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Different narratives, different stories: the language of narrative and interpretation *.


The establishment of nation-states has created along an official history which has a certain type of narrative. In Cyprus, there are two main, supposedly opposing, official narratives. These histories function for both the Turkish and Greek Cypriots with their own narratives as identity constructions.

This paper will examine how narratives produce different stories. As Yiannis Papadakis has demonstrated in Perceptions of History and Collective Identity: A Comparison of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot Perspectives, the official Greek Cypriot narrative focuses on the period of 1955-1960 and 1974, while the official Turkish Cypriot narrative focuses on the events of 1963-1967. As a result, although the two narratives are different in terms of their focus, they are similar in terms of the used methods and definitions.

Keywords: Narrative, official narrative, selective memory, memory and forgetting, language, totality, Other.


Ulus devletlerin var olmasi ile birlikte, her ulus devlet belli bir anlatiya bagli kalarak kendi resmi tarihini yaratmistir. Kibris'ta bulunan birbirine sozde zit iki anlati da kendi ulusal kimliklerini insa ederken kendi anlatilarini kullanmaktadir. Bu deneme, anlatilarin nasil olup da farkli oykuler olusturduklarini inceliyor. Yiannis Papadakis'in Perceptions of History and Collective Identity: A Comparison of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot Perspectives adli eserinde belirttigi gibi, resmi Kibris Rum anlatisi 1955-1960 ve 1974'e odaklanirken, resmi Kibris Turk anlatisi ise 1963 ve 1967 yillari uzerinde yogunlasmis bulunmaktadir. Denemenin amaci, her ne kadar birbirinden farkli gibi gorunse de, kullanilan metod ve tanimlamalarla bu iki anlatinin birbirine ne kadar da benzedigini ortaya koymaktir.

Anahtar Kelimeler: Anlati, resmi anlati, secici hafiza, hatirlama ve unutma, dil, butunsellik ve Oteki.

Before the leaves have fallen Before we locked the doors There must be the third and last dance This one will last forever John Petrucci--Metropolis-Part I "The Miracle and the Sleeper" Anachrony practices and promises forgetting. Jacques Derrida--Specters of Marx


The opening of borders on 23rd April 2003 can be seen as a "new milestone" in the history of Cyprus. From that day on, not only will people be able to see each other and the "other half of their homeland", which is an important thing for questioning the status quo, but also both the Turkish and the Greek Cypriots will be able to question the official history/narrative on both sides. Regarding the situation in Cyprus, one can say that, especially after 1974, there were two main so-called opposing official narratives. However, if one looks and analyzes the situation on a deeper level, today, one can see that although these narratives seem opposing, through the narrative that they used, one can say that they are "... the two sides of the same coin". (1) In other words, although there are two opposing official narratives on both sides, these narratives are the same thing.

Nonetheless, one should bear in mind that, especially in the North side of the island, with the Annan Plan and the election of the new government, official policy of North Cyprus seems to be changing a little bit. However, on the South side of the island, 75% "no" ([O.sub.[chi]) to the Annan Plan can be understood in terms of how official narrative still works. In other words, although with the latest developments there are some attempts to change the official narrative of the North; in the South it is not possible to see the same thing. Contrary to this, Greek Cypriot official narrative maintains its legitimacy, as the only true narrative of the history of Cyprus.

An example to this 'changing' in the official narrative in the North side can be the revision of the history books, which are being used in secondary and high schools. "Since 2004, the Cyprus History book has been revised two times and these revisions mainly dealt with either correcting the information that were written wrong historically or eliminating some nationalist drawings or words". (2) On the other hand, on the South side of the island, there is not any visible attempt to revise history books as in the North. This is an example that shows how official policies of both sides have and have not changed through time.

Regarding these, this essay is an attempt to understand/analyze the situation especially before the borders opened. However, as it is mentioned, opening the borders changed the official narrative only partially. So, this paper will look at these so-called opposing official narratives in terms of the period before 23rd April 2003.

