Conferences : World Congress of KURDISH STUDIES : Khalid KHAYATI


Section PRESSE
World Congress of

Irbil, 6-9 September 2006

Organized by the Kurdish Institute of Paris in partnership with
Salahadin University (Irbil) and with the support of the
Kurdistan Regional Government and of the
French Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Diasporian Kurds in Sweden as transborder citizens

By Khalid Khayati (*)

In the end of January 2006 the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Nordic Representative was the host for the very first Kurdish Gala soirée in Stockholm. The Gala which was attended by numerous Kurdish and Swedish celebrities was an occasion for the KRG’s Nordic Representative to appraise not only a group of Kurdish elite who have during last years achieved considerable success within various domains of activities in the country but also those native Swedes who have in one or another way considered the Kurdish politics as a part of their pre-occupation and publicly acted for promoting it.

However, in this rendezvous the famous Swedish actor Gösta Ekman was given an honorary award by the jury of the gala for as it was motivated “shedding light on a matter which was cast in total darkness until the 1990s and giving the Kurdish people his support when they needed it the most”. Fredrik Malm the president of the Liberal Youth of Sweden was another Swedish personality who was awarded for as it was stated by the jury “his public dedication to the Kurdish question and promoting the Kurdish people’s rights in different arenas with striking empathy and understanding”.

Further, the jury decided to present the Swedish pop-idol Darin Zanyar as “Kurd of the year 2005” and motivated its decision through referring to the Kurdish teen-ager’s conspicuous achievements in the domain of the pop music and also to his ability to “introduce the Kurds on a new showground and to inspire through his success a whole new generation to be charmed by their origins”. According to the jury, Darin Zanyar “carries his Kurdish inheritance with authenticity and simplicity and directs the interest of his audience towards his two native countries, Kurdistan and Sweden.” Darin’s award was presented by Swedish Minister for Public Health and Social Services Morgan Johansson.

In his speech to the participants of the Gala, the KRG Nordic’s Representative celebrated the successful achievements of the Kurds in Sweden and expressed his gratitude to Swedish friends of Kurdistan and added: “Tonight we celebrate and honor Kurdistan in Sweden, and Sweden in Kurdistan.” Exploring rightly this Swedish-Kurdish juxtaposition which gives rise to a multidimensional and sophisticated transnational social field is the objective of this study. By observing this transnational social field closely we can conclude that Kurdish refugees and immigrants in Sweden are living “their lives across the border of two or more nation-states” which occurs in the form of participating in the normative regimes, socio-cultural networks and political practices of these diverse states. In order to describe this system of ”multiple allegiances” calls Nina, G. Schiller on social analysts to use the paradigm of legal pluralism which implies the recognition of the performance of more than one “system of norms, values and customs within a single polity”. (Glick Schiller 2005)

This event, which was praised by several Kurdish websites and even radio and TV-stations, is not unique in its kind. This is one among hundreds of others that noticeably displays the experience of living across the border of two or more nation-states among Kurdish refugee and immigrant community in Sweden. Hence, the initial assumption of this study indicates the cultural, social and political intersection and interaction of Sweden and the Kurdish homeland creates a transnational social space (Pries 1999) where the process of a Kurdish claim-making for “participating in the normative regime, legal and institutional system and political practices” (Glick Schiller 2005) gives rise to what Eva Østergaard-Nielsen names a “dual political agenda” (Østergaard-Nielsen2000) that the Kurdish diasporic community maintains vis-à-vis both the Swedish and Kurdish politics.

Generally, the intersection and the interaction of the polity bodies of the sending and receiving societies give birth to diverse transnational social fields (Glick Schiller 2005), emerging as a consequence of people’s mobility and global immigration which have been existing as an observable phenomenon in times and spaces and throughout the entire history of population movements. Nevertheless, the growing disjuncture between national territories gives rise to the emergence of new places or localities, new cultural spaces and new “sites for political engagement”. (Vertovec & Cohen1999)) The Kurdish diasporic community in Sweden which displays political, cultural and social orientations towards both their society of origin and their country of settlement can serve as a relevant example to see how transnational social spaces question and go far beyond the boundaries of nation-state and its cultural and political.

