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Rethinking Nation in the Light of Diaspora - Diasporic cinema: turkish-german filmmakers with particular emphasis...

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Rethinking Nation in the Light of Diaspora


The notion of diaspora unavoidably calls other relevant concepts into question because the ambiguity of the term diaspora partially results from the changing meaning of related notions such as homeland, transnationalism, post-colonialism and nation that are all interrelated and have been used frequently in debates about diaspora. I want to examine these concepts more closely.
Sujata Moorti, focusing on the lived experiences of contemporary diasporas, along with their sustained relationships with the homeland, expresses a need for rewriting “home”. “Within the diasporic imaginary, home is a contested and emotionally fraught terrain. As a primary site of identification, the term resists the multiple affiliations and shared identities that are characteristics of the diasporic experience” (Moorti 2003: 360). Moreover, home and homeland may not necessarily mean the same thing for diasporic subjects any more. “A person might leave her/his home (a stable place of residence that feels secure, comfortable and familiar) to return to a homeland (a place of origin to which one feels emotionally attached)” (Ishkanian 2004: 114). David Morley further argues how in the era of mobility the concepts of home and homeland have begun to lose their sacredness and they cannot be defined according to the geographical borders of countries. Quoting Angelica Bammer, he defines home as “a mobile symbolic habitat, a performative way of living and of doing things in which one makes one’s own home while in movement” (Morley 2000: 47). However, this definition contains its antithesis, indicating the state of homelessness as well. If home is a symbolic habitat and if one can create one’s home wherever one wants, the stability of home is at risk. Besides, stating that everywhere is home might also imply that nowhere is a “real” home. That is, “heimat is a mythical bond rooted in a lost past, a past that has already disintegrated” (Morley and Robins 1996: 459). Hamid Naficy, too, argues that home becomes an impossible object for a person in a host country who locates her/his home in a homeland which is distant and inaccessible (1999: 31). Retaining their strong bonds with the country of origin and thus having a supreme image of a home in the homeland, people in diaspora tend to suffer from a strong longing for this sacred yet imagined and elusive home.
The meaning of homeland has been changing not only for the members of diasporic communities, but also for the members of the host society, causing a slippery ground for taken-for-granted senses of belonging and identities. “The modern use of the word ‘homeland’ is predicated on the existence of a nation-state. It is presumed that since everyone is a member of a national community, they are also at home there” (Papastergiadis 2000: 54). However,
[In a world that] is increasingly characterised by exile, migration and diaspora, with all the consequences of unsettling and hybridisation, there can be no place for such absolutism of the pure and authentic. In this world, there is no longer any place like Heimat. More significant, for European cultures and identities now, is the experience of displacement and transition. (Morley and Robins 1996: 474)

This seemingly inescapable displacement can be rendered as a traumatic loss. Nevertheless, one can also read the reduced sacredness of a homeland or being/feeling totally homeless positively. Rey Chow argues that, for a migrant, who is the involuntary (since migration, in most cases, is forced by poor economic, political or demographic conditions in one’s home country) passenger-in-transit between cultures, homelessness might be the only home state (1993: 179). Her metaphorical use of “home” meaning “the familiar” leads to an alternative understanding of home and homeland in the age of diasporas. Instead of longing for home and homeland, carrying one’s home inside and feeling free from homesickness might also have an impact on the members of the host society. It might change the views of the hosts, leading to worries about the sanctity and safety of home. Because “the ‘savage’ is no longer out there but has invaded the ‘home’ here and has fissured it in the process” (Lavie and Swedenburg 1996: 2). This marks the moment when margins and peripheries move towards the centre, resulting in the enforced recognition, if not total acceptance, of difference and the different “other” by the natives. The famous, controversial graffiti ‘”I am here because you were there” reveals who the “savage” is and why the existence of the “others” within the host society are conceived as a threat to the purity of homeland and nation.


