The interaction and influence of the Kurdish Diaspora Europe
At the beginning of my contribution, I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to Erbil. I am glad to be here and will start my lecture in English, ending it —if you allow me— in Kurdish.
First of all, let me present my thesis: "The interaction and influence of the Kurdish Diaspora will exercise an important cultural, social and political influence on the development of democracy in Iraq-Kurdistan", and I'll try to back this up by the following exposition:
The immigration of Kurds did not start in 1963 with the arrival of so—called foreign workers in Europe. Not only in Germany, but in the whole of Europe, the afflux of Kurds started already by the end of the 18th century, when they came to European cities as members of prominent families or as employees of the Persian and Ottoman Empires for the purpose of studies or on a diplomatic mission. Later on, Kurdish students from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey arrived in Europe to study there. At another stage, migrant workers followed, in particular from Turkey. And at a further stage, for reasons of war, expulsion, flight and persecution, Kurdish refugees from various Kurdish regions turned up in Europe, especially in Germany.
It can be stated already here that —regarding the process of development of a Kurdish diaspora— we are facing the phenomenon of migration in all its variations, like expulsion and flight, foreign work or emigration. If we assume that 600,000 Kurdish migrant workers came from Turkey and suppose, through conservative calculation, about 265,000 Kurdish refugees, then the number of Kurds in Germany should be around 865,000. At a cautious estimate, the number of Kurds in Western Europe amounts to between 1.250,000 and 1.500,00 (Kizilhan, 2002).
That great number of Kurds in Europe has consequences, which for various reasons are hardly noticed in the political sphere of the European Union. Today, the Kurds are still looked at from the angle of internal security, and their importance for Europe as well as that of the Kurds in their country of origin is not yet adequately taken into consideration.
As for the social structure in Europe, the Kurds and other migration groups are faced with minority and ethnicity phenomena. The existence of alien points of reference (territories, institutions, convictions, languages) creates relations of centre and periphery, majority and minority; and regarding duration and perspective of territorial and perceptive discontinuity, the problems of strangeness and familiarity, acculturation and assimilation, loss and gain of identity, lack and perspective of history are turning up.
At the same time, the subsequent generations of Kurds in Europe have undergone during the last 10 years a promising integration connected also with the development in their country of origin. The successful evolution of Kurds in Iraq inspires all Kurds in Europe and changes their attitude with regard to the political vision and perspective for migration life. While the Kurdish leaders in Iraq some time ago still had to fight in the mountains, the Kurdish citizens in Europe see Kurdish leaders in important media, they watch their political commitment on the international stage. This is an inspiration for the Kurds in Europe, they discover feelings, pride and satisfaction. The European way of life, above all democracy, is appreciated in particular by the Kurds in Europe on account of their sorrowful history, and they support a democratic culture in Iraq-Kurdistan.
Kurdistan in and at the border of Europe
The fact that the European Union has chosen Turkey in Helsinki as a membership candidate and started membership talks in October 2005, suggests in perspective not only a grown interest in Turkey, but also in the Middle East and, as a result, in the Kurds, too. Such an interest cannot solely be reduced to economic advantages or the extension of the European community of values, but is connected with the increased claim of the EU to act as an international peacekeeper. For that purpose, it wishes to use the "power factor" Turkey which might fulfil a stabilizing function in the region. In this connection, however, it is necessary for Turkey to grant the Kurds in Turkey more rights, to recognize Iraq-Kurdistan as its neighbour and to cooperate in various fields. By cooperating with the Kurds who, as everybody knows, live in today's Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, a better and long—term stabilization in the Middle East will be achieved.
From the European point of view, Iraq-Kurdistan, therefore, ought to get a new and important role in politics and economy. The Kurdish lobbyists, businessmen, graduates, NGOs etc. might be a major bridge of relations and interaction. Even if many people consider it at present as being too utopian, this is a very deliberate development in Turkey which cautiously tries to establish on different levels a link to Iraq-Kurdistan. If Iraq-Kurdistan will be stable enough, one won't be able to avoid accepting it fully as a partner. In the end, it amounts to the simple question of how great importance the EU attaches to its claim to be a peacemaker and to its influence in the Arab region.
