Interview with Dr. Bahar Başer on Her Book: Turkish – Kurdish Question in the Diaspora, Second-generation Turkish and Kurdish Diasporas in Sweden and Germany
Interview with Dr. Bahar Başer on Her Book: Turkish – Kurdish Question in the Diaspora, Second-generation Turkish and Kurdish Diasporas in Sweden and Germany
As Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), we conducted an interview with Dr. Bahar Başer about her book Turkish-Kurdish Problem in Diaspora, Second-generation Diasporas in Germany and Sweden. The goal of this interview with Dr. Başer was to analyse how Turkish-Kurdish problem affects the diaspora, to understand the dynamics and conflicts that are either violent or not within second-generation Turkish and Kurdish diaspora members in Germany and Sweden and lastly to clarify how the dynamics between Turkish and Kurdish in Turkey reflect to diaspora. We hope to illuminate our reader about the Turkish-Kurdish question in the diaspora from a different perspective with the contribution of Dr. Başer.
About Dr. Başer
After graduating from Political Science and International Relations Department in Bogazici University, Dr. Başer finished her Master’s degree in Uppsala University (Sweden) and her Ph.D. in Florence-Italy. After working in Humboldt University (Germany), Linköping University (Sweden) and Instituto de Ciências Sociais (Portugal) as visiting researcher, Dr. Başer started working in the University of Warwick where she gives courses on ethnic conflict and violence. Her book about Karabakh conflict called “Third Party Mediation in Nagorno Karabakh” was published in 2008.
Synopsis of the Interview
In Sweden, lives of Turkish and Kurdish almost never cross with each other. That is why it is nearly impossible to see any relationship (either violent or not) between them either. In contrast with the situation in Sweden, there is an organic structure between Turks and Kurds in Germany. For instance, they usually live together in the same neighbourhoods. Due to this co-habitation, it is possible to see different types of relationships (such as violent, non-violent ones or the grey area (relationship that does not include violence, but it embodies an aggressive language)) between two groups.
It can be claimed that Sweden’s immigration policies are much better than Germany and other European countries. The multicultural system in Sweden allows the immigrants to become citizens and to organize institutionally themselves. Nevertheless, in Sweden, the immigrants face discrimination in everyday life.
Most of the Kurds in Sweden consists of refugees. Due to the multicultural system in Sweden and the educational background of the refugees, the Kurds in Sweden have a chance develop their language and culture. However, in Germany this is not the case. If the system in Germany were to be convenient, probably the development of Kurdish language and cultural activities could be witnessed in Germany too.
In addition to the Kurdish Diaspora in Sweden, the Turkish Diaspora in Sweden is highly homogeneous too. The main reason behind this homogeneity is due to the fact that the Turkish population that migrated to Sweden are mostly from Konya’s districts named as Kulu and Cihanbeyli.
Despite the homogeneous picture of these two Diasporas in Sweden, in Germany they carry some highly heterogeneous features. Again in Germany, most of the Kurdish diaspora have migrated as refugees and they are well educated. Additionally, there are Kurds who migrated as guest workers. On the other hand, most of the Turkish population in Germany consists of guest workers while only a few are refugees.
The most important result of the difference between the German and Swedish systems is due to the fact that Kurds in Germany are being recognized as Turks because they came from Turkey. This makes them feel like a minority twice.
Also in German-Turkish relations, Germany protecting Turkey’s interests affects lives of Kurds in the diaspora in Germany. For instance, Kurds’ trust towards Germany is shaken when Germany listed the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Despite all the negativities, Germany is the most important country for the Kurds where they have improved themselves politically.
As a consequence of Kurdish lobbying activities in Sweden (lobbying activities with political parties and NGOs that are working on human rights issues), Kurds in Sweden have the power to reach the Swedish government and European Parliament. Yet, in Germany, Kurds have no such power over German government because Germany tries to protect its relations with Turkey.
Turkish lobbying activities in Sweden started with the Armenian Genocide Bill. By protecting Turkey’s image, Turks in Sweden aim to protect their stance in the host country.
