, Turkish responses to Kurdish diasporic activism, pawns of the Turkish state in the diaspora space, ‘deep state’ involvements’ and diplomatic interventions. During the last few decades, Turkish and Kurdish diaspora members have been challenging each other in various kinds of ways at individual, organizational and diplomatic levels.
These mechanisms may be undetected by the hostland policy makers as well as by the public, unless they become perceptible through overt confrontations.
For instance, a protest organized by elements of the Turkish diaspora in Germany in order to commemorate Turkish soldiers killed by the PKK as martyrs was a remarkable event that many respondents referred to during our conversations. Diaspora members carried empty coffins covered with Turkish flags and ‘damned’ ‘PKK terrorism’. These types of events were repeated after every critical juncture in Turkey related to the clashes with the PKK and they did not always stay peaceful. For example, during the summer of 2011, some 600 Turks gathered in Stuttgart in order to condemn the PKK. PKK sympathizers immediately began a counter-protest and burned a Turkish flag. Events took a turn for the worse when the protestors started throwing stones at each other, and at the German police, which also resulted in damage to surrounding businesses.1
Again in the autumn of 2011, dozens of people were wounded or arrested in the Netherlands after a fight broke out between Turks and Kurds. In the aftermath of these events, several Kurdish associations sent petitions to the Dutch police asking for protection from Turkish ultra-nationalist attacks.2
Many of those who participated in these violent encounters belonged to the second-generation.
To give further examples of how the conflict in Turkey affects the diaspora groups, the following statements selected from the interviews conducted during my fieldwork in Germany and Sweden may be useful:
Some Kurds say they come from Kurdistan. But where is this country? Who says it exists? They just live in a dream world. The funny thing is that they keep saying they are from Kurdistan even though they have Turkish passports in their pockets … Maybe it is easier to live in a dream world when you are in Germany … (Turkish interviewee, Germany)
My parents left their relatives behind. I cannot block them out and forget I am a Kurd. My views are also connected with the political situation in the country. If Kurdistan were free, then I could focus on other things like enjoying my life. (Kurdish interviewee, Sweden)
These testimonies offer an insight into current perceptions of the situation. For example: the denial of the existence of Kurdistan, the urge to ‘defend Turkey’ from afar and protect its image in the eyes of the host society, and the notion of having a ‘duty’ towards saving Kurdistan. What is interesting about all these quotes is that they are all rooted in discourses that we are accustomed to hearing in Turkey, and yet they were voiced by Turks and Kurds who were born outside Turkey
and who have never lived
in the territory where the actual conflict exists. Therefore, the conflict in Turkey has not only been diffused to Europe by the
flow of migrants, it is also regenerated in different forms in the diaspora through generational continuation.
The statements above show traces of ‘diaspora nationalism’ which is a form of ethnic nationalism defined by A. Smith as ‘an ideological movement to secure for a self-defined ethnocultural population collective autonomy, unity and identity by restoring its members to their historic homeland’ (2010: 4). In other words, they are long-distance nationalists (Anderson 1992, 1998, Fouron and Glick-Schiller 2002) who preserved loyalties for a homeland they were not born in and for an ethnic identity they have developed from afar. The formation of their identity has been affected by ‘the combined impact of both the ethnic conflict and international migration’ (Sirkeci 2006: 271) which makes it worthy of further analysis.
This book investigates the importation of homeland conflicts to the host countries and the generational continuation of these contentious dynamics. It analyses diaspora nationalism among second-generation3
Turkish and Kurdish4
Diasporas in Sweden and Germany and seeks to clarify their interest in, and devotion to, a political context that they have never experienced at first-hand. In order to show how the conflict dynamics are inherited, restructured and generated, it also gives a solid background of the political transnationalism of the first generation which set the scene for the upcoming generations. The aim is to highlight how the repercussions of the conflict in Turkey are reflected in the interactions between these two groups. By interaction, I refer to the inter-ethnic relationships between Turkish and Kurdish diaspora members that are formed in the hostland. I look at how the interviewees were antagonized by the conflict in Turkey and how their perceptions about ‘the other’ affect their preferences while they construct their social and political circles both at the individual and organizational level. Although my findings show that the conflict in Turkey adversely affects the relationship between the two ethnic groups, the animosity and conflict dynamics are not an exact reflection of the situation in the homeland. The argument of this book is that the hostland has both a direct and indirect impact on the evolution of these inter-ethnic relations through its politics and policies. Moreover, there are other factors such as the profile of the first-generation migrants as well as the size and the composition of the communities that play a role in the structural transformation of conflict dynamics. The primary research questions that this book seeks to answer are:
• How does the Turkish–Kurdish conflict affect the interactions between the Turkish and Kurdish Diasporas in Sweden and Germany?
