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Transnational Communities Programme

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Diaspora-politics of Immigrants and Refugees from Turkey residing in Germany, The Netherlands, UK and Denmark


Short summary/ Long description

Principal Investigator
Eva Østergaard-Nielsen
International Relations
London School of Economics
Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE
Tel: 0207 955 6009
Fax:0207 955 7446
Duration of Research
1 January 1999 to 28 February 2002

Short Summary

Aims and objectives

This research introduces notions of trans-state political links to the study of political activities of immigrants and refugees from Turkey in western Europe. The Investigation will compare both the political links of the diaspora residing in several countries with Turkey, and the political links among the different parts of the diaspora. A cornerstone in the comparative study is to analyse the extent to which the scope, forms, and effectiveness of diaspora-politics are related to the opportunity to participate in politics in host-countries. Anther important component is the way in which the relationship amongst the various movements in the diaspora mobilize action.

Methodology/study design

The research is designed as a comparative study of diaspora-politics in four countries. The Netherlands provides the sharpest contrast to Germany, with Denmark and the UK as intermediate comparative case-studies. In order to map out and analyse selected political organizations in each of the countries a qualitative study will be undertaken. Sources will include indepth interviewing with diaspora political actors and written material from the various organizations.

Academic and Policy implications

Throughout Europe, transnational communities of immigrants and refugees retain and develop an interest in, and political ties with, their country of origin. This research will contribute to the ongoing policy debates of how a democracy deals with members of society whose loyalty is also directed back towards their country of origin.

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Diaspora-politics of Immigrants and Refugees from Turkey residing in Germany, The Netherlands, UK and Denmark

Long description


Diaspora politics raise sensitive issues of dual loyalty, the mobilization and manipulation of political power, and the influence of diaspora politics on national and international systems. The formation and politicization of diasporas is not only a long-term phenomenon but is accelerating. Most studies of trans-state political activities of diasporas focus on North America, where the political activities among well-established groups such as the Jewish, the Greeks and the Armenians, have been recognized as a significant part of North American domestic and international politics.

Throughout Europe transnational communities of immigrants and refugees retain and develop an interest in, and political ties with, their country of origin.

Policy-makers are increasingly met by demands from diasporas who urge them to pursue a particular policy towards their homeland. Governments in Europe are met by demands from the homeland governments of diaspora to restrain their political dissidence. Are such diaspora political activities contingent on the political rights and opportunities to participate in the politics of their host-country?

So far there has been no systematic comparative study of the homeland strategies of one diaspora in several countries in western Europe. Hence there is little research to guide the understanding of how difference in 'political structures of opportunity' in the host-countries impact the activities and strategies of these communities. This research aims to introduce understandings of trans-state political links of diasporas to the study of political activities of immigrants and refugees in western Europe. Transnational communities from Turkey are highly visible immigrant groups and, as such, an obvious case. Turkish citizens constitute one of the largest and most widely dispersed immigrated groups in western Europe and the largest group in Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

Aims and objectives

More specifically, the aim of this research is to build on my D.Phil. thesis on the dual loyalty of Turkish citizens in Germany by expanding it into a comparative study of similar phenomena in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Denmark. In line with the general understanding of the transnationalism of diasporas the German case will be added to by, a) comparing the political links with Turkey of the diaspora residing in several countries, and, b) comparing the political links among the diaspora communities residing in several countries.

A cornerstone in the comparison is to analyse how the political structures of the host-country influences diaspora political activities. 'Political structures' should be understood very widely as both the extent to which the diaspora has access to host-countries' governments and public opinion (as part of the electorate and/or via extra-parliamentarian activities), and the readiness of the host-country to tolerate the various forms and expressions of the diaspora's political activism. Hence, it includes such dimensions as the legal situation of the immigrants and refugees, their social and political rights and their access to citizenship and/or dual citizenship. It also includes the relationship between diaspora groups and political parties, trade-organizations, and other 'solidarity'-groups.

Accordingly, the Netherlands and Denmark are chosen to provide a contrast to Germany given Germany's more inclusive political systems in terms of political rights.

The UK will contrast with the other cases in terms of the political context and the way that the communities differ. The community is larger than in Denmark, and although it is relatively unnoticed by the British public and policy-makers it has the attention of the homeland - not least due to presence of Kurdish and left-wing political organizations.

