Mobilizing the Diaspora: Kurdish and Berber Movements in Comparative Perspective

By Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Ofra Bengio,
Submitted to Session P2276 (Political Thought and Nationalism, 2009 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
Algeria; Europe; Fertile Crescent; Iraq; Kurdistan; Maghreb; Mediterranean Countries; Morocco;
19th-21st Centuries; Diaspora/Refugee Studies; Identity/Representation; Kurdish Studies; Maghreb Studies; Minorities; Nationalism; Sociolinguistics; Transnationalism;
This paper will be a comparative analysis of the role of Diaspora communities among the Kurds of the Fertile Crescent and the Berbers of North Africa - the two most prominent cases of ethno-national “imagining” in the MENA region in recent years, Kurds and Berbers are both “non-dominant” ethnic groups, in Miroslav Hrosch’s term, operating within the realm of territorial nation-states dominated by a different ethnic group (Arab, Turkic, Persian), one which has been historically hostile towards alternative conceptions of the political and social order. In the increasing globalized world, and in the face of repression by “national” governments, members of each group have migrated in significant numbers to Western Europe. There they have benefited from political freedoms and a new global discourse on minority language and cultural rights to engage in important intellectual, cultural and political activities on behalf of their respective causes which, at bottom, challenge the hegemonic ethos of existing national-territorial states in the MENA region. Inevitably, this has also sharpened the hybrid nature of their identities, in ways which distinguish them from those still residing in the “homeland.” Our paper, part of a larger ongoing comparative study of the nature of Kurdish and Berber ethnic self-assertion, will address the following subjects:

1. The impact of the Diasporas on nation-building and state-building in their respective communities. What are the political dynamics of the two-way street: how do the Diaspora branches of the Kurdish and Berber movements, respectively, interact with their “home” branches? What are their relations with their “host” states? How do they act to mobilize their own Diaspora communities?
2. Identity inputs – how do Diaspora identity projects – intellectual, cultural, social – contribute to the shaping of modern Kurdish and Berber identities, both in their “home” countries and outside, respectively? What is the role of the “new media”, from satellite TV to Facebook, in the building of trans-national Kurdish and Berber communities?
3. How attuned, and how much interaction is there between Berbers and Kurds in the Diaspora, and with other European ethno-cultural/sub-national/trans-national groups, e.g., the Catalans, the Basques, the Bretons?