• In what ways are contentions inherited and reinterpreted by the second generation?
• What is the impact of the hostland’s policies and politics on the interactions between the spaces of contention and interaction between these diaspora groups?
I discover the mechanisms by which the second-generation mobilizes in order to engage in political mechanisms in the homeland or in the hostland in the name of the politics of that homeland. Therefore, this is not an inquiry about the sense-of-belonging and integration of the second-generation to the host countries but instead it is about how the second-generation who have already developed a long distance nationalism to the ancestral homeland engages in political transnationalism. The mobilization of the second-generation diaspora members is vastly complex and more diverse than that of their parents, and I believe that their interactions with the adversary groups demonstrate more clearly the impact of hostland policies and politics on the reconstruction of tensions from afar. Moreover, looking at the second-generation diaspora activism helps us to understand better the capacity of nationalist activities in the diaspora and their persistence in terms of generational continuation (Skrbis 2001) as well as offering a more profound analysis of the ways in which the hostland policies and politics contribute to a diasporization process of the second generation and their repertoires of action.
Sweden and Germany are selected as case studies since they both have significant populations of non-European migrants and in particular they have Turkish and Kurdish populations that show diasporic tendencies, making them relevant cases for comparison. These two cases show a great deal of variation in terms of receiving the Turkish and Kurdish migrants which gives me the opportunity to compare and contrast the host country’s impact on inter-ethnic relations in diaspora spaces. A comparison of their approaches to migrant incorporation, multiculturalism as a formal state policy, the corporatist structures that they have developed with migrant organizations, the profile of the migrants they have received and their approach to the conflict in Turkey is fruitful as it sheds light on the dynamics behind diffusion of conflict dynamics to the host states. Sweden is particularly important for the Kurdish movement as it is considered as the core of the diaspora activities in Europe which are more in the linguistic and cultural realm while Germany is considered as the heart of the PKK mobilization in Europe. In Sweden, the Turkish community is much more homogeneous than the Turkish community in Germany as more than half of the community is from a small town called Kulu (Konya) and this fact has a tremendous impact on the organizational behaviour in the Swedish context. Germany on the other hand is a political environment which was fertile for numerous idological, religious and ethnic movements from Turkey and it has undoubtedly the most influential Turkish diaspora in Europe. Moreover, the contentions between the two groups show a great deal of variation in these countries. While Germany became the scene for numerous violent inter and intra-group confrontations, there has been
no noted collective violence among groups from Turkey in Sweden. As a result of extensive fieldwork in Sweden and Germany, as well as in other countries in Europe such as France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, I analysed this variation of diasporic activities by specifically focusing on the hostland context and showed that conflict dynamics can be rooted in homeland conflicts although they go through a tremendous transformation through the impact of both generational continuation and hostland policies and politics that prepare political and discursive environments for them.
A Critical Approach to Imported Conflicts
In recent decades ‘diasporas’ have become an increasingly popular topic for researchers, and continue to gain increasing recognition in the academic world (Cochrane 2007, Adamson 2012: 25, Baser and Swain 2008). Today we find an abundance of literature that focuses on various aspects of diaspora formation and mobilization – combining previous work on subjects such as migration, integration and social movements with emerging studies on transnationalism. The term has long been used to refer to specific dispersed groups such as Jews and Armenians, while currently it is also being used to describe expatriates, exiles, refugees, immigrants and, in particular, displaced communities and ethnic minorities (Cheran 2004: 2, Shuval 2000: 41, Tololyan 1991: 4). Demmers (2007) attributes the political weight that the diaspora groups have gained during recent decades to the rise of new patterns of conflict: the increase in the number of intra-state wars, the rapid rise in war refugees, developments in technology and communication and, finally, the increased production of cultural and political boundaries. These changes have paved the way for the diaspora groups to become one of the most important non-state actors in the global arena. In Lyons and Mandaville’s (2012: 12) words ‘globalization has made diaspora mobilization an increasingly attractive, effective and hence more commonly deployed political strategy’. As Bordes-Benayoun (2010: 48) explains ‘what was a painful condition in the past has gained a positive status’ and being a diaspora has become ‘a force and a political slogan’.
Understanding the behaviour of diaspora communities gained increasing importance following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which threw a spotlight on migrants and their loyalties to their home/host country. Diasporas as the non-state actors who influence homeland conflicts from afar as external players, by political support for insurgent movements, sending remittances, lobbying, have become a subject of debate for social scientists as well as policy makers (Miodownik et al. 2014: 4, Lyons and Mandaville 2012). Many cases of conflict in the Middle East, Caucasus, and South Asia have been exposed to diaspora influences. As a result of the better dissemination of information and improved communication, diasporas have greater potential to interact between the homeland and hostland (Demmers 2007, Baser and Swain 2008, Cochrane et al. 2009).