By referring to the paradigm of legal pluralism, this article intends to see how different Kurdish personalities, networks, associations and affiliations to political parties operate within the frame of sophisticated transnational social fields in order to through adopting a device of “multiple allegiances” define and re-define their position in the Swedish society on the one hand and mark their attitude vis-à-vis the homeland politics on the other. Moreover, the objective is to observe how a significant number of Kurdish personalities (politicians, novelists and businessmen) in Sweden use effectively the transnational social zones between their country of settlement and Kurdistan in order to promote their own private agendas; a private agenda, which becomes automatically an integrated part of the whole Kurdish transnational performances. Furthermore, it will be relevant to know how this Kurdish twofold agenda is related to the notion of “Swedishness”. Is it compatible to it; or as Nina, G. Schiller maintains, it is a way to go beyond a sole legal and juridical definition of citizenship and even the notion of dual citizenship? Furthermore, does this experience transcend the orientation of the immigrant towards her/his homeland and the idea of return to it, presented most often as exclusive and uncompromising behaviors among immigrants? Does the discourse of return, which prevails strongly and constantly among many Kurdish refugees and immigrants in Sweden, above all those of first generation, mean indeed the factual materialization of it; or it is used as an “alibi” for filling a gap between a feeling of fear of loss and a permanent “homing desire” (Brash 1996) they are experiencing? In order to elucidate the experience of transnationalism and its related challenges among the Kurdish diasporic population in Sweden the concept of transborder citizenship will be an affective device of analysis, because it provides refugees and immigrants the right of being social and cultural citizens of various states and exerting multiple experiences of living within plural system of laws, customs and values. (Glick Schiller & Fouron 2001)

The establishment of a Kurdish autonomous political administration in Northern Iraq with its power of attraction and absorption has drastically accelerated the process of transnational exchanges among Kurds. The nature and the order of exchanges vary from significant political and cultural performances to regular social and economic activities. Diplomacy, political demonstrations, electoral campaigns, commemoration and celebration of specific national days, arrangement of festivals, associative performances, literature publications, music production, publication of newspapers and reviews, radio and TV broadcasting, cyberspace activities, money remittances, etc. are among those activity domains that constitute the very observable social relationship and transactions that Kurdish disaporic population performs in Sweden. The establishment of direct flight-connection between Stockholm and Arbil[1] facilitates significantly the transnational exchanges between two socio-geographic entities. However, the stake of Kurdish-Swedish transnational relationship is so considerable that today living in Sweden dose not in any way mean that the strongly politicized Kurdish diaspora is away from home. The practice and the consciousness of “long distance nationalism” (Anderson 1993; 1998) make them feel to be at home and this regardless to how distant in reality they are home.

The notion of Transborder citizenship, an evolution toward a normative theory 

As it was discussed previously, transborder citizens refer to “people who live their lives across the borders of two or more nation-states, participate in the normative regime, legal and institutional system and political practices of these various states and act on a relationship to more than one government”. (Glick Schiller & Fouron 2001; Glick Schiller 2005) The redefinition of transmigrants’ involvement in the transnational processes arise primarily from the increasing awareness that scholars experience about the partial “deterritorialization” of the public spaces and national politics that gives rise to fairly different methods of participation. (Pries 1999) The construction of disporic identities and transnational communities denotes the existence of the multiplicity of reference frames and allegiance forms that function over time and space. Transnational ties that are constituted as a consequence of massive and circular international migration flows (Ibid.) do not emerge as an extension of the community of origin, but rather as a presence of refugee and immigrant populations in supranational spaces. (see Glick Schiller et al 1992, 1999) In this respect, the relation between space and identity is redefined and the transnational communities and their affiliated agencies and organizations are provided the potential and legitimacy to operate beyond the territories of the nation-states and become a device of socialization into a new political culture which is shaped outside the national framework and its institutions. (Kearney 1995) However, the notion of transborder citizenship is a way to go beyond a sole legal and juridical definition of citizenship or even the idea of dual citizenship with the objective of claiming for transmigrants the right of being social and cultural citizens of various states and exerting multiple experiences of living within plural system of laws, customs and values. (Glick Schiller & Fouron 2001)

Taking into account the consequences of the contemporary transnational movements that cross the territorial, cultural and political boundaries of the nation-states the concept of transborder citizenship seems to be relevant not only because of the continuous “politics of the difference” that western democracies maintain but also the “expression of identity” that finds a base in the experience of the immigration and interconnects in fact two national spaces. (Pries 1999) Asserting the notion of transborder citizenship from this point of view implies however a “change of position” from a simple academic awareness about the transnational relations to a more effective far-reaching concept of “claim-making” that answers not only to a new transnational space of identity that connects the cultural references of the sending societies to that of the receiving countries (Ibid.) but also to the “paradigm of legal pluralism” that calls on scholars, politicians and policy makers, social analysts and the media to recognize the participation of people in the normative regime, legal and institutional system and political practices of two or more nation-states. (Glick Schiller & Fouron 1999, 2001)

