Reviewed by Damla B. Aksel –PhD Candidate in Political Science, Koç University, İstanbul
Two hot topics of politics scholarship, that of “diasporas” and “conflict” are brought together by Bahar Başer, in her newly published book entitled “Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts: A Comparative Perspective”. Baser sheds new light on diaspora politics by investigating how domestic conflicts are brought into new geographies as a result of migration and how these contentions endure over generations. Looking into the diffusion of what she describes as the “low-scale civil war in Turkey”, the author takes on the conversion of the Kurdish/Turkish problem into domestic controversies in Sweden and Germany, two host countries to Kurdish and Turkish migrants. The book stands as an important contribution to political science in general and to theories on migration and conflict studies as it focuses on the variations in the spillover of domestic conflicts, as a result of structure (host states’ policies and politics) and agency (second generation migrants’ practices and interactions).
The book begins by setting information for the reader who might not be familiar with the main determinants of the discussion. The background chapters include a discussion of the main puzzle of “Kurdish/Turkish problem in Turkey and elsewhere” and of evidence on Swedish and German politics and policies on migrant incorporation, followed by the history of migration from Turkey to these two host countries. In the empirical chapters, Baser provides a comparison first, across the cases of Sweden and Germany and second, within case comparisons by looking at the role of interactions among diaspora groups and the structural factors in the host countries. Baser’s comparative case study makes it possible to discuss determinants of variation in both macro- (state policies and politics) and micro-level (migrant interactions). Therefore while revisiting the existing literature on migration from Turkey to Germany heralded by scholars including Ostergaard-Nielsen and Argun, the author broadens the discussions through cross-country comparison and the results of extensive ethnography. The six year long fieldwork (2008-2014) includes participant observation and interviews with approximately 200 informants.
As a result of this rich and challenging study, Baser argues that contrary to the earlier discussions in the literature, conflicts that are imported from the homeland are not necessarily transferred into the newer generations as they are in the new countries of residence. Rather, they are translated into new contentions due to variations in the interactions between the new generation migrant groups that are in conflict and the migrant incorporation regimes of the host countries. The interactions between the second-generation Kurdish and Turkish communities diverge in the Swedish and German settings significantly. Whereas in Sweden there is negative peace due to spatial and social distance among Turks and Kurds, it is possible to talk about multifaceted interactions between two politicized groups (from violent clashes to sporadic alliances) in Germany. Furthermore, the migration regime in the host country determines the channels that are used by migrants (and their descendants) on homeland issues. As such, Baser argues that while the Swedish multicultural migration regime allows Kurds and Turks to politically mobilize through institutional channels of lobbying and agenda setting, in the more inaccessible German system second generation migrants opt for mobilization in less institutionalized and often violent means. Therefore different from the initial Kurdish/Turkish problem spilled from the homeland in the past, the current conflict is the result of a reconstruction by the second generation through the prism of own experiences in the host country.
One of the current discussions in the literature on “diasporas” is about conceptualizing the notion, which has been converted from its initial definition to be used nearly anonymous to concepts as “transnational communities” or even “migrants”. “Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts” does not fall into the trap of reifying the groups with interests of mobilizing on “homeland” issues under the concept of “diasporas”. Providing a processual account on diasporas, Baser offers a convincing discussion and emphasizes the heterogeneous, transformative and interactive characteristics within the Turkish and Kurdish populations in Sweden and Germany. Second generation Kurdish and Turkish groups have not been considered as monolithic entities, through depictions of intra-group divergences, resulting in different practices of alliance building and conflict across various groups. Moreover, the book chapters are nicely built to refer to the triangular relationship between migrants, host countries and home countries, even though the weight is given on the first two in the overall discussion. The strongest feature of the book is the empirical data obtained from extensive field research with hard-to-reach members of the Turkish and Kurdish activist groups. With “Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts” and her other related articles, Baser proves academic expertise on Turkey-origined migration in Europe, and especially regarding migration and post-migratory processes of Kurdish populations in the present-day.
Although the discussions on theory and the empirical data deliver substantial evidence on the arguments, further support could be provided via more systematized factual material on the political practices of diasporas. Very often the individual histories of the second-generation diaspora members and the activities by associations are presented in an intertwined fashion. This makes it difficult for the reader to distinguish micro and meso determinants of variations within the conflict and trace evidence on the main arguments of the sections. While the background chapters provide a certain historicity for the Kurdish/Turkish problem in Turkey, Sweden, Germany and elsewhere, there is limited reference in the empirical chapters to the context-related changes of the issue and their reflections on the communities, such as the Kurdish opening process in Turkey and Gezi movement. The research takes place in 2008-2014, a period when significant administrative, cognitive and structural changes in the policy making on non-resident citizen communities have taken place in Turkey. More emphasis on the role and reflections of these changes on the communities in Sweden and Germany could heighten discussions on ethnic Turks’ recent mobilization and the emergence of ethnic alliance building – both among Kurds and Turks from outside of Turkey. Finally, the author often cites accounts from the social media (e.g. Facebook and bloggers among diaspora members) without acknowledging the role of communications technologies for the diffusion of domestic issues in the transnational spaces. The recurrent references to these outlets also prove that domestic conflicts in the global age cannot be rendered understandable only within the premises of physical and social territories.
Başer’s book is valuable insofar as it brings in the discussions on conflict importation and the role of second generations to the extensive literature on diasporas and transnationalism. Revolving around the topic of Kurdish/Turkish problem, the book also provides profound insights on domestic politics in Turkey. The present state of political affairs in Turkey, stirred with the entry of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) to the Turkish parliament bypassing the 10% election threshold, the coalition-building negotiations and the results of extra-territorial votes brings new questions for further research on this topic.