Yiannis Papadakis, Nicos Peristianis & Gisela Welz (eds), Divided Cyprus: Modernity, History, and an Island in Conflict.
The title Divided Cyprus would suggest a collection of essays discussing history, power politics and social structure either side of Cyprus's so-called green-line and strategies for co-operation between the two sides. In fact, this is not the case. Certainly Yael Navaro-Yashin's contribution, "De-ethnicizing the Ethnography of Cyprus" explores a set of issues that pertain directly to political and social life in Northern Cyprus, while Yiannis Papadakis's "Disclosure and Censorship in Divided Cyprus" straddles the "dead zone", as the green line is known to Greek Cypriots. Rebecca Bryant, in "On the Condition of Postcoloniality in Cyprus", admirably weaves together a dialectics of economics, imperialism, education and ethno-national identity amongst Turkish and Greek Cypriots during the period of British rule. Otherwise, the "other half" of "divided Cyprus" is present only through its absence.
I do not mention this in order to castigate the contributors with the imperative of liberal inclusiveness. Nor is it merely a statistical problem that might be redressed through the discipline of the quota. The strange absences are rather the performative expression of the pathology of Cyprus. Papadakis refers succinctly to this state of affairs as "ethnic autism" (Papadakis 68, 78). The essays collectively and individually articulate the processes by which such division is negotiated at the level of everyday life mainly in Greek Cypriot society (Peristianis 104, 105).
Another reason that may explain the strange absences of this volume is that the conference out of which it grew took place in September 2001, well before April 2003, when the borders opened. Thus the "divide" of Divided Cyprus is militarily, economically, socially and psychologically obtrusive according to a number of modalities, one of which involves intellectual life. For example, the methodological approach common to all the contributions of this publication is anthropological, a discipline that is not widely practiced in the intellectual life of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). In the light of this observation, it may be said that anthropology in this volume is subject matter as well as methodology.
Anthropology does not concern itself with the veracity of a certain discourse, or its lack. Thus the aim of the anthropological method is the investigation of historical discourse outside the disciplinary parameters used by the professional historian. The intellectual justification for such an approach is the necessity of understanding the central and decisive role of competing historical discourses in Cyprus. As the editors observe in the introductory essay, "[h]istory [in Cyprus] emerges as a transcendental moral force that dictates the morally (that is, politically) desirable future, thus being imbued with primary agency that is simultaneously denied to living social actors" (6). Given that the nation state constitutes the political, military, economic and cultural basis for entry into the international system, the reinvention or invention of national histories, with all their contradictions, is thereby central to any engagement with modernity, an argument that underpins Divided Cyprus (5, 6). Accordingly, anthropology focuses on the narrative structure of these histories, exploring the way in which they are integrated, reproduced, transformed and rejected at the level of individual and local agency. In this way, anthropology seeks to bring into relief the subjective and discursive mechanisms of historical discourse, thereby, it may be speculated, shedding some light on the otherwise impenetrable fractures that characterize the body politic of Cyprus, and by implication, the "fracture management" of professional politics on the island (Papadakis 67, 68).
This approach is not without its pitfalls. As Vassos Argyrou points out in his "Postscript", anthropology is a specifically Western discourse (Argyrou, 220). While anthropologists from Western countries struggle with the questionable morality of the imperialist provenance of their discipline, the Greek finds him- or herself caught in a double bind, both subject and object of the more unsavoury aspects of the discipline. Greek Cypriot culture is Western insofar as it, together with Greece, invented itself according to the image of ancient Greek culture in turn constructed in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe. Thus the Greek Cypriot, according to this perspective, is not only Western, but constitutes the very foundations of what it meant to be Western. By contrast, the Turkish Cypriot Western orientation came about in its relation to British culture during the colonial period and Ataturk's westward-looking Turkish republic (Bryant 61). At the same time, Greek Cypriots are not Western, looking to the East, as they do, and existing on the margins of Europe in a tourist economy recently emerged from the grip of a colonial power that colonized them as distinctively nonEuropean. In addition to this, European and North-American cultures have shifted in their relationship to the historical formulations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. No longer do these powerful societies look to ancient Greek culture as a foundation. The question of origins, as well as the universality claimed by a European-invented Hellenism, has been discredited in contemporary intellectual culture (222).
However, there is an obvious "bad faith" implicit in this move. Through the decentring moves and deconstructive methodologies of the last half century, "the West emerges as the locus of pure reflexivity, enlightened self-criticism, liberalism, cultural tolerance, and understanding, a domain that claims through denial the cultural and intellectual high-ground" (223). This leaves the anthropologist of the socalled developing county in a difficult situation. The deconstruction of European and North-American history leaves the relative power of the state and confidence of its own citizens untouched, perhaps even absolved of a guilty historical conscience. For the peripheral culture, too much deconstruction may prove to be a danger. In spite of this, argues Argyrou, it is imperative that the anthropologist from the peripheral country place him- or herself in the position of permanent critic of the "truths" that circulate internationally, even the truths that claim, paradoxically, that there is no truth. Thus, the peripheral country hangs on tenaciously to the vocation that was handed it under false pretences; namely, to present to the imperial power its self image, albeit, as James Joyce insisted just under a century ago, in a cracked mirror (223, 224).
