My beloved enemy: Muslim-Christian relations in Cyprus prior to conflict and division

Author: Stephanie Jacobs

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 15 Feb 2024.

Jacobs, Stephanie, 2020 My beloved enemy: Muslim-Christian relations in Cyprus prior to conflict and division, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Cyprus is a divided island. Successively conquered throughout millenia, it became a Republic in 1960, but the journey to nationhood was not the people’s own. Founded on division, the Republic was crafted by outsiders. The wars of the 1960s and 1974 and the intractability of the ‘Cyprus problem’, the major players and the major turning points, have been extensively examined, analysed and debated. The minor players – people of the labouring class, whose lives were subject to decisions of distant powers – are the focus of this thesis.

After the Ottomans took Cyprus in 1571, many ‘Greeks’ and ‘Turks’ lived side by side. There are currently two hegemonic nationalist narratives. One holds that the two groups always lived peacefully together, so the Turkish military offensive of 1974 was unjustified; the other that the two groups were never close, so the offensive was necessary. Those narratives are tested in this thesis, which explores the relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriot villagers prior to the rise of nationalism and conflict in the 1950s and 1960s. Extended, first-hand interviews of 72 Greek and Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus and Australia reveal the close bonds that existed between the two groups at both community and personal levels.

Examples of significant community-level relations abound, including people playing and working together, learning each other’s languages, attending each other’s schools, religious festivals, weddings and funerals. Religious syncretism and trans-cultural diffusion were clearly evident in village society. Personal-level relationships between the two groups included close friendships, the choice of koumbaroi (best man, matron of honour) from the ‘other’ group; intermarriages – more common than previously reported; and the practice of cross-religious milk kinship – examined for the first time in this thesis.

Friendships between the two groups extended to Australia; this thesis investigates the relations between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot diaspora in Australia. Friends had migrated together, or encouraged others to join them in Australia, and many had forged new friendships with the ‘other’. Furthermore, many friendships survived political unrest and the intercommunal wars in Cyprus throughout the 1960s and in 1974, and the decades-long division of the island.

Interviewees’ stories of rupture (displacement and loss) and repair (reconnection and hope) paint a picture of the entangled lives of many Cypriots. This thesis examines the loss and grief felt by those who were displaced during the wars of the 1960s and 1974, and by those who remained, uncovering deep connections with the ‘other’ that persisted through decades of conflict, nationalism, propaganda and war.

By providing a nuanced understanding of the deep community- and personal-level relations that once existed between the two communities, this thesis addresses a gap in the broad colonial and post-colonial histories of Cyprus. It contends that, particularly in the former mixed villages, many genuine intercommunal friendships existed; and that, in many respects, the two groups lived as a single harmonious and integrated community. Furthermore, shadowed by the post-1974 hegemonic nationalist narratives, many stories had been untold. This study constitutes an opening of Cyprus’ ‘secret archive of inherited amnesia’.

Keywords: Cyprus, Muslim-Christian Relations, anthropology, history, oral history, ethnography, Cypriot history, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, intercommunality

Subject: International Relations thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Andrekos Varnava