Dr. Piet Bakker
At first sight, Kamaran Kakel’s homepage# looks like any other homepage. It has the
typical long homepage URL, there’s ample use of the <blink> tag, you are informed that
you are “the 526.831th person” to visit the homepage since January 10, 1996. The author
does not hide himself in small print; he puts his picture (as a college graduate) on one of
the first pages of the site. In spite of this ‘personal appearance’ this homepage is more
than just a place where Mr. Kakel is sharing his personal views with his visitors. This site
is not about tropical fish, online gaming or Britney Spears. The visitor finds a Kurdistan
map and some basic information on the Kurds:
People of Indo-European origin who live mainly in the mountains
and uplands where Turkey, Iraq, and Iran meet, in an area known
as ‘Kurdistan’ for hundreds of years (…) the Kurds found they
were treated with suspicion, and pressured to conform to the ways
of the majority. Their old independence and traditional
pastoralist way of life was rapidly reduced. They were expected
to learn the main language of the new state in which they found
themselves, Turkish, Persian or Arabic, to abandon their Kurdish
identity and to accept Turkish, Iranian or Arab nationalism.
The message is clear; the Kurds are deprived of their homeland. It is a personal and
political statement. The message falls within Gellner’s definition of nationalism “… a
political principle, which holds that the political and national unit should be congruent”
(1983, p. 1).
Pages like this one are not unique. A search (with search engine Hotbot) for pages with
“Kurdistan” in the page title returns 1,800 results (June 2001). There are also newsgroups
on Kurdistan (like soc.culture.kurdish) and mailing lists. The Kurds are by no means the
only nationalistic movement on the web. Macedonians, Armenians, Aboriginals, Welsh,
Scots, Palestinians, Bretons, Catalans, Basques, Corsicans, Albanians, and Irish present
themselves on the Internet. Sometimes they go for their own domain name to establish
their own virtual nation. Catalans wanted the .ct top level domain but didn’t succeed
(Monserrat & Salvador, 1997). The East Timor domain .tp was created in September
1999, within a month after the United Nations established the transnational administration (there are however fewer than 200 websites with the .tp suffix). The
Palestinians have their own .ps domain (March 2000) but it hasn’t been fully
implemented, only a few websites are operational, among them the Palestinian National
Sometimes real ‘cyber wars’ are fought; the Basque Euskal Herria Journal was put out of
business by mail bombs (Vesely, 1997). The guest book of the Armenian Genocide site
was flooded with mail from the Armenian Terror site, a site with the telling subtitle “The
so-called Armenian Genocide”. The top level domain for East Timor (.tp) was attacked in
1999 (Press Release, 1999).
Nationalism is very visible on the Internet. We began this paper with an example of a
very personal statement, but most nationalistic websites are not personal at all. Political
parties and other groups have their ‘official’ websites. There are websites by the
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the
Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) and other organizations.
Internet is a medium where organizations, parties and movements present themselves,
like a magazine, newspaper, or radio-station. The way of presentation and the audience
can be very different. But at the same time Internet is a very personal medium, the
‘homepage’ is an icon of this personal use. Internet is much more a public/personal space
than any other medium. Very often is difficult to distinguish between individual and
corporate or organizational sources. Who is behind ‘armeniaonline’ or Timor Today?
What is ‘akakurdistan’? And what is the status of the ‘Slavic Research Center’ in Japan?
Some parts of the Internet are almost completely dominated by individual users: mud’s,
newsgroups (Usenet), chats and BBS. It is almost impossible for commercial businesses
to exploit these free market places of opinions, questions, raves, and rants. There is little
money in newsgroups, mud’s and chats, is it left to individual users.
Nationalism is flourishing on the Internet.
Every possible movement can be found; there
are websites, chat channels, newsgroups and mailing lists. And the same conflicts that
accompany ‘real life’ movements accompany the virtual ones. Nationalistic movements
existed before the Internet. Internet did not invent them; they’re not a consequence of
Internet. This doesn’t mean the virtual world is a mirror of the ‘real’ one. The content of
websites looks like the content of other media. Online discussions in mailing lists, chats
and newsgroups have the same topics as ‘real’ life discussions.