Different scholars have treated the issue of claiming membership in more than one place during last years. In order to support the idea of so called “polyethnic rights” W. Kymlicka (1998) has conceived the concept of “multicultural citizenship”. The author criticizes the democratic processes in western societies for their non-ability to represent ethnic and cultural differences. It is rooted in the inadequacies of the concept of citizenship, that is, the rights and conditions of their realization in society. (Vali 2003) M. Laguerre speaks about “disporic citizenship” while R. Bauböck who has earlier presented the notion of transnational citizenship (Bauböck 1994) supports the idea of “multiple citizenship” which is a reference to a visible illustration of overlapping membership of various political communities. (Vertovec 2001) The concept of ”flexible citizenship” which was proposed by Aihwa Ong in order to provide an analysis of new transnational narratives of Asian modernity and valorize new heroes of Asian capitalism as subject of transnational identity and flexible citizens. The author has argued that new strategies of flexible accumulation that challenges the “hegemonic link between whiteness and capitalism” have promoted a flexible attitude toward citizenship; a flexible citizenship that refers however to a set of “flexible practices, strategies and disciplines associated with transnational capitalism” which create new “modes of subject making and new kinds of valorized subjectivity”. (Ong 1998; Ong 1999 quoted in Chakravartty 2001) 

Moreover, there are further approaches that feed the normative theories that endeavor to conceive a new citizenship model. R. Kastoryano criticizes the projection of citizenship in the European Union for its shortfall to assert immigrants’ transnational solidarity networks and their claim making for the recognition of a different collective identity as the manifestation of the notion of “citizenship as extraterritorial”. (Kastoyano 98) In line with the perspectives on transnational claim making, N. Glick Schiller and G. Fouron prefer to choose the term of “transborder citizen” in order to as they stated, “encompass long distant nationalists” whom they found to be inclined to identify with one nation but acts as members of more than one state. (Glick Schiller & Fouron; 2001; Glick Schiller 2005)

In this vein, R. D. Grillo has outlined the expression of ”stable dual orientation” which is an indication to the presence of immigrant and refugee populations both “here and there”. (Grillo 2001) Through examining the formation and structure of Chinese diaspora in Central America and Panama, Lok Siu, in the style of other transnational claim-making advocators, specifies the concept of “diasporic cultural citizenship”, which refers to a process by which disporaic populations assert “simultaneous belonging in two distinctly different cultural political systems”. The scholar affirms that participation in diasporic organizations entails both displacement from a homeland and settlement in another specific national context. (Glick Schiller 2005), The diasporic cultural citizenship is the manifestation of a process of claiming a “dual assertion” in the receiving nation that one “enters and gains belonging in the diaspora”. (Siu 2001) Furthermore, the “transformation of solidarities and citizenship” indicates that the nation-state with its condition of social integration through the civil, political, social, and cultural rights of citizenship is no longer the one and sole entity of social integration. “People unite beyond its boundaries and differentiate within them”. (Münch 2001) The unambiguous demarcation between citizens and non-citizens creates a more finely graded overlapping area or a zone of “binational identity” where increasing transnational claims-making gives way to lesser opportunity for national integration but more chance for enhancing transnational integration.  According to R. Münch, this proceeds along with a transformation of national integration based on strong citizenship. (Ibid.) However, for the realization of the notion of transborder citizenship, which is, build on the social connections to multiple systems of values, laws and familial practices of various nation-states, N. Glick Schiller proposes a move of the transmigrant from a “legal citizenship into the subject of cultural and social citizenship and its transnational extensions”. (Glick Schiller 2005)

Latino scholars and activist elaborated the notion of cultural citizenship in the 1980s   struggling for advocating of a multicultural state in the U.S. It was a way to claim the right to be different with respect to the norms of the dominant national community, without compromising one’s right to belong”. Being critical of assimilationist and integrationist agendas of nation-state, the concept of cultural citizenship as a normative claims-making theory within the sole boundaries of nation-states is however in deficit when it comes to the realization of the model of transborder citizenship. According to Glick Schiller this concept did not speak to there other aspects of citizenship which are “the frequent lack of fit between legal citizenship and the allocation of rights and benefits in the state, the growth of dual or multiple citizenships and the complexities of the concept of citizenship when people live their lives across borders or live within transnational social fields”. As an alternative, social citizenship appears to be more inclusive because it claims rights substantively on the basis of social practices rather than law. It is a way through which people make claims to belong to a state “through collectively organizing to protect themselves against discrimination, or receive rights and benefits from a state or make contributions to the development of a state and the life of people within it, they are said to be social citizens”. (Glick Schiller & Fouron; 2001) However, the concept of transnational citizenship is constituted on the idea of social and cultural citizenship and expands the assessment of citizenship practices and claims transnationally. (Glick Schiller 2005)

