[dahy-as-per-uh, dee-]
Diaspora [Gr.,=dispersion], term used today to denote the Jewish communities living outside the Holy Land. It was originally used to designate the dispersal of the Jews at the time of the destruction of the first Temple (586 B.C.) and the forced exile [Heb.,=Galut] to Babylonia (see Babylonian captivity). The diaspora became a permanent feature of Jewish life; by A.D. 70 Jewish communities existed in Babylonia, Syria, Egypt, Cyrene, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. Jews followed the Romans into Europe and from Persia and Babylonia spread as far east as China. In modern times, Jews have migrated to the Americas, South Africa, and Australia. The Jewish population of Central and Eastern Europe, until World War II the largest in the world, was decimated in the Holocaust. Despite the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the vast majority of the Jewish people remains in the diaspora, notably in North America, Russia, and Ukraine. The term diaspora has also been applied to other peoples with large numbers living outside their traditional homelands. See Jews; Judaism.

The term Diaspora (in Greek, διασπορά – "a scattering or sowing of seeds") refers any population sharing common ethnic identity who were either forced to leave or voluntarily left their settled territory, and became residents in areas often far removed from the former. It is converse to the nomadic lifestyle. Diaspora cultural development often assumes a different course to the population in the original place of settlement, and tends to vary between remotely separated communities in culture, traditions and other factors. The last vestige of cultural affiliation in a Diaspora is usually found in community resistance to language change.

Origins and development

First mention of a Diaspora creation as a result of exile is found in Deuteronomy 28:25 "thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth", and started to develop from this original sense when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek; the word "Diaspora" then was used to refer to the population of Jews exiled from Israel in 607 BC by the Babylonians, and from Judea in 70 by the Roman Empire. It subsequently came to be used to refer interchangeably, but exclusively to the historical movements of the dispersed ethnic population of Israel, the cultural development of that population, or the population itself.

The wider application of Diaspora evolved from the Assyrian two-way mass deportation policy of conquered populations to deny future territorial claims on their part. In Ancient Greece the term Diaspora meant " the scattered" and was used to refer to citizens of a dominant city-state who emigrated to a conquered land with the purpose of colonisation, to assimilate the territory into the empire.

First modern attestation of diasporas is in 1876 from the Greek "Diaspora", derived from diaspeirein "to scatter about, disperse," from dia- "about, across" + speirein "to scatter". As an academic field, Diaspora studies has been established relating to the wider modern meaning of the usage 'Diaspora'.

Sometimes refugees of other origins or ethnicities may be called a Diaspora, but the two terms are far from synonymous.

The term became more widely assimilated into English by the mid 1950s, with long-term expatriates in significant numbers from other particular countries or regions also being referred to as a diaspora. An academic field, diaspora studies has become established relating to this more general modern sense of the word.

In all cases, the term Diaspora carries a sense of displacement; that is, the population so described finds itself for whatever reason separated from its national territory; and usually it has a hope, or at least a desire, to return to their homeland at some point, if the "homeland" still exists in any meaningful sense. Some writers have noted that Diaspora may result in a loss of nostalgia for a single home as people "re-root" in a series of meaningful displacements. In this sense, individuals may have multiple homes throughout their Diaspora, with different reasons for maintaining some form of attachment to each.

Native American Diaspora

New World history records many diaspora-like events wherein major populations of the indigenous peoples in the Americas were either dispersed or transported. These dynamics continue. Virtually every Native American tribe, community and confederation in North, South and Central America has this experience as part of their family stories. Colonialists divided indigenous communities intentionally, however, strong Native American blood lines remain visible. These document-based methods of proving Native American blood lines largely preclude all but reservation families.

European Diaspora

History contains numerous diaspora-like events. The Migration Period relocations, which included several phases, are just one set of many. The first phase Migration Period displacement from between AD 300 and 500 included relocation of the Goths, (Ostrogoths, Visigoths), Vandals, Franks, various other Germanic people (Burgundians, Langobards, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Suebi, Alemanni, Varangians), Alans and numerous Slavic tribes. The second phase, between AD 500 and 900, saw Slavic, Turkic, and other tribes on the move, resettling in Eastern Europe and gradually making it predominantly Slavic, and affecting Anatolia and the Caucasus as the first Turkic tribes (Avars, Bulgars, Huns, Khazars, Pechenegs) arrived. The last phase of the migrations saw the coming of the Magyars and the Viking expansion out of Scandinavia.