Different Narratives vs. Different Stories?

In Cyprus, there are two main official narratives and both sides explain their story by using their own narrative in order to construct "their identity". According to Yiannis Papadakis,</p> <pre> Memory and forgetting refer to the past and construct (or are informed by) a certain history. But the... aims of different groups with regards to the future are of primary importance in articulating various accounts of the past. (3) </pre> <p>As he mentions, the Greek Cypriot official narrative commemorates the period of 1955-1960 as an anti-colonial struggle, and 1974 as an 'invasion', while Turkish Cypriot narrative starts with the establishing of EOKA (Papadakis 1993). In the Turkish Cypriot official narrative, contrary to the Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots see the period of 1955-1960 as the movement of enosis by EOKA in the name of a "struggle for freedom", and it continues between the years 1963 and 1974. By looking at the dates, one can easily see how on both sides different narratives create different stories.

Nevertheless, in Cyprus the same stories are interpreted in a completely different way. Papadakis claims that: "Indeed, memory can only work effectively if it focuses on relatively few and concrete events. This means that a certain selection takes place and implies an eventual forgetting of events not stressed by commemorative rituals". (4) As he asserts, under the process of narrating/writing history one can see that there is a 'selective memory'. 'Selective memory' is important because when official narratives are created, on both sides, one party selected some events and emphasized them, while on the other hand, another party selected something else and may have ignored the other incidents. Hayden White talks about the historians and how history, as a discipline, is politicized. In his essay, "The Politics of Historical Interpretation: Discipline and De-Sublimation", White argues:</p> <pre> Historians also often claim to explain the matters of which they treat by providing a proper understanding of them. The means by which this understanding is provided is interpretation. Narration is both the way in which a historical interpretation is achieved and the mode of discourse in which a successful understanding

of matters historical is represented (emphases in the original). (5) </pre> <p>In the process of writing history, historians understand and write history according to their interpretation as White (1987) says, but if one looks at Cyprus, it is quite obvious that each side interprets the history differently. As Nergis Canefe claims,</p> <pre> there is no absolute, complete, truly accountable history

of a nation or a community and in the end, the changeability of communal/national history is not at all an undesirable thing. As the dynamics of nationbuilding or the character of the political contract change, views of communal past will inevitably change. (6) </pre> <p>And Canefe continuous, 'there is no absolute history of a nation'. However, in Greek Cypriot narratives, as Papadakis points out,</p> <pre> In the first place, the movement [EOKA] is now

presented as a struggle of all Cypriots, thus overshadowing the exclusion of the left (7) and the disagreement of the Turkish Cypriots. Secondly, it is mostly referred to as apeleftherotikos aghonas (freedom

struggle) or aghonas yia anexartisia (independence struggle) and not as aghonas yia enosi (struggle for union) as it really was. (8) </pre> <p>Again, as Papadakis writes in his chapter: "The silence over the 1960-74 period along with the way the EOKA struggle is presented, essentially mean that no room is given to memories of official proclamations for enosis by the Greek Cypriots (up to 1967 and after 1970) and to the intercommunal (and intracommunal) violence of that period". (9) In other words, Greek Cypriot official narrative consciously ignores the interethnic violence in their history which took place between 1960 and 1974. By not talking about enosis, Greek Cypriots try to stress, as in Papadakis' (1993) example of a 70-year old Greek Cypriot's views about Turkish Cypriots before 74, that they did not have any problems with the Turkish Cypriots. As the 70-year old Greek Cypriot claims, 'epernousame kala me tous vromoshillous (we used to live well with those dirty dogs [i.e. the Turks])'. (10) Here, epernousame kala can be seen as a good example that shows the official narrative of the Greek Cypriot side and how it is perceived by a Greek Cypriot. In other words, the example shows how the interethnic period of violence has been omitted by the Greek Cypriot officials.

On the other hand, the official Turkish Cypriot narrative, as Papadakis (1993) claims, tries to forget that Turkish Cypriots lived in the south once upon a time.

The declaration of the area under their control as an independent state requires two kinds of social forgetting: on the one hand, the Turkish Cypriots are required to forget their lives and homes in the south where many of them used to live until 74, and the fact that Greek Cypriots used to live in the area where they now do so. This is their [Turkish Cypriots'] home now and a clean break with the past is to be made. If the past can be shown as all pain and suffering, then the break is easier to accomplish. Forgetting that Greek Cypriots used to live there ... is accomplished by changing the names of villages, roads or areas in the north from their previous Greek name to a new Turkish one. (11)

As Papadakis (1993) claims, the 'official silence' of Turkish Cypriot narrative can be best understood when he says 'if the past can be shown as all pain and suffering, then the break is easier to accomplish' because starting everything from nothing means the life of the Turkish Cypriots began again in the North. And in this "new life", in order to forget all the bad things that happened in the past, official narrative consciously forgets (or tends to forget) the past. That is why, as an indicator of this idea, the names of villages, streets, and everything else has been changed from Greek to Turkish. By changing the names, new generations may forget the sufferings that Turkish Cypriots had in the past, because renaming everything in Turkish is a kind of social forgetting. People who have no past, or relation with the Greek Cypriots may forget that the village where they live right now was a Greek Cypriot village before 1974, or that they used to live with the Greek Cypriots. On the one hand, the official Turkish Cypriot narrative stresses the interethnic violence, which suggests that Turkish Cypriots lived in the south with Greek Cypriots. On the other hand, the official narrative expects from Turkish Cypriots to forget the past. It is an ambivalent situation. In Bhabha's words: "[The] image of the nation ... is a particular ambivalence that haunts the idea of the nation, the language of those who write of it and the lives of those who live it". (12)

Another related thing is that, in the south, the Turkish names of the streets still remain. This can be interpreted as another way of promoting the fact that, there were Turkish Cypriots here once upon a time, like there were Greek Cypriots in the north. However, after 23rd April, one can say that the Greek Cypriot government's policy about Turkish Cypriots is not this but something else. After 23rd April, the Turkish Cypriots who went to see their birthplace realized that although Greek Cypriot government argues that they have "protected" the properties of the Turkish Cypriots, this is not true. There are some examples that show that some of the Turkish Cypriot properties became highways or other public projects. This, of course, is good evidence that, although the Greek Cypriot government claims in its official narrative that they welcome the Turkish Cypriots, this is not actually true.

Nonetheless, in "The Question of Identity and Its Socio-Historical Basis in Turkish Cypriot Literature," Mehmet Yasin talks about "the minority position of the Turkish Cypriot community". (13) In that section, Yasin discusses the "feeling/being a minority" of Turkish Cypriots. For Yasin,</p> <pre> If our people do not miss the villages in the south of Cyprus where they were born; if they do not sigh with

the mere thought of Hala Sultan Tekkesi; if they could suddenly and definitely just throw away half their country; even worse, longing for South Cyprus, which is half of your land, is considered being a "traitor to your nation", this terrible psychological state must also be associated with our historical psychology of being a minority. I can already hear the objections: "This does not reflect the true feelings of our community, it is a situation created by official policies". That may be so. But if our people are still missing the Hala Sultan Tekkesi, there is no pathos in this longing. One therefore cannot hope for this longing to become the dominant factor. (48-49, emphasis in the original) </pre> <p>Mehmet Yasin (1990) says the same thing as Papadakis (1993) but from a different perspective. For Yasin (1990), if Turkish Cypriots do not miss their homes or villages in the south, it is because of the psychology of being a minority--since most Turkish Cypriots used to live in mixed villages with the Greek Cypriots and usually, in terms of population, the Turkish Cypriots were the minority. After 1974, Turkish Cypriots became, both in terms of population and psychology, a majority. (14) However, Yasin (1990) argues that Turkish Cypriots still feel themselves as minority. That is why Turkish Cypriots want to forget what they left behind. However, one may say that Papadakis' (1993) argument seems much clearer because by trying to forget what they left in the south, Turkish Cypriots also try to forget their pain and suffering. (15)