Members of diasporic communities generally come from countries which are considered peripheral to countries perceived as central, physically crossing the borders of nation-states. As “a community within community”, like a “parasite”, diasporic subjects are seen as “an internal threat to the structural integrity of the nation”: “the nation-state discovers an ‘alien’ element within the national body which operates according to its own laws, disciplinary mechanism, circuits of capital etc.” (Axel 2002: 240). In this context, “they disturb the sense of boundedness and can challenge nation-state ideals such as social cohesion” (Koser 2007: 234-35). Their mere physical existence, especially if they are not white, is enough to cause apprehension. According to Dyer, “non-white people are associated in various ways with the dirt that comes out of the body, notably in the repeated racist perception that they smell; especially in a British context, that their food smells, that they eat dirty foods – offal, dogs, snakes” (1997: 75-76). Therefore, they also encounter social boundaries, which confine them into restricted geographical areas and resultant restricted living conditions. The diasporic subjects are supposed to cross these social boundaries as well. “The approach to the nation implies borders, policing, suspicion and crossing (or refusal of entry) – try to enter a country at the center, and the border is still there to be crossed, the frontier shifted from periphery to center” (Bennington 1990: 121). This entanglement, at the same time, requires crossing psychological borders in the minds of both diasporic subjects themselves and native people.
Nonetheless, as a result of the constant process of crossing borders physically, socially and psychologically, diasporic identities make a significant impact on traditional meanings of the notions of “local” and “global”. “Diasporas are emblems of transnationalism because they embody the question of borders, which is at the heart of any adequate definition of the others of the nation-state” (Tölölyan 1996: 429). They are at once local and global; “glocal”.10 They consist of networks of transnational identifications encompassing “imagined” and “encountered” communities (Brah 1996: 197). Returning to the main features of diaspora, it is clear that in order to be considered as a diaspora, the members have to be dispersed to different destinations, and they should be in contact, establishing a sense of solidarity between these communities in different geographies; consequently, diasporic subjects cannot be confined within the borders of only one nation-state. They always tend to transcend both physical borders separating one nation-state from another; and social and psychological borders isolating diasporic subjects within one society. Yet this transnational aspect of diasporic communities should not be simply equated with transnationalism itself.
We differentiate diaspora from transnationalism in that diaspora refers specifically to the movement of people from one or more nation-states to another. Transnationalism speaks to larger, more impersonal forces – specifically those of globalisation and global capitalism. Where diaspora addresses the migrations and displacements of subjects, transnationalism also includes the movements of information through cybernetics, as well as the traffic in goods, products and capital across geopolitical terrains through multinational corporations. (Braziel and Mannur 2003: 8)

So, there is an obvious overlap between diaspora and transnationalism as well as an expansion of the meanings of either term in diverse directions. In other words, “migration and diaspora do, of course, define a wide range of social processes and experiences, but they do not exhaust transnationality” (Bowen 2007: 880). The transnational characteristic of diasporas is among the reasons that give the term its particularity, privileging the differences of diasporic communities from other minority groups or the societies of the host lands. The status of being transnational challenges traditional notions of citizenship and the nation-state. Transnational subjects may also be more tolerant of racial, ethnic and cultural differences and exhibit a greater propensity to intermingle with other ethnic groups. From a conservative point of view, this can threaten purity; however, it might also pave the way for co-existence as an alternative social form. Boyarin and Boyarin, with an example from Jewish history, explain why transnational diasporas have the potential for the unification of differences: “Within the conditions of diaspora, many Jews discovered that their well-being was absolutely dependent on principles of respect for difference, indeed that, as the radical slogan goes, no one is free until all are free” (1993: 720). They conclude that diasporic cultural identity teaches us that cultures are not preserved by avoiding intermingling with other cultures, in contrast, they can only survive by virtue of such mixing. Cultures as well as identities are constantly being remade (Boyarin and Boyarin 1993: 721). The mutual relation between the diasporic communities and the host society compels constant change and transformation for both sides of the interaction.


