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A diaspora (in Greek, διασπορά – "a scattering [of seeds]") is any movement of a population sharing common ethnic identity. While refugees may or may not ultimately settle in a new geographic location, the term diaspora refers to a permanently displaced and relocated collective.

Diasporic cultural development often assumes a different course from that of the population in the original place of settlement. Over time, remotely separated communities tend to vary in culture, traditions, language and other factors. The last vestiges of cultural affiliation in a diaspora is often found in community resistance to language change and in maintenance of traditional religious practice.

Origins and development

The first mention of a diaspora created as a result of exile is found in Deuteronomy 28:25 "thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth". Its use began 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 Israelmarker in 607 BCE by the Babylonians, and from Judeamarker in 70 CE 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 Israelmarker, the cultural development of that population, or the population itself. When capitalized and without modifiers (that is, simply the Diaspora), the term refers specifically to the Jewish diaspora.

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 immigrated to a conquered land with the purpose of colonisation, to assimilate the territory into the empire.

The first modern attestation of diaspora is in 1876 from the Greek diaspora, derived from diaspeirein "to scatter about, disperse," from dia- "about, across" + speirein "to scatter".

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 contemporary, more general 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 its people have 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.

European diasporas

Greek Diaspora 6th c.
European history contains numerous diaspora-like events. In ancient times, the trading and colonising activities of the Greek tribes from the Balkans and Asia Minormarker spread people of Greek culture, religion and language around the Mediterraneanmarker and Black Seamarker basins, establishing Greek city states in Sicily, southern Italy, northern Libyamarker, eastern Spainmarker, the south of France, and the Black seamarker coasts. Greeks founded more than 400 colonies. Alexander the Great's conquest of the Achaemenid Empire marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period, which was characterized by a new wave of Greek colonization in Asia and Africa, with Greek ruling classes established in Egypt, southwest Asia and northwest India.

The Migration Period relocations, which included several phases, are just one set of many in history. The first phase Migration Period displacement from between AD 300 and 500 included relocation of the Goths (Ostrogoths and Visigoths), Vandals, Franks, various other Germanic people (Burgundians, Langobards, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Suebi, Alemanni, Varangians and Normans), 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 Anatoliamarker and the Caucasus as the first Turkic tribes (Avars, Bulgars, Huns, Khazars, Pechenegs and possibly Magyars) arrived. The last phase of the migrations saw the coming of the Hungarian Magyars and the Viking expansion out of Scandinavia into Europe and the British Islesmarker, as well as Greenlandmarker and Icelandmarker.

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 Hungary do not feel that they belong in the Western Siberia that the Hungarian Magyars left 12 centuries ago; and the Englishmarker descendants of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes do not yearn to reoccupy the plains of Northwest Germany.

In 1492, a Spanish expedition headed by Christopher Columbus reached the Americas, after which European exploration and colonization rapidly expanded. In the 16th century perhaps 240,000 Europeans entered American ports. Immigration continued to North and South America. In the 19th century alone over 50 million people left Europe for the Americas.

A specific 19th century example was the Irish diaspora, beginning mid-19th century and brought about by the An Gorta Mór or "Great Hunger" of the Irish Famine. Estimates are that between 45% and 85% of Ireland's population emigrated, to countries including Britain, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealandmarker. The size of the diaspora is demonstrated by the number of people around the world who claim Irish ancestry; some sources put the figure at 80-100 million.

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, 9.4 to 12 million people from West, West-Central and South-east Africa survived transportation to arrive in the Western Hemispheremarker as slaves. This population and their descendants were major influences on the culture of English, French, Portuguese and Spanish New World colonies.

Asian diaspora

Chinese emigration (also known as the Chinese Diaspora ) first occurred thousands of years ago. The mass emigration that occurred from the 19th century to 1949 was caused mainly 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, literally "hard labor"), who immigrated to developing countries in need of labor, such as the Americas, Australia, South Africa, Southeast Asia, Malaya and other places.

The largest Asian diaspora outside of Southeast Asia is that of the Indian diaspora. The overseas Indian community, estimated at over 25 million, is spread across many regions in the world, on every continent. 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 (see Desi). The research conducted by the Centre for performance research and cultural studies, cpracsis on the theatres of South asian diaspora marks the beginning of an interdisciplinary research practice in this area.

