Recently, for various reasons, I have been interested in finding out more about the conflict in Cyprus.  I got my fingers burnt, if not the flesh stripped from the bone, as my attempts to find out more were received as favouritism of the Turkish Cypriots.  This it was decidely not, though I take responsibility for not having been particularly sensitive, for not recognising the strong arguments from partiality.

Emily Markides is an ever-present figure throughout the two books that I read recently about Orthodox spirtiruality by her husband, Kyriacos Markides, both recommendations from a blog called My Greek Odyssey which I enjoy reading.  Emily and Kyriacos Markides are academics at the University of Maine. 

I was intrigued by Emily as I was reading: I often wondered what she thought about aspects of orthodoxy and spirituality that her husband wrote about, and I wondered how the book would have been different if it had been written by her.  I wondered about the long amounts of time they seemed to spend apart, and I wanted to know more about her project for an international eco-village devoted to peace and the environment. 

I found this You Tube clip above, of an interview with her from the village in which she talked about her work with disenchanted young Greek Cypriots. I wrote to her and asked her if she would tell me more about her work in Cyprus.  She kindly sent me a copy of a chapter from a book – a collection of essays published in 2005 – called Cyprus in the Modern World.  Her chapter is entitled ‘From Poetry to Community Building: the International Eco.peace Village’.  This account of her work is taken from that chapter which interweaves her personal history with the political history of Cyprus and her experience in setting up a peace initiative.

Emily grew up in a middle-class family which shared its time between busy Famagusta, now part of the island occupied by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and a summer house in a small village called Agios Philon in the Karpass peninsula.  She describes a childhood struggling to untangle conflicting identities, at once urban and rural, one parent from a humble background whilst the other was accustomed to wealth and influence, of Greek heritage but of Cypriot descent where Cyprus included the enemy Turks.  She remembers being told horror stories of Turks who would rape and kill and then make worry beads out of the nipples of their victims.

Her family left Cyprus when she was fifteen and went to England where Emily was unhappy.  She escaped to study in Switzerland, in Spain, in Germany, travelling throughout Europe, experiences that “opened many doors of perception that enabled me to live increasingly with paradox, ambiguity and diversity” but which still left her with the sense of being an outsider, not belonging anywhere.  Major crises, conflict and struggle have come to be seen as moments of opportunity and personal growth:

“I began to associate growth with the transcending of rigid class and ethnic boundaries and of limited notions of gender identity.  Narrow concepts were translated by a tendency to demonize others and to perceive them as enemies.  They also manifested themselves in an inability to live creatively with difference, pluralism and diversity.”

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, just as Emily and her husband were waiting at Heathrow airport, in transit, to return to Maine after a year in Cyprus.  Kyriacos Markides has written an account of the conflict that changed Emily’s direction forever as she watched tanks rolling into Famagusta.

Their two children were born, and an academic career abandoned.  Emily decided to move back to Cyprus to live with her children, leaving her husband to pursue his career – with long holidays and sabbaticals spent together – and enjoying the practical and emotional support of both their families in Cyprus.  Now, with her own family, she began to focus on the need to foster peace in the divided community:

“I realised that if we are to raise healthy families, live in peace, conserve the environment, protect the weak and the vulnerable – in other words if the human species is to survive in a world we would want our children to inherit – this could only become a reality if an ethic of care and nurturance for all of life’s community is promoted and implemented.  Many feminist peace researchers have argued that because of differences of socialization of womena and men, the vast majority of women think differently about peace than do men and have values that are more congruous with peace and sustainability.  These values that have been labeled ‘feminine’, such as care, love, compassion, cooperation, patience, forgiveness, dialogue, community-building and non-violence hold the key to our survival.”

Moreover, Emily became convinced that by excluding women from meaningful participation in their own society, patriarchal societies often descended into militantly aggressive policies in relation not only to gender, but also race relations.  During the years she spent in Cyprus, the participation of women in peaceful demonstrations helped move women into the political sphere where they could contribute to the creation of a new civic society and a democratic culture of peace and prosperity among Greek Cypriots.

The family returned to Maine in 1988 and Emily became director of a new program in peace studies, choosing to combine the emphasis on peace with a ecological perspective.  The eco.peace village in Cyprus grew slowly out of a desire to implement these ideas practically, enthused by a visit Emily made in the 1980s to an abandonded Turkish Cypriot village in the Republic where the only remaining residents were, symbolically, one Turkish Cypriot shepherd and his Greek Cypriot wife and their children.  In 1998 the Cyprus government offered land for the village and the International Eco-Village was registered as a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, founded on the following three principles:

  • respect for all forms of life and the overcoming of violence
  • affirmation of the inherent dignity of all human beings
  • celebration of democracy, universal human rights, civic responsibility and ecological sustainability

“It was a delicate and difficult task in itself to introduce the idea of a peace village to an island that was still in deep pain as a result of a coup d’etat and an invasion in its recent history … The peace agenda was a major threat to the island’s nationalists and hardliners.  They defined any attempt at extending a hand of friendship … to Turkish Cypriots as equivalent to recognition of the invasion and hence to betrayal.” 

The addition of an ecological dimension made things even more difficult.

In the first few years workshops involved an expanding group of young people in practical and theoretical explorations of the principles behind the project, but at the time of accession to the European Union, the village found itself at an impasse. 

Sadly, it seems to me, Emily concludes that the village came to be perceived as a threat rather than a solution, and that the then prevailing political culture of Cyprus was “inimical” to the core values that the village stood for.  Yet she is not deterred:

“The agenda for such a bold undertaking requires enormous courage and determination as well as far-sightedness and willingness to transcend the negative effects of violence by acting on the premise that one’s own welfare and that of the other are intricately interconnected.  Narrow-minded nationalism in an interdependent world has to be exchanged for the broader vision of multi-culturalism and pan-Europeanism.  Such a shift does not imply the eradication of one’s ethnic or national identity nor the eradication of one’s culture and religious heritage; it simply implies the inclusion of the identity of the other as equally important and equally valuable to one’s own, and therefore a necessary pre-requisite for peaceful co-existence.”

I was struck, again, how the arguments developed by Thomas Nagel on Equality and Partiality were appropriate to a consideration of Emily’s work, and the eco-village.  For all the enormously commendable commitment to equality, the partiality of some of the Greek Cypriots threatened to scupper the project, suggesting that the balance of power was still held by those inclined to partiality.

Emily also sent me a link to essays which her son, Constantine Markides, has published on the internet about his time in Cyprus including his experience serving as a soldier.  The essays are a great read, very informative, and very funny in places.[I have a copy of Emily’s article which I will happily send to anyone who wishes.  The book is still available, but difficult to track down.]