In connection with this idea, the relationship of EU with Turkey will certainly also influence the situation of the Kurds in Turkey in a positive way. Due to sorrowful experience, the Kurds of course are very sceptical, whether Turkey will be able at all to implement the reforms started and promised, and to adhere to them. The Kurds' experience from the past shows that practice is the only criterion.
The idea of a united Europe
In Western Europe, Kurds day by day experience the possibility to freely move around, making trips from one country to another without any problems. Umbrella organizations of the Kurds actively work at the same time in various countries of Europe. Living and experiencing democracy in Europe leads the majority of Kurds to firmly believe that a political solution of the Kurdish conflict for instance in Turkey or of the Iraq-Kurdistan issue is closely connected with democratizing the society. The old pattern of uprising and repression ought to be abandoned for a cooperative solution of the ethnic groups. The Kurds and their manifold organizations and parties are prepared to settle existing conflicts peacefully, in the interest of the peoples in the Middle East, and show a high willingness to compromise, which should not mean the sellout of Kurdish interests, though. Here, the supranational orientation of EU to overcome the nationalistic alignment of societies in the Middle East can be an important help. Demanding democratization shall not be understood as a demand on Iraq and Iraq-Kurdistan alone. The organization forms grown in longstanding warfare, too, as well as the traditional behaviour shall be subjected to a process of democratization. This goes both for the Kurdish organizations in the country of origin as well as in Europe. For that, an internal process of peaceful policy is necessary, like the one we can watch at present with great joy between the Democratic Party of Kurdistan and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Regarding the change in Kurdish organizations, this can mean decentralization, the opening up of wide discussion schemes and the toleration of varying opinions, and it must not contain a transfiguration of the past only. Essential for all conflict parties as well is to show their willingness to settle conflicts in a civilian way, thus getting away from violent solutions.
Furthermore, it will be necessary to fight for democratization of the Kurds not only in Iraq-Kurdistan. Necessary on the contrary is an international interlink with democratic organizations and institutions abroad, too. Developing official and secret projects to overcome conflict with the aim to create a rapprochement are important attempts which ought to be started soon, among other things with the support of European governments and the EU Parliament. Steady and trustworthy work is imperative here. In this connection, the Kurdish diaspora can play a special part as culture and language mediator.
Discussion contacts between Kurdish representatives from Iraq-Kurdistan and the European countries are important and should be supported, but they ought to be pursued not only on the highest level, but also in full width and depth between members of parliament, officials, journalists, economic associations and trade unions, NGOs, scientific institutions and so on. Regarding the complex political decision—making process within the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the EU Commission, regarding the political discourse in Europe, the political priorities and sensitive feelings there, the Kurdish leaders and executives from all spheres have, due to their few existing contacts, only very vague or even wrong ideas. The feeling of mutual strangeness and of talking at cross—purposes is still prevailing. In Europe, too, there are —apart from a few scientific experts— not many decision—makers in policy, officialdom, media, economy etc. who know the Kurds and in particular Iraq-Kurdistan and who strive for a regular discussion contact, an exchange of views and experience. This is problematical, because thus, misunderstandings and misinterpretations on both sides are preprogrammed. You become time and again painfully aware of this in discussions between Kurdish and European politicians. The faults of some Kurdish organizations in the 1990s today still result in a negative generalization of the overall Kurdish picture in Europe.
