- Erin Hughes
- Sociology School of Social and Political Science University of Edinburgh
- Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
- Research Interests
- Iraq and the Middle East, Diaspora, Migration & Transnationalism, Ethnic conflict, Nationalism, Ethnic and Racial Minorities, Statelessness, Boundary theory
An American Atra? Boundaries of Diasporic Nation-Building Amongst Assyrians and Chaldeans in the United States
Doctoral Research Summary
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 interviews held with Assyrian and Chaldean leaders 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 diasporic 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.
My research 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.
Presentations and Publications
(2015) ‘Indigeneity in Iraq after Saddam: The Plight of the Assyrian and Chaldean Communities’, Presented at Native American and Indigenous Studies Association 2015 Conference, Washington D.C., 4-6 June 2015.
(2015) ‘There is no Mayor of Chaldean Detroit’, Presented at Middle East Christians in Diaspora: Past and Present, Continuity and Change as part of the Defining and Identifying Middle Eastern Christian Communities in Europe Project, University of St. Andrews, 26-27 May 2015.
(2015) ‘They Didn’t Give a Damn: Assyrian and Chaldean Diasporic Perspectives in the Iraq War’s Aftermath’, Presented at 20th Annual Association for the Study of Nationalities World Convention, Columbia University, 23-25 April 2015.
(2014) Invited Guest Lecture, ‘’They Didn’t Give a Damn’: The Assyrian and Chaldean Diaspora, the U.S. Government, and the Iraq War’s Aftermath’ for the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union, University of Toronto, 30 November 2014.
(2014) Panel Discussant, ‘Seen and Heard: Making Visible Assyrians and Middle Eastern Minorities’ Middle East Studies Association Washington, D.C., 22-25 November 2014.
(2014) ‘Neglected Inclusion: Assyrians and Chaldeans in Post-War Iraq’, Presented at the International Studies Association’s 55th Annual Convention, Toronto, Canada, 26-29 March 2014.
(2013) ‘The Future of Nineveh: Assyrian and Chaldean Diasporic Nationalism Following Iraq’s Post-War Ethnic Conflict’, Presented at 18th Annual Association for the Study of Nationalities World Convention, Columbia University, 18-20 April 2013.
(2012) Review of ‘Making Constitutions in Deeply Divided Societies’ by Hanna Lerner for Nations and Nationalism 18(4), pp. 765-766.
(2012) ‘Diaspora Nationalism: Assyrian- and Chaldean- American Response to the Crisis in Iraq’, Presented at New Directions Conference, University of Edinburgh, 27 April 2012.
(2011) ‘Nation Rebuilding in Rwanda and South Africa: An Assessment of Identity Formation, Governance, and Economic Growth’ Working Papers in Nationalism Studies, No. 3, The University of Edinburgh. Available at: www.sps.ed.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/64459/Hughes_WPiNS_3.pdf.
- MSc with Distinction (Nationalism Studies), University of Edinburgh
- BA (History and Political Science), McGill University
- Dr. James Kennedy
- Dr. Liliana Riga