This same "uprootedness", brought about by the "shifting goalposts" of history, finds expression in a number of unlikely and instructive discourses. Youth of the Greek Cypriot diaspora in England report a fundamental ambivalence to English society, where there own self-image of European-ness is not reflected back to them by the predominantly European English population. As Floya Anthias reports in her "Researching Society and Culture in Cyprus", they are not white, as they say, and not black. Thus they fall outside the central set of oppositions that define ethnic identity and ethnic politics in Britain, even the postcolonialist discourse that determines identity as hybrid (Anthias, 181, 184). Anthias goes on to demonstrate the same patterns of exclusion of women from South-East Asia in Cyprus. The author bemoans the fact that Greek Cypriots have yet to place a positive value on difference, the uptake of which would allow the society to embrace the multicultural formula for successful transnational living, a complaint that fails to address the fundamental problem of difference on the island, nor recognize its own macabre irony. Anne Jepson's "Gardens and the Nature of Rootedness in Cyprus" takes up similar issues of displacement, this time in relation to horticulture. Here the author presents an apparent paradox: refugees living in estates in and around Lefkosia establish gardens with the stated purpose of recalling their former homes in the North from which they were expelled. These gardens constitute, at the level of intentionality, an attempt to establish an ongoing connection at a distance with the "soil" or "earth" of their lost homes and earlier lives. The prolonged effect of these gardens, however, is to generate a sensuous closeness to the earth of the new home on the urban estate. And thus takes place a kind of forgetting, despite the prohibitions of the authorities (Jepson, 166, 168, 169). It is a fascinating subject and remarkable that planting a few lemon trees and grapevines can have far-reaching political consequences.
The demand for recognition outside the parameters of identity determined by the political class gets its most profound treatment in the story of Androulla Palma's recuperation of her "missing" husband's remains. The death and suffering of 1963 to 1974 and its aftermath was, and still is, highly politicized by both sides of the Cyprus dispute. In 2000 the remains of Haralambos Palma were returned to his wife for burial. The place of initial burial upon his death in 1974, together with the official knowledge of the nature of his death during the hostilities of that time, was deliberately concealed from his wife. The circumstances of the discovery of the remains are themselves remarkable (205). Through her personal courage, Mrs Palma achieved what therapists call "closure." Yet, such a conceptualization, according to Sant Cassia, hardly bears upon the emotional and political reality of the event. Politicians were nervous in the face of this woman's tenacity. She herself, Sant Cassia argues, reestablished her own gender-specific dignity as a widow, something that had been threatened by political exploitation of widowhood (211). Of particular significance, the author continues, and reason for the nervousness of politicians, was the revelation "of the state's need for dead bodies" (211). Such events mark the unravelling of a certain ideologically obscure politico-historical pact, whereby suffering was transmuted into a political entity and used symbolically for purposes of political legitimacy (211). Paul Sant Cassia's remarkable conclusion is that a solution to the Cyprus problem, whatever form that may take, requires, amongst other things, a shift from the politicization of suffering to its medicalisation (read, normalization). Despite the fact that the medical discourse may not correspond to the nature of the deaths in the first place inflicted upon missing persons of both sides of the border, it is argued here that its pervasiveness would prepare the conditions for closure by generating a new kind of subjectivity, one suited for "modern political and medical orders" (211). But there is a health warning attached to such a development; the malaise of the society gripped by ethno-national conflict is replaced by the malaise of the society schooled in the sentimentalised language and simplistic emotions of popular therapy, wherein the complexity of experience is rewritten as medical history, creating a specifically postmodern silence.
Yiannis Papadakis addresses directly the practice of channelling all suffering to political ends, a kind of clientalist appropriation of pain. Readers of Papadakis's work Echoes from the Dead Zone will be familiar with his strategies that render symmetrical the claims and counter claims of both sides of the Cyprus conflict. What is provided here is a summary of the earlier research, one that skillfully emphasizes the "cold war" of official narratives. The propaganda value of these narratives is not based on falsehoods. On the contrary, the pain recounted by both sides is raw and immediate. Rather, such value lies in the way narratives are arranged. Thus is the fiction created, the sign of which is perfect symmetry (69). What interests Papadakis here is the way in which each discourse binds itself in such a way that the pain of the other falls by the way side (68). Thus the shouts across the barricades are never heard by the other side, being for domestic (and international) consumption. Borrowing from Michael Ignatieff, Papadakis conceptualises as "ethnic autism" the condition of being hermetically sealed in one's own national subjectivity (68).
