Humans: A Take on Identity

North Cyprus: National Identity in the Absence of Nationhood “I’m not a Turkish Cypriot – I’m a Cypriot. We’ve been here since the Ottomans – we aren’t immigrants, invaders, or refugees, we were always here.” The above quote is taken from a conversation with one of my friends in Girne, a 20-year old Turkish-speaking Cypriot studying at the University of Southampton. The northern side of Cyprus is predominantly occupied by Turkish-speaking Cypriots, with a significant population of short-term labour migrants from Turkey. The land and people here constitute the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC – in Turkish, Kuzey Kıbrıs Türk Cumhriyet abbreviated to KKTC), recognised only by Turkey and denied nationhood by the international community. This invisibility is inescapable for the residents of KKTC, ranging from something as simple as not finding their country on drop-down lists, to having two passports, one ‘symbolic’ for KKTC and one ‘official’ issued by the Republic of Cyprus (the southern, Greek-speaking, and internationally recognised half of the island).

The Mediterranean island was divided into two halves after decades of ethnic violence and political marginalisation (particularly 1955-1974) culminated in civil war. Greek-speaking Cypriots were displaced from their homes and moved south, while Turkish-speaking Cypriots were forced north. The UN established a buffer zone to separate the two populations and today Lefkoşa (Nicosia in English; Λευκωσία in Greek) is the only divided capital in the world. Metehan is the major border-crossing point and 100 metres south of the passport control booths are large signs in Greek telling the ‘Turkish invaders’ to go home and reminding those passing through of the 1,500 Greek-speaking Cypriots still missing. From here, it is possible to see the large KKTC flag emblazoned on the side of Mt. Beşparklar, even more so at night-time when it is illuminated by thousands of lights. According to sociological or political approaches to migration and mobility that take the nation-state as its basic entity or unit (as referred to by Glick-Schiller 2003 and Olwig 2003), KKTC should be a void, a space in which nothing really happens or exists.

However, that is clearly not the case. Aside from its fully established cultural traditions, collective identity, political institutions, and booming tourism and construction industries, KKTC is a nexus for movement. Labour migrants flood in from Turkey to work on the skyscrapers and apartment blocks popping up across the north coast; Turkish-speaking Cypriots commute daily from Girne or Lefkoşa to the south side of the capital for work; the Cypriot universities are populated by students from northern Africa while Cypriots go to Canada, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and the UK to study. If we abandon the global scheme of nation-states in favour of Appadurai’s model of global flows (1996), KKTC gains much more of a presence. The wealth of movement into, out of, and through the space reinstates its position as a node on the ethnoscape; the influx of Turkish, English, German and American ideologies through social and mainstream media establishes multiple points of engagement with the global ideoscape and mediascape; its position on the financescape is a complex layering of Turkish lira, Euros, and British pounds sterling as different sectors use different currencies, and the burgeoning technological sector gradually incorporates it into the technoscape. This demonstrates the complexity and sheer multitude of ties that Northern Cyprus has with other bodies operating on a global scale, whether these are nation-states, international organisations such as the UN, or transnational corporations, like Coca-Cola, Nike, or Burger King.

Even though there is a border cutting through the island and a collective memory of recent violence, Cypriots from both sides still recognise their shared culture and practices. The cuisine is a great example of this; Greek halloumi is Turkish hellim, Greek tzatziki is Turkish jajik, Greek yoghurt is Turkish yourt. The differences between ‘Greek’ and ‘Turkish’ Cypriots are predominantly linguistic and ethnic, with little difference culturally and so it is pertinent in this module to consider the statehood of some Cypriots compared to the denial of others. When discussing the factors that constitute nationality, citizenship, state identity, or community within a group of countries, it is consistently noted that these are all socio-cultural constructions. How significant, then, is it that the “international community” (another term in need of clear definition) denies the existence of North Cyprus as an independent and self-governing state while accepting the Republic of Cyprus and even giving it membership to the UN and the EU? Combined with my experience in Northern Cyprus, the readings this week led me to realise that we often take our membership of a nation-state for-granted. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a nationality” yet for transnational migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, or residents of unrecognised states, this is a right that can go unrealised. For many of us, it isn’t even a right we are aware that we have, but an inherent element of existence in today’s global world.

References: Appadurai, A. (1996) Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press Glick-Schiller, N. (2003) ‘The Centrality of Ethnography in the Study of Transnational Migration: Seeing the Wetland instead of the Swamp’ in ed. N. Foner American Arrivals: anthropology engages the new immigration Santa Fe, MN: School of American Research Press pp. 99-128 Olwig, K. F. (2003) ‘”Transnational” Socio-Cultural Systems and Ethnographic Research: Views from an Extended Field Site’ The International Migration Review Vol. 37 (3) pp. 787-811

Lily Gibbs, 31st January 2019, 11:01

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