Peace Through Print

February 3, 2010 • Journalism, Theme • Views: 860

by Emily Sosangelis:

From 1963 to 1974, over 500 Turkish Cypriots went missing. During the same period, nearly 1,500 Greek Cypriots also disappeared. For years, both the Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus assumed that they alone had been the victims of these murky, deadly attacks. They were shocked to discover that, in fact, each side had fared similarly in the 50 years since the country’s founding. Thanks to Cyprus’s ethnically divided media, neither side had learned about the tragedies the other had suffered.

Cyprus has been rife with civil war and cultural division for years. British rule from 1914 to 1960 eventually gave way to Cypriot independence, but no reconciliation occurred between the two ethnic communities living in separate enclaves on the island. In 1964, U.N. peacekeeping forces demarcated a buffer zone, called the “green line,” to end a bloody civil war between the two groups. This line still serves as a physical and psychological barrier that separates the Republic of Cyprus from the self-proclaimed Turkish Federated State of Cyprus, created in 1984 and recognized only by Turkey.

At a Greek check point in Nicosia, an anti-Turkish sign depicts the bloody Cyprus conflict along the UN buffer zone. (Courtesy Christopher Rose)

Historical and cultural divisions between Cypriots run deeper than politics. Greek Cypriots speak only Greek, attend separate schools, and read only Greek newspapers. Turkish Cypriots are similarly self-segregated. Without linguistic common ground, isolation persists. Nadia Karayianni is the project manager of the NGO Support Centre, a Cypriot non-profit that seeks to build a stronger civil society on the island. “The problem is that there is no joint source of information,” she said. Karayianni fears that isolation, reinforced by separate and biased media, engenders deep mistrust.

Many journalists on the island resort to sensationalism and communalism as they pursue readership and ratings. The front pages of major newspapers in Cyprus regularly seethe with divisive nationalism. “Unacceptable Positions of the Turkish Cypriot Community,” ran the headline of Greek newspaper Philenews in January 2010. The Turkish Cypriot newspaper Volkan often leads with proclamations like “Turkish Cyprus Needs to Live on Forever.” Newspapers tend to depict the other side as the primary cause of the conflict. A 2006 study by Metin Ersoy, media scholar at Eastern Mediterranean University on Cyprus, found that over 30 percent of Greek Cypriot newspapers ran negative headlines about the other side, as did 25 percent of Turkish Cypriot newspapers.

Cyprus resident and teacher Konstantinos Chatzisavvas, like many other Cypriots, buys into the headlines. “The media presents the Cyprus problem the way it is, with Turkey remaining intolerant,” he said. