Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cyprus fieldwork: war, cultural heritage, destruction, ethnicisation

Cyprus fieldwork notes extracts

Beginning with thoughts springing from reading a review of a book on the destruction of cultural property, I considered what kinds of research questions I could ask that would be new, relevant and productive, then how to avoid ethnicisation of communities or the destruction of cultural heritage.

At 1.30am on the 21st of January 2006, I noted that I had:
just finished reading Alex Efthyvoulos's (20th-26th January 2006) article in the Cyprus Weekly (pp28-29) splashing Michael Jensen's new book on "war and cultural heritage" in Cyprus. Efthyvoulos brings out the key points concerning "Turkey's guilt and [the] foreign cover-up" and it's clear that Jensen's book is (another) must-read.

It's reassuring to see that it can be done, not long after I became concerned that my Cypriot material might be weaker than my Ilisu material; still, it does pose a problem (and present an opportunity). The problem it poses is that it's done one of my jobs; the opportunity arises for the same reason.

I couldn't've done this historical and political documentation justice in my human rights research, but I would've felt I had to do it in far greater depth were it not for this and similar work - and I would've had to do a lot more legwork. Building on this work/these works, what should I do?

I suppose I should discuss the responsibility for and (un)justifiability of the destruction of cultural heritage, however, I suspect Jensen's done that; nonetheless, I will still have to cover the ground and work through a (Gewirthian) human rights approach to the looting and trade (and the outright desecration and erasure) of cultural heritage.

It does open up spaces to explore ownership / stewardship / responsibility for cultural heritage / archaeology / community architecture, which would fall within the remit of resolving conflicts over cultural heritage - and allow me, if I so chose, to return to the quandary of what to do with or how to protect Orthodox sites in Kosovo.

The (Efthyvoulos's) article talks of the "Cyprus Church". Does that mean the Greek flags displayed alongside the Cypriot ones are explicitly political (rather than implicitly political, nominally administrative or "commonsensical" symbols of the Greek Orthodox Church)?

Another consideration is how to attribute blame - and, inescapably, that will involve attribution of significant blame to the "Turkish army, mainland civilian settlers, and Turkish Cypriots" and Western powers, as Efthyvoulos relays that Jensen does - without ethnicising blame.

Now, to add to my wish list, after a photographic survey of the Dead Zone [which, I later learned, has been done, within the city, at least, under the Nicosia Master Plan], is a copy of the former UNESCO investigator Jacques Dalibard's 100-page report on the desecration and destruction, conservation and restoration of cultural heritage during and in the immediate aftermath of the Western/American-backed continental Greek [junta-backed, Greek Cypriot nationalist] attempted coup-driven Turkish invasion and occupation.

[Sadly, commonly, Greek Cypriot references to "1974" are not merely to avoid that mouthful, but are to signify the "sudden" Turkish invasion, as if it had no historical context whatsoever; similarly, Turkish Cypriot narratives are often simplistic and both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots frequently consciously exclude or unconsciously ignore the others' suffering.]

Maybe if blogging about it brought it to the attention of a wider audience (I don't know if it's been covered outside Cyprus), UNESCO would be embarrassed into providing public access and I would get to read it!

[Once I get a reply to one other e-mail I sent, I'm going to ask about this; it may be that it is available, but if it were, I would have imagined that both sides would have used it by now.]

This has restored my enthusiasm, even if I don't know what to do with it!
At 12pm, I posed the question that,
if we are to talk of Cypriot "cultural tradition" during the Roman period being "strongly Hellenistic, with Greek forms of art and architecture, as well as the Greek language being dominant" (Boatswain, 2005: 39), then are we to talk of Greek violations of cultural human rights and destruction of cultural heritage when "Theophilos, the archbishop of Alexandria from AD 384/5... collaborated with Emperor Theodosius in persecutions of non-Christians and the destruction of the ancient temple, the Serapeion, in AD 394" (Boatswain, 2005: 47)?

I'm not trying to score points - and I'm certainly not advocating the extension of culture-historical categorisations of communities - but if we are to ethnicise recent destruction of cultural heritage (c.f. Jensen's talk of "Turkish civilian settlers, and Turkish Cypriots") and if we are to ethnicise ancient communities (c.f. Boatswain's talk of Roman Cyprus as "strongly Hellenistic" (2005: 39) and of Cyprus's local copper currency as "further evidence of the strength of Hellenism on the island as the coins were inscribed in Greek" (2005: 42), so, we ought to ethnicise ancient destruction of cultural heritage; so, we ought not to ethnicise ancient communities or ancient destruction.

How do we escape ethnicisation? How do we address communities? We ought not to ethnicise recent communities or destruction either, but again, what language do we use? Ethnic nationalists? That seems most appropriate as it simultaneously identifies the guilty and (implicitly) vindicates the innocent members (the overwhelming majority) of the ethnic community.

What about poverty-stricken looters? If there were any - if there was subsistence looting - should they be categorised by class? They would, after all, have acted in their immediate self-interest, rather than in perceived ethnic interest and would, indeed, have shared self-interest(s) across putative ethnic boundaries; still, if they consciously selected the other ethnic communities' cultural heritage, then, they would be classified as nationalists, whether ethnic or religious.

So, it ought to be "the Turkish army", which can remain the same as it was a state organ and "mainland" or, to demarcate Cyprus's distinct history, "continental Turkish civilian settler nationalists and Turkish Cypriot nationalists" or something similar.

[Should the "... nationalists" category retain the "civilian" label to distinguish them from the "military", or should it remove it to distinguish them from the non-violent majority community?]

I don't know if "continental Greek" and "continental Turkish" are better than "mainland Greek" and "mainland Turkish", but they do seem to assimilate Cyprus as an outpost (or colony).
Boatswain, T. 2005: A traveller's history of Cyprus. Moreton in Marsh: Arris Publishing Ltd.
Jensen, M. 2006: War and cultural heritage - Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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