May Books 13) Echoes from the Dead Zone

13) Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide, by Yiannis Papadakis

This is an honest, courageous, very intelligent and very emotional book. Papadakis, himself a Greek Cypriot from Limassol, examines the stories told about their past by Greek and Turkish Cypriots. And he does it through a candidly effective mixture of analysis and chronicling his own reactions as he learns and experiences more about his own past, as well as the history of his island. I couldn’t recommend the book to an absolute beginner on Cyprus – the lack of a map or a timeline would I think make it too confusing – but for anyone who knows even a little about the place I think it is a great read.

Papadakis starts by going to “Constantinople” to learn Turkish in preparation for his hoped-for fieldwork. This in itself causes him to re-examine everything he thought he knew about Greek and Turkish history and culture. There are then three chapters in Nicosia (which he correctly refers to by the Greek name, Lefkosia, or the Turkish name, Lefkosha, depending on which side of the line he is on); he starts by settling into a neighbourhood in the east of the old city, to find out what people say about the conflict and their past relations with the Turkish Cypriots; then he gets to spend a month in the north, hearing the other side of the story; and then he finds that on his return to the south he is a target for special attention from the Greek Cypriot secret police. Barred from returning to the north, he goes back to Turkey – this time to Istanbul – to talk to young Turkish Cypriots there. He finishes up with a few weeks in the shared village of Pyla/Pile, within the UN-controlled zone. In every chapter he returns to the potent images of the Dead Zone of the book’s title, and of Aphrodite, who starts as a cuddly Greek goddess of love, and ends up as a much more sinister figure. He comes to the following conclusion about the way in which the two communities in Cyprus fail to confront their own, and each other’s, histories, conclusions which are probably generalisable to other situations:

It was all based on four simple premises.

First premise: They have propaganda, we have enlightenment. They try to deceive others, we try to show them the truth.

The second was a bit more complicated: their propaganda has been more successful than our enlightenment. This was based on a sub-premise, itself a manifestation of the Dead Zone: the rest of the world is with them. The world was split into those with us or against us. Nothing in between. Since no one was completely with us – as they should be since we were absolutely right – they were unfairly against us.

Then came the last two premises involving assertions and threats, but posing as understanding whispers of admission. “This is a critical time for Cyprus. The discussions are in a critical phase. Let’s not talk about our mistakes now.” This was an argument whose strength had not diminished after forty years of use. The main news headlines had been the same for more than forty years: “THE CYPRUS PROBLEM IS IN A CRITICAL PHASE

And finally: “You may be right, we did some bad things too. But we can’t admit to these. Do they ever admit theirs? Do they ever criticize their side?”

Put together, these four premises worked wonders. Those who used them claimed to be opposed but were in perfect cooperation.

I met Papadakis briefly when I visited Cyprus back in March; wish I had had longer to talk with him.

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