The reason why narrative and memory and forgetting are seen as significant is the fact that narrative is a powerful tool in the construction/formation of a national identity. As Papadakis (1993) argues, "Memory and forgetting can be based on experience but they can also be used strategically to give rise to different interpretations or stories of the past". (16) What Papadakis (1993) points out is that a single experience, such as war/interethnic violence in Cyprus, can be both interpreted and used in different ways.</p> <pre> Also, according to Elizabeth Tonkin, Society and the interpretation of an event's significance

may have changed in the interval, but the survival of a story about that 'pre-past' can mean either a reconstitution in different forms or the retention of a single genre--which, however, may also have changed its occasion of use, its authority, or in other ways which affect the openness to interpretation that is always a feature of genre. (17) </pre> <p>As Tonkin (1995) argues, 'the interpretation of an event' may change. In Cyprus, the usage of the narrative by the authorities of both sides can be seen as opposing because both sides talk about the same period but interpret it differently. However, as I mentioned before, the recent attempts in the North side of the island, such as the revision of the history books, can be an example of how, as Papadakis (1993) argues, 'the memory and forgetting give rise to different interpretations or stories of the past'. This is because, as Nergis Canefe asserts, "[a]s the dynamics of nation-building or the character of the political contract change, views of communal past will inevitably change". (18)

Dhen Xehno[not equal to]Unutmayacagiz?

Another thing which one can say when one talks about the narrative of both sides are the slogans I don't forget and we won't forget. The Greek Cypriot official narrative claims that they will not forget Turkey's "invasion" in 1974. The official slogan [??] (dhen xehno-I don't forget) implies that Greek Cypriots who left their homes in the north and came to the south will not forget what they left in the north. As Papadakis (1993) asserts</p> <pre> ... the Greek Cypriot government uses dhen xehno to remind Greek Cypriot refugees of their homes and keep

the desire to return alive. One of the ways by which this is achieved is by showing, before the evening main news, a picture of a village or a church or a landscape now in the area controlled by Turkish Cypriots. This is accompanied by nostalgic music and the inscription dhen xehno. (19) </pre> <p>Dhen xehno became the symbol of 'remembering the past' for Greek Cypriots. By remembering what they left behind, one may argue, dhen xehno also becomes a symbol of something which holds Greek Cypriots together against Turkish Cypriots and Turks. Because, by doing this, all Greek Cypriots have a common enemy and it is important that in the formation of a nation one nation needs something that brings everybody together. Here, by saying dhen xehno Greek Cypriots come together for something in common, which is the "Turkish invasion".

Unutmayacagiz (we won't forget) is also the same slogan used by the Turkish Cypriot officials to indicate Kanli Noel (Bloody Christmas). Kanli Noel indicates the events of 1963, which can be said to be the spark of interethnic violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. In the Kanli Noel, which took place on the 21st of December 1963, EOKA supporters attacked Turkish Cypriots. By saying unutmayacagiz the Turkish Cypriot official narrative implies that the Turkish Cypriots do not want to go back to those days. So, Turkish Cypriots are happy with the "new" condition. For Papadakis (1993):</p> <pre> Unutmayajagiz (20) (we won't forget) is the symbol that is the equivalent of the Greek Cypriot's dhen xehno, though their meanings are rather different.

Unutmayajagiz refers to the martyrs and heroes who gave up their lives in the struggles against the Greek Cypriots and bestows a duty to the present generations to honour their sacrifices by continuing their struggle and not giving up what they have died for. (21) </pre> <p>In other words, Papadakis (1993) explains how the same events, even the same slogan, can be used in a completely different narrative. Both dhen xehno and unutmayacagiz refer to the same idea. However, the interesting thing is that these two slogans focus on different periods of Cyprus, so the discourses are the same, but the events that the two official narratives emphasize are different.