The Romani are widely dispersed, with their largest concentrated populations in Europe. Linguistic and genetic evidence indicates the Romanies originated on the Indian subcontinent, emigrating from India towards the northwest no earlier than the 11th century.

At least three waves of Nepalese diaspora can be identified. The earliest wave dates back to hundreds of years as early marriage and high birthrates propelled Hindu settlement eastward across Nepal, then into Sikkimmarker and Bhutanmarker. A backlash developed in the 1980s as Bhutan's political elites realized that Bhutanese Buddhists were at risk of becoming a minority in their own country. At present, the United Statesmarker is working towards resettling more than 60,000 ethnic Nepalese from Bhutanmarker in the US as a third-country settlement programme.

A second wave was driven by British recruitment of mercenary soldiers beginning around 1815 and resettlement after retirement in the British Isles and southeast Asia. The third wave began in the 1970s as land shortages intensified and the pool of educated labor greatly exceeded job openings in Nepal. Job-related emigration created Nepalese enclaves in India, the wealthier countries of the Middle East, Europe and North America. Current estimates of the number of Nepalese living outside Nepal range well up into the millions.

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 Russiamarker, Central Asia, and Siberiamarker 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.

WWII and the end of colonial rule

As WWII unfolded, Nazi Germany deported and killed millions of Jews. Some Jews fled from persecution to western Europe and the Americas before borders closed. Later other eastern European refugees moved west, away from Soviet annexation, and the Iron Curtain regimes after World War II.

After WWII, the Soviet Union and Communist-controlled Polandmarker, Hungarymarker and Yugoslavia expelled hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans, most of whom were descendants of immigrants who had settled in those areas nearly two centuries before. This was in retaliation for the German Nazi invasion and their pan-German attempts at annexation. Most of the refugees moved to the West, including western Europe, and with tens of thousands seeking refuge in the United States.

Galiciamarker in northern Spainmarker sent many political activists into exile during Franco's military regime from 1936 to his death in 1975.

Following WWII, the creation of the state of Israelmarker, and a series of uprisings against colonialist rule, the Middle East nations became more hostile in relation to their historic Jewish populations (Sephardim) of nearly 1 million people. Most of them emigrated, with the majority resettling in Israel, where they became known as Mizrahi Jews.

At the same time, the Palestinian diaspora resulted from the war to establish Israelmarker in 1948, in which 750,000 people were displaced or emigrated from their former territory. The diaspora was enlarged by the effects of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Many Palestinians continue to live in refugee camps maintained by Middle Eastern nations, but others have resettled in the Middle East and other countries.

The 1947 Partition resulted in the migration of millions of people between Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker. Millions were murdered in the ethnic violence of the period, with estimates of fatalities up to 10 million people. Thousands of former subjects of the British Raj went to the UKmarker from the Indian subcontinent after Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker became independent in 1947.

From the late nineteenth century, and formally from 1910, Japan made Korea a colony. Millions of Chinese fled to western provinces not occupied by Japan (i.e., in particular Ssuchuan/Szechwan and Yunnan in the Southwest and Shensi and Kansu in the Northwest) 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. During the Japanese war with Chinamarker (1937-1945), Japan established Manchuria as a multi-ethnic puppet state, Manchukuo.

After the 1959 invasion of the Chinese People's Liberation Army into Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama and his government fled to India, followed by mass emigration of the population of Tibet southward. They fled without papers through the Himalayasmarker from Chinese persecution and Sinicization. The major emigration lasted till the middle 1960s. To a smaller degree, it has continued. It is estimated that ca. 200,000 Tibetans live now dispersed worldwide, half of whom in are Indiamarker, Nepalmarker and Bhutanmarker. The Tibetan Government in Exile establishes the Green Book to Tibetan refugees.

The Cold War and the formation of post-colonial states

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

Upheaval in the Middle East and Central Asia, some of which was related to power struggles between the United Statesmarker and the Soviet Unionmarker, created new refugee populations which developed into global diasporas.