Being both here and there – simultaneous political and Institutional practices among Kurds in Sweden

The political impacts of transnational phenomena surrounding contemporary migration have also far-reaching consequences for the Kurds. Millions of Kurds have been on the move, voluntary and forcibly both inside the Kurdish areas and Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. There has further been a considerable movement of Kurds from the Middle East toward Western Europe, North America, Australia and another parts of the globe. (van Bruinessen 1999) In diaspora, Kurds sustain transnational connections that have considerable economic, social, cultural and political impacts on their collective lives and on those multiples localities in which they reside.

In Sweden, Kurds try through associational activities, radio and TV broadcasting, literature and music production, arrangement of festivals, etc. to preserve and develop their ethnic and diasporic identity. In comparison to other European countries, transnational activities among Swedish Kurds appear more conspicuous and this on account of the existence of a relatively large and relatively highly educated Kurdish refugee communityin this country. (Ibid.) After Iraqi Kurdistan and the Caucasus Republics of the former Soviet Union, Sweden is the country where the highest cultural activities take place. An important number of authors, novelists, poets, politicians, political leaders, intellectuals, scholars, artists, musicians, singers and journalist have successively arrived to Sweden during last three decades. Accordingly, the number of Kurdish writers in Sweden surpasses clearly the number of those remained in Kurdistan. (Tayfun 1998 quoted in Ahmadzadeh 2003) According to Hjertén, the presence of such a Kurdish intelligentsia has created a specific situation where Sweden willy-nilly is now an extended Kurdistan. (Hjertén 1994) Today, twelve years later, the number of the Kurds who interact between their former and new societies continues to increase.

For example, in a pleasure supplement from 27 April – 3 May 2006, the famous Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter devoted many pages to introduce a number of Kurdish celebrities and personalities who appear on TV and radio programs, artistic, musical and theatre shows and also in newspapers and political scenes in Sweden. “Kurd in the city” is the front-page title of this paper appendix, in which the reporter Anders Forsström lines up the names of many Kurdish personalities such Nalin Pekgul, Evin Rubar, Esref Okumus, Öz Nujen, Shan Atci, Zanyar Adami, Darin, Sukran Kavak, Zian Zandi, Gulan Avci, Kurdo Baksi, Jabar Amin, Dilba and Disla Demirbag, Lawen Mohtadi, Khalid Saleh, Mustafa Can, and many others at the same that he poses the question why so many Kurds appear in the limelight of the city. According to Forsström, the Kurdish background of these personalities and the memory of being oppressed among them play a considerable role for the successes they achieved in Sweden. The journalist uses repeatedly the appellation Swede-Kurd (svenskkurd) that is a way to emphasis the combined identity and the translocational poisonality (Anthias 2002) among the group whose greater part arrived to Sweden at very young age, together with their asylum- or employee seekers parents many years ago. In other words, the performances of these Kurdish-Swedish elites occur within the frame of sophisticated transnational social fields (Glick Schiller et al 1999) where their adoption of a device of double or multiple allegiances beyond the boundaries of a single nation-state, enable them to permanently define and re-define their position in the Swedish society and mark their attitude vis-à-vis the homeland politics.

The linguistic and cultural activities among Kurds are considered as compensatory alternative to the literary and cultural deficiencies, ensuing as a result of a denial policy that is held vis-à-vis them in their countries of origin. Thus, the Kurdish cultural revival in Sweden follows to a large extent the dialectics of exclusion and inclusion in the world of broadcasting that deals with the “distribution and exercise of linguistic, political and cultural power”. Accordingly, the majority censorship in the country of origin gives rise to the minority broadcasting in the diaspora. (Hassanpour 1998) The emergence of the first Kurdish satellite television in Europe in 1995 and its struggle of survival against Turkish pressure is an indication to such a dialectical relationship of denial and resistance (Vali 1997) that comes into sight far from the Kurdish homeland, in the diaspora. The compensatory attitude that Kurdish diapora holds vis-à-vis the Kurdish language and literature in its homeland can be seen as a part of the processes of the ethnicization of political life in the post-industrial societies that generates “long distance nationalism”. (Anderson 1998)

Giving shelter to two Kurdish TV-channels (Rojhelat-TV and Mezopotamya-TV), several local radios, three major umbrella-organizations for cultural activities, three publication centers and a large number of web-users, Sweden plays a considerable role in the crystallization of the Kurdish diaspora.