As expressed earlier, the term diaspora has come to be used beyond its specific historical ties to the Jewish experience, and as a result:

[It] has been increasingly applied by anthropologists, literary theorists, and cultural critics to describe the mass migrations and displacements of the second half of the twentieth century, particularly in reference to the independence movements in formerly colonised areas, waves of refugees fleeing war-torn states, and fluxes of economic migration in the post-World War II era. (Braziel and Mannur 2003: 4)

This elucidates why the notion of diaspora is quite frequently related to the term “post-colonialism”. Homi K. Bhabha explicitly identifies the diasporic with the postcolonial, stating that “if I began with the scattering of people across countries, I want to end with their gathering in the city. The return of the diasporic; the postcolonial” (1990: 319). The notion of postcolonialism needs to be briefly examined in terms of its relation with diaspora, before returning to the issue of nation.
“Periodising colonialism and its ‘posts’ is not a simple task” (Frankenberg and Mani 2003: 353). It is accepted today that the term postcolonial does not simply address the period after colonialism. By contrast, it is possible to argue that new forms of colonialism and postcolonialist thinking and criticism coexist, particularly considering the recent changes in the world order epitomised by the invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq and the interference in Iran’s home and foreign affairs.11 Some even contend that contemporary transnational corporations are the means of a new colonialism as “they operate over distance, homogenise regions but remain aliens and outsiders in each place, faithful only to the exclusive clubs of which they are members” (Miyoshi 1993: 749). Furthermore, like diaspora, the meaning of the term postcolonial has changed over time.12 How the concept is defined is determined by the point of view of the user and is definitely influenced by social, cultural and political conditions. For instance, “for Indians, postcolonial might imply independence from Britain; birth of the nation-state; end of territorial colonialism, whereas it might mean, for Britain, the loss of colonies; decline of empire; and the appearance on British landscapes of a significant number of people from former colonies” (Frankenberg and Mani 2003: 347-48). The multiple meanings and interpretations of postcolonialism makes it difficult to attribute a stable and clear connection between the terms diaspora and postcolonialism, especially while diaspora is substantially transnational, and postcolonialism, in some cases, comprises the emergence of nation-states. Nevertheless, there are some significant issues to be considered in the connections between the concept of the postcolonial and the concepts of migration and diaspora.
Here, an issue regarding diasporic communities which do not have a colonial past, such as Armenians and Turks, arises and requires clarification. It is a fact that not all diasporic communities are necessarily postcolonial. This begs the question; why then does post-colonialism constitute a crucial part in the debates around diaspora? It is of course the case that post-colonialism, as a paradigm that deals with the process of decolonisation, is central to one of the most important reasons for migration in the middle of the twentieth century and its significant consequences. Decolonisation of formerly colonised lands triggered a considerable amount of forced or voluntary migration to several destinations, but mainly to former colonial European countries which were conceived as “motherlands”, as in the case of Indians migrating to Britain or people from the Maghreb going to France. The conceptualisation of the term diaspora on the basis of cultural features, commonalities and solidarity among different groups, rather than on the basis of race and ethnicity, indicates its strong connection with anti-colonialist movements and post-colonialism. Edmund T. Gordon and Mark Anderson explain how the term diaspora was used as a part of anti-colonialist discourses as follows: “the term itself began to be employed at a particularly fertile moment in the civil rights and pan-African movements by intellectuals and activists striving to increase consciousness and solidarity in confrontation with racism and colonialism” (1999: 285). This signifies how the notion of diaspora, used with regard to post-colonialism, was devised as a strategy to deconstruct binary oppositions like “self” against “other” which were adopted by colonial discourses to build an identity for colonising subjects.13 In this respect, communities which are not postcolonial, but are diasporic, might be compared with postcolonial ones on the basis of being minority and marginal, sharing a migratory history and struggling against discrimination and all kinds of adversity resulting from being “different” within the host society. In a nutshell, cultural plurality, heterogeneity, solidarity among dispersed communities with resistance to dominance and oppression, and the celebration of hybridity appear to be shared features between post-colonialism and diaspora.
Intertwined with the debates about post-colonialism in the context of diaspora are the notions of “nation” and “national”. In fact, all the concepts discussed so far somewhat relate to nation, and thus should also be considered vis-à-vis the changing understanding of nation and national. Khachig Tölölyan draws attention to the importance of the question of nation in terms of diaspora in his preface for the journal Diaspora, and explains why the concept of nation should be taken into consideration: Diaspora [the journal] must pursue, in texts literary and visual, canonical and vernacular, indeed in all cultural products and throughout history, the traces of struggles over and contradictions within ideas and practices of collective identity, of homeland and nation. Diaspora is concerned with the ways in which nations, real yet imagined communities, are brought into being, made and unmade, in culture and politics, both on land people call their own and in exile. (1996: 426-27)