One of the assumptions that underpins this volume is Peter Loizos's thesis that the individual engages pragmatically with elements of the official culture in an attempt to reconcile them with everyday life (Michael Herzfeld, 34). Disclosures outside the autistic parameters does indeed take place, bringing into relief fractures that run not only between Greek and Turkish Cypriot societies, but also within and across these societies (71). Papadakis's research is extensive and replete with such disclosures, from Istanbul, Lefkosa, Lefkosia, Pyle and Pile. The desire to speak outside the parameters of official discourse occurs precisely because of the acute awareness of prohibitions and silences (72, 73). For Papadakis, the social anthropologist is particularly well placed to investigate and articulate the subtle nuances of individual agency in relation to official discourse and, which of course exists not just at the level of governing bodies but political parties as well. One is left wondering, however, about the solidity of cross border leftist symmetry in the wake of AKEL's support for the "no" vote in the 2004 referendum on the Annan plan.
Identity formation on this seemingly dichotomous island is surprisingly complex. In "On the Condition of Postcoloniality in Cyprus", Rebecca Bryant examines the way in which the colonial period of British rule impacted upon identity structures on the island. Bryant rejects the thesis that the British instituted a divide-and-rule policy which placed Muslims and Orthodox Christians in conflict with each other with the aim of serving British interests (62). Her argument is that the Turkish and Greek Cypriots identified themselves with discourses that were running through their respective cultures, in the "motherlands", with the Greeks imagining the fulfillment of an ancient Hellenic destiny and the Turks seeing themselves in a pivotal position bridging Eastern and Western civilizations (48). According to Bryant, the Greek Cypriots saw their educational vocation as the nurturing into fruition of a Hellenic spirit that already existed in the society as a dormant potentiality (54). Turkish Cypriots perceived their society as being in need of reform and remaking. Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots interpreted the transformations of the period in terms of modernity, with its ideological core of progress. The fatal flaw in the project, however, was the Greek Cypriot drift towards enosis with Greece. The author declines to comment on whether this drift was inevitable, arbitrary of justified. What she does propose (contra Argyrou) is that the linking of both ethnic discourses with "civilisational progress" constitutes a viable basis for the transnationalism of postmodern period, wherein regardless of ethnicity the Cypriot citizen (the nature of the state is not specified) feels that he or she is operating at the cutting edge of contemporary subjectivity, one of legal rights, complexity and freedom, all defined by Bryant as Western. One has to temper Bryant's refreshing enthusiasm, I think, with critical evaluation of what it is to be Western, a cultural configuration that is as destructive of liberty as it is creative.
Yael Navaro-Yashin, in "De-ethnicizing the Ethnology of Cyprus", questions the politically motivated dovetailing of Turkish immigrant with Turkish Cypriot identity. Turkish Cypriots, she observes, feel that Turkish immigrants are privileged by a colonialist status, especially members of the armed forces (90, 93). In particular, Turkish Cypriots have the sense that their culture is under threat from a critical mass of Turkish immigrants brought in under Rauf Denktash's "Turkeyfication policies": "One Turk leaves, and another one arrives" (94). Navaro-Yashin argues that the characterization of difference in Cyprus has become anachronistic. Since partition and the establishment of the TRNC, the dynamics of identity have undergone a significant shift. There are social, linguistic and historical ties between the communities in Northern Cyprus, but these do not adequately represent current fault-lines in the society. Turkish Cypriots, Navaro-Yashin argues, see Turkish immigrants as belonging to another social class, having different lifestyles, customs and modes of behaviour (91).The economic and political exigencies of cultural life generate their own lines of demarcation and co-operation: It is time for the notion of "ethnic conflict ... to be replaced with analytical terms that attend to other sources and political dynamics" (96).
The essays of this publication are arranged in a more or less orthodox fashion, beginning with a history of social anthropology in Cyprus, a dialectics of agency, and the politics and psychology of modernism, postcolonialism and transnationalism. Most of the essays are of a high quality. Indeed some offer profound insights into the cultural dynamics of Cyprus as a transitional political reality. The selection of subjects is both careful and experimental, attested by the scope and diversity of discourses. It is clear from extensive cross-referencing, shared content and stated deviations that this publication is a collective work, one characterized by scholarly integrity, ethical caution and imagination. There are of course a number of papers where ideas could have been pursued with more purpose and singularity. Other papers had something of the truncated feel of the "report" about them, Admirable is the attempt in all of these papers to think the problems and potentialities of Cyprus outside the narrow symbolism and rhetoric of ethno-national conflict, while at the same time acknowledging the centrality of the same conflict to material and imaginative life on the island. My hope is that this volume with generate debate and suggest new directions for future research.
Reviewed by John Wall
Eastern Mediterranean University
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|Publication:||Journal of Cyprus Studies|
|Date:||Jan 15, 2006|
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