The emancipation of the citizen and the society from the state, the vitalization and mobilization of a liberal and pluralistic society within a legal framework generously set up by the state, is a central precondition for further developing and stabilizing democracy and the constitutional state in every state. However, since a change in mentality and consciousness within the political, bureaucratic and military elite is required for that, the objective cannot be reached overnight. Laws can be amended comparatively quickly, if there is a parliamentary majority and a political will for that. But the implementation and application of the laws appropriate to their spirit can be guaranteed only, if the attitude of those applying these laws, too, has changed correspondingly. In this connection, the experience of the Kurds in the diaspora can be of special importance for Iraq-Kurdistan. Their experience can be integrated into this process. At the executive level of the Kurdish elite in Iraq-Kurdistan, we see already today a large number of personalities who studied in Europe and have lived there for a long time. These experiences will undoubtedly enrich the democratic process. The process of democratization can certainly be implemented easier, if started by several states of the Middle East, which of course does not mean that the Kurds for that reason ought to refrain from it. Just for a homogenous society like the Kurds with their historic experience and culture, democracy is a must. As an example, let me just mention the role of women who are champions for a growing civilian society and who will in future still play a significant part. These internal developments and the effort for recognition by the West have helped to bring along a change of the political scenery in Iraq-Kurdistan. It's true, the renowned leaders of the armed resistance have not reached the point yet to see themselves as simple citizens or mere political representatives, but the original (and for the region typical) model of a one—party state after all has been replaced already by a kind of experimental scheme for a pluralistic democracy.
Coming to terms with the past as basis for developing new conceptions
If the Kurds in the diaspora or in their country of origin wish to go for new conceptions, they have to face their common past and analyse it, in order to be able to develop new perspectives. When looking back at the past, one can assume on an internal level that —although Kurds in all generations have never ceased to think about the meaning of history— historiography held a marginal part and often did not exist at all. While remembering, the past has always been, and still is, a central factor in Kurdish life, the historians, as a result, have not been its main custodians. The collective memory and historiography still count on oral legends which reflect the political thinking and acting. Orally handing down history can be understood as supplement and enrichment of scientific historiography only. Preserving the dreadful experiences (massacres, genocides, flight, expulsion, etc.), communicative and cultural memory reached a clear temporal consensus; the communicative memory lacked a scientific backing typical for modern societies, which in migration circumstances was often imperceptibly replaced by cultural symbolization and identity formation.
Therefore, I assume in another thesis that new conceptions and new theoretical considerations for shaping common units ought to be developed for the Kurdish society. Are cognitive minorities, for instance, able to ensure their solidarity and fellow feeling in the long run by striving for consistency? What measures are necessary to develop efficient strategies for survival? Modern societies and their cultural achievements show a temporal design, that is, the speed of transformation increases, "technology" and "media" have the dynamism of civilization in tow. Danger is growing that the continuity interests of groups fall by the sideway, since the Kurdish movement did not dispose so far of institutional "control and preservation bodies". To my mind, this would not be the case with a social movement grown in history and its socialization agencies, or with a conscious Kurdish migration society. Necessary for the Kurdish society, therefore, seems to me to have a discussion about forming groups, about their duration and function regarding the diaspora and the relationships to Kurdistan, so that they are more durable, more effective, and that the collective memory's inheritance may be passed in good condition on to the next generation.
The connection between social groups and a "spirit" equipped with a specific sensibility for the temporal means real preservation and a sound further development so important for the survival of a community. Just here, one forgets the micro—units of society over and over again.
One of my other theses, therefore, is: No large society, but the partial groups of it, like families, occupational groups, religious communities, ought to form the framework for social organizations with the spirit of a temporal mission, each of them being indebted to different collective memories. They are the reference groups producing those ideas and pictures of circumstances and persons which stick in mind and condense into history and thus into a growing fundament. The dynamic process of micro—units of society with their genetic process of collective group memory, therefore, enables a lasting and consistent group process. Certain real manifestations of common interest which keep the memory alive are necessary, for instance, for the chance of a collective memory to become decisive reality.