There are however some striking differences. The content of this new medium is more
than an old medium. Because there’s no or very little regulation the tone can be much
more outspoken, to put it mildly as the following example from the newsgroup
soc.culture.kurdish (posted on Feb. 18, 2001) illustrates: (Quotations from Usenet and other online source are
When people say you Turks are cruel and unpopular (to say it
mildly), then you bitch and cry and say the whole world is unfair to the
Turks.When they present you with facts and figures and photos about
Turkish atrocities, you say no everybody is lying.
Graphic material is often gruesome; pictures of hangings, beheadings, and executions are
prominently displayed. The other side is accused of lying; distorting facts and foul play in
general. The following message from alt.news.macedonia (posted on Feb. 19, 2001) is an
There is no country in the world with the name Macedonia .Stop it, there is
nothing else to discuss about.
Looking at online activities undertaken by nationalistic movements, the title ‘Internet
crusade’ is not far fetched. Internet is sometimes used as a battleground. Webpages and
e–mails serve as weapons. In many cases it is not a friendly exchange of opinions but a
bitter struggle with all possible means. Like the ancient crusades it is about beliefs and
territorial claims. Participants range from peaceful activists to violent fanatics. But could
Internet play a major role in the development of nationalism? As Anderson (1983, pp. 41-
49) demonstrated, printing technology made nationalism - or ‘imagined communities’ -
possible. Other media could play this role again. Meadows (1995) and Fairchild (1998)
studied the use of local radio and television by indigenous communities in Canada and
Australia. Internet has also been studied; Mallapragada (2000) researched the meaning of
the Internet for the Indian Diaspora in the United States and concluded (p. 185):
I contend that it enables the continuous production of a cultural
identity that is indicative of their complex lives as immigrants. The Web offers the immigrant populace a space where, unlike in a
more traditional medium, such as mainstream television, the
immigrant can feel at home. Arnold and Plymire (2000) came to more or less the same conclusion after studying two
websites of Cherokee Indians. We will explore these findings further. What is the
meaning of this ‘new online nationalism’ for individuals who participate and for
Gellner (1983) and Anderson (1983) both had doubts about the claims of many
nationalistic movements. This school of thought is by no means outdated (see Smith,
1996). In cited examples is it often difficult to distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘imagined’
elements. Kurds do exist but the claim that they can be traced back to the kings of
Mesopotamia is doubtful. Will we not enter this discussion. We will study their online
behavior and try to understand what this means.
After exploring some theoretical concepts on the use of Internet by individuals and the
meaning Internet can have for individuals and organizations we will test these concepts
on a group of 30 websites of what could be called ‘virtual nations’: Kurds, Macedonians,
and Armenians. We will describe their main characteristics: how do they define their
nation, how is their national identity constructed, what are the main elements? After this
description we will confront theories on Internet use with the content and possibilities of
The nations studied have in common that they are diasporic and are engaged in territorial
conflicts. Kurds are living in the traditional Kurdish regions in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria
and Russia and of course all over the world. Macedonia is only a nation state since 1991
and having a conflict with Greece over territories. A lot of Macedonians are living
outside Macedonia or Greece. Armenians are spread all over world after the genocide of
1915. Since 1991 an Armenian state exists but according to a lot of Armenians, a great
part of western Armenia is still occupied by Turkey. Internet could be a suitable medium
for nationalistic groups from these nations. Communication is easy and there is very little
control on content. Because of technology, and the use of the English language,
information can be received and understood by a growing part of the world population.
Global distribution is very easy compared to other media. Letters, books, magazines and
newspapers can be intercepted; radio and television have a limited reach.
It is not easy to come up with a theoretical model that can be used to describe and explain
Internet use by individuals and the meaning for organizations. One of the problems is the
struggle between believers and non-believers in the Internet gospel. Schoenbach (2000)
points out that it is impossible to neglect the fundamental discussion between optimists
and pessimists when new media are concerned. Wellman and Gulia call critics and
defenders Manicheans who “assert that the Internet either will create wonderful new
forms of community or destroy community altogether” (1999, p. 1).
In the first half of the
nineties there was a wide spread belief in the blessing of this new medium. In 1993
Howard Rheingold introduced the term ‘virtual communities’ and two years later
Nicholas Negroponte (1995) spoke in Being digital about ‘digital neighborhoods’ which
was a step further than Marshall McLuhan’s ‘global village’ (1962/1969, p. 43). These
terms shaped early thinking about Internet. Until today these voices are loud and clear. A
recent article by Rheingold (2000) was called Community Development in the Cybercity
of the Future. A more moderate version can be found in Slevin (2000). Critical voices
were raised later (see Hamelink, 2000) but since the beginning of Internet, theory was
mostly normative, or even ‘speculative’.
