Two anthropological books about Cyprus

Two very interesting books on the nature of how people actually live on Cyprus. Both are now a little outdated for the best of reasons – written before recent positive developments. But both worth reading, particularly Bryant for the wider issues she raises about the project as a whole.

Rebecca Bryant’s Imagining the Modern: The Cultures of Nationalism in Cyprus was strongly recommended to me by a senior Cypriot contact (who admitted however not having read it himself). I will recommend to him that he should give it another try.

Bryant has dug down through the historical records to find the roots of how Christian and Muslim Cypriots came to define themselves as Greeks and Turks, and comes up with a couple of pithy phrases for the present day situation – Greek Cypriots speak of their own “spirit” and seek “justice”; Turkish Cypriots talk of “blood” and demand “respect”. Part of the comfortable myth that Greek Cypriots have of their own history is that intercommunal tensions were created by the British in the 1950s as part of a divide-and-rule strategy; Bryant shows that, at most, the British gave legal form seventy years earlier to a division that was happening anyway.

I was especially interested by her account of education on the island under British rule, where the modernising projects of the colonisers and the colonised collided. The Greek education system in particular prepared children for enosis rather than for sharing the island with their Turkish Cypriot neighbours, and that was an ideology choice which the British rather ineffectually tried to avert. “Where the British sought to create citizens who understood what was right, Cypriots of both communities sought to train their children to know what was true.” (It is a criticism I still pick up from Cypriot commentators today.)

Things are shifting now on Cyprus, but Bryant shows how far there is to travel.

Divided Cyprus: Modernity, History and an Island in Conflict is a set of essays based on papers given at a conference held in 2001, and then published in 2006. Both years were rather gloomy moments for the island, and the pre-2001 work on Turkish Cypriots in particular seemed to me to have dated rather quickly – it would be very interesting to read some research on the effects of the opening of the Green Line, and the change in Turkish and Turkish Cypriot policy; realistically it is too early to read any considered analysis of the swing on the Greek Cypriot side twelve months ago. There are good chapters by both Rebecca Bryant and Yiannis Papdakis, but in both cases much the same material can be found amplified in their books. All the writers pay homage to Peter Loizos, to whom the book is dedicated; my memory of his The Greek Gift, published in 1975, is that it was curiously silent on both Turkish Cypriots and women.

The two standout chapters for me were both largely about Greek Cypriot women – Ann Jepson on gardens, and Paul Sant Cassia on the families of the missing – both gave me insights that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to me. The collection as a whole is less heavy than Bryant’s book, and probably more accessible to Cyprus newbies.

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