In Germany, seeing street conflicts between Turks and Kurds is usual. However, in Sweden, this is almost impossible to witness. Another reason for that is in Sweden the population of Turks and Kurds are less than other immigrant groups.
When it is realized that Turkish population in Germany will be permanent, political parties and actors in Turkey played a big role in founding satellite organizations. The current governments in Turkey also played a big part in doing this. Just like Presidency of Religious Affairs, Republican People’s Party, Nationalist Grey Wolfs and Atatürkist Thought Association also founded in diaspora. But, the balance of power between these organizations might be different than in Turkey. The conflicts between Turks and Kurds in Germany are similar to those in Turkey. Still, this does not mean that whatever happens in Turkey is repeated in Germany.
In fact, if there is a conflict between Turks and Kurds in Germany (either violent or not), this is a result of inequalities and injustices being produced in Germany similar to Turkey. If a Turk shows some reaction to a Kurd, the reason behind it is due to attempts for rebuilding the same ethnic hierarchy in Germany. That is why Kurds feel much more suffered in Germany. They think that they are mistreated in both Germany and Turkey.
Regarding the Gezi Protests in diaspora, Kurds were present. However, in Sweden there was no institutional statement made. Only individual protests. In Germany, they were present as fully organized.
As the generations change, the bonds between Kurdish and Turkish diaspora groups are severing. In first generation, they have the feeling of familiarity. The new generation does not speak Turkish; they speak German and learn Kurdish, so in the future, the links may get broken.
Full Text of the Interview
Hello. First of all, I would like to thank you as Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey for accepting our offer to make this interview. I would like to talk about your book Turkish – Kurdish Question in the Diaspora published by Iletisim Publishing and ask some questions about this issue in order to gain some perspective for our readers. In your work, why did you choose Germany and Sweden to analyse Turkish and Kurdish Diasporas? In terms of diaspora, Great Britain, the Netherlands and France have different policies on migration and they have as well a dense population of Turkish and Kurdish diaspora. Could we learn your rationale behind your country choices?
As you said, the Turkish and Kurdish Diasporas are present in most of the countries in Europe. However, I wanted to make a comparative work and do two different analysis of matter. In the first one, I chose Germany because it is a country where both Turks and Kurds are big parts of the immigrants. There are millions of immigrants living in Germany. Also Germany is the centre for the Kurdish movement in Europe. At the same time, it has the largest Turkish population among European countries. Most of the work has done about Germany. When we look at it, there is some kind of cooperation between Turkish and Kurdish Diasporas, while also they have some conflicts that involve violence. On the other hand, in Sweden context firstly there is familiarity resulted from three years I lived there. I have added Sweden to my research because I lived there. I have witnessed how isolated Turks and Kurds are living there and have almost no relation at all. In my years in Sweden, I did not see any connection between these two groups whether violent or not. Some kind of disintegration was there. Also historically Sweden has a special place for both Turkish and Kurdish Diasporas. About Sweden’s importance for Kurds, van Bruinessen mentioned about this and other writers also wrote about this. The Kurdish diaspora in Sweden did some very important work about cultural development and linguistics. It was a centre where they revived Kurdish language. Sweden’s approach towards Kurdish issue was different and more positive than other countries. And Sweden was a cultural centre for Kurdish people. Germany is the political centre while Sweden is the cultural one. Additionally, Sweden was also an interesting matter of analysis for Turks. Because most of the people who migrated, a large percentage was from Konya’s Kulu and Cihanbeyli areas and in terms of hometowns, there was a homogeneous structure. And political mobilization was seen rarely. For example, while in Germany Grey Wolves Turkish Nationalists and left-wing associations are so active, there was no such thing in Sweden. I did not see it. Of course people had their political opinions individually yet it was incomparable to the dynamism in Germany. That is why I chose these two countries as very different matters of analysis and tried to understand the reason behind their difference.
While reading your book especially the part about Sweden drew my attention. Your book gives the sense that Sweden’s migration policy is better than Germany’s. However at the same time, you are saying that Sweden’s migration policy is a tool to control the immigrants. About this, do you think Sweden’s system is better than the other European countries or else is it just better relatively?
