An “Imagined Nation”: The Kurdish cyber community

6 Feb

The contemporary advancements in information technology have made information and communication easy, fast and cheap. Satellite TV and radio, mobile phones (smart phones) and the Internet facilities enabled us to exchange ideas, documents and information regardless of geographical boundaries. These facilities caused creation of virtual world where people can demonstrate their views, identities and share ideas. An example for this is creation of cyber community where people can chat and “meet” online from different places. In the following paragraphs, I am going to write about cyber community with reference to Kurdish Diaspora in the West. To do that, I will define first, what cyber community is. After that, I will focus on Kurdish cyber community in Europe to show how cyber nation is possible in virtual world.

What is cybercommunity? To answer this, a definition of the term community is in place. The sense of community is the individual’s feeling of relationship to a community or personal knowledge about belonging to a collective that includes others. Koh and Gul Kim noted four elements of community: membership which indicates people experience feelings of belonging, influence which people feel that they can make a difference, needs fulfillment and believe that the resources available in their community will meet their needs and emotional connection which is the belief that community members have and will share history, time, places, and experiences [4]. Cybercommunities are a new form of online communication whereby community members regardless of physical location share information and knowledge. The sense of cybercommunity may be defined as the individual’s feelings of membership, influence, and immersion toward a virtual community [4].

What are the causes of cybercommunities? Why is cyber space community different and is at time more important than normal sense of community? To answer these questions, I will include following arguments. When the Internet appeared, many social scientists the  increased mobility of people, expected that it would threaten the cultural integrity of nations. The non-territorial and supra-national character of the Internet would lead to fragmentation of populations and breakdown of stable national identities. Some even foresaw the coming of an all-encompassing global identity. But, recent findings on the Internet use show that advancement in information technology strengthened national identities, and is exceptionally useful in reproducing such identities across vast distances, uniting dispersed populations in virtual communities [3].

Some people also argued that no one actually lives in cybercommunity and it is a conglomeration of normative codes and values that provides community members with sense of identity. But Wang by quoting from scholars like Anderson, Rheingold and Baym argued that, all communities are imagined, socially constructed, and its participants characterized by common value system, norms, rules, the sense of identity that, commitment and association. They believed that the reality existed in the minds of participants [1]. To understand these characteristics of cybercommunity through examples, in the next paragraphs I will focus on Kurdish cyber space community in Europe.

Who are the Kurds? How are they using cyber space for national identity? The Kurds are, like the Iranians, an Indo-European people of the Middle East. They mostly inhabit a region known as Kurdistan (Land of Kurds) that includes adjacent parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Until World War I, they were ruled by Ottoman Empire. After the dissolution of the Empire, many new nation states were created, but not Kurdish state. Instead Kurdistan was divided among Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey [7]. The number of Kurds is estimated to at around 30 million, with another one or two million living in Diaspora. Due to the oppressive and discriminative state policies, many Kurds immigrated to European countries (mainly to the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Germany and England) in nineteenth century [2].

Since Kurdish identity (like culture and langue) is banned in countries of origin, Kurds in exile have developed a variety of media-magazines, satellite TV channels and Internet resources- to build a shared identity and make themselves known as a nation without a country to outside world. Having no Kurdish state to maintain and strengthen the Kurdish identity, the task of creating a Kurdish civil society and collective identity is largely left to private enterprise (Rich Kurdish people) [3].

Kurdish satellite television may have the power of state-run media, and yet it also has the political factions and often exclusive rhetoric of a nation-state. The Internet, on the other hand, is much more polyphonic, offering space for dissenting opinions to be aired, shared and contested [2]. The Internet is easy to access, open for all and it has more facilities like blogging, posting or chatting. Moreover, since much of Kurdish elites and academics are in exile, the Internet has turned out to be a perfect medium for the consolidation of identity and dissemination of news for the Kurds [3].

A review of websites like KurdishMedia (www.kurdishmedia.com) created and edited by professional journalists show that they have tried to develop a scientific approach to the Kurdish issue, including towards its language, art and culture, create new definitions for the future of the Kurdish nation within the international arena, create a sphere for Kurdish thinkers and strategists to be able to further develop upon the Kurdish issue, introduce Kurds as a civilized nation in the international arena and define a state of “United Kurdistan” as an isle of peace at the heart of the Middle East [5].

Moreover, websites are also important source for learning language, and search for their history. For instance chat rooms like Paltalk enable Kurdish users to share not just political, religious, cultural and social issues, but also share music, songs, and jokes to each other. In this respect, the gap between the “virtual” and “real” experiences of the Kurds becomes minimal [6].