In tune with the suggested conncection between diaspora and nation, James Clifford suggests that we should focus on the borders of diaspora, on what it defines itself against rather than locating essentialist features. He further asserts that diasporas are caught up with and defined against the norms of nation-states and indigenous, and especially autochthonous, claims by tribal peoples (Clifford 1994: 307). However, it seems necessary to remark that some communities in diaspora are known to pursue an ideal of becoming a united nation one day, such as Jews and Armenians.


Anderson highlights a form of long-distance patriotism that immigrants tend to nurture. In an effort to sustain their ties with the homeland, diasporic populations use new communication technologies to participate in a long-distance politics, shaping policies in the homeland but maintaining the sanctity of their lives in the West. (Moorti 2003: 356)

One also needs to bear in mind how problematic the relation between nation and state is (Jacobson 1996; Mandaville 1999). Being against nation-states does not necessarily mean to be anti-nationalist. In accordance with this, diasporas cannot simply be declared as anti-nationalist since “state and nation are at each other’s throats, and the hyphen that links them is now less an icon of conjuncture than an index of disjuncture” (Appadurai 2003b: 38). That is, diasporas residing in different nation-states can form resistance against assimilationist policies of these states, yet at the same time, they can preserve their own ideals for a nation. “The currently emergent consensus in the literature is that many diasporas are deeply implicated both ideologically and materially in the nationalist projects of their homelands” (Werbner 2002: 120). These considerations suggest that concepts of diaspora and nation are essentially interrelated. Therefore, what is meant by nation, the origins of it and how the notion of nation changed over time should be further elaborated.


Adopting the definition of nationalists, Anthony D. Smith depicts nation as a named community of history and culture, possessing a unified territory, economy, mass education system and common laws, and he asserts that this is considered as an ideal type of nation, which is widely accepted today (1996: 7). On the other hand, Ernest Renan emphasises the importance of a spiritual principle in the formation of nations: “Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together” (1990: 18-19). Regardless of which of these bases one would like to build the evaluation of nation on, the roots and main components of a nation are noteworthy.
Since the fall of the Roman Empire or rather since the disintegration of Charlemagne’s empire, Western Europe has seemed to us to be divided into nations … Nations, in this sense of the term, are something fairly new in history. Antiquity was unfamiliar with them; Egypt, China and ancient Chaldea were in no way nations … Classical antiquity had republics, municipal kingdoms, confederations of local republics and empires, yet it can hardly be said to have had nations in our understanding of the term … It was in fact the Germanic invasions which introduced into the world the principle which, later, was to serve as a basis for the existence of nationalities … They effected little change in the racial stock, but they imposed dynasties and a military aristocracy upon the more or less extensive parts of the old empire of the West, which assumed the names of their invaders. This was the origin of France, Burgundy, and Lombardy and subsequently Normandy. (Renan 1990: 8-9)

