Q&A with Anne Sofie Schøtt, author of Kurdish Diaspora Mobilisation in Denmark: Supporting the Struggle in Syria

In this interview, Anne Sofie Schøtt, author of Kurdish Diaspora Mobilisation in Denmark: Supporting the Struggle in Syria, discusses the process behind her new book.

Can you tell us a bit about your book?

The book is about how the Kurdish diaspora in Denmark mobilised and supported the Kurdish struggle in Syria. The battle of Kobane in 2014 was a huge mobilising event, as was the Turkish incursions into Afrin in 2018 and North-Eastern Syria in 2019. In the book, I follow Kurdish groups into the streets and squares and into the parliament building where the Kurdish activists tried to make the politicians react to the atrocities committed against fellow Kurds.

I also attended court sessions and donor events and talked to a number of Kurdish activists about their political and humanitarian work. The sense of belonging to a transnational Kurdish community provided the Kurds with a strong voice on the global stage. I also find that although the Kurdish cause is widely recognised, only a few Danish politicians are actually willing to back this with concrete initiatives.

Members of the Kurdish diaspora community fly the Kurdish flag in Kultorvet square, Copenhagen (photo by the author)
Members of the Kurdish diaspora community fly the Kurdish flags in Kultorvet square, Copenhagen (photo by the author)

What inspired you to research the Kurdish diaspora in Denmark?

I have been teaching conflict dynamics for many years for officers of the Danish Defence. When the Danish parliament decided to deploy troops to the Middle East to participate in the international coalition against Islamic State, I witnessed Kurdish diaspora groups demonstrating in front of the parliament building, and I started to wonder what will be next. What will be the outcome of the interaction between Danish authorities and the Kurdish activists who fight the same enemy, Islamic State, and support the same local ground forces, the Syrian Kurdish fighters, on very different terms?  

What was the most exciting thing about this project for you?

The most exciting about the project was to meet all the dedicated people who figuratively struggle to break through the thick walls of Christiansborg to meet the political decision-makers in the parliament building. Other engaged activists put in a great deal of effort collecting clothing and other necessities in order to reach suffering Kurds in the field. Some told me that they engage as action calms their anxiety. However, I am deeply impressed by their ongoing commitment.  

Did you discover anything particularly strange or surprising?

Applying a strategic interactionist approach to the study made me unfold how the strategy of each player in the field is formed by the response of other players in an ongoing process. In this way, I discovered how Kurdish activists seem to adapt to the ambiguous recognition by Danish politicians in order to continue their political work without any restrictions. Consequently, the Kurds seem to avoid any confrontation with Danish authorities. The authorities then find no reason to change their strategy. This result in a somewhat ambiguous interaction.

I also discovered how the bitter rivalry between the two major Kurdish movements, one following the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan and the other aiming at an independent Kurdistan, played out. This includes rivalling attempts to capture the public attention and mirroring each other’s repertoires in the public space. This is not surprising for the people involved, but these microelements of interaction within the Kurdish diaspora have not been accounted for before.

Did your research take you to any unexpected places or unusual situations?

Good relations made me meet a number of prominent people from whom I gained very important information. However, what struck me the most doing fieldwork, was that I came to see my home city, Copenhagen, in a new light. I have my everyday life here. I go to the same places. I have a sense of familiarity with the city. Through the fieldwork, I experienced new places, and places I knew got new meaning. The city grow, became bigger, linked to other places of the world. In that sense, I experienced the city as a transnational place.

Has your research in this area changed the way you see the world today?

I already knew that the transnational bonds between the Kurds abroad and Kurds in the homeland are strong, but I realised that these bonds are tied for various reasons. While some identify primarily with the specific village they or their parents originate from, others identify with one of the Kurdish political entities in Syria and Iraq, which they have come to support through political mobilisation. For some the emotional and the political bonds overlap, but for others, these bonds are dislocated. I call this alter-territorial identification with the homeland, as the identification is dislocated to another part of Kurdistan than the area of origin. This goes for Kurds from Turkey who identified with the Rojava revolution and for Syrian Kurds who identified with the political developments of Kurdistan in Iraq. The transnational mobilisation is so complex for a people scattered around the world, as you have to take all the local settings as well as the transnational interaction into account.

About the Author

Anne Sofie Schøtt is an Assistant Professor at the Royal Danish Defence College. She has been teaching conflict and strategic studies for several years at the Royal Danish Air Force Academy focusing on the Danish international military interventions. In 2019, she received her PhD degree from the University of Copenhagen defending her thesis on Kurdish diaspora mobilisation in Denmark. Kurdish Diaspora Mobilisation in Denmark is available now.

Helena Heald
Helena Heald
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