2016/2017 MSc Social and Cultural Psychology graduate Elisavet Panagiotou discusses social representations of the Cyprus Conflict. 

Cyprus is a Mediterranean island that experiences an intractable intergroup conflict between two of its communities, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Currently, Greek Cypriots live in the south of the island, under the de jure sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus while Turkish Cypriots live in the north forming the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northen Cyprus” (TRNC). Being divided for approximately fifty years, the two communities have come to develop different understandings and explanations of the conflict and consequently different representations of the conflict, Cyprus, and its community.

This study draws on Social Representation Theory (social representations are sets of ideas, values beliefs and practises that exist in a community) and Dialogism to study the Cyprus Conflict.  It specifically investigates social representations of Greek Cypriots around the the conflict, focussing on the representations Greek Cypriots have for themselves, Turkish Cypriots, Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus, and explores the dialogical processes that occur when Greek Cypriots engage with the perspectives of Turkish Cypriots. The study was concerned with providing an in-depth understanding of the Greek Cypriots’ perspective. It follows a qualitative approach, with data coming from eight focus groups and six semi-structured personal interviews conducted with Greek Cypriots of various ages, living on the island. The data were transcribed and analysed using dialogical analysis.

Identity

According to the findings, Greek Cypriots identify with the identity of “Cypriot” despite this being a superordinate identity. When used by Greek Cypriots it implicitly excludes Turkish Cypriots. The Cypriot identity is further understood by Greek Cypriots as a Greek identity but also as a mixed-race identity and “Cypriots” as a weak community.

The main “other” identities emerging from the data are Turkish Cypriots and Turkey. When discussing about Turkish Cypriots as a community, the participants would represent them mainly as a weak community, however the issue of their origin was ambiguous. Greek Cypriots do not have a homogenous and consistent understanding of them. Turkish Cypriots were flexibly represented as Turks or as Cypriots in ways that would help meet the aim of the argument that the interlocutors were trying to make. Turkey on the other side has a very homogenous and consistent representation across the data. Participants understand Turkey as a bad, strong and distrustful nation that manipulates Turkish Cypriots. Finally, Representations of Cyprus are based on whether or not Cyprus is capable of maintaining a nation-state. The participants seem to question Cyprus’ capability to function efficiently either under the current situation or under a possible scenario of reunification.

In regard to processes of semantic contact, using semantic barriers such as undermining the motive and prohibited thoughts, participants block any transformative effect of the Turkish Cypriots’ voice even though they seemingly talk positively about them. The following excerpt comes from a focus group conducted with Greek Cypriots between 18 and 30 years old. Participants here are given pseudonyms to assure anonymity. This excerpt can illustrate some of the research’ s findings:

Marinos: (…) I personally think that Turkish Cypriots have very good intentions to solve the conflict. The problem however is that, their president for example, Akinci has no power. He hasn’t* He can’t do anything. He can’t say {anything}. When he takes a position on the negotiations table/ it comes from Turkey, it is not his own position. Let me give you an example// us, do we have someone behind us? While we are negotiating? Is there anyone to guarantee our side any safety? Does anyone guarantee that, I don’t know, that the Turks cannot take over the other half of Cyprus as well?

Ntalia: so, I am sorry to interrupt. Do you mean/ that if we were talking directly with Turkey* that Turkey partially/ manipulates*

Marinos: not partially! Turkey manipulates them! Yes!

 

Representation 

In this excerpt, Turkish Cypriots are being represented as a weak community, especially compared to Turkey who manipulates them and is a nation strong and mean enough to take over the whole island. The participant here transforms the problem of the intergroup conflict between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to a problem between Greek Cypriots and Turkey. Representing Turkey as a strong and mean nation makes the problem very hard to solve since Greek Cypriots on the other side are represented as a weak community. Additionally, even though seemingly the participant talks positively about Turkish Cypriots as a community that really wants to resolve the conflict, if one looks deeper in the argument this perception changes. The participant later in the excerpt argues that Turkish Cypriots are being manipulated and therefore what they say is not theirs but Turkey’s thoughts and desires. With this argument, Turkish Cypriots are actually being silenced and the participants remove their voice from the discourse. Turkish Cypriots’ perspective becomes highly questioned and not to be trusted since by Greek Cypriots it is understood to represent Turkey’s perspective.

Conclusion

The findings from this research highlight how problematic the homogenous negative representation of Turkey in the Greek Cypriot community are. They further highlight the danger of the superordinate identity if it conquers as well as the danger of remaining passive to the Cyprus Conflict due to perceived in-group weakness and out-group strength.

About the author

Elisavet Panagiotou studied MSc Social and Cultural Psychology in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE. She is currently following a BA programme in Dance Studies and works as a researcher at the University of Cyprus. In the future, Elisavet would like to complete a PhD programme focussing on issues of conflict and how the arts can be used for reconciliation.