Conclusion: A Levinasian Framework

In conclusion, one can say that official narratives in Cyprus can be analyzed by Levinas' view on language since according to him language is the site where both totality and infinity can exist. (22) The Levinasian view about language can be defined as the most ethical relationship between self and Other. In other words, for Levinas, the relation between self and Other through language is not opposition, not assimilation into one's separate nature. So it is inevitable to say that language can be seen as the basis of totalization itself, because nationalist discourse is constructed through language, the idea of Being, which is in Levinasian terms "the Said" (Levinas 2000). Language, thus narrative, is very important in the formation of the nation because by analysing the two official narratives one can say that narrative and narration belong to "the Said", hence totality. Narrative can be integrated into 'the Said' because both official narratives can be considered as a 'hegemonic unity'. In other words, in Levinasian terms, both narratives (Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot) are parts of 'the Said' because narrative "moralize[s] the reality" and 'the Said' is about "... truth, Being, personal identity ..."(23). Narrative is about "... truth, Being, personal identity ..." as well. However, Levinas argues that "the Said" belongs to the totality. Colin Davis points out Levinas's view in a simple way. For him "[g]iving priority to the Said entails a failure to recognize another distinctive dimension of language, which Levinas calls Saying: underlying, though not yet fully represented by, every utterance is a situation, structure or event in which I am exposed to the Other as a speaker or receiver of discourse" (24) (Davis 1996, 75). Davis's expression about Levinas's view on language can be applied to the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot narratives as, by giving priority to the Same (the Said/Being) language (official narrative) is totalizing the Other. In other words, by using the language of Being/ontology (25) official narratives deny the existence of the otherness of the Other. Hence, in the formation of the nation one can say that the language that the officials are using is part of totality because it tries to assimilate everything to the Same. The idea of enosis ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and taksim, and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and unutmayacagiz does not give any space to the Other in terms of its rhetoric. Hence, the nationalist rhetoric tries to assimilate everything to the Same, which belongs to 'the Said'. However, there is also a possibility that language can be used in a positive way because by giving priority to 'Saying' language becomes the place for the Other. Thus, language becomes a site in which on can have face to face relationships, and face to face relationships destroy totality.

* This paper was presented at the 7th International English Literature Conference: Inscriptions '04 at Eastern Mediterranean University, Gazimagusa, Cyprus.


(1) Yiannis Papadakis, "The Politics of Memory and Forgetting". (10/7/2002).

(2) Muge Sevketoglu, who took part in the revisions of the History of Cyprus books, talked about these revisions and presented her findings in the conference entitled Peacebuilding in Divided Socities, organized by PRIO Cyprus Centre, Saturday 26 November 2005 at Ledra Palace, Nicosia, Cyprus. (Taken from POST's proposal, Education for Peace, submitted to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Action for Cooperation and Trust on 23rd December 2004.)

(3) Papadakis, "Politics of Memory and Forgetting".

(4) Papadakis, " Politics of Memory and Forgetting".

(5) Hayden White, The Content of the Form (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 60.

(6) Canefe, Nergis, "Communal Memory and Turkish Cypriot National History: Missing Links". (10/7/2002).

(7) As far as I understand, by saying left, Papadakis means the left wing political groups such as AKEL, communist party, and PEO, the worker's union.

(8) Papadakis, "Politics of Memory and Forgetting".

(9) Papadakis, "Politics of Memory and Forgetting".

(10) Papadakis, "Politics of Memory and Forgetting".

(11) Papadakis, "Politics of Memory and Forgetting".

(12) Homi Bhabha, "Narrating the Nation" in Nation and Narration. (8/6/2002).

(13) Mehmet Yasin, "The Question of Identity and Its Socio-Historical Basis in Turkish Cypriot Literature" in Turkish Cypriot Identity in Literature / Edebiyatta Kibrisli Turk Kimligi (London: Fatal Publications, 1990), 39-67.