Kurdish associations in Sweden, prospects and challenges

As it was indicated above, Sweden stands for the most significant proportion of immigrants organized in associations. Currently, there is more than fifty national immigrant organizations and more than thousand local associations throughout the country which benefit from a relative munificent minority politics. The principal objective of the Swedish minority association politics is said to be preserving the immigrants’ culture and identity, organizing didactic courses and activities for refugees and immigrants and encouraging them to take part in the process of integration and political decision-making.  (Khayati 1998; Berruti et al 2002)

Throughout the years, Sweden has built up a functional allowance system that made possible for immigrants and refugees to develop a manifold association life in the country. For the most part ethnic and cultural, these associations receive various subsidies from the State and municipalities. Alongside cultural and ethnic associations, there are however various religious institutions that obtain their part of allowance directly from the state. In addition to the official aid, the Islamic associations finance a part of their activities through the supports that they receive not only from diverse donors but also some Islamic States in the Middle East. However, the financial support for these associations is estimated to exceed 15 million Swedish crowns per year. (Berruti et al 2002)

The tradition of helping immigrant association is originated from those popular movements folkrörelser, which are characteristic of the larger part of the Swedish post-war domestic history. As an important and inherent characteristic of the nation making process, the popular movements have largely contributed to the construction of so-called the Swedish “home of the people” folkhemmet. In this regard, the standard social movement was the trade union, which was inspired by the ideology of the Swedish social democracy. These movements were, during the construction of the Welfare state, used as effective means for achieving ideological integration, political socialization and popular mobilization. Since 1975, they became also useful tools of the integration of immigrants in a multi-cultural society. (Ålund & Shcierup 1991)

As far as the Kurds are concerned, Sweden has provided them a favorable environment for creating and developing their social, ethno-cultural and professional associations. In this respect, Kurdish youth, women, handicaps, writers, musicians, teachers, etc. have during last two decades were among those salient target groups made use of this advantageous milieu and created their associations.

At the national level, there are three important Kurdish umbrella-organizations with many associated members throughout the country. Federation of Kurdish Associations in Sweden Kurdiska Riksförbundet i Sverige with its 42 affiliated associations that was created on the initiative of a number of associations and representatives of Kurdish political parties in 1981 is the oldest and the probably largest Kurdish organization. The Federation of Kurdish Associations in Sweden sees itself as religiously and politically independent organization. Moreover, it considers itself as a unique in the world for the reason that as it is claimed, it has 8,500 members with dissimilar political standpoints from all parts of Kurdistan. Another major Kurdish umbrella-institution is the Council of Kurdish Associations in Sweden Kurdiska Rådet i Sverige, which is founded in 1994. This institution has more than 20 affiliated associations throughout the country. The Kurdish Union Kurdiska Unionen is a newly constituted organization, which also operate at the national level, including 25 various associations in different Swedish municipalities. (Berruti et al 2002; Emanuelsson 2005)

The common point between these associations is that they operate simultaneously on two different, but correlative activity fields. Taking into accounts the nature of their activities, they follow on the one hand the course of events in their homeland of origin while they endeavor to reach a satisfactory level of political mobilization in its favor.  For example, celebrating Newroz[2] and other Kurdish cultural events, promoting Kurdish publishing and broadcasting, organizing political demonstrations, creating mixed (Swedish-Kurdish) political and social networks and platforms, carrying out diplomatic visits, attracting the attention of national and local media etc. are among those activities that are said to constitute the performance domains of the Kurdish associations in Sweden. Simultaneously, they claim that they participate in the political and social processes of the receiving country; an approach that they try to legitimize most often through holding an anti-racist and integrationist discourse in the Swedish society. This “dual agenda” (Østergaard-Nielsen 2000) is the manifestation of several transborder performances that Kurdish population undertakes in Sweden. The practice of “long distance nationalism” (Anderson 1998) and the participation in the receiving country’s political and social process have been observed as necessary projects for creating a sense of togetherness and a disporic identity among Swedish Kurds. In this regard a Kurdish woman from the Swedish city Gothenburg has following words to say:

When we arrived to Sweden we had any idea about what how to manage this challenge. As a result of those enormous sufferings that were inflicted to us by the Iranian authorities in Kurdistan, we thought that we would never be able to look backwards. After our arrival to Sweden, we had a sentiment that we could forget about every things left behind. But, we have very soon realized that it was wrong. Today, I used to participate in Kurdish festivals and political demonstrations. I am the member of a Kurdish association and I used to follow its activities at the local level. At the same time, I want to say that I am the member of a Swedish political party, which I consider as very important. My children go to school and I have a job to do in this society. We are both Swedes and Kurds. This is our new reality.

