To understand the Kurdish diaspora in London requires answering two interrelated questions of Kurdish forced migration history and Kurdish cultural identity. Thus, this study firstly examines the history of Kurdish forced migration and displacement, exploring a common historical argument which positions the Kurds as powerless victims of the First World War (WW1). To this end it looks critically at the post-WW1 era and the development of the modern nation state in the Middle East, namely Turkey, Iraq and Syria. This first part sets out the context for explaining and gaining a better understanding of the systematic sociopolitical marginalisation which led to the forced migration of the Kurds from the 1920s onwards.
Secondly, this study evaluates the integration experiences of some members of the Kurdish diaspora in London, who have settled in this city since the1990s.1Furthermore, this part attempts to describe the shifting position of the Kurds from victims in the Middle East, with trends in ethnic integration, and their negotiations of multiculturalism in London. This capital city has historically held a promise and attraction for many migrants of becoming Londoners, and this now includes Kurdish-Londoners.
Moreover, the comparison is made between the positions and perspectives of the first generation that came to Britain in the 1990s and the second generation Kurds born in Britain in this period. This allows an exploration of the notion of identity and ideas of home and belonging in light of contemporary changes and concomitant theories of diaspora and refugee studies, and, where necessary, challenges those ideas. Therefore, with the dual questions of history and identity in mind, this study attempts to innovate in terms of its methodology.
The methodological chapter discusses the need for a particular epistemology; that is a more explicit method of combining diaspora history and diaspora identity. Evidence from previous academic work suggests that questions of Kurdish history and Kurdish cultural identity are inextricably linked. This study’s research method is based on ethnographic fieldwork and the collection of qualitative data through 25 one-to-one semi-structured interviews, with participants selected from across different sections of the Kurdish diaspora community(ies) in London. In order to test and clarify complex conceptual issues three focus group meetings were also organised which were held within community settings (one in North London, one in South London, and one in Central London at Birkbeck College, University of London). An important complementary factor in my systematic access to relevant and reliable data about refugee integration in London was my active advocacy and case work, from 2004 to 2014, at an NGO in South East London supporting refugee integration. This work involved 20 Kurdish refugee families and individuals.2
Finally, this study attempts to uncover the gaps in existing literature and to critically highlight the dominance of policy and politics driven research in this field, thereby justifying the need for a new approach. This approach recognises flexible, multiple and complex human cultural behaviors in different situations through consideration of the lived experiences of members of the Kurdish diaspora in London. This lived experience approach is useful in gaining an understanding of the complex processes and stages undertaken in becoming part of the diaspora and also part of London. The stages as reflected in the personal narratives include initial arrival in London and encounters with the British state’s immigration and integration policies, the actual process of rebuilding individual or family life, and new home making through the on-going challenges, shifts and negotiations of identities. That is, the slow process of becoming a Kurdish-Londoner.