To sum up, nowadays no one can deny the growing world of cyber space with the development of information communication technologies which allowed people to communicate virtually regardless of distance and national boundaries. One of the many outcomes of above fact is possibility of creating cyber community that allows people to get united and reproduce their identities.  The Kurds are good example for the fact that they 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 is trying to form Kurdish cyber nation called “Kurdistan” among dispersed people in different parts of the world. It is early to judge impact of Kurdish virtual nation on creation of physical Kurdish nation state. But it is possible to see many Kurdish people who live virtually in “Kurdistan”.

 By: Otgonbayar  Ajykyei

References:

  1. Victoria Wang, Community On-Line: “Cybercommunity and Modernity. Why do people participate in cybercommunities?”, http://www.journal.webscience.org/175/3/websci09_attachment_176.pdf, Accessed on 02.02.2013
  2. Shailoh Phillips,  Cyberkurds and Cyberkinetics Pilgrimage in an Age of Virtual Mobility, Etnofoor, Vol. 20, No. 1, PILGRIMAGE (2007), pp. 7-29
  3. Thomas Hylland Eriksen, ( March, 2006), “Nation in Cyberspace”, www.philbu.net/media-anthropology/eriksen_nationscyberspace.pdf, Accessed on 02.02.2013
  4. Joon Koh and Young-Gul Kim, International Journal of Electronic Commerce, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Winter, 2003/2004), pp.75-93
  5. www.kurdishmedia.com
  6. Khalid Khayati, “Transfer of Kurdish identity to cyberspace”, http://kanetwerk.net/literatuur-kunst-a-cultuur/227-transit-to-cyberspace, Accessed on 02.02.2013
  7. Who Are the Kurds?, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/daily/feb99/kurdprofile.htm, Accessed on 05.02.2013

 

 

6 Responses to “An “Imagined Nation”: The Kurdish cyber community”

  1. jankipandya February 10, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    This was truly informative. The want to assert their identity and the use of virtual world for the same can be studied here. It is fascinating of such imagined nations online other such example shared with us

    • Otgonbayar Ajykyei March 16, 2013 at 8:34 am #

      thank your for your comments Janki.

  2. Kester Pereira March 4, 2013 at 4:16 am #

    The transition to an information society, is changing our relations with one

    another and also with us as rightful citizens of a country to our government.

    Public opinion is restricting the arbitrariness of leaders around the world. The

    want of an identity has been redefined, eg: the recent Catalonians demand for a

    separate state is more economic than political or ideological (if not sentimental).

    It is true that the internet is being used to strengthen the idea of a nation, but

    then again, history shows us that nationalism is used for political mobilization.

    These issues, let us to question the very nature of Kurdish nationalism

    expressed through the cyberspace.

    The internet is helping stateless nations like that of the Catalonians, Basques,

    Kurds, etc to a vast extent. However, on the other hand, there is the growing

    tendency of the government to restrict anything that comes in its way, especially

    with regards to its sovereignty. Keeping this in mind, states will only marginally

    compromise with their sovereignty so as to ensure its survival in an anarchic

    international system (if one looks at it from a realist point of view). On the other

    hand, since security is the primary aim of a state, given the present condition of

    the international system, states will cooperate with one another so as to ensure

    its own survival (if one looks at it from a liberal point of view). Thus, a “United

    Kurdistan” seems like a possibility. However for this to translate to reality, in my

    opinion, the Kurds should use Information and Communications Technology

    (ICT) to its fullest.

    It will be interesting to see how the Kurds mobilize their demand in Syria after the achievement of the civil society collective aim of an end to the al-Assad regime.

    • Otgonbayar Ajykyei March 16, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      thanks Kester, for sharing your views.
      I think the main handicap for the Kurds to get fully united is that they speak different languages in different regions. it slows down their motion of nation building process…

      • Kester Pereira March 16, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

        It was my pleasure, Otgon !!!!

        Language, no doubt, does play an important role in the unification process towards nationalism, and if successful, then followed by nation building. However, this can be overcome through a manufactured language (like for example Bahasa Indonesia). If any, what are the Kurds attempts towards this? If no, do you feel this will be a useful strategy in the formation of Kurdistan. Otgon, what your take on Kurds in Syria. Do you feel the Kurds can assert their identity in a post-Assad Syria regime and to what extent?

  3. shraddha March 29, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    Hi Otgon🙂 This made for quite an interesting read.

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