Nation Building Online: A Case Study of Kurdish Migrants in Germany

By Candan, Menderes; Hunger, Uwe | German Policy Studies, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Nation Building Online: A Case Study of Kurdish Migrants in Germany


Candan, Menderes, Hunger, Uwe, German Policy Studies


1 Introduction

The endeavor of nation-building has become easier due to the invention of the Internet. Via the quick transmission and processing of ideas, news, and images, Through Internet geographically longer distances are overcome, enabling an exchange of information in an up to now unknown form. Peoples of various nationalities and ethnicities discover themselves and each other through various online social groups and communities. The transmission of symbols, characters, and myths on websites, e-mail lists, in chat rooms, discussion forums, web blogs, and online newspapers and journals thereby make the engineering, maintenance, and dissemination of "national" identities in transnational cyberspace simpler, cheaper, and much faster than before (cf. Bakker 2001, Diamandaki 2003, Brinkerhoff/Brainard 2003, Eriksen 2006, Ding 2007, Adamson 2008).

Internet and Diaspora (1) research confirms that digital nation-building is a real phenomenon, especially in the case of diaspora communities without a nation-state (e.g. Tamils from Sri Lanka, Tibetans from China, and Kurds from the Middle East). In addition, these groups use the Internet to introduce themselves to the international community as independent ethnicities or nations. With the help of digital lobbying (via online petitioning, demonstrations, awareness training, protest campaigns) they seek to organize support for their objectives. These groups use the Internet to directly influence politics on the international stage (cf. Breidenbach/Zukrigl 2002, Diamandaki 2003, Smith 2004, Geser 2004, Wayland 2004, Vertovec 2005).

This article deals with the process of nation-building of the Kurdish migrants in Germany. The Kurdish diaspora in Germany is one of the world's largest ethnic groups without its own nation-state, numbering approximately 700 000-800 000 members. The Kurdish migrants within Germany are politically relatively very well organized (cf. Emanuelsson 2005, Russel-Johnston 2006, Navend 2008). The central question of this article is, does this process of nation-building through a digital Diaspora without its own nation-state exists within a Diaspora community in Germany and if it does, how is it organized in the virtual cyberspace?

2 Theoretical Framework

The article deals with the theoretical framework of Benedict Anderson's concept of a nation as an "imagined community" or an "imagined nation", a construct in the hearts and minds of the members of that nation. The members of the imagined community feel bonded to a symbolic or real homestead. This bond is supported by language, symbols, myths, and history. Anderson calls these the "raw material of nationalism" (Anderson 1983). These characteristics are transmitted across borders and throughout generations. The collective symbols are disseminated via print media among members of the linguistic or ethnic community, taking a central role in the development and maintenance of group identities, e.g. national identity (Anderson 1983). Therefore nation-building does not crucially depend on physical proximity of the community's members among each other, but upon imagination: "in fact, all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities need to be distinguished not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined" (Anderson 1983).

According to Anderson, a concrete example for this imaginative process is the reading of a daily newspaper. This "takes place in withdrawn privacy, in the 'lion's den of the mind.' Each reader is conscious that his ceremony occurs simultaneously with thousands (or millions). He is convinced about their existence, but no idea about their identity. Significant is the chronological, always recurring flow (mornings at a certain time evenings again at a specific time) of the ceremony" (Anderson 1983). And further Anderson states that "as the newspaper reader observes how exact duplicates of his paper in the subway, at the barbershop, and in his neighborhood are consumed, he uninterruptedly obtains the certainty, that the imagined world is clearly rooted in everyday life (. …

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