Diaspora, Identity, and Religion: New Directions in Theory and Research

By Waltraud Kokot; Khachig Tölölyan et al. | Go to book overview

9

A double minority

Notes on the emerging Yezidi diaspora

Andreas Ackermann


Introduction

In recent years it has become increasingly clear that diasporic phenomena are both a theoretical and a methodological challenge to the field of ethnographic representation, especially with regard to the culture concept of the discipline. Lately, the idea of closed cultures localized in bounded territories has become obsolete due to processes of globalization as well as the constantly increasing volume and velocity of the global transmission of information. The awareness of a growing dispersion, decentring, interpenetration, and general complexity of globalized and transnational communities is reflected in anthropology as a rising concern with 'identity' rather than with 'culture'. Such identities escape in part from the familiar either-or classifications and become defined more by a logic of 'both-and', implying not cultural wholeness anymore, but partial and overlapping identities instead (Kearney 1995:558). Moreover, the concomitants of the global condition call for the expansion of the traditional ethnographer's field into several fields of research. Transnational migration crosses boundaries and diaspora communities maintain multiple relationships, which is why it has been suggested that the ethnographer should conduct multi-sited research by following either people, things or ideas (Marcus 1995).

The title of this chapter refers to the fact that the Yezidis, a small ethno-religious group of approximately 300,000 Kurdish-speaking (predominantly Kurmanji) people, constitute a minority in a twofold meaning. First, as Kurds they represent an often persecuted ethnic minority within their countries of origin; second, as followers of Yezidism they are a religious minority within the Muslim majority, having often been denounced as 'devil-worshippers'. Precisely because of these two factors a considerable number of Yezidi have had to leave their homelands in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, and many of them now live in Germany. In their new country of residence, they no longer face persecution, and do not have to conceal their religious beliefs and practices. To the contrary, suddenly they have to reconstruct, practise and represent their religion according to the conditions of a modern, culturally complex society. As the Yezidis become simultaneously more urban and literate, they seek both a concept and practice of religion that cannot only be performed but also debated intellectually within the community, as well as explained to outsiders.

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