An American atra? Boundaries of diasporic nation-building amongst Assyrians and Chaldeans in the United States
Hughes, Erin Elizabeth
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Voluntary and forced migrations over the past century have given rise to the number of displaced peoples and nations who consider themselves diasporas. The resiliency of these extra-territorial nations after displacement is something of a paradox in nationalism studies. For diaspora, the nation is simultaneously local and transnational, divided and caged by the confines of state borders, often intermixed with other ethnic groups, nations, and cultures, and yet, undeniably, a singular community. Through a comparative examination of the Assyrian and Chaldean diaspora in the United States, this dissertation uses boundary theory to explore the role of diasporic elites in making and sustaining a diasporic nation, and the events, identities, and ideologies that shape diasporic action. It draws from twenty-nine interviews held with Assyrian and Chaldean leaders in Michigan, Illinois, and California, and with policy-makers, as well as research into congressional documents, policy papers, and press reports. The multi-ethnic fabric of American society is formative to boundary-creation, and yet challenges its retention, providing an open society for ethnic expression and civic and political engagement, whilst at the same time facilitating assimilation and loss of diasporic culture and identity. Diasporic elites pursue institutional completeness to sustain diasporic presence in local societies, and cultivate national ideologies that in turn engender activism on behalf of the greater diasporic nation. The Iraq War served as a catalyst to nation-building, providing the first political opening in decades for diasporic actors to mobilize on behalf of Assyrians and Chaldeans in the homeland, seeking constitutional recognition as equal members of the Iraq state. However, the impermeable, exclusionary Iraqi national boundary wrought in conflict instead posed an existential crisis, forcing Assyrians and Chaldeans from Iraq and forcing diasporic leaders to confront questions of what will become of their nation if the homeland is lost. Revealed in the resulting political demands are two distinct strains of nationalism: that for resettlement into diaspora and continued integration into Iraq; and that for territorial autonomy within Iraq’s Nineveh Plain. This dissertation argues diaspora is a continuous, evolving product of boundary-making, often the result of diasporic elite mobilization. Diaspora is a nation not simply born of displacement, but formed through social boundaries encountered and made upon resettlement outside the homeland. Nationalism is a significant component of diasporic nation-building, offering insight into political goals, ideologies, and the dedication of diasporic elites to sustaining an Assyrian and Chaldean homeland, an atra, in diaspora.