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Home Literatuur, kunst & cultuur Transfer of Kurdish identity to cyberspace

Transfer of Kurdish identity to cyberspace

Dr. Khalid Khayati


The Internet has enabled diasporic populations not only to "maintain links with their homelands of origin, but also to challenge the media conglomerates and the potentially homogenizing effects of Western media," says political commentator Khalid Khayati.

Cyberspace materializes as a new devise in nation-building
The contemporary process of globalization, which has been accelerating strongly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the bipolar international political system, has not diminished the importance of national struggle among marginalized ethno-national populations for achieving their national rights and political sovereignty. As part of the social, cultural, and political arrangements in a globalized world, the Kurds have become conscious about the significance of print media, satellite radios and televisions, and also the Internet. In this respect, the Kurdish Diaspora in the West plays a considerable role.

New communications technologies, such as satellite televisions and radios and the Internet, provide marginalized populations with the means to increase their capacity to promote their political causes. As for the Internet, a number of studies show how various diasporic and transnational populations "colonize" Internet spaces and create virtual communities in order to frame various political, social, and cultural cyber networks. This has been seen as an "alternative cyber media" that helped marginalized ethnic groups sustain their collective identities over the boundaries of several nation-states.

It is important to note that the use of the Internet by diverse identity/cultural and social groups has entailed more specific observations and investigations. The Internet, which has created new spaces for marginalized people to interact by way of such features as e-mail, online publications, and chat rooms, has been, for example, explored for depicting the struggle of ethno-national groups for freedom and the formation of national identity on the Web.

Through using the Internet, diasporic populations become enabled not only to maintain links with their homelands of origin but also to challenge the media conglomerates and the potentially homogenizing effects of Western media. The Internet has largely contributed to the formation of the so-called "on-air, virtual, imagined communities" on the transnational social cyberspaces in which people still meet face-to-face, but under a new definition of "meet" and "face." The era of computer-mediated communication begets a vast array of virtual communities and spaces in cyberspace, predicated on knowledge and information on the common beliefs and practices of a society abstracted from physical space.


The use of chat rooms for amusement or political and organizational purposes is quite current among Kurds.

The presence of Kurds in cyberspace

As for the Kurds, impressive developments have been observed in the Internet domain. The increasing number of Kurdish Web sites, Web catalogues, online publications, and chat rooms appear as various cyberspaces or "online" platforms that, along with the "on-air" television and radio arrangements, offer the Kurds new spaces of communication that challenge the existing geographical, political, and cultural constraints in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and in the Diaspora. For instance, it suffices today to look through different search engines for coming across an abundant number of Web addresses such as Kurdistan Net, Kurdish info, Kurdistan Press, Kurdish News, Kurdish Globe, Kurdistan Observer, Kurdistan Post, Zkurd, WeKurd, Kurdish Media, etc., that give evidence of how the Kurds in general and diasporian Kurds in particular confirm their presence in cyberspace provided by the Internet.

The increase in usage of the Internet among Kurds arises to a large extent from the initiative of many devoted and competent individuals who live in different Western societies. The existence of a great quantity of Web sites that belong to the Kurdish political parties and their affiliated organizations indicates that diasporian Kurds have been further active in transferring an important part of their political rhetoric and even their internal divergences to the Internet domain.

The use of chat rooms for amusement or political and organizational purposes is quite current among Kurds. For instance, there are a great number of Kurdish chat rooms on Paltalk that remain open for their visitors day and night. The visitors of these chat rooms propose to each other music, songs, and jokes; at the same time, there is a variety of discussions on political, cultural, social, and religious issues that above all concern Kurdistan but also the receiving societies in which they reside. In a way, the ways in which the visitors of Paltalk are organized or dispersed correspond to a large extent not only to the real life of the Kurds in Diaspora but also to the social and political realities that prevail in Kurdistan. In this respect, the gap between the "virtual" and "real" experiences of the Kurds becomes minimal.

Even though the use of satellite TV stations and Internet enables Kurds to sustain effective transnational connections with their homeland and assert a collective identity that spans the boundaries of several nation-states, the Kurdish "diasporic media" experiences certain major limits.

As a consequence of an overwhelming filtering campaign that the Islamic regime of Iran has carried out against oppositional Web sites during the last few years, the "on-air" transnational connections between the Kurds in Diaspora and the Kurdish homeland has become drastically restricted. Additionally, Iranian authorities permanently harass those people who use parabolic antennae to watch Kurdish satellite channels. In Syria, authorities strictly control the Internet and this poses real problems for those who want to report about political events that concern Kurds.

Contrary to what happens in Iran, Turkey, and Syria, the use of cell phones and Internet is increasing in Iraqi Kurdistan. After the ouster of Saddam Hussein by America and its coalition forces, Iraqi Kurdistan had an edge on the rest of the country. As security deteriorates in central and southern Iraq, many international companies and organizations base themselves in the safer Kurdish region. Internet cafés and cell-phone shops can be found in abundance in all Kurdish cities and towns. Even nomads, whose main source of income is goat and sheep herding, are equipped with cell phones. Compared to European standards, however, there is still a limited minority that has access to cell phones and above all to the Internet. The limit of globalization becomes further salient when we realize there are three major mobile network providers that share the market between them almost exactly in accordance with the political competition in Iraqi Kurdistan. It is easier to make calls internationally than into the neighboring political territory.

Electronic communications flow leads to a more immediate, less embedded, more intense, and more effective form of transnational bonding. Furthermore, authors argue that technological innovations can in many cases bring about the construction of new diasporic or in some cases virtual identities, as well as of substantive reconfiguration of existing identities. Correspondingly, nations thrive in cyberspace, and the Internet that comprises online newspapers, magazines, chat rooms, semi-official information sites, etc., has in the course of the last few years become a crucial place for identity entertainment or nation-holding for those nations such as Afrikaner-led South Africa, which in one way or another lost its territory; Tamil Sri Lanka or Kurdistan, who have for political reasons been dispersed; and India or Caribbean island-states, who have large emigrant populations that work temporarily or permanently abroad. However, the Internet enables Kurds who have their origins in repressive or closed countries to reach considerable political mobilization not only within the Diaspora, but also among other sympathetic groups. As for the Kurds, an active online presence of cyberspace is a way to become empowered.

Source: The Kurdish Globe


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