In Southeast Asia, many Vietnamese people immigrated to Francemarker and later millions to the United States, Australia and Canada after the Cold War-related Vietnam War. Later, 30,000 French colons from Cambodiamarker were displaced after being expelled by the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot. A small, predominantly Muslim ethnic group, the Cham people long residing in Cambodia, were nearly eradicated. The mass exodus of Vietnamese people from Vietnam coined the term 'Boat people'.

The Afghanmarker 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 by the Civil War in Lebanonmarker, the coming into power of the Islamic republic of Iranmarker, the Ba'athist dictatorship in Iraqmarker, and the present-day unrest in Iraq pushed Assyrians on the roads of exile.

In Africa, a new series of diasporas formed following the end of colonial rule. In some cases as countries became independent, numerous minority descendants of Europeans emigrated; others stayed in the lands which had been family homes for generations. Uganda expelled 80,000 South Asians in 1972 and took over their businesses and properties.

A million Colombianmarker refugees have left Colombia since 1965 to escape the country's violence and civil wars. In South America, thousands of Chileanmarker and Uruguayanmarker refugees fled to Europe during periods of military rule in the 1970s and 1980s. In Central America, Nicaraguans, Salvadoransmarker, Guatemalansmarker, Honduransmarker, Costa Ricansmarker and Panamaniansmarker fled conflict and poor economic conditions.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled from the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 into neighboring countries. Thousands of refugees from deteriorating conditions in Zimbabwemarker have gone to South Africa. The long war in Congo, in which numerous nations have been involved, has also created millions of refugees.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled conflict in their nation since 2003, the beginning of the USmarker occupation of Iraq.

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 Gulfmarker; Filipino worldwide; and Chinese workers in Japan.

Hispanics or Latinos in the USAmarker are sometimes referred to as a newly developed "diaspora" or dispersions of immigrant peoples from Latin America into the United States, and ethnic groups continued their cultural distinction, such as Mexican-Americans, Puerto Rican people, Cuban-Americans, etc.

Since the 1970s, Mexicanmarker 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 rural migration in the U.S. occurred: The two waves of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North, Midwest and Western states 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 the southern 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, some observers have labeled evacuation from New Orleansmarker 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.

The International Organization for Migration said there are more than 200 million migrants around the world today. Europe hosted the largest number of immigrants, with 70.6 million people in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available. North America, with over 45.1 million immigrants, is second, followed by Asia, which hosts nearly 25.3 million. Most of today's migrant workers come from Asia.

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 to which he could 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

DJ Krust and Saul Williams' track Coded Language opens with the line Whereas, breakbeats have been the missing link connecting the diasporic community to its drum woven past.

Punk rock band Rise Against entitled one of their songs Diaspora in the album The Sufferer & the Witness but later changed it to Prayer of the Refugee. The originally titled song was available on advance copies of the album.

See also

- * List of diasporas

Citations and notes

  1. p.81, Kantor
  2. pp.53, 105-106, Kantor
  3. p.1, Barclay
  4. Diaspora, Merriam-Webster
  5. pp.96-97, Galil & Weinfeld
  6. pp.1-2, Tetlow
  7. Diaspora
  8. Katrina scatters a grim diaspora BBC
  9. Out of the Hadhramaut
  10. Katrina scatters a grim Diaspora BBC
  11. The world's successful diasporas - Research - World Business
  12. Diasporas of Highly Skilled and Migration of Talent
  13. Early development of Greek society
  14. Hellenistic Civilization
  15. James Axtell, The Columbian Mosaic in Colonial America
  16. David Eltis Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic slave trade
  17. "Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History", Encyclopedia Britannica
  18. An International Conference on the Baltic Archives Abroad
  19. Codeswitching Worldwide II, by Rodolfo Jacobson
  20. Anthony E. Ladd, John Marszalek, and Duane A. Gill. The Other Dispora: New Orleans Student Evacuation Impacts and Responses Surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Retrieved on 2009-11-24.
  21. Rich world needs more foreign workers: report,, December 02, 2008


  • 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
  • Braziel, Jana Evans. 2008. Diaspora - an introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Oonk, G, 'Global Indian Diasporas: trajectories of migration and theory, Amsterdam University Press, 2007.

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