Back from the “Outside”: Returnees and Diasporic Imagining in Iraqi Kurdistan

Diane E. King

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Iraqi Kurdistan is a “homeland” for a growing diaspora of Kurdish people living throughout the West. In this article I argue for return migrants’ narratives about life in the West as a constitutive element of a Kurdish diasporic imaginary in the homeland itself in addition to in the West. The first significant numbers of Kurds to out-migrate were mainly young men who fled the 1975 collapse of the Kurdish rebellion against the central government in which many of their peers perished. Most settled in Europe and the United States. Theirs was probably the last generation of Iraqi Kurdish out-migrants to experience a thorough rupture from their past that was sustained by Iraq’s ongoing political unrest, totalitarianism, and relatively sealed borders. This changed dramatically in 1991 when the Kurdish region of Iraq became functionally independent from Baghdad. Thousands of migrants left Iraqi Kurdistan (now known officially as the Kurdistan Region) for the West during the following decade. During the same period, Kurds who had migrated to the West in both the present and previous decades returned, most on short-term visits. Throngs of neighbours, friends and kin peppered each returnee with questions and listened raptly to accounts of life in the West, which they referred to simply as the “outside”. These encounters instilled those remaining “inside” with a new communal consciousness formulated vis-à-vis the West. This and accompanying political and technological changes have resulted in Iraqi Kurds’ becoming a diasporic people even though most have never left “home”. 

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article: 

King, Diane E. Back from the “Outside”: Returnees and Diasporic Imagining in Iraqi Kurdistan. IJMS: International Journal on Multicultural Societies. 2008, vol.10, no.2, pp. 208-222, UNESCO. ISSN 1817-4574.

About the author: 

Diane E. King is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky (United States). Her interests include identity, migration, gender, kinship and citizenship. She has been carrying out multi-sited research in Iraqi Kurdistan and its diaspora communities since the mid-1990s. She previously taught at the American University of Beirut, Washington State University and Dohuk University, and has held a number of research fellowships. Her Ph.D. (2000) is from Washington State University. E-mail: deking(at)

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