The Cyprus Conflict – a Socio-Psychological Discourse Analysis

PhD project of Carolina Rehrmann

The Cyprus Conflict – a Socio-Psychological Discourse Analysis

Cyprus has been divided for more than 4 decades. Since all diplomatic attempts for rapprochement and, ultimately, reunification have failed, the island remains in a state of frozen conflict and is a curiosity under international law. Turkish Cypriots inhabit a de facto-state in the northern part, the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus“ occupied by Turkey. The Greek Cypriots are confined to the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, which covers de-facto only the southern part of the island. Issues of violence and expulsion, of hundreds of thousands internally displaced persons, of the killed, the injured and the missing resulting from the intercommunal fighting during the 1960ies and the Turkish invasion of 1974 remain for the most part unsolved.

A deeper look into the two Cypriot communities beyond the official negotiating level uncovers how both have established a self-white-washing and other-maligning structure that shapes monolithic memories and social practices, colours the symbolical level of the respective national narratives of the motherlands Greece and Turkey and their troubled pasts, has left its imprint on gender identities, intergenerational relations and political culture, and – last but not least – has motivated impunity in both communities. Countering discourses and memories of intra-communal cleavages, narratives of opposition and pain remained and continue to remain silent to a large extend.

With this in mind, the fundamental concern of the PhD is to shed light on the cognitions and emotions of the Cypriot communities that constitute their identities, reflect their basic needs and shape their understanding of the conflict. This includes a profound socio-psychological analysis of elements and actors that build up the official national narratives, for their motivations and techniques, as well as the unofficial, the repressed and contested sphere of Cypriot narratives, including civil society actors and personal memories.

Drawing on theories of intractability, nationalism, institutional memory and reconciliation, while employing a wide range of social-psychological concepts the PhD will, first, provide “first hand-accounts” of the psychological impact nationalist indoctrination, selective memory, simmering party political rivalries and unreprocessed traumata have on Cypriot’s perspectives on the conflict. Second, it will illustrate how the socio-psychological structure that results from these states of mind can easily be and is, actually, being used for power political interests. That is to show, how both sides’ political elites instrumentalize resentments, pain and a lack of knowledge to perpetuate the conflict structures to avoid a settlement that would entail a power sharing system.

The PhD´s thesis is as follows: The Cyprus conflict will not be resolved, if the fundamental needs of both sides are not satisfied. These needs, in turn, are shaped by the persistent conflict ethos and by silenced emotions of pain, guilt and grief. As long as that psychological infrastructure remains in shape, it will give strong impetus to a zero-sum-perspective that favours maximalist positions and consensus guarding actors, strategies of mutual blaming and avoidance, and strong opposition to (self-) critical voices. Moreover, it will impede the evolution of empathy and the dissemination of knowledge and, eventually, inhibit strategies of rapprochement and reconciliation.

In this sense, the decade long top-down focus on high-level politics and negotiations of material resources amounts to putting the cart before the horse. For a least common denominator – a “win-win”-perception as UN General Secretary Kofi Annan put it, while in charge of a settlement – to be acknowledged by both communities, a constructive shift of this psychological state needs to take place. That presupposes a self-reflective, critical and open debate on the past, a promotion of intra- and inter-communal dialogue, a deconstruction of the monolithic and selective national narratives and transitional justice measures to meet the victim´s needs, answer fundamental security concerns, and shape a common vision for the future