FROM VICTIM DIASPORA TO TRANSBORDER CITIZENSHIP?
Diaspora formation and transnational relations among Kurds in France and Sweden
My initial knowledge of the Kurds in France dates back to the years 1997–98, when I traveled from Sweden to Provence, in France, in order to study political science at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Aix-en-Provence. During my sojourn there I realized that the majority of the Kurds in this part of France originated from a particular Kurdish rural area in Turkey, called Sarhad. They lived and developed their diasporic organizations in a number of cities and localities of the French Bouchesdu-Rhône, including Marseille, Marignane, Vitrolles, Aubagne and Aixen-Provence. Sarhadi Kurds, who mostly were asylum seekers, worked primarily in the building and restaurant trades, more often than not in harsh conditions. Moreover, I became gradually conscious that, like many other diasporan Kurds, Sarhadi Kurds – no matter where they are – regularly evoke the negative experiences of oppression and suffering in their societies of origin, which not only reinforced their sense of being victims but also considerably impeded the emergence of positive diaspora discourses.
At that time, I was wondering whether the victim diaspora discourse (Cohen 1995, 1996) that was much in evidence among the Kurds was an invention of diasporan Kurds themselves or, to the contrary, was strongly rooted in genuine repression of the Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria in the course of 20th century, and enhanced by negative memories of migration and by problems of social exclusion and discrimination that the Kurds experienced in their new societies. As my general knowledge of the Sarhadi Kurds increased during my stay in the region of Marseille, I wondered whether a common sense of victimhood constituted the major motive for diasporan Kurds in Sweden and France to maintain a diasporic identity, or whether other experiences and practices not only counteracted the Kurds’ victim diaspora discourse but also affected their transnational practices and the process of diaspora formation. If the latter, the question would be how these other trajectories and occurrences gave rise to various action modes that diasporan Kurds in France and Sweden adopted.