Thus, in this view, the constituents of any nation, at the birth of nations, were dynastic principle, race or religion, and language in later times.14 Currently, there are two broad opposing approaches that seem predominant in the field and that formulate the formative components of a nation according to different principles:

The nation is often seen as an abstraction, something that nationalists and elites in general have constructed to serve their partisan aims. On this reading, nations lack tangibility or any primordial character. They constitute mere ideals, or mere legitimations and political arguments (Breuilly 1982 pp. 1-41; Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983; Sathyamurthy 1983) … Against this fashionable view, the so-called ‘primordialists’ argued for the reality of nations, and the almost natural quality of ethnic belonging. National sentiment is no construct, it has a real, tangible, mass base. At its root is a feeling of kinship, of the extended family, that distinguishes national from every other kind of group sentiment. (Smith 1996: 106-107)

Standing close to the critical reading of the concept which conceives nation as an abstract construction, modernists like Anderson, Gellner and Nairn evaluate nation by mainly focusing on the correlations between the rise of nations and modernity. They emphasise the imagined and constructed status of the nation, contributing to the change in the understanding of the concept. For Anderson, for example, the nation is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will not know each other personally, but in their mind they retain an image of their communion which is provided by the national temporality of “meanwhile” (2006: 6).15 Once the nation is deemed as a construction rather than a material entity, it becomes hard to ground it on conventional components such as dynasty, religion, and language. From this point of view, nation becomes “a question of address, not of origin or genes” (Willeman 2006: 30), allowing discursive definitions.


If we follow Anderson’s work, which still constitutes a milestone in the theorisation of the modern nation, the change in the understanding of nation can be related to the technological, cultural and political changes occurring in the world today. He asserted that the advent of print technology created the foundation on which modern nations arose. Imagined communities were formed by virtue of the shared “feeling of communion” provided by printed documents such as books and daily mails, which created unified fields of exchange and communication (Anderson 2006: 44-46). Two members of a society were able to feel connected by reading the same text, either at the same or at different times, even though it was very likely for them not to be aware of each other’s existence.
New communication technologies might be seen as the contemporary equivalent of print media as regards the maintenance of national and the construction of transnational imagined communities, or of “communities of sentiment” as Arjun Appadurai calls them, in the sense that they “begin to imagine and feel things together” (2003a: 8).16
The rapid exchange of information held out by audiovisual technology in the twentieth century mirrors an extraordinarily rapid expansion in the rate and extent of human, intellectual and financial migration. Music, radio, television, video, cinema and the Internet may link nations and blur their differences. (Miller 1999: 95)

This sense of mobility of people, along with the exchange of information and culture, has called the traditional perception of nation as a homogenous entity into question. Due to the frequent existence of the “other”, of the diasporic, who can be seen as an agency changing the totality of the nation and national culture from within, it has become questionable to talk about pure nations. “Unity is inherently problematic, and any homogeneity must be shaped across a network of strategic alliances between dominant and subordinate groupings” (Davies 2007: 71). As a result, in the era of diasporas, “it becomes impossible to comprehend the new shape of certain polities – the European Community – without taking into account the effects of massive movements of North African, or Turkish migrations of guest-workers … Transnational forces are intervening in ways whose consequences are not yet clear” (Tölölyan 1996: 428). Definitive results of this change are still to be identified, but it is possible to refer to one obvious consequence, which is the shift in the traditional perception of nation. “After all, one of the most frequently heard laments in many nations today is about deteritoralisation and the loss of cultural grounding, both central tropes in any discussion of diaspora” (Huyssen 2003: 151). In a traditional sense, the two terms represent opposite poles. Diaspora is identified with displacement whereas nation requires the protection of geographical boundaries, or nation is generally considered as homogenous while diaspora goes with hybridity and heterogeneity. Overall, with their transnational features and unfixed status, diasporas appear to have the power to call into question any essentialist meaning of nation.


