The situation: the Multi-layered identities in Cyprus
Updated: May 6, 2022
As part of the project preparation each 1000 Layers Project partner contributed with relevant information about the local contexts to provide insights of the types of identity conflicts that might be affecting young people in their territories. To understand local dynamics that will most likely have an impact on project development, we focused on six relevant areas:
presence of multi-layered identities
inter-group tensions and othering
approach to interculturality
presence of victimhood narratives
In the Cypriot context, there is a great need for a multi-layered understanding of identity. Due to historical reasons, including the development of nationalism in the two main communities through a victimization narrative in the political sphere and segregated educational systems, Cypriots (depending on their ethnic group) perceive themselves, in their majority, as affiliated in terms of ethnicity and language, to the motherlands (Greece and Turkey), rather than to a Cypriot identity.
Socially this manifests itself into discrimination and stereotyping of one community against the other, limited crossings from the North of the island to the South (and vice versa), and (on the political level) openness to the possibility for a solution to the 50+ years old Cyprus Problem which would remove the need for collaboration and co-existence between the communities. Moreover, although the island has two official languages according to its constitution, the populations (and administrations) are largely resistant to learning the other’s language, but resort to English as a lingua franca, but losing the bilingual character of Cypriots of the past. Finally, a focus on the mono-dimensional understanding that Cypriots have of their identity, is that “we have suffered more than you”, allotting to the period of violence on the island in the 1960s and 1974 war, which split the island in two. Trauma and a connection to the places from which people were displaced are repeated within education and the media, in a way being re-implanted into the new generations as stable and unaltered pain, although there have been steps forward in healing the would (e.g. Committee for Missing Persons, bi-communal conflict resolution groups, displaced communities connecting with the new communities in their villages).
Intergroup tensions and othering
There are a great number of tensions that arise from ‘othering’. Other than the ones mentioned above, based on the (perceived) ethnic and linguistic divide between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriotd, there is the economic and class divide between Cypriots and economic migrants. The island is host to tens of thousands of domestic and farm workers (from South East Asia, India, the MENA region, Turkey), who constitute the working class of the island. Other then the institutional violence against this population group, the perceptions of Cypriots against them are deeply racist, and based on a process of ‘othering’, whereby these individuals are uneducated, rather primitive and have a limited understanding of things.
Finally, let me mention a process of ‘othering’ which is typical within certain (perceived) western cultures: this ‘othering’ is based on the perceived Hellenic heritage of Greek Cypriots. It is based on the assumption that Greek-Cypriots are descendants of Hellenes (Greeks), and part of the millennia-long history of Hellenism. This is a basis for the ‘othering’ of Greek-Cypriots towards all other populations on the island, and beyond its borders, it explains the affiliation of the community to Europe and a negation of the Middle Eastern identity of the island, in spite its location.
Approach to interculturality
The fact that the island is intercultural is a statistical fact, since one in five inhabitants of the Republic of Cyprus are not Cypriot. However, in the context of the social and political rhetoric (including media and education) exists a mono-dimensional Helleno-Christian identity, which is exclusionary of others, especially Turkish-Cypriots and migrants (labor workers) from non-EU countries.
Although Turkish-Cypriots have maintained during the years their distinct identity, which in spite the growth of Turkish nationalism still reflects Cypriot identity, and various groups of migrants have become organized and manifest their identity in public spaces and other establishments in national and religious holidays, there is limited support by the state and monolithic cultural organizations of these manifestations. The multi-culturalism of Cyprus, based on its mixed Levantine and European character is perceived a thing of the past for the majority population of Greek Cypriots, since now the accepted affiliation is to Europe and western aesthetics.
The perceptions of ‘victims’ in Cyprus, characterizes mostly the feelings of injustice felt by both major communities on the island, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish- Cypriots. The trauma and lack of resolution in relation to issues around the inter-communal conflict of the 1960s, the gradual segregation of the population, and the war of 1974, with the invasion of Turkey, followed by a 30-year complete segregation of the populations, is lingering. The island has not experienced a war tribunal, there has not been a truth and reconciliation committee, and given the size of the country, the threat of violence is still there: for the Turkish Cypriots, the fear rests in Greek and Greek-Cypriot aggression, and for the Greek-
Cypriots, on Turkish aggression. Crimes committed in times of war and troubled peace, have been left unpunished, and people’s pain has been left unacknowledged, enforcing the idea that ‘this can happen again’. This insecurity is then transferred within families, and certainly within governments, since politicians and policy makers are themselves victims of this unresolved internalization of trauma.
There have been during the years, many inter-communal activities, on the social, cultural and political levels.