It seems plausible and understandable that socio—cultural substance suggests in fact a lasting existence of groups. Within the social process, we nevertheless detect more and more distinctly a trend of tradition disintegration, since time references are brought to disappear by medial conformity and fall prey to a synchronization. Particularly privileged persons, elites etc. as action—related minorities, at best, are able to preserve memory capital and provide consistency. The Kurdish population exposed to normal social present—day influences feels rather thrown back to itself and is more haunted by the concern to loose the individual memory. As a result, self—transference to a collective heritage is rather an exception than the rule. Therefore, it is necessary to publicly deliver and preserve a common history and religious convictions understood as a life and action continuity to really be experienced across all places.
Relationships between Kurds in migration and in the country of origin
From the subjects discussed and shortly broached so far, I would like to treat now some issues I consider necessary for the Kurds in migration, but which could and should be supported for instance by the government in Iraq-Kurdistan, too, for a sound integration in migration without the Kurds having to give up their identity. This may also be in the interest of the government and people in Iraq-Kurdistan.
First of all, there are among others the following levels of general nature, meaning they probably also go for other migration groups:
• Social level: Assumption of professional and social positions and roles within the receiving society (employee, pupil/student, club member, etc.).
• Legal level: Acceptance of the legal system of the receiving society. In order to safeguard his rights, the migrant makes use of the standards and ways of the constitutional state. The legal integration, i.e. the acceptance of the legal system, is also of great importance for preserving social peace.
• Cultural level: Assumption of the language, standards, values, ways of life and habits of the receiving society.
• Political level: The decisive step to political integration is the granting of citizenship. This comprises also the active and passive participation in political and social organizations.
Individual integration into the European society is no contradiction and could comprise the above issues. For the integration, not assimilation, as group of Kurds, the shaping of relationships between the Kurdish diaspora and the country of origin is of particular importance. With the help of some keywords, I would like to outline a picture of a possible interaction.
• Solidarity: In emergencies (flight, natural disasters, war, famine, etc.), helping each other both in migration and in the country of origin. For that purpose, appropriate organizations could be established, or those already existing could assume these jobs. The Kurdish migration community ought to have networks for it.
• Communication networks: Worldwide communication facilities with other Kurdish communities.
• Internalized communication codes: The cohesion via internalized codes of a jointly read cultural language with own symbolism could become the main item of the dynamism of the Kurdish diaspora. Mediating the community of history and fate, jointly understood and felt, through all geographic, social and temporal distances. Scientific institutions and universities in Iraq-Kurdistan and Europe could make here an important contribution.
• System—immanent political behaviour: Using the advantages of worldwide relationships and worldwide education and offering them to the respective country of residence, but also, directly and indirectly, for the benefit of the community at home. Renouncing a claim to power as group in migration.
• New institutions and organizations: Setting up and developing social, cultural, political and scientific networks with the option of a worldwide cooperation.
• Defining the notion of migration for Kurds and their relationship with the country of origin. For that, the position of currently existing organizations, associations and clubs is of importance. This goes not only for migration in the Western world, but also for flight, expulsion and migration in various countries of the Near and Middle East.
If the Kurds in migration wish to defend their own status of interest and security and support at the same time the interests of their country of origin, they need a sound and independent migration movement which interacts with the institutions in the country of origin and looks for a common long—term solution. If the institutions in the country of origin and their organizations of representatives in migration aim at using resources by the migrant organizations and do not recognize the migrant organizations as bodies with autonomous structures, because they have specific problems in migration and must find solutions, the migrant organizations will organically be committed and will collapse in future or remain meaningless. This goes as well for migrant organizations which have no relationships or cooperation with institutions in the country of origin. They will not be able to keep up their collective identity for long. Their members will soon consider it no more necessary to be active there, if there is no reference point with the country of origin. Thus, migrant organizations and organizations in the country of origin depend on each other, and success is only possible by common, clearly detached and defined work.
(*) Dr. Dipl. Psych. Ilhan Kizilhan
is departmental head, senior psychologist and scientific consultant for transcultural psychiatry / psychology as well as psychological expert and psychotherapist. At present, he is also collaborator of the task force "Conflict and Peace Studies" at the University of Konstanz.