Nation building online: a case study of Kurdish migrants in Germany.

Author:Candan, Menderes

1 Introduction

The endeavor of nation-building has become easier due to the invention of the Internet. Via the quick transmission and processing of ideas, news, and images, Through Internet geographically longer distances are overcome, enabling an exchange of information in an up to now unknown form. Peoples of various nationalities and ethnicities discover themselves and each other through various online social groups and communities. The transmission of symbols, characters, and myths on websites, e-mail lists, in chat rooms, discussion forums, web blogs, and online newspapers and journals thereby make the engineering, maintenance, and dissemination of "national" identities in transnational cyberspace simpler, cheaper, and much faster than before (cf. Bakker 2001, Diamandaki 2003, Brinkerhoff/Brainard 2003, Eriksen 2006, Ding 2007, Adamson 2008).

Internet and Diaspora (1) research confirms that digital nation-building is a real phenomenon, especially in the case of diaspora communities without a nation-state (e.g. Tamils from Sri Lanka, Tibetans from China, and Kurds from the Middle East). In addition, these groups use the Internet to introduce themselves to the international community as independent ethnicities or nations. With the help of digital lobbying (via online petitioning, demonstrations, awareness training, protest campaigns) they seek to organize support for their objectives. These groups use the Internet to directly influence politics on the international stage (cf. Breidenbach/Zukrigl 2002, Diamandaki 2003, Smith 2004, Geser 2004, Wayland 2004, Vertovec 2005).

This article deals with the process of nation-building of the Kurdish migrants in Germany. The Kurdish diaspora in Germany is one of the world's largest ethnic groups without its own nation-state, numbering approximately 700 000-800 000 members. The Kurdish migrants within Germany are politically relatively very well organized (cf. Emanuelsson 2005, Russel-Johnston 2006, Navend 2008). The central question of this article is, does this process of nation-building through a digital Diaspora without its own nation-state exists within a Diaspora community in Germany and if it does, how is it organized in the virtual cyberspace?

2 Theoretical Framework

The article deals with the theoretical framework of Benedict Anderson's concept of a nation as an "imagined community" or an "imagined nation", a construct in the hearts and minds of the members of that nation. The members of the imagined community feel bonded to a symbolic or real homestead. This bond is supported by language, symbols, myths, and history. Anderson calls these the "raw material of nationalism" (Anderson 1983). These characteristics are transmitted across borders and throughout generations. The collective symbols are disseminated via print media among members of the linguistic or ethnic community, taking a central role in the development and maintenance of group identities, e.g. national identity (Anderson 1983). Therefore nation-building does not crucially depend on physical proximity of the community's members among each other, but upon imagination: "in fact, all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities need to be distinguished not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined" (Anderson 1983).

According to Anderson, a concrete example for this imaginative process is the reading of a daily newspaper. This "takes place in withdrawn privacy, in the 'lion's den of the mind.' Each reader is conscious that his ceremony occurs simultaneously with thousands (or millions). He is convinced about their existence, but no idea about their identity. Significant is the chronological, always recurring flow (mornings at a certain time evenings again at a specific time) of the ceremony" (Anderson 1983). And further Anderson states that "as the newspaper reader observes how exact duplicates of his paper in the subway, at the barbershop, and in his neighborhood are consumed, he uninterruptedly obtains the certainty, that the imagined world is clearly rooted in everyday life (...). The fiction [percolates] softly and steadily into reality thereby engendering this noteworthy confidence in an anonymous community, which is an unmistakable characteristic of a modern nation" (Anderson 1983).

These features of an "imagined community" apply in the same way to the Internet. In the globalized and digital world of the 21st century, the Internet offers the same opportunities as print media did in the 18th, 19th, and to some extent in the 20th century. (2) Certainly, the speed of dissemination, its options of form and the difficulty of control by government institutions, above all for diaspora communities scattered worldwide, leads to an acceleration of this process. Therefore, the Internet could be seen as an extremely effective medium for nation-building (cf. Bakker 2001, Diamandaki 2003, Eriksen 2006).