It concentrated not on how Internet was used or even should be used, but on how it could be used. Possibilities and actual use were
mixed; assumptions were sometimes taken for theories, individual cases were too often
generalized. Anyone who is using existing theoretical concepts should be aware that
these concepts are often loaded with normative and speculative elements.
Theory on Internet use should concentrate on at least five different areas.
· Who is using Internet?
· Why are they using it?
· What are users confronted with?
· How are they using it?
· What are the consequences of Internet use?
The last topic goes beyond individual use. Theory on the meaning of Internet for groups
and organizations heavily relies on the related concept of ‘virtual community’.
The first area has to do with the so-called ‘digital divide’. We know that Internet
penetration is high in the US and Canada, in the northern and western part of Europe and
in Australia, Japan and Korea. And Internet use is strongly related to income (US Internet
Council, 2000). It should be noted however that there’s not only a digital divide but also
a paper and an electric one. There is without any doubt a very unequal distribution of
Internet users. But there’s little evidence that the Internet widens the gap between the rich
and poor. When Internet use by nationalists or nationalistic groups is concerned we are
however confronted with a problem. A lot of these movements are located outside the
western world. Is this ‘digital divide’ a barrier for these groups?
The reasons for using Internet are as diverse as Internet itself. Entertainment and
information are important but when looking at the most visited sites it is clear that people
have very different motives. In the top 10, search engines are dominant, people use these
sites to go off to all kinds of places, for all kinds of reasons (100hot webrankings, 2001).
The content of the Internet is reason for much concern: pornography, violent online
games and extremist politics. Some nationalistic websites – especially white racism pages
– have gained some notoriety in this respect. From 1995 on, HateWatch.org monitored
these websites. But the initial wave of hatred has faded according to HateWatch director
Hate groups have done an extremely poor job of using the Internet
to increase their membership. They have utterly failed to gain
widespread acceptance for their belief that bigotry, hate and
violence are viable responses to human diversity.
Ray and Marsh (2001) studied five racist online organizations (Hammerskin Nation,
National Alliance, Stormfront, Aryan Nations, and the Word Church of The Creator) and
White extremists are interested in recruiting children and others
via the Internet, but recruitment of children is more reactive
than proactive and far less aggressive than suggested by many in
the literature. There is no evidence that the five groups in this
study engage in a concerted effort to target children at popular
locations where children are known to be active on the Internet.
This doesn’t mean that hate groups have vanished or that their language has been cleaned
up. Kallen (1998) studied the content of some notorious websites.
In conclusion, the analysis of High Tech Hate messages presented
in this paper provides strong support for the thesis that hatemongering
incites hatred and harm against targeted minorities and
thereby violates their fundamental human rights to dignity and
equality by denying their fundamental freedom from vilification
Nationalistic websites could fall within a possible ‘dangerous’ category; abuse and
explicit language are quite common but the above examples indicate that notwithstanding
the language used and the ideas advocated, there is little proof of harmful effects because
of this content.
Related is the question of control and power: who controls the content? Is Internet
organized like any other medium? Compared to other media there is very little corporate
control, nobody ‘owns’ the Internet, anyone can build a homepage, start a newsgroup or
an online discussion (Committee on the Internet, 2000). The technology makes it almost
impossible to gain control over a substantial part of the net.
When we look at how people are using Internet, concepts of interactivity and/or
participation are very prominent. It is assumed that people use Internet in a much more
active way than other media. Participation in discussions, chats, and mailing lists is
relatively easy. Publishing is also much easier. A homepage can the set up within 20
minutes. These features fascinate people and are partly responsible for the great
expectations regarding Internet (Naughton, 1999).
Interactivity and participation are closely related to technology. When we look at the
most common technologies used, we can distinguish:
· Chats. Direct personal contact, many people communicating at the same time:
IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and ICQ (pronounce as “I Seek You”) are the most
used technologies, anonymous participation is possible, and lurking
(anonymous following discussions without participating) is difficult.
· Usenet - newsgroups. There are thousands of newsgroups. Google, the current
owner of the Dejanews archive states that there are “more than 500 million
messages - a terabyte of human conversation dating back to 1995.” (Google,
2001). Anyone can participate but lurking is very common, among frequent
(and prominent) users there is a strong feeling of netiquette.