However, such colonizing migrations cannot be considered indefinitely as diasporas; over very long periods, eventually the migrants assimilate into the settled area so completely that it becomes their new homeland. Thus the modern population of Germany do not feel that they belong in the Siberian steppes that the Alemanni left 16 centuries ago; the Hungarian Magyars are not drawn back to the Altai; and the English descendants of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes do not yearn to reoccupy the plains of Northwest Germany.

Another example is the mid-19th century Irish diaspora, brought about by a combination of harsh imperial British policies and the An Gorta Mór or "Great Hunger" of the Irish Famine. Estimates vary between 45% and 85% of Ireland having emigrated, to Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia.

See also European diasporas

African Diaspora

One of the largest diasporas of pre-modern times was the African Diaspora which began at the beginning of the 16th century. During the Atlantic Slave Trade, about ten million people from West, West-Central and South-east Africa were transported to the Western Hemisphere as slaves. This population would leave a major influence on the culture of English, French, Portuguese and Spanish New World colonies. The Arab slave trade similarly took large numbers out of the continent, although the effect of the Diaspora to the east is more subtle.

Asian Diaspora

Chinese emigration (also known as the Chinese Diaspora) first occurred thousands of years ago, but the mass emigration that occurred from the 19th century to 1949 was mainly caused by wars and starvation in mainland China as well as political corruption. Most immigrants were illiterate or poorly educated peasants and coolies (Chinese: 苦力, translated: Hard Labor), who were sent to countries such as the Americas, Australia, South Africa, Southeast Asia, Malaya and other places. Currently, the overseas Asian community, especially the east Asian community, is amongst the best educated and successful communities in the world.

India has the second largest Diaspora in the world. The overseas Indian community estimated at over 25 million is spread across many regions in the world. It constitutes a diverse, heterogeneous, and eclectic global community representing different regions, languages, cultures, and faiths. The common thread that binds them together is the idea of India and its intrinsic values.

The 20th century and beyond

The twentieth century saw huge population movements. Some involved large-scale transfers of people by government action. For instance, Stalin shipped millions of people to Eastern Russia, Central Asia, and Siberia both as punishment and to stimulate development of the frontier regions. Some migrations occurred to avoid conflict and warfare. Other diasporas were created as a consequence of political decisions, such as the end of colonialism.

Japanese war with China and WWI

During the Japanese war with China (1937-1945), Manchuria was established as a multi-ethnic puppet state, Manchukuo. From the late nineteenth century Korea, and formally from 1910, became a Japanese colony. Millions of Chinese fled to western provinces not occupied by Japan (i.e. Tibet and Sinkiang) and to Southeast Asia. More than 100,000 Koreans moved across the Amur River into Eastern Russia (then the Soviet Union) away from the Japanese.

Other diasporas have occurred as people fled ethnically directed persecution, oppression or genocide. Examples of these include: the Armenians who were forced out of Anatolia by the Ottoman Turks during the Armenian Genocide1 (1915–1918), with survivors settling in areas of the Levant, United States, Europe and South America.

Since World War I, the Assyrian diaspora has steadily increased so that there are now more Assyrians living in western and eastern Europe, North America and Australia, than in the Middle East. At the turn of the century the Christian population in the Ottoman Empire had numbered about 5,000,000. When the Turks' massacres ended in 1923, about 20,000 Greeks, 10,000 Armenians and 30,000 Assyrians remained. European Jews emigrated from the Russian Empire, Hungary and Poland, fleeing pogroms and discrimination from the 1880s to shortly after WWI.

WWII and the end of colonial rule

As WWII unfolded, millions of Jews were deported or fled from persecution by Nazi Germany actions, mostly before the the Holocaust of World War II when borders closed. Other eastern European refugees moved west, away from Soviet annexation, and the Iron Curtain regimes after World War II. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans, who had lived in eastern countries for nearly two centuries, were expelled by the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia after WWII, and moved west. Galicia, North of Spain, sent many emigrants into exile during Franco's military regime from 1936 to his death in 1975.

Following WWII, the creation of the state of Israel, and a series of uprisings against colonialist rule, the Middle East was almost entirely emptied of its historic Jewish populations of nearly 1 million, the majority of whom found refuge in Israel and became known as Mizrahi Jews. At the same time, the Palestinian diaspora was created as a result of the establishment of Israel in 1948, in which 750,000 people were displaced, and further enlarged by the 1967 Arab-Israeli War; today the Palestinian refugee population is the oldest in the world.