When compared with other European countries, relatively Sweden has a more immigrant friendly and immigrant protected policy. But, of course it is also not the heaven. Lately, radical right is rising. The party we call Sweden democrats, in the parliament the Neo-Nazis, little groups are attacking immigrants now. These kinds of things are happening. And there is also discrimination is present. For instance, as I mentioned in my work, if your name is similar to a Muslim name, it is unlikely that you get a job interview. These things happen, not like in Germany yet they are still there. But the groups I looked into were mostly second generation immigrants. They were interested in political issues and they were born in Sweden. One of my observations is that, the people who are interested in these kinds of issues are integrated with the society they live in. In my thesis, I talk about a special group. Thus, my conclusions cannot be generalized. Maybe this is why Sweden looks like heaven. Additionally, when we look at the criteria, the most basic example is the citizenship process in Sweden. One can apply for citizenship after 5 years of residence. There is no citizenship test, you do not need to vow for loyalty. There is no exam about Sweden. These are the differences comparing to Germany. You can become a citizen after living 5 years in Sweden and if you are a refugee, it is 3 years. But being a citizen is not just about obtaining your passport. How do they fill it? That is another case. I have looked at two countries’ migration policy from diaspora’s perspective. Becoming a diaspora, I mean in the diaspora adventure what kind of chances are there? Generally when examined, Sweden is the best among Europe regarding migration policies, yet it has some shortcomings.
If we compare the Kurdish Diasporas in Germany and Sweden, is it possible to say that the real difference lies within the different socio-economic structure of the Kurds in two countries? For instance, can we say that the Kurds in Sweden are elite and well educated which makes them become a diaspora more easily and makes them become political? Or else, can we say that the Kurds in Sweden are now better off economically and this makes them turn to cultural and political diaspora activities?
I cannot make this kind of differentiation. Both the rich and poor are in the Kurdish movement one way or another, they try to help the movement but without doubt, socio-economic structure is very important. Let me explain it like this. Today, when we look at the Kurdish diaspora in Sweden, we see an elite Kurdish group who went there at the end of the 70s and especially after the coup d’état in 80. The Kurdish immigrants that Sweden accepted are mostly these well-educated political refugees instead of guest workers. This makes a big difference. Still it is debatable that whether these people protected their social status, however it can be said that they belong to a certain social class. When we look at Germany, we see the same things as we did in Sweden. I mean there are elites in Germany too. They also went there as refugees and these Kurdish diaspora is well educated. Beside this, we see the ones who migrated as guest workers and started to have their Kurdish identity politically. Maybe this is why the Kurdish diaspora in Germany seems like a “people’s movement”. We see a total social movement in Germany. When Kurdish associations organize a protest thousands of people participate. And these people have a socio-economic structure. Of course this affects the dynamism of Kurdish Diasporas in different countries. The elites in Sweden, for example are well integrated with the system, there are Kurds who were members of the parliament and carried out big roles in political parties. If the system in Germany were to be favourable, probably many Kurdish would have risen in the same way. The chance is too small in Germany which creates this difference. At the same time as we mentioned, the immigrant profile is extremely important. I mean, there is also a difference because the group in Germany is more heterogeneous while the group in Sweden is more elite.
Then, can we say that the diaspora in Germany is more effective because of population? For instance, it should be easier to mobilize Kurds in Germany than doing it in Sweden.
When there is a protest, the Kurds in Sweden also mobilize. But there is a huge difference in Kurdish population between Germany and Sweden. The Turks or Kurds in Sweden cannot even make it to top ten between immigrant groups in Sweden. But Kurds in Sweden use effective lobbying activities because they are in contact with political parties and NGOs that are working on human rights issues. They can rally to achieve their goal. As the people who are working on Diasporas would know, sometimes a diaspora originated politician’s lobbying activities in the parliament can be more effective than one million people protesting in the streets. This is also about what the system requires of you. There is a really active Kurdish movement in Germany. However, the Turkey-Germany relations are very important too. At the same time, most of the Kurds in Germany do not have German citizenship. For this reason, political parties do not see Kurds as a vote pool. Even if they did, the Turkish population has more votes which makes Kurds get pushed to rear. That is why when you say which is more effective, it is hard to separate. Even Kurds take part in active lobbying; Sweden does not have the ‘sanction of power’ over Turkey like Germany does. When the Kurds lobby political actors in Sweden, Sweden mentions about this in European Parliament, this is also directed towards Turkey. But Turkey would not listen to Sweden as it does listen to Germany. This means, the relations between countries are also important. Despite these difficulties the Kurdish diaspora in Germany can change many things. For a little time, they have stopped the selling of arms to Turkey even if it was extremely hard.
