The role of technology and the Internet in facilitating Kurdish nationalism

The following post was submitted by a reader, ZH.

‘New media technologies’ have facilitated and advanced Kurdish unification and nationalism and will continue to do so by reducing barriers such as time and space. The Internet has connected the Kurdish diaspora to the land and people still occupying the Kurdish territories. This argument is built on the idea that people can share their common sense of identity and feelings of attachment without governmental censorship. The use of digital broadcasting satellite (DBS) and now the Internet provide nations with the tools to relay information, images, ideas, and a sense of identity across borders. This brief article discusses the role of Kurdish satellite television and the Internet in shaping the Kurdish diaspora and Kurdish nationalism. The objective is to determine the impact of satellite television and the Internet in shaping the past and the future of Kurdish nationalism and in particular the Kurdish diaspora in the West. Specifically, the article examines the degree to which technology and the Internet have facilitated modern Kurdish nationalism in the Middle East and across the diaspora.

The Kurdish diaspora is relatively new to the West as they are recruits of the 1960s’ labor force to Europe and products of the several wars that erupted in the last quarter of the twentieth century [1]. Figures for the Kurdish diaspora are difficult to ascertain, but the Institut kurde de Paris estimates that the Kurdish diaspora numbers over one million [2]. As a consequence of poor organization and lack of financial resources, the Kurdish diaspora was weak and ineffectual in its political activism in the West and the Middle East. This changed in 1995 with the launching of the first Kurdish satellite television station, MED-TV, broadcast out of London, UK. The channel was central in articulating Kurdish grievances against Turkey and Iraq and was protected from the censorship against the Kurdish language. The objective of the channel was to broadcast programming in Kurdish languages and to assert the Kurdish identity. For example, the channel’s logo, which was omnipresent during programming, was colored in red, yellow, and green; representing the colors of the Kurdish flag. Moreover, the channel’s daily opening began with the singing of the Kurdish national anthem [3].

MED-TV was closed a short four years after opening due to its alleged connections to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), the terrorist Kurdish group in Turkey. However, Medya TV in France immediately succeeded it. Then between 1999 and 2000 Kurdistan TV and Kurdsat were launched out of the Kurdish region of Iraq. This demonstrated that governments (Turkey and Iraq in particular) were incapable of regulating Kurdish nationalism. Television would come to constitute a very important tool for advancing Kurdish nationalism. Indeed, since the launch of MED-TV, there have emerged several other Kurdish satellite channels from Iraq, Iran, and Europe (Medya TV in France and Roj TV in Denmark). Such developments have led academics to argue that technologies such as satellite television and the Internet have facilitated and contributed to the development of the Kurdish identity [4]. Jaffer Sheyholislami, for example, concludes that Kurdistan TV (from the Kurdish region of Iraqi) constructs and reproduces a “cross-border Kurdish identity…with its own language and signs[5].” These satellite channels reach the Kurdish diaspora in the West and provide it with information related to Kurdish issues. More importantly, however, it is a tool used to preserve and advance the Kurdish identity.

Kurdish use of the Internet is also noteworthy. Researchers argue that the Kurds have used the Internet, e-mail and social networking sites, for organizing protests, meetings, and ‘nationalist projects [6].’ Moreover, the Internet provides the Kurds with a forum wherein they can discuss issues and subjects that are otherwise banned. This is particularly true of the Kurds from Turkey who use the Internet to disseminate banned publications and to make them available to the Kurds in Turkey [7]. Facebook, for example, is popular for creating groups that discuss the Kurdish language, culture, and history. Twitter has also become a popular destination for expressing Kurdish nationalism. For example, Twitter was used to organize a campaign to highlight the oppression of Kurds in Turkey and to garner attention and support for the Kurds [8].

The use of the Internet by the Kurdish diaspora and those in the Middle East represents what Benedict Anderson has called ‘long-distance nationalism [9].’ Unfettered access to the Internet has allowed the Kurdish diaspora, and some in the Middle East to perpetuate the ‘imagined community’ that is Kurdistan. It allows disparate groups to “imagine themselves as nations” and provides a voice to those who otherwise would not have one [10]. This suggests that the Internet is important for the development of Kurdish, and indeed other, national identities given that it provides a forum where those in the diaspora can maintain their connection to those in the homeland. Essentially, the Internet has diminished the importance of time and space by offering the Kurds a sort of ‘cyber space’ wherein they can express their identity and reinforce Kurdish nationalism.

Satellite channels from the West and the Middle East have mediated Kurdish nationalism. That is, the Kurdish diaspora is no longer detached from the Kurds in the Middle East. On the contrary, the diaspora appears to be contributing to the construction of a ‘new’ Kurdish nationalism. One based on the evolving realities in the Middle East and the West. It is important to note that satellite television allows the Kurds to maintain a connection with Kurds in the Middle East and therefore acquire the belief that Kurdish nationalism is innate and natural. The Internet is also contributing to this notion. Use of the Internet allows Kurds of the diaspora and the Middle East to maintain their shared identity despite the difference in space and time.

Sources:

[1] Amir Hassanpour, “Diaspora, homeland and communication technologies,” in Karim H. Karim (ed.). The Media of Diaspora (London: Routledge, 2003), 78.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 82.
[4] Jaffer Sheyholislami, Kurdish Identity, Discourse, and New Media (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 79.
[5] Jaffer Sheyholislami, 170-172.
[6] David Romano, “Modern Communications Technology in Ethnic Nationalist Hands: The Case of the Kurds,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vo. 35, No. 1 (2002): 127-149.
[7] Jaffer Sheyholislami, 91.
[8] “#TwitterKurds takes the civil disobedience campaign online,” Kurdistan Commentary. 25 May 2011. https://kurdistancommentary.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/twitterkurds-takes-the-civil-disobedience-campaign-online.
[9] Benedict Anderson, “Long-Distance Nationalism: World Capitalism and the Rise of Identity Politics,” Centre for Asian Studies Amsterdam. The Wertheim Lecture, 1992.
[10] Jaffer Sheyholislami, 179.

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