In the literature, there has been a growing tendency to focus on the attachments of diaspora groups to the homeland and their role as peace-makers or peace-wreckers in homeland conflicts (Smith 2007). However, the issue of conflict diffusion to the host country and the interactions between rival groups has been understudied. So much emphasis is placed on the ties between the diaspora communities and the homeland that the issue of how diaspora involvement in homeland conflicts affects the forms of inter-ethnic interactions in the host country has been largely overlooked (Brown 2004: 6). For instance, a recent edited volume by Checkel (2013) focused on the diffusion of civil wars to transnational space and aimed at reconceptualizing and theorizing the causal mechanisms behind this diffusion. Although it was a very well written volume, the focus was still on the impact of transnational involvement to homeland conflicts but there was no focus on how the tensions between two adversary groups diffuse to the host countries. If we consider that many of Europe’s immigrants ‘originate from countries with violent intra-state conflicts between different social groups’ (Hanrath 2011a: 2), the transportation of conflicts to the current countries of residence seems impossible to leave out of the account. Recent efforts to explain the diffusion of conflicts have also more often than not taken on a security studies lens (Faist 2004) which has made them undermine the causal mechanisms, societal implications and the historical context of conflict difusion to the transnational space. This book goes one step further than existing studies by examining how an ethnic conflict in the homeland is carried across borders with the migration of both ethnic groups and how it is recreated in a transnational space through generational continuation. It has a critical approach to the newly emerging phenomenon of imported conflicts
and by contesting the existing and elemantary explanations it aims at recontextualizing and conceptualizing the term.
The Scope of the Book
This book focuses on case studies that represent a low-scale civil war in Turkey. I found it particularly important to focus on a civil war situation because it makes the issue much more complex as we will not be looking at the usual foreign policy issues but instead at power dynamics, rivalries and alliances among groups from the same homeland. Most of the violent conflicts fought since the Cold War have been intra-state conflicts as civil war has become the dominant model for organized violence in this era (Checkel 2013: 3). As Miodownik et al. (2014) suggest, intrastate armed conflicts, whether of low or high intensity, are the most pronounced form of organized violence in the world today. Thousands of people from all over the world from countries such as Sudan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are wounded, killed or internally or internationally displaced every day (ibid.). These wars are not a purely domestic phenomena anymore (King and Melvin 1999, Cederman et al. 2009). Instead, intra-state conflicts, which have ethnic, religious or ideological characteristics, are ‘increasingly becoming dispersed and delocalized’ (Demmers 2002: 85). Many of these conflicts, both
major and minor, and mainly in Asia and Africa, force large numbers of people to migrate either regionally or internationally (Zunzer 2005). As a result of migration, members of conflicting parties find themselves in new countries of residence that have different contexts of rights, duties and opportunity structures. Leaving the homeland behind does not necessarily mean that the grudges and grievances between the two parties are forgotten. Instead, they may be carried to the new country of residence and take on a different form. Moreover, the conflicts, whether ongoing or recently ended, play a crucial role in how various migrants construct their identities and how they position themselves politically in their new country of residence (Sirkeci 2006). This condition is termed by some scholars as diffusion of domestic politics
(Ostergaard-Nielsen 2006), transported conflicts
(INFOCON Project 2011), conflict import
(Feron 2013, Pirkkalainen and Abdile 2009, Baser 2012, Mosaic Institute Project 2013), transfer of clandestine political resistance networks
(Eccarius-Kelly 2002) or transnationalization of homeland conflicts
(Van Bruinessen 2000).
Of course, the diffusion of conflicts by migration flows is not a new phenomenon, however scholars agree that it has become much more visible, durable and frequent during the last couple of decades. Migrants, refugees, and those in exile searched for justice or some kind of closure outside the borders of their homeland long before the social scientists decided to recirculate the concept of diaspora back to the literature. What makes the issue different today is perhaps the post-9/11 discourse which has tended to analyse the activities of diaspora groups from a securitization angle and to investigate their constructive and destructive contributions and what motivates them to choose one of these ends (Brinkerhoff 2008: 68). Many scholars, policy makers as well as the media have approached the activism of diaspora groups and their non-transparent relations with their homelands as a potential security threat for the country of residence. The common perception in the West is that ‘diasporas are dangerous insofar as they bring with them the homeland conflict and thereby threaten the social cohesion of those countries where they eventually settle’ (Pirkkalainen and Abdile 2009: 22). Imported conflicts, in this regard, have been mentioned by politicians as a threat to social cohesion (Perrin and Martiniello 2011a: 89). In particular, diasporas which came from conflict zones and mobilized for homeland politics have come under the surveillance of the host states.