However, it is important to stress that the Kurdish social and cultural associations in Sweden are to a large extent suffering from the lack of conformity and coordination, distance and division. For example, the Federation of Kurdish associations in Sweden Kurdiska Riksförbundet i Sverige has been traditionally held by those Kurds who are affiliated to the Kurdistan’s Socialist Party and some other small-sized political organizations from Turkey. This group of people has been further known for their anti-PKK holding and it was perhaps a good reason for them to see to it that the influence of the Kurdistan’s Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani in the organization is maintained. Almost in the opposite side, the Council of Kurdish Associations in Sweden Kurdiska Rådet i Sverige is for the most part dominated by the followers of to the Kurdistan Worker Party PKK while the Kurdish Union in Sweden Kurdiska Unionen i Sverige is almost exclusively constituted of members belonging to Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. As an indication to this associational dispersion, is the fact that each political party or organization holds its own Newroz celebrations. (van Bruinessen 2000) Here, a Kurdish local politician in Stockholm formulates his criticisms:

Many Kurds suffer severely from the political divergences between the Kurdish associations in Sweden. They consider this kind of discrepancy as a troublesome obstruction, which negatively affects their integration in the Swedish society as well as their national struggle. For example, the lack of solidarity and cooperation between them has led to the fact that Kurdish electors in Sweden couldn’t develop a common strategy in order to send a single Kurd of the total of 22 candidates to Swedish parliament as representative for the mandated period of 2002-2006. 

The Kurdish associations have been further criticized for the lack of transparency and the deficiency of gender equality. In spite of the fact that the Federation of Kurdish associations in Sweden claims to be the mouthpiece of the Kurds in Sweden, the majority of the Kurdish immigrants and refugees remain as non-affiliated to these associations.  When it comes to some specific major political and cultural events that concern the Kurdish life, the non-associated people do not hesitate to turn to alternative organizations.

However, the institutional division among Kurds in Sweden corresponds to a large extent to the political landscape of the Kurdish homeland, which according to A. Vali was highly fragmented during the most part of the post-war Kurdish national struggle. Today, with the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish political entity in northern Iraq and the central role that this entity plays vis-à-vis the Kurdish diaspora the institutional tensions become in no longer a moment of anxiety for Kurds in Sweden.

Another moment of defy for the Kurdish associations in Sweden is about the role that they play in the domain of integration. In a highly “ethnicized” and “politicized” (Wahlbeck 1999) associative environment, the Kurdish associations are given more opportunity to carry out substantial activities towards their homeland of origin while their possibility to become real agencies of integration is considerably limited. Concretely, they are not in the position to elaborate substantial projects on the issues like unemployment, segregation, participation rate in the political processes, discrimination and racism that similar to many other refugee and immigrant populations concern the daily life of Kurds in the Swedish society. This inconsistency arises to a large extent from the economic control that the Swedish State through the mediation of the National Migration Board exerts on their activities. These associations are thus captive of a relation of “patron-client”, which is created by the Swedish subsidy system. (Ålund & Shcierup 1991; Khayati 1998)

Moreover, these associations have been blamed for their inability to include the younger people in their leading structure. As a result, the younger generation in Sweden has not hesitated to create their own organizations in order to as they stress, “solve the problem of representation and manage their part of societal duties in their own ways”. The Kurdistan Student Federation in Sweden KSF has been created in 2004on the initiative of a number of students, almost exclusively from Iraqi Kurdistan. Currently, the KSF is together with the Social Democratic Students of Sweden SSF, working on the project Baba Gurgur with the aim to mutually build a youth centre in Iraqi Kurdistan. WeKurd is another organization that has been created mainly by second-generation Kurdish youths in Sweden from all parts of Kurdistan has paid especially attention to the Swedish elections of 17th September 2006. It has established a sort of “electoral roll” over all Kurdish candidates who were presented them to be elected whether at the local, regional or national level of elections. Within the frame of its “election project”, WeKurd has further sent questionnaires to all Swedish political parties about how they perceive the Kurdish question and its various aspects. These youth associations have in the same way included an anti-racist and integrationist discourse in their programs and practices. Nonetheless, this kind of associational behavior is not limited for example to the single act of bringing external attention to the Kurdish problem. It is also a manifestation for the practice of “transborder citizenship” that people from second generation Kurds carry out between Sweden and Kurdistan.