· E-mail. This has two basic forms: personal communication between two or
within a small group of people, very widely used, little known about it. And
mailing lists: the one-to-many list, and the discussions list where any member
can send to the whole group. Some groups are moderated.
· Websites. Sometimes only presentation, information, news, and pictures
without communication or participation; in other cases websites can have
features like online discussions, guest books, forums and/or mailing lists.
When it comes to the consequences of Internet use, critics are certain that heavy Internet
use could lead to social and personal disorders: isolation, depression, addiction,
strengthening of anti-social and political dangerous ideas and promotion of violence and
unacceptable sexual behavior (see also Evans, 2000). The evidence for personal disorders
is however not very convincing (LaRose, Eastin & Gregg, 2001).
Optimists stress that Internet could make this world a better place. Central in their belief
is the concept of the ‘virtual community’ - one of the most used buzzwords in Internetspeak.
Virtual communities could have personal, social and political consequences. The
fact that people participate in online discussions, chat with others, seek or exchange
information could have an influence on gender identity and self awareness (Van Zoonen,
2000). It could be important for people for their ethnic or group identity (Franklin, 2000;
Mallapragada, 2000), it could play a role in the development of personal identity and
friendship (Utz, 2000), and is hoped to strengthen political participation. John December
(1997) believes in “... the stubborn tendency of people to exploit the online medium so
that it becomes part of their way of protesting.
This demonstrates to me that online
communities do exist and that there is meaning to the word Netizen.” But still it is not
very clear what the concept means. It is not a category that lends itself to precise analysis,
in the words of Denis McQuail: “there are many different kinds of online associations
and it is not helpful to treat them as equal candidates for the same concept” (2000, p.
The idea of virtual communities is important for the study on nationalistic Internet
movements. In ‘real life’ we would not call political parties, women’s organizations or
trade unions communities. Yet, when speaking about Internet, we do. People who live in
the same region, city, village, state, or neighborhood live in a community. Sometimes
New Nationalism; The Internet Crusade - Piet Bakker - version June 2001 13
people, who are unified by ethnicity, share the same language or the same religion feel
that they belong to the same community. But there are some important differences when
we compare virtual groups to ‘real life’ communities - apart from the geographical
· Membership is not voluntary; in most cases is very clear that you belong to a
group: you’re black or you’re not.
· There’s little room for peripheral membership. Virtual communities have lots
of half-members, sometimes-members or pseudo-members. There’s even a
name for them in newsgroups and mailing lists: ‘lurkers’ (people who receive
and read messages but don’t contribute to the discussions).
· Membership in real communities is visible. In virtual communities you are
almost anonymous by definition. There are some virtual communities who are
only open to non-anonymous members while some discussion groups and
mailing lists are moderated.
· Real communities have the power to force people into certain conduct or to
define norms for everybody. This is exceptional for virtual groups. Franklin
(2000) gives examples of group pressure when it comes to manners, language
or subjects that are covered in discussion groups.
Virtual communities with a counterpart in real life can be more successful, Weinreich
(1997): “there is no such thing as a ‘digital community.’ ‘Communities,’ which means
groups of people sharing their lives, co-exist in real life or they are not a community!”
Websites about Kurdistan, Macedonia and Armenia were chosen with the search engine
DirectHit, where websites are ranked by popularity so only sites with many visitors (in
some cases over a million) were chosen. Questions concentrated on how people see their
nation, what do they show visitors, how do they define their national identity.
All the websites are hosted in the western world. Sometimes on a national server: Sweden
(2), the Netherlands, Japan, Germany (2), and Canada. Most websites however have other
URL’s: com (13), net. (2), org (3) and edu (5). The diaspora is very visible, members of
the (virtual) nation can be found everywhere.
When we look beyond the URL there are some distinct features. Almost every site has
the same elements: completeness, symbols, maps, history, news, politics and actuality.
Completeness. In almost every case the webmasters of these sites want to cover
every aspect of life on their websites: history, culture (art, music, architecture,
poetry, literature), economics, women’s issues, geography, geology,
anthropology. But things like traditional recipes, folktales and tourism are not
The website ‘Virtual Macedonia’ is divided into 16 different sections,
among them sports, science, travel, health and media.