This study aims to compare and analyse how different political opportunities and structures of the host-country influence the trans-state political activities of immigrants and refugees from Turkey in the following dimensions of diaspora-politics:

1. The degree of homeland affiliation and participation in homeland politics; This study will question 'zero-sum' assumptions of the political universe of transnational communities in western Europe. It will argue that homeland affiliation is not solely determined by the integration and access to the political system of the host-country. The political affiliation of immigrants and refugees is a complex process of ongoing identification. Hence, despite long-term settlement in western Europe of immigrants and refugees from Turkey, these groups continue to identify with and participate in the politics of their homeland.

2. The means and strategies deployed by the diaspora in their homeland-related political activities; This study aims to compare how differences in the political structures of the host-country may shape the various means and strategies deployed by the diaspora vis-a-vis their homeland-agendas. It will question the extent to which the homeland-related strategies of the diaspora parallel the patterns of diasporas political activities which are related to their situation in the host-country.

3. The extent to which the diaspora succeed in carrying out their homeland-related political agendas. This study will argue that differences in political structures of opportunity determine the extent to which diasporas succeed in introducing their homeland political agendas to the policy-makers of their host-country. It will further argue that the compatibility of the homeland-related agendas of the diaspora with the norms, such as internationally institutionalized human rights, to which the host-country adhere, are significant for the effectiveness, albeit the bilateral relationship between the host-country and homeland should also be taken into consideration here.

Other factors than the political structures of the host-country are relevant to the understanding of the magnitude, form and impact of diaspora-politics of citizens from Turkey. Notably the role and agency of relevant political actors in Turkey is very important. The research will include the ways that the homeland seeks to mobilize or restrain the activities of its diaspora. Given that the research compares different groups from one homeland in different countries, the homeland-agency constitutes an invariable factor in the research. Also the significance of the bilateral relationship between the homeland and the host-countries. The research will include how the relationship between the homeland and host-country may influence or be influenced by the diaspora-political activities.

Another important component of the study is the significance of the fact that the communities of immigrants and refugees from Turkey are very heterogenous in terms of both social and economic position as well as cultural and political orientation. These differences are commonly ascribed to their different origins and the on-going process of identification in the diaspora. The ethnic, religious, social and generational differences are replicated in differing political affiliations and agendas, and may occasionally (as in the case of Germany) lead to hostility and violence between the groups. The political links among the diaspora may thus be stronger across borders than between the different groups residing in one country and several groups are organized at a European level.

The study will include the following groups - all of which have several, often rivalling, organizations in the selected host-countries: the Kurdish communities, the Alevites, the Sunni-Muslims, the more extreme right-wing organizations, the Kemalist oriented social-democratic organizations, and the more radical left-wing organizations. Also, specific to the UK case, there is a large community of 'Turkish Cypriots' residing in the UK.

The presence of these groups emphasizes how the ethnic, religious and political divisions of Turkey are replicated in the diaspora. The complexity of the communities warrants empirical research, which will further contribute to our understanding of how various groups with differing relationships with the homeland mobilize and act in different ways.

Theoretical considerations

Given the complexity of the empirical analysis the theoretical considerations involved will pursue different theories. The study will enter into dialogue with theories of comparative politics and seek to test theoretical assumptions about the significance of the inclusiveness of the political system of the host-country towards non-citizens in general and homeland oriented political activities in particular. Given that such a comparative study has not yet been conducted, the proposed study entails an important theoretical challenge in terms of adding the understanding of transnational political networks to more traditional theories of participation in political systems in western Europe. In particular, the proposed empirical study will provide the first opportunity to study diaspora-politics within the framework of the above mentioned general theories of transnationalism, which claim that the efficiency of transnational actors is contingent on the strength of state policy networks in the host-country as well as international institutionalization of the specific issue-area.


The study of political activities of immigrants and refugees from Turkey in Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK will be in the form of a qualitative study, mapping out selected political organizations and associations in each of the countries. An important component of this survey is the in-depth interviewing of heads of organizations and other central actors within the immigrant groups from Turkey. Also sources of data include records of previous activities of the organizations of immigrants from Turkey, as well as lists of membership, sources of funding, and the publications (newsletters etc.) of the organizations. Of utmost significance is the media coverage of political activities in mostly European-based Turkish/Kurdish newspapers and electronic media.

Other sources include: Government reports, party reports, and debates regarding concerns of the political activities of immigrants in general and immigrants from Turkey in particular. This will be supplemented with interviews with selected representatives of members of national parliaments, Unions, NGO's, etc.

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