Furthermore, the Association of Kurdish Students and Academics, the Association of Children’s Friends of Kurdistan, the Association of Kurdistan’s Environment and the Association of Kurdistan’s Hope, etc. are the further Kurdish formations that similar to the above-mentioned organizations operate within the frame of a “transnational social field” that is constituted as a result of the intersection between Sweden and Kurdistan.

New ways of political participation and the patterns of the transborder citizenship

Kurds, as members of one of the most politicized immigrant and refugee population in Sweden, have long displayed a high degree of inquisitiveness vis-à-vis the participation in the political processes in Sweden. Even if it is impossible to establish a relevant statistic on the trend, but the presence of a relatively high number of Kurds in the country’s 2006 general elections, both as voters and eligible candidates can be particularly illustrative to the issue. There were about 33 Kurdish candidates for the Riksdag, as many for the county councils and more than 70 for municipal council elections.

Another Kurdish specificity to be discerned in these elections was the fact that for the first time the Kurdish candidates, at all three levels of elections, did not all belonged to leftist political parties. This is in sharp contrast to the organizational discourses and ideological convictions that the Kurdish electoral core has displayed in the country’s previous elections. The transfer of the Kurdish candidates to non-leftist political formations can be associated not only with so called the “end of the ideologies” (Nikolaev 1990) but also the discovery of various social, political and economic interests that daily life in Sweden imposes. The political events in the Middle East and the intervention of the US that have been observed by many diasporian Kurds in Sweden as beneficial for the Kurdish people and its political movement can partly explain the new situation. The Swedish leftist political organizations have showed that they are not so enchanted with the American occupation of Iraq. However, the Liberal Party, Folkpartiet was one of the Swedish political formations that took considerable advantageous of this Kurdish “ideological mutation”. In this respect, a Kurdish candidate in Stockholm has following words to say: ideas:

The presence of an important number of the Kurdish candidates for the Swedish Parliament, county and municipal council elections can be above all seen as a clear sign of integration. Secondly, this high level of the political participation that Kurds display in comparison to the other ethnic groups arises most likely from the political commitment that many Kurdish refugees had prior to their arrival to Sweden. Here, being Kurd is not an obstacle but a possibility because we can make use of a sort of double political presence. I hope that Swedish society becomes aware about it.

A sort of gender equality and generational shift was also noticeable among the Kurdish candidates. The Kurdish candidate core that was to a large extent constituted of women and young people does not hesitate during its election campaigns to make use of various Kurdish communication platforms such, radio and satellite TV-stations, websites and chat-rooms. Days before to the election, which was held in 17th September 2006, Roj-TV had arranged a very animated debate for three Kurdish candidates from Sweden where each participant outlined her/his political agenda while holding a political discourse on the Kurdish issue in general. Generally speaking, the candidates have notably managed to include a Swedish integrationist and a Kurdish nationalist discourse in their election strategies.

Even in Iraqi Kurdistan, the ballot boxes were put at the disposal of those Kurdish sojourners who wanted to vote in the Swedish general elections.

Other forms of political mobilization are discernable among Kurds in Sweden. The massive participation of diasporian Kurds in the Iraqi elections, which took place in the end of 2005, is a further indication to see how they “politicize” the transnational social fields between several western societies in order to favor their political formation the Kurdistan Alliance. In the voting day, thousands of motivated Kurds, who are settled in several western societies were rushing towards the ballots for as it was outlined by many voters of those enthusiastic “enjoying their democratic rights the European countries and in so doing have an effect on their own political destiny in Iraq”.

The preliminary unofficial results, which were communicated by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, showed that the list of the Kurdistan Alliance in Sweden had obtained more than 10,000 votes of a total of 18,000. The figure for the Germany Kurds was 19,640, which was the equivalent of 71 percent of the entire votes. Similar scores had been reported from Netherlands where the presence of a strong Kurdish community was a clear guarantee for the list of the Kurdistan alliance to receive 70 percent of the votes. This positive eagerness among the diasporian Kurds can further appear salient when we look at the fact that the number of the polling-stations was drastically limited to a few countries and localities. It had any dissuasive effect of the Kurds who wanted to go to the ballots massively and by all kind of transport means from neighboring countries or other remotely situated areas inside those countries, which were designated by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq as polling places. In the Scandinavia, Sweden was the only host who received voters from all neighboring countries.