Anderson himself recognized the potential of the Internet for nation building. In regard to migrants, Anderson pointed out that mass communication and especially the communication opportunities the Internet offers give migrants' groups the ability to communicate day-to-day with their home region, allowing the maintenance of a "long-distance nationalism" within the migrant communities. Some active members of the migrant communities want to participate in the politics of their countries of origin (cf. Anderson 1992).

The present article will apply Anderson's concept of the "imagined nation" to the Internet use of the Kurdish diaspora in Germany. Our aim is to determine if the Internet is used for the purpose of nation building within a digital diaspora community and if the Internet accelerate Anderson's concept of nation building?

3 Current status of research: An Overview

The online occupation with the phenomenon of nation-building is far more developed in the English-speaking literature than in the German one. The process of nation-building through the Internet has been acknowledged by many studies. The socio-political and cultural effects of nation-building, so clear in the offline world, are shown to apply to digital diaspora communities as well. Anderson's idea of the "imagined nation" is frequently applied.

Diamandaki states that "the advantages which the Internet for such groups offers--diaspora communities without nation-states of their own--are immense." Furthermore, it is "clear, that for stateless nations the politics of identity has found in cyberspace an ideal medium for publicity and even mobilization" (2003: 6). Bakker is convinced, that "nationalism is flourishing on the Internet," (2001: 4). Eriksen believes, "one of the most interesting findings in recent research on the use of the Internet is that this technology is often used to strengthen rather than weaken national identities." Furthermore, "the Internet is the key technology to keep nations together" (2006: 3). He goes on to argue that "the power of national myths, symbols and history" (2006: 3) produces in many diaspora communities a national identity that sees political organization and generates a process of nation-building on the same level in the offline world.

In Germany so far, there are no scholarly works that concern specifically with the question of nation-building on the Internet. While some researches touch on the issue of digital Diasporas and explain partially the advantages the Internet can serve, they use socio-cultural or ethnographic frameworks and do not include the perspective of political science (e.g., Grassmuck, Wahjudi, and Olsowski 2000, Breidenbach and Zukrigl 2002, Sokefeld 2002 and Asadi 2003). These hardly delve into the concrete political consequences of the development of digital nation-building for the respective diaspora community, the homeland and also the country of residence.

There is a variety of scientific papers about the Kurds, the Kurdish diaspora and media. However these works discuss either the political activities of the Kurds in Turkey (cf. MacDowall 1996, White 2000, Ozcan 2006) or the use of traditional media (satellite television and newspapers) by the Kurdish diaspora (cf. Hassanpour 1997, Argun 2003). They all do not discuss the particular role of the Internet for the Kurdish diaspora in Germany. Let's see what is the Kurdish internet in Germany is like.

4 Kurdish nation-building on the Internet in Germany: A Case Study

4.1 The Study Group: Kurds in Germany

The Kurds have a large diaspora with an estimated 1.2-1.5 million members in Europe. The overwhelming majority of them (700 000-800 000) live in Germany. (3) Their original homeland was divided by new state borders after World War I. This happened by reason of the establishment of Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq as nation-states. An independent Kurdish state was not established. During the 20th century, that national segregation caused a number of military uprisings by the Kurds in all four mentioned nation-states. The suppression of these revolts in all four states went along with, most of all, the deportation of entire Kurdish "tribes" into exile or a total ban on the Kurdish language and culture in the mentioned states. This led to an official assimilation policy, that in every instance following elicited revolt. During the 20th century millions of Kurds from Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria were pushed to leave their homes and head westward (cf. Amann 2001, Curtis 2005, Russel-Johnston 2006).

The Kurdish diaspora in Germany and in Europe plays an important cultural and political role for Kurds worldwide. Historically the Kurdish diaspora contributed pivotally to the development of a Kurdish national consciousness, both within the diaspora as well as in the home regions. For example, the Kurdish language, literature, and music were banned for a long time in Turkey. In response, members of the diaspora placed special...

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