When reading your book, Kurds in Sweden draws reader’s attention. We said that Kurds in Sweden fell more secure and powerful. On the other hand Kurds in Germany feel like a minority two times as you put it. So, which Kurdish diaspora in Europe truly represent the Kurds? As we see, Sweden is culturally Germany is politically ahead. Are there other Diasporas? Can we talk about a representative?
In my opinion, Germany is the centre of the Kurdish movement in Europe. This is a fact since the end of the 80s. The people who are researching diaspora Kurds have to examine Germany. I think without understanding the formation of the Kurdish diaspora in Germany, we cannot understand what is around it. Besides, there are little centres. For instance, the Kurdish Institute in Paris is an incredible foundation. This is not a diaspora organisation, but it is an institution. Just like this, agencies in Brussels are highly important. Now, a parliament was founded in exile by leadership of the PKK. It was for a short duration though… Each country played different roles in different times. But, Germany still protects its importance as the centre. And we should ask this question: Do we really need to choose a representative?
Because this structure has many parts….
Yes but these parts become one and act together when necessary. I think, the developments after the murder of Sakine Cansız and other two women Kurdish activist is an important example. Because after the incidence was heard, in around one hour buses from Stockholm, Lahey and Amsterdam moved to Paris and people participated in the protests. Because they are in the Schengen there are no boundaries. Also people follow each other. They know which association doing what and where, all of it. This is not just a case for the associations close to the PKK. The associations like KOMKAR (Confederation of Associations from Kurdistan in Europe) are also constantly active. If we have to choose a centre, Sweden is very important for cultural studies. Yet this does not mean that cultural studies are in the background in other places.
Let’s look at the Turkish-Kurdish relations in Germany for a while. It is remarked that the relation in Germany is similar to the one in Turkey, so what are the factors creating this situation? How the relationship between Germany and Turkey affected these dynamics? It is said that the Kurdish-Turkish relationship in Germany is imported from Turkey which means it is a reflection of the relationship in Turkey. What are your thoughts about this?
When you start working on Diasporas, you usually face with a cliché that the people in diaspora are more nationalist, they do not compromise about national sensibility. Actually, this has never been quantified in no way either statistically or generalizable. This is why I do not think that people in diaspora are more racist more something or the other. And in fact, what we see in Turkey, if we look at what is going on nowadays, for instance, the attacks on buildings of HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), beating attempts shows what racism and nationalism come to and it is inevitable to see the reflections of these in the diaspora. How does it become like this? Because the people who migrated to Germany was all around Turkey and they were from all kinds of classes and ideologies. Additionally, the political parties and actors in Turkey played a big role in the foundation of ‘satellite’ organizations in Germany. Especially when it is realized that Turkish population in Germany will be permanent, political parties and actors in Turkey played a big role in founding satellite organizations. The current governments in Turkey also played a big part in doing this. Just like Presidency of Religious Affairs, Republican People’s Party, Nationalist Grey Wolfs and Atatürkist Thought Association also founded in diaspora. What we have in Turkey is all in Germany too. But the balance of power between these organizations is the same? It might be different than in Turkey. For instance, I can say that the Grey Wolfs or in other words idealists’ movement is still powerful in Germany. In the interviews I have made, it is said that they are more than 200 associations. They can move in a much mobilized way in Germany. The young people still interested in these kinds of associations. Apart from this, the argument that what happens in Turkey is repeated in Germany is there. Like the Turks and Kurds carried the conflict atmosphere in their baggage from Turkey to Germany. In fact, if there is a conflict between Turks and Kurds in Germany (either violent or not) this is a result of inequalities and injustices being produced in Germany similar to Turkey. I mean, if a Turkish shows some reaction to a Kurdish the reason behind it is that the attempts towards building the same ethnic hierarchy in Germany. This is a result of the dominance race between two nations. A Turkish can still say ‘Kurdish should not be taught’ in Germany. He sees the right to prevent this in himself.