The 1947 Partition resulted in the migration of millions of people between India and Pakistan. Many were murdered in the unrest of the period, with estimates of fatalities up to 10 million people. Thousands of former subjects of the British Raj went to the UK from the Indian subcontinent after India and Pakistan became independent in 1947.

The Cold War and the formation of post-colonial states

During and after the Cold War-era, huge populations of refugees migrated from areas of conflict, especially from then-developing countries.

Upheaval in the Middle East and Central Asia, much of which related to power struggles between the United States and the Soviet Union, created a host of new refugee populations which developed into global diasporas. The Afghan Diaspora resulted from the 1979 invasion by the former Soviet Union; both official and unofficial records indicate that the war displaced over 6 million people, resulting in the creation of the largest refugee population worldwide today. Many Iranians fled the 1979 Iranian Revolution following the fall of the Shah. The Assyrian diaspora expanded as the Civil War in Lebanon, the coming into power of the Islamic republic of Iran, the Ba'athist dictatorship in Iraq, and the present-day unrest in Iraq pushed even more Assyrians on the roads of exile. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled conflict in their nation since the beginning of the American occupation of Iraq in 2003.

In Southeast Asia, many Vietnamese emigrated to France and later to the United States after the Cold War-related Vietnam War. Later, 30,000 French colons from Cambodia were displaced after being expelled by the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot.

In Africa, a new series of Diasporas formed following the eviction of colonial rule, including the expulsion of 80,000 South Asians from Uganda in 1975. Hundreds of thousands of people fled from the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 into neighboring countries. Thousands of refugees from deteriorating conditions in Zimbabwe have gone to South Africa.

In South America, thousands of Chilean and Uruguayan refugees fled to Europe during periods of military rule in the 1970s and '80s. A million Colombian refugees have left Colombia since 1965 to escape the country's violence and civil wars. In Central America, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Costa Ricans and Panamanians fled conflict and economic conditions.

Migration diasporas: A subject of debate

Some scholars argue that when economic migrants gather in such numbers outside their home region, they form an effective Diaspora: for instance, the Turkish Gastarbeiter in Germany; South Asians in the Persian Gulf; Filipinos worldwide; and Chinese workers in Japan. Since the 1970s Mexican immigrants to the United States have been chiefly economic refugees coming for work; many have crossed the border illegally or remained undocumented aliens who never acquired legal residency or US citizenship. Earlier mass movements of the two waves of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North, Midwest and West comprised a diaspora and resulted in urbanization of more than 6.5 million African Americans from 1910-1970; many were recruited by northern businesses eager for labor for their developing industries, but the people were also voting with their feet to leave behind segregation, lynchings, disfranchisement and limited chances in a rural economy. Historians identify as another diaspora the mass migration of people during the Dust Bowl years: the "Okies" from the drought-ridden American Great Plains and "Arkies" from the Ozarks of the American South in the 1930s; the majority of both groups went west to California. More recently, observers have labeled evacuation from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina a "Diaspora", since a significant number of evacuees have not been able to return, yet maintain aspirations to do so. Other scholars maintain that inclusion of such migrations under the heading of "diaspora' has caused a blurring of terms.

In popular culture

Futuristic science fiction sometimes refers to a "Diaspora," taking place when much of humanity leaves Earth to settle on far-flung "colony worlds."

İsmet Özel wrote a poem titled "Of not being a Jew" in which he lamented the fact that he felt like a pursued Jew, but had no second country in which to go. He writes:

Your load is heavy
He's very heavy
Just because he's your brother
Your brothers are your pogroms
When you reach the doorsteps of your friends
Starts your Diaspora

See also

Citations and notes


  • Kantor, Mattis, The Jewish time line encyclopedia: a year-by-year history from Creation to the Present, (New updated edition), Jason Aronson, Northvale NJ, 1992
  • Barclay, John M. G., (ed.), Negotiating Diaspora: Jewish Strategies in the Roman Empire, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004
  • Galil, Gershon, & Weinfeld, Moshe, Studies in Historical Geography and Biblical Historiography: Presented to Zekharyah Ḳalai, BRILL, 2000
  • Tetlow, Elisabeth Meier, Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005
  • Cohen, Robin, Global Diasporas: An Introduction, University of Washington Press Seattle, 1997
  • Shain, Yossi, Kinship and Diasporas in International Politics, Michigan University Press, 2007

External links

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