The establishment of a Swedish Parliamentary Network for Kurdistan on 24th March 2006 by members of parliament from five Swedish political parties is another example that can help us to elucidate the notion of transborder citizenship. At the network’s inaugural meeting, the MPs made a statement of intent declaring their commitment to the Kurdistan’s progress and development. The parliamentary network declared its intention to support democratic and pluralistic development in Kurdistan, work for closer ties between Sweden and Kurdistan, work for progress in Kurdistan, promote dialogue, mutual understanding and exchange between Swedish politicians and democratic organizations and individuals from Kurdistan.
The network also declared its political neutrality and its openness to all members of the Swedish Parliament. Moreover, the Swedish Parliamentary Network for Kurdistan stressed that ties between Sweden and Kurdistan were getting ever closer. The Nordic Representation of the Kurdistan Regional Government expressed its appreciation for Swedish politicians’ efforts to strengthen these bonds. It is important to outline the network was made up of MPs from five of Sweden’s political parties: the Green Party, Social Democrats, Liberals, Christian Democrats and the Left Party.


Generally speaking, the order of transnational exchanges that many Kurds sustain between Sweden and Kurdistan gives rise to a diasporic space that bridges the two societies. (Alinia 2004) The social organization and the political mobilization of diasporian Kurds is Sweden is largely a continuation of social and political relations in Kurdistan. The political allegiances that exist in Kurdistan have a profound influence on the political and associational organizations of the Kurds in the diaspora. (Wahlbeck 1999) Through maintaining a form of “long distance nationalism” (Anderson 1998) and creating of so many social and political organizations the diasporian Kurds endeavor to achieve a more consistent identity (Griffiths 2002) or a Kurdish national unity (Emanuelsson 2005). However, this national unity or the way of perceiving it differ drastically from how it conceived in Kurdistan. It is affected in a significant way by the political and social premises in the receiving societies. Many times, the national awareness has been strongest in among those Kurds who live elsewhere than Kurdistan. (van Bruinessen 2000) In their new places of residence, a large proportion of Kurds have retained or rediscovered a strong sense of Kurdish identity. (Ibid.)

However, the political performances of the diasporian Kurds in Sweden display noticeably the experience of living across the border of several nation-states. Hence, the cultural, social and political interaction between Sweden and Kurdistan creates a tangible social space, where the process of the Kurdish claim-making for participating in the normative regimes, legal and institutional systems and political practices of the two societies gives rise to a dual political agenda which can be largely explained by the notion of transborder citizenship. (Glick Schiller 2005)

Being both here and there for the Kurds is manifested through a set of ideas and practices such as diplomatic contacts, political demonstrations, electoral campaigns, commemoration and celebration of specific national days, arrangement of festivals, associative performances, literature publications, music production, publication of newspapers and reviews, radio and TV broadcasting, cyberspace activities, money remittances, etc. Sweden offers the Kurdish elite significant opportunities for preserving and developing the Kurdish language and culture, which is primordial for the maintaining and enforcing of the Kurdish ethno-national identity in the diaspora. It is through civilian performances, -even if it is quite elitist-that Kurds act according to the notion of trans-border citizenship as a strong social force in a steady movement across several state borders. As it was demonstrated previously, many Kurdish personalities in Sweden make use effectively of the available transnational social fields in order to endorse not only their own agenda but also to assess the fact that the social, cultural and political intersection between Sweden and Kurdistan is a reality than any time before.

The creation of a Kurdish autonomous political administration in Northern Iraq with its power of attraction and the establishment of regular flights between Sweden and Kurdistan has drastically accelerated the process of transborder exchanges among diasporian Kurds.
The Kurdish example shows that transborder citizenship refers a set of various claims making of rights and practices that occur both beyond and within the nation-states. It is determined both by the influences of the societies of origin, the collective and diasporic identities of the refugees and immigrants and evidently the national citizenship and integration regimes in the receiving societies. (Koopmans & Statham 2001) Its fundamental objective should be to promote the representation of the “marginal” and her/his social and political rights and even her/his excluded identity in the political and legal processes of both the sending and receiving societies. In other words, the aim of the notion of transborder citizenship is to change the conditions of the prevailing citizenship is the western societies.


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[1] Hewler in Kurdish and it is the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. 

[2] Newroz is the Kurdish New Year that is celebrated on the 21st of March. More than a simple cultural event, it has been used by Kurds as a political manifestation throughout the years.

(*) Department of Ethnic Studies, Campus Norrköping, Linköping University – Sweden