(14) However, one may argue that because of the policies of Turkey, especially after 1974 Turkish Cypriots become minority again within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is the republic established by the Turkish Cypriots. This idea is supported by the extreme left such as Yurtsever Birlik Hareketi (Patriotic Unity Movement), which is known now as Yeni Kibris Partisi (New Cyprus Party). But, for the right wing parties such as Ulusal Birlik Partisi (National Unity Party) and Demokrat Parti (Democrat Party), now Turkish Cypriots have their own state and we do not have any problem like being a minority or majority because there is no much difference between a Turkiyeli, which means "mainland Turk" (a Turk who is from Turkey) and a Turkish Cypriot. Like Rauf Denktas (Denktash), the ex-president of the TRNC, declared "both those who come and those who go are Turkish" (Unc, Uluc Han. Selfidentifications of Turkish Cypriot Immigrants in London. Unpublished MA thesis, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 9).

(15) Another example can be given from my family. Originally my father's family was from Limassol. They lived in a Turkish Cypriot neighbourhood. Most of their neighbours were Turkish Cypriots, so their contacts with Greek Cypriots were fewer compared to a Turkish Cypriot who lived in a mixed village. Now, none of my father's sisters or brothers wants to go back and live in their house in Limassol because they feel that living in the north is more secure than living in the south, even if there will be solution. They miss Limassol, their house, and the places that they used to live but when they tell me some stories, something about Limassol, their house, or about their childhood, Limassol appears like a "far-off land", so I cannot agree with Mehmet Yasin in the sense that they consciously try to forget their past because it is related with the idea of being a minority. The experience of my father's family shows me that by not talking about the south, or trying to forget the south, they want to forget the bad things (interethnic violence) they experienced. Also, in "The Politics of Memory and Forgetting" Papadakis (1993) claims,

When they [Turkish Cypriots] talk of that period they say 'gochmenidik (we were refugees)'. The use of the past implies that they no longer feel like refugees but that they consider their current homes as their own permanent ones. Very little desire to return back to their previous homes was expressed.

As Papadakis (1993) mentions, the idea of being a gocmen (refugee) might be another reason that Turkish Cypriots do not want to go back those days, or because it reminds them the bad things that they experienced, they do not want to go back to the south, or even, intentionally, remember it.

However, one may note that, after 23rd April 2003, the idea of "going back to the places that they were born" might appear on people's minds. However, I have asked some of the Turkish Cypriots about this idea and most of them told me that they do not want to go back even in the "United Cyprus Republic", which could not be established after the referendum in Cyprus on 24th April. The main reason, told my informants, that after 30 years everything has changed and after 30 years going back does not mean anything for them. Another reason is that after 30 years the places that they were born have changed, so their neighbours have changed. That is why I considered this as the idea of not going back.

(16) Papadakis, "Politics of Memory and Forgetting".

(17) Elizabeth Tonkin, Narrating Our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 116.

(18) Canefe, Nergis, "Communal Memory and Turkish Cypriot National History: Missing Links". (11/7/2002).

(19) Papadakis, "The Politics of Memory and Forgetting".

(20) Here, Papadakis writes the word differently because of its spelling in English. Originally, in Turkish the word is written as unutmayacagiz but the letter "c" in Turkish spelled as "j" in English.

(21) Papadakis, "Politics of Memory and Forgetting".

(22) Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 2000).

(23) White, Content, 14.

(24) Colin Davis, Levinas: An Introduction (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996), 75.

(25) Levinas discusses the issue of Same, totality and the relation between totality and ontology in Time and the Other, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 1987). Especially the section called "Fecundity", 90-94.

Hakan Karahasan

Eastern Mediterranean University
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Author:Karahasan, Hakan
Publication:Journal of Cyprus Studies
Geographic Code:4EXCY
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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