Symbols. Flags, coats of arms and anthems are very prominent. The same goes for
historic relics and places of interest. On almost every Macedonian page (for
instance on “the Republic of Macedonia”) you can see the traditional red flag with
New Nationalism; The Internet Crusade - Piet Bakker - version June 2001 15
the yellow sun. Kurdish sites like the “Kurdish Worldwide Resource” show the
red, white and green flag with the yellow sun.
Making clear what belongs to their country and what doesn’t, is an
important aspect. Kurdish maps show their homeland in five different countries;
Armenians point out that Turkey occupies the western part of their country while
Macedonians show that half of their country lies in Greece.
History. Important facts are repeated over and over again. In particular atrocities
by Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Bulgaria, and Greece. Macedonian history goes back to a
time before Alexander the Great; Kurds go back to Mesopotamia while Noah’s
Ark (and the roots of the whole western and Christian civilization) is located in
News, politics and actuality. Links to media, reprints of articles in elite media
(New York Times), documents of international organizations (UN, Human Rights
Watch, Amnesty International). Conflicts with other parties are covered: with the
Kurdish community, between Armenians and Turks, between Macedonians and
The aim of these websites is to (re)construct a true nation and to create counterknowlegde
about a specific region. This is done by presenting it as complete and
historical as possible. A more semiotic analysis (see Wakeford, 2000) could reveal the
personal and cultural significance of these pages. It is very possible that the Internet plays
an important role in the creation of this kind of identity.
How can people use the sites? It was assumed that users could interact and participate.
Every website was searched for the availability of interactive communication
possibilities: chats, mailing lists, e-mail addresses, Usenet information, forums, and guest
Four of the 30 websites were off line during the research (autumn 2000). Of the
remaining 26 websites six did not offer any e-mail service at all, only two had some oneto-
many mailing list, there were no discussion lists. Six websites offered chat
possibilities, only one website mentioned a Usenet news group. Five websites had guest
books; three had a message board and one an online poll.
Websites serve mainly as presentation media: the nationality is on display, interactivity is
not very important. A new medium like this can have some significance for personal use,
you’ll find information on topics that you consider as very important for your personal
life. In most cases there is no real organization, while the technology is in most cases not
very stimulating when it comes to participation.
The nationalistic websites provide information, represent an identity, sometimes have
guest books, mailing lists and chat rooms. Compared to other media the entry barrier is
low. Some people actually become publishers of their own website, others participate in
discussions or newsgroups. But even Usenet is a place were not many people participate,
in the sometimes crowed newsgroup alt.news.macedonia the same names are repeated
over and over again, and these names also appear in other groups like soc.culture.greek
because of cross postings. This however could be really important for those who
participate. In general visitors of websites - maybe those of newsgroups also, do not
participate, meaning that they read words and look at pictures, or ‘lurk’ in the case of
newsgroups. This may seem very modest but it’s no less important.
If there’s any digital divide, it’s not very visible when we look at websites by diasporic
people. In some cases the ‘virtual nation’ do look like global villages. Reasons for
Internet use are not very clear yet, in fact they can be very diverse. But the websites
studied offer a clue. There is very little participation and entertainment, in most cases it is
just information (or to be more correct propaganda). But according to the amount of
visitors, it is something that is enjoyed very much. Content can still be very explicit in
some cases, but there’s little proof that it has harmful effects. These websites can be
important for some groups or individuals, research points in the direction of
strengthening identity. But for the majority of users/visitors it is less important. This
modest job is done very well. Websites offer a very fast service, very complete, very
cheap and they reach more people every day.
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akakurdistan - http://www.akakurdistan.com/
Armeniaonline - http://www.armeniaonline.com/aolroot.cfm
Armenian Genocide site - http://come.to/armenia
Armenian Terror site - http://www.armenianterror.com/
Euskal Herria Journal - http://www.contrast.org/mirrors/ehj/
HateWatch - http://www.hatewatch.org
Kamaran Kakel homepage - http://www.cool.mb.ca/~kakel/kurdistan.html
Kurdish Worldwide Resource - http://www.kurdish.com
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) - http://www.kdp.pp.se/
Palestinian National Authority - http://www.gov.ps/
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
Republic of Macedonia - http://www.b-info.com/places/Macedonia/republic/
Slavic Research Center - http://src-home.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/eng/cee/macedo-e.html
Timor Today - http://www.easttimor.com
Virtual Macedonia - http://www.vmacedonia.com/index2.html
Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) - http://www.clark.net/kurd/