Also we understand from your book that Kurds in Germany are cautious about openly embrace their identity. For example, the owner of the kiosque says ‘let’s not play Kurdish music’, we can sense oppression.
And most of the oppression comes from the painful experiences in Turkey and lack of protection they have in Germany. For example Germany declaring PKK as a terrorist organization and Kurds not having citizenship rights are the roots of this fear. For instance, The Kurdish-Turkish rate in the neighbourhoods has its significance. In Germany, there is no split like Turkish or Kurdish neighbourhood. They are still connected to each other economically. Now, one buys from another’s shop and they do business together. Also statistically, it is natural that they hold back.
So can we say that Kurdish population is smaller than Turkish’s? Ethnically?
We do not have the numbers yet, there is no statistics that is separating Kurds from Turks. But the general opinion is that the demographics are similar to Turkey’s in terms of Turkish/Kurdish rate.
Well how are the dynamics between the Kurds from other countries and Kurds from Turkey? Your book said that they do not have a connection. Unlike Sweden, in Germany you say that Syria Kurds, Iraq Kurds and Turkey Kurds have no relation or communication. How do you explain this connection being strong in Sweden but not in Germany?
Actually I see the same disconnection I saw in Germany in Great Britain too. Other places too. Now this can be about Kurds being divided into four and each part developing different cultural norms within years. But I say this for sure that I only saw the diaspora coherence which brought all four pieces together in seminars and meetings in Sweden. Other than this, there are little organizations. However, because the political parties are highly politicized… Now, when PKK organizes something, KOMKAR does not support or the other way around. In addition, they do not participate to other organizations held by other groups such as KDP (Kurdistan Democracy Party) or other Southern Kurdish groups. Other than this, I also saw this disconnection in Great Britain. Also in Germany too. After all, everybody has their groups that they can mobilize. These groups can unite in some occasions. But generally everybody acts according to their own groups. However, there are centres that can unite these groups. For instance, NAVEND (Centre for Kurdish Studies) in Germany, Kurdish Institute in Paris, other civil society establishments such as KHRP (Kurdish Human Rights Project) in Great Britain. These are more focused on studies on Kurds in general.
When reading your book, an analogy came to my mind. Kurds’ works in Sweden seems similar to the works of Armenian and Greek Diasporas in other countries. They constantly focus on the pains and injustices they lived. Can we say that this kind of tactic is used by Kurds in Sweden too?
Using injustice language is clearer in the diaspora in Germany. They think that they are mistreated in both Germany and Turkey. But this language is not about looking for pity but about resistance. These people try to announce their status to the world. In Germany, this was the case. If you are asking about injustice language turned into lobbying activities in Sweden, yes we can say that it is more organized in Sweden. Just like how the Kurdish diaspora in Sweden successfully made Armenian Genocide Bill to the parliament. Or as I mention in my book, most of the Kurdish politicians I talked to said that they take Jewish and Armenian Diasporas as a model instead Palestine diaspora. Also, Swedish parliament accepted the Anfal Massacre by Saddam as genocide. But I think the injustice language was in all of them. In Sweden, it was not that open as I included in my example, Kurds in Sweden do not feel mistreated that much. They feel it in other way because they are migrants but not because they are Kurdish.
Armenians’ memories about the pains they have gone through are always fresh. They transfer this from generation to generation.
Ah yes, that is definitely there. Generation to generation, maybe because of this my Ph.D. thesis’s title was “inherited conflicts”. There is this thing where the pains and traumas of mother and father are transferred to following generations. But, in my opinion the difference between Armenian and Kurdish case is that Kurds are still experiencing these traumas. They do not need their parents’ memories. When you turn on the TV you see that these are still continuing. Roboski is a new example and there are thousands of others. Even when we look at the Berkin Elvan incident, it was the eighth victim of Gezi but maybe among the hundreds of murdered Kurdish children. These kinds of pains are still there and they are fresh. Apart from remembering what has happened in the past, there are also the continuing pains of today and sacrifices.
