The common denominator of refugees living far away from their homeland can be summarised in one word: diaspora. As a sociopolitical term, diaspora refers to the dispersal of people from their homeland to other countries, individually or en masse.
According to a Gazete Karınca report by Roger Acun, the Kurdish diaspora, which numbers in the millions, is mostly concentrated in European countries. The Kurdish diaspora describes Kurdish communities living outside the geographical region of Kurdistan in the Middle East. The Kurdish diaspora of today was formed by the migrations that occurred as a result of economic and political forces, especially at the end of the 20th century. Since Kurds are generally subjected to “systematic assimilation” in their homeland, they are more interested in diaspora activities in the countries to which they migrate.
Looking at the prominent diasporas around the world, it can be seen that the common denominator of the Kurdish diaspora is based on politics. Identity, the native tongue, history and culture are not the only unifying elements for all diasporas; “actual politics” are also very important.
Important historical events for the Kurdish diaspora
From the 10th century onwards, the broad geographical and political area defined by the Seljuks as “Kurdistan” was shared between the Ottoman Empire and Iran with the Kasrışirin Treaty of 1639. The rebellion initiated by Botan Miri Bedirxan Bey, who refused to send troops to the 1828 Ottoman-Russian war, ended with defeat and exile due to the “betrayal” of his nephew Yezdan Şêr.
Following the Treaty of Lausanne, Kurdish regions were divided between four states: Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. The geographical divide naturally brought about the demographic divide. Kurds were faced with the “cultural despotism” of the four dominant powers with the politics of Arabization, Persianization and Turkification.
The collapse of the Mahabad Kurdish Republic by Iran due to the “Soviet betrayal” and the execution of President Qazi Mihemed in Çarçira Square in 1947 brought new exile and asylum. The attack was launched in Iran in 1979 with Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution” against Kurds. This led many Kurdish dissidents to emigrate to various European countries.
The hanging of Şêx Saîd and his friends in Dağ Kapı Square in 1925 was the eve of exile for many families and tribes with it.
In 1937-38, the Dersim conflict concluded with exile and asylum. These events paved the way for the implementation of serious assimilation policies and initiated individual or collective migration, exile and asylum from the four parts of Kurdistan. As a result, the Kurdish diaspora was formed.
Socio-political developments in Turkey
In 1935, in the early days of the Republic of Turkey, assimilation was presented as the only remedy. The ban on speaking Kurdish, the banning of Kurdish sermons in mosques, the “Citizen Speak Turkish” campaigns launched in state institutions, the subsequent “Turkification” efforts carried out with monolingual radio and television, and the ban on media broadcasting activities were the prescriptions of this systematic assimilation. The natural consequences of policies were exile and asylum; that is, diaspora.
The 12 September coup in Turkey created a pressurised atmosphere for the Kurds. Executions, prison, torture — all were used against Kurds. Thousands of percecuted people sought salvation in Europe after they were released from Diyarbakır Prison.
In the late 1980s, the “village guard” system was implemented in the region. Guards were mostly Kurdish locals recruited by the state to act as local paramilitaries and support the Turkish military against PKK attacks. These were villagers with a weapon and a regular state salary. Many of them eventually had to emigrate to foreign countries.
Islamic Revolution in Iran
Kurds in Iran were subjected to pressure and censorship, especially after Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution. Unable to live free lives, the Kurds also came under severe religious and political pressure. Due to the “spying” activities of the intelligence units and the the death penalty, Iran gradually turned into a closed box. Opposition Kurds began to see the diaspora as the only solution.
Iraqi Baath regime
The cultural and political rights of Kurds living in Iraq are relatively safe in comparison with Kurds living in Iran and Turkey. It can be said that the only area where the Kurdish language has not been banned throughout history and has official status is Iraqi Kurdistan. In September 1959, the official literary language in Iraq was chosen in the 1st Kurdish Educators Congress.
Kurdish parties have ruled with an autonomous structure for many years within the federative state administration. Despite all this, the massacre carried out in 1988 by Saddam Hussein, the dictator of the Baath regime in Halabja (Halepçe Katliamı), was a turning point for exile and asylum for Kurds living in Iraq. The Iraq-Iran wars and the Gulf War, which are important events in recent history, made the diaspora mandatory for the Kurds living in both Iraq and Iran.
Kurds in Syria
Kurds living in Syria are seen as an ethnic nomadic community assimilated by the Syrian government. The neglect of the Kurdish identity in Syria has ignited recent political developments. Kurds are not even considered citizens in Syria; they are not given identity cards and millions of Kurds are ignored.
Tens of thousands of Kurds, among the millions of Syrians who are trying to save their lives by escaping from the conflict, see the diaspora as their only chance of survival. As a result, Kurds have had to leave their homeland and seek refuge in foreign countries. The emergence of the Kurdish diaspora has been a natural result of systematic assimilation activities.
Historical events, sociopolitical developments, oppression and exile help to explain the structure of the Kurdish diaspora. For centuries, the Kurds have been subjected to the oppression and violence of the ruling powers and have been punished for using their native language. To this day they struggle to retain their collective identity and secure their cultural and political rights.