Despite the main differences that determine the boundaries of the two concepts, there are also some correlations between diaspora and nation. Andreas Huyssen is one of the scholars who underscores the affinities between the two:
The attempt to create a unified or even mythic memory of the lost homeland, of the history of displacement, and the desire to return may be as much a temptation for diaspora as the creation of a unitary national memory is for the nation. Often enough it is precisely the national mechanism of exclusion by a majority culture that generates and strengthens this diasporic counternationalism. (2003: 150)
Tölölyan, too, agrees with the idea that diasporas sometimes can be the source of ideological, financial and political support for national movements, referring to the Israel-Palestine conflict (1996: 428). Some scholars even argue that diaspora can be seen as “an extension of the nation-state model” in that “it constitutes foreignness within other nations and ethnicities” and “implies a congruence between territory, culture and identity” (Huyssen 2003: 150). In accordance with the perspectives presented above, it is not only the perception and understanding of nation but also of diaspora which has been changing in the contemporary world. Since the two concepts are strongly interrelated they inevitably influence and transform each other. Diaspora might include new meanings, depending on the changing nature of nation, or nations require new definitions considering the hybridisation of culture and societies resulting from the existence of diasporas within the boundaries of nation-states.
The existence of diasporic subjects in the centre of host nations, therefore, presents an opportunity to question traditional and restrictive perceptions of the concepts discussed, including diaspora itself. Focusing on the mobility, marginality and difference which are also important features of diasporic subjects, Edward Said states that; “exiles [and also diasporas] cross borders, break barriers of thought and experience” (Said 1990: 365). Members of diasporic communities know at least two languages; they are familiar with at least two different cultures, thus two different points of view, enriching not only their own lives but also the social and cultural life of the host countries; and they are the symbolic bridges between the countries providing and facilitating social, cultural and economic interactions.
The new notions of space and the new connections between global cities advantage diasporas. Members of diasporas are almost by definition more mobile than people who are rooted in national spaces. They are certainly more prone to international mobility and change their places of work and residence more frequently … In the age of globalisation, their language skills, familiarity with other cultures and contacts in other countries make many members of diasporas highly competitive in the international labour, service and capital markets. (Cohen 2003: 169)

Members of diaspora represent changing values and notions. In this sense, we can no longer think of identity as a stable fact or as a completed process.17 Therefore, diaspora draws attention to controversial issues and requires alternative perspectives in order to understand the reality of today’s world comprehensively. “In a way, diaspora is an excellent opportunity to think through some of vexed questions such as solidarity and criticism, belonging and distance, insider spaces and outsider spaces, identity as invention and identity as natural, location-subject positionality and the politics of representation, rootedness and rootlessness” (Radhakrishnan 2003: 129). Globalisation inevitably brings about a process of intermingling of cultures and hybridisation. Cultures and identities cannot and do not need to be protected against each other, but they can coexist, and diasporic communities and their relations with the host societies prove exemplars of this possibility.


In this respect, can the Turkish community in Germany be analysed as a part of the host society despite its supposedly different cultural identity?
In countless debates about the mass migration to Germany that predated 1990, and in much of the international scholarship on “migrants’ literature” or “intercultural literature in Germany”, Turks occupy a central representative position, not on a vibrating tightrope, but on an inflexible bridge “between two worlds”. One of these worlds is customarily presumed to be European and the other not, while the space between is cast as a site of discriminatory exclusions or the home of happy hybridity. (Adelson 2005: 5)

The alleged controversial position of Turkey and Turks in Germany, in terms of being part of European culture or not, places additional tension on the issue of understanding and analysing this group. In this respect, how to address the Turkish community in Germany is important. Can this group of people be considered as a diaspora? How has the relationship between Turks in Germany and Germans as the hosts developed over the past fifty years? Has there been any change in the Turkish community in terms of integration and in their perception throughout this time? These are the questions I will try to answer in the last part of this chapter.



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