World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Making the Nation, Performing Stateness: Kurdish Media in Kurdistan and in the Diaspora (148) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE 20, 5.00-7.00pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: European Center for Kurdish Studies (Germany)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Eva-Maria Savelsberg

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The Kurds are spread across Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, in a region called Kurdistan. Kurdish identities have often violently been oppressed by the central states. In return, various Kurdish movements have carried out violent campaigns against these states. The resulting conditions of instability, poverty and lack of safety have prompted many Kurds to leave their places of settlement. Many of them migrated to cities in the Middle East, to European countries, etc. In the Diaspora, Kurds engaged in activities such as creating transnational networks, cultural and political institutions, broadcasting, and writing. However, the Kurds in Iraq recently managed to transform their political autonomy into semi-stateness. New Kurdish media arose, serving as a means to shape national identities and to create imaginations of Kurdistan that center around the experiment in the north of Iraq. This panel is concerned with performances of ‘making the nation’ and with Kurdish imaginations of the nation’s center and periphery as produced in the field of Kurdish media. It begins with a key paper outlining the developments of Kurdish Diaspora while reading these developments at the sight of the emergence of semi-stateness in Iraqi Kurdistan. The panel then continues with papers analyzing practices in the Kurdish journalistic fields, focusing on the production and on representations in newspapers, TV, and new media such as websites.

Chair: Carsten Borck, European Center for Kurdish Studies

Paper presenter: Jordi Tejel, University of Fribourg, Kurdistan: which boundaries to which reality?
Kurdish nationalist movements pursue Kurdish rights not only in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria but also in offices and assembly rooms in Strasbourg, Paris, Berlin, and London. Linked by ideas, institutions, technology, and travel, Kurdish activists have constructed a transnational advocacy community; in Nicole Watts’ words, a kind of ‘Virtual Kurdistan West’ that can not be located on any political map but have come a persistent presence in international affairs. Since 1992 Iraqi Kurdistan has emerged as the core of a political and territorial, albeit with unclear borders, autonomous Kurdistan. The acceptance in the constitution in 2005 of federalism as the new Iraqi state’s system of organization only served to strengthen the centrality of the Iraqi Kurds, both in Iraq and in the Kurdish arena in the Middle East. In fact, nowadays many Kurds, and non-Kurds, consider Iraqi Kurdistan as ‘Kurdistan’ implying that the rest of Kurdish areas in the Middle East are ‘something else’. Therefore, the constructions of ‘Virtual Kurdistan West’ and the consolidation of a ‘Kurdistan’ in Northern Iraq have both two contradictory effects: publicizing the Kurdish issue through the world with important consequences on countries such as Turkey and, at the same time, deepening a diverse evolution of Kurdish areas in the Middle East. This paper will first tackle the dynamics that have triggered the expansion of the Kurdish sphere in the last thirty years. It will analyze the transnational networks established in the West and the centrality (with its advantages and its constraints) of the Iraqi Kurds, both in Iraq and in the Kurdish arena. Finally, the paper will suggest some hypothesis concerning the outcomes of a diverse evolution of ‘Kurdistans’ in the shaping of Kurdish identities.

Paper presenter: Clémence Scalbert Yücel, University of Exeter, Cultural networks from diaspora to homeland and vice versa: The Case of the Kurdish language TV channel Kurd 1
Ever since the early 1980s, the Kurdish diasporic space became progressively structured on the levels of economics, politics and culture. Paris, for example, with the Kurdish Institute, gathers since its establishment in 1983 the ‘cultural producers’ from all over the migratory space. However, the diasporic space is not homogeneous but consists of various centres with specific structures, roles and functions. The paper explores the cultural networks that connect Kurdish migrants, in particular ‘cultural producers’ from all over Europe. It is concerned with the transformation of these networks at the sight of the ‘political liberalisation’ in the home countries (since the late 1990s in Turkey and since 2003 in Iraq) that stimulates return and the development of cultural activities. Focussing on the new Kurdish language TV channel (Kurd 1) in Paris I will examine how networks within the diaspora provide the frame for gathering media workers and executives. Moreover, I will show how old-established networks with the homeland have enabled the foundation of the TV station in Paris and have, in return, promoted the development of ‘public relation’ activities in the homeland. This case study will give new insights in the complex Kurdish diaspora - homeland relationship.

Paper presenter: Thomas Schmidinger, University of Vienna, The Kurdish Diaspora in Austria and its virtual Kurdistan
Other European countries alike, Austria has -since the 1960s- attracted migrants and refugees from all parts of the Kurdish homelands, in particular from Turkey and Iraq. However, whilst most of the Kurdish migrants from Turkey immigrated as socalled ‘Gastarbeiter’, most Kurds from Iraq and Iran were political refugees. Most Syrian Kurds, on the other hand, did not come to Austria before the violent events of Qamishli in 2004. Due to persisting and strong ties to both political and family structures in the homelands, Kurds failed to establish trans-Kurdish organizations and networks. Instead, these entities remained closely tied to either Kurdistan in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Moreover, homeland-made political conflicts between various parties or splinter groups led to hostilities also inside the Kurdish Diaspora in Austria. This conflict can be observed in the mirror of Kurdish media in Austria. Therefore, this paper turns the attention to the consumption of media by Kurds in Austria. It will give an account of newspapers, websites, TV and radio broadcast, in particular those produced by the Kurds themselves, and analyse the impact of media perception and media production on the ongoing structuration of the Kurdish Diaspora in Austria.

Paper presenter: Eva Savelsberg , European Center for Kurdish Studies, The Making of the ‘Al-Qamishli Uprising’ by Kurdish internet sites in the Diaspora
In March 2004 violent mass demonstrations and anti-Syrian rallies took place in the Kurdish regions of Syria as well as in Aleppo and Damascus. Demonstrations of this magnitude had never before occurred in the history of the Syrian Kurds. The sheer number of demonstrators and the fact that the unrest encompassed all of ‘Syrian Kurdistan’ was new. The reaction of the Syrian state was accordingly harsh - the number of those killed or arrested was unparalleled in comparison with earlier events. Yet another new phenomenon was the coverage in the trans-Kurdish and ‘Western’ media. Kurdish internet sites played a significant role in producing news, supported by photographs and films. According to the director of one of these websites, they ‘fought their own war against the Syrian government’. This paper examines the role Kurdish internet sites operated in the diaspora have played in the events of 2004. It argues that the producers of these sites did not simply aim to inform the international community about the ‘massacre’ against the Syrian Kurds, but also tried to take significant influence in the political events and decisions of March 2004. Moreover, the paper will have a closer look on the images of Syrian Kurds presented (the ‘voiceless victim of Arab brutality’ versus the ‘martyr fighting for its national rights’) on sites as and .