An ongoing dynamic…
It will continue until we face with the problems and solve them.
Besides, in your book it is said that the dynamics between second generation Kurdish and Turkish immigrant s are affected by the dynamics in Turkey. Still they do not radically break away from each other because of social and economic relations. The Turkish and Kurdish immigrants are still together. In the long run if the Germany’s policies towards Kurdish changes would Kurds separate radically from Turks? A separation of residential areas? Would that happen in the long run or is this an organic structure?
I think it’s organic in a way. It is because it unites people all around different groups. For instance as I mentioned, some left-wing associations have both Turkish and Kurdish members. Similarly, there are platforms where Alevi or Sunni associations have members from both nations but in general I have looked at the people who politically identify themselves in the Turkish or Kurdish movement therefore it was hard to make this case. As the generations change, the bonds between Kurdish and Diaspora groups are severing. In first generation, they have the feeling of familiarity. The new generation does not speak Turkish; they speak German and learn Kurdish, so with them losing Turkish in the future, we may see the links get broken. Other than this, I believe parties’ statements are highly effective. For example you do not see racism in Kurdish movement. Or PKK never says ‘stay away from Turks, do not be friends with them, do not conduct business with them’. You can see these kinds of statements within Turks. And also I have seen the disintegration within Turks you have talked about not within Kurds. This lynch culture against Kurds was within Turks. For instance when doing interview with Turks they said things like ‘do not buy from that shop; they are helping PKK’s economy’. However, I have not heard a Kurd saying ‘do not go there they are nationalists’. It seemed like Kurds had more tolerance. This was what I witnessed in Germany. If there will be a disintegration, it will happen according to how Turks act.
I would like to ask a more methodological question. I know that in your work you have a specific group of people. Not all Turkish or Kurdish is part of the diaspora. Of course in terms of gender usually there are 20 men and 18 women. In your example there is a balance there. Yet, I have sensed masculinity when looking at the Turkish-Kurdish relation, conflict. It seemed like it was all about men. In conflicts usually men take part. So where were the women in your work and Turkish-Kurdish relation? We know that women are effective but while reading your book the impression was they were in the background.
Where this masculine language comes from? Maybe because I talked about the street conflicts in Germany.
Relations are masculine, conflict, rap music etc. The masculine language is dominant here. More generally, where are the women? What was your impression about women? It is known that women are pioneers in Kurdish movement. So what was your general impression about Kurdish and Turkish women in your work?
Now, I did not want to go into societal gender in my thesis. Because it was a whole different world and the first thing I wanted to find out was different and I needed to limit my case. But I believe this issue to be extremely important. That is why it was a great question. Now I can say that in Sweden both Turkish and Kurdish association’s president was a woman. And most of the members were also women. I almost had a hard time finding men to interview. Women were really active. Just like this, I also interviewed with 3 women from Turkish Academics Association. So, the presence of women felt strongly in Sweden. I also went to women’s associations. Within the associations, women were very active. Therefore, I think you would not feel the masculinity in Sweden.
True, I did not sense it that much considering Germany…
In Germany it was a masculine language. I really find it difficult to reach out to women. For instance, I did not face with any obstacles inside Kurdish groups. Women were active again. Women were working in different levels in KOMKAR and other associations. Of course while working they face with different problems and other researchers are working on these. Also I saw women in Turkish associations like TBB (Turkish Society in Berlin-Brandenburg). Additionally, they were present in social democrat or Alevi associations. Of course, they were in the background when I made interviews with Grey Wolves. When I went to Grey Wolves’ association, it was women’s gathering day. But, in my interviews, they usually said things like ‘talk with our party representative’. Of course, in Germany, this grey area, where there is no actual violence but the language is violent, was masculine. It is said that women also a part of these groups. There is no such a thing like women cannot be nationalists yet most of the violence comes from young men.
Did you experience any hardship in your research as a woman researcher? What were they?
It was not a big deal in Sweden; I do not remember any problems apart from two cases. However, in my field work in Germany, there were lots of problems. They asked me things like ‘what are you doing here alone as a women?’, ‘Weren’t there any other subjects?’, ‘Why are you working on these things?’ They constantly asked me why I am not married. They told me jokingly that lets marry you, you cannot find a Turkish husband now let’s find you a Kurdish husband. As a single woman researcher who works on these ‘sensitive’ cases at the end of her 20s was drawing attention. Apart from these, there was also harassment. Every woman researcher experiences it but we cannot find the courage to talk about it openly. I would like to write a methodological article about this. Being a Turkish and a woman in the field… These are the things should be discussed that have different balance of power and different parts. In my fieldwork years, I was 26-27. There were times where I had a really hard time. Also it helped me. People tend to doubt you less. They need the feel to help you: ‘She is alone let’s help her’. They sense you are unable and they approach you with good intentions. Also there is this thing written by Liza Mugge from Amsterdam University where she says “People treated me like I am a clueless little girl”. It was the same for me. They had this attitude where they think “She is working on a problem on her own, trying to understand Kurdish. So cute, so nice.” I find it difficult to be taken seriously but I still experience these things. I am giving interviews to magazines and people still think I could not say things about serious matters as a woman. The research is finished but these problems are not.
If we divide it as Turks in Sweden and Germany, can we say that Turks in Sweden are interested in Turkey’s politics in order to protect themselves in Sweden? For instance, let’s not destroy Turkey’s and Turks image to be able to have a good life in Sweden and let’s not face with any problems as immigrants. On the other hand can we say that Turkish nationalism is imported and Turks in Germany sees Turkish nationalism as a lifestyle and political duty in order to protect Turkey? What are the differences between two countries? Which dynamics can explain these differences?
As we mentioned before, it is possible that political movements may have transferred to Germany with refugees. It may also be a result of works of government’s bodies. Turkey lived through such a political period that no movement had a room to breathe. And everybody moved to Germany. This is not a secret. From radical religious movements to far left, from the Kurdish to Alevi, everybody finds a place to breath in Germany. For a while, it was like this. They managed to survive there. Now we need to make a separation. Everybody has a political opinion. Even the apolitical people have their opinions right? But the thing I am trying to explain here is they are being mobilized and acting collectively in the context of diaspora. Now, it happened in Germany. Firstly, there are elites. They tried hard to unite people, saw it as a duty to found associations, to mobilize people by going different cities. And what else Germany has? The mass. There are millions of people whom you can address to. However, when you look at Sweden, it is a fact that most of these people have a conservative background. Still everyone has their own opinion. Some are more Atatürkist, some are Nationalists, some are this and some are that. Therefore people in Sweden are not independent from politics. But what I am trying to underline is that there were no organized structure or organizational structures trying to make Sweden take steps against Turkey. For instance, when you look at the leftist movement, there were Turkish leftists who went to Sweden in 70s. But most of them returned to Turkey. This way, as far as I observed, the rest of the leftists decided to join the left parties, associations or social democrats in Sweden instead of founding their own associations. My interviewees also said this. Also there is this thing in Sweden that because most of the Turkish came from a town like Kulu, the associations usually reflect the pursuits of that region. I gave an example in the book. One of my interviewees said this: “My cousin is nationalist; the other is something else… But we are a family”. This kind of thing is there and because of this people do not attack each other. However in Germany you see a Kurdish-Turkish conflict while you almost never see these kinds of things in Sweden. In other words, they do not make it to the news. For instance there are two big associations in Sweden for Turks. One is founded by people from Cihanbeyli other is founded by people from Kulu. Difference lies in here. Yet as this political activeness increases, in my opinion, as the Kurdish movement gets bigger, Turks are trying to develop something against it. They always had the nationalist feelings, sensitivity given in Turkey even if it was implicit. Now the Kurdish movement in a way affects them, they are trying to develop a mechanism to react them. What does this mechanism consist of? Getting help from consulates, this help is not monetary but moral in the sense that it makes it possible to unite them. Diaspora organizations getting help from Turkey by using the same official ideology used in Turkey against Kurds such as terrorism language. Besides, this one of the biggest split was when the Armenian Genocide Bill accepted. According to my observations, this started a serious discomfort among the Turkish population and in a way caused some kind of activism. But, will it become permanent and turn into a movement? Time will show. For instance, there are still protests against this law. There were protests in its anniversary. But the participation was low. For the Turks in Sweden, Turkey’s image means their image and they cannot escape from it. I see it this way. This became clear when the Gezi protests started. I should also say this. Of course, they have their ideas about Turkey. I followed the arguments in Facebook. Turks in Sweden had lots of groups. They have newspapers and blogs. In the arguments there you see that they are disintegrated among themselves ideologically. Especially just like this AKP-Kemalist polarization in Turkey, this has reflections in the political platforms in Sweden. But there is nothing much organizationally. I think as every Turkish diaspora has, they also have the idea to change policies of Turkey. But, their first priority is to affect and change the policies of Sweden. When I examine the organizational structure of Turks in Sweden, they have the strategy to choose a political party and works towards the withdrawal of the Armenian Genocide Law. But there is no diaspora group to say “Turkey’s policies towards Armenia should be like this”. They cannot interfere Turkish politics from Sweden.
Lastly, in the Gezi Park protests, everybody started to ask where the Kurds were. How did the Kurdish Diasporas in Germany and Sweden saw Gezi protests? Did they internalise it?
About the Gezi Park protests, I know it from my friends and my observations. Kurds were there. But we can argue whether they supported it organizationally or not. I am talking about the diaspora of course… I want to make the organizational-individual separation. Individually most of the Kurds were there. But organizationally, in organizations’ statement, in the first couple of days, there was hesitation. Now we should understand this well and respect Kurds right to not protest together with TGB (Turkey Youth Union). I mean it is only natural that they do not stand together with the party with racist campaigns like “I do not buy from Kurds so my money will not go to PKK”. Also groups being hesitant may come from the consideration for the peace process and the questioning of “with whom am I protesting with?”. And also we should not forget that what is called Gezi in İstanbul and Ankara was something else in other cities. For instance, whoever to Hrant Dink’s funeral and protested Roboski, it was the same in Istanbul, Ankara too. There were different dimensions in other cities. How did it reflected to diaspora? When I look at Sweden, I did not do any field work, I only listened and observed. Already, I did not see any support message from any of the second generation Kurdish associations. On the contrary, they thought like ‘this is not our cause’. There were comments like ‘now Turks got smart’. That is why they did not show any kind of organizational representation. But the people who organized Gezi protests in Sweden told me there were some Kurdish participants. As far as I can see the only common protest was against Erdoğan during his visit to Sweden. However generally, there were things like flash mob or other similar things. We do not see the Kurds there as associations or representations. On the other hand, in Germany there are Kurdish associations and formations like Democratic Unification of Power Platform. Or YEKKOM (Germany Kurdish Associations Federation), KOMKAR, Alevi federations and left-wing DDIF (Democratic Workers Associations Federation) existed. They made a joint statement. Protests were organized together. Lots of Kurdish association, left leaning Kurdish associations supported it. They walked together and set up tents. There were lots of declarations about the Gezi. And also there was a protest about Erdoğan’s visit to Germany. The Democratic Unification of Power Platform was very active there. I saw a common ‘Gezi soul’ being achieved in Germany. In Sweden, however I saw that when necessary there can be an alliance but the Kurds were distanced to Turks’ Gezi protests.
Thank you very much Dr. Baser for your time. It has been an enlightening interview for our readers regarding the Turkish-Kurdish Question in the Diaspora.
I thank you, both for your interest, and the excellent questions that you have asked.
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Please cite this publication as follows:
Research Turkey (June, 2014), “Interview with Dr. Bahar Başer on Her Book: Turkish – Kurdish Question in the Diaspora, Second-generation Turkish and Kurdish Diasporas in Sweden and Germany”, Vol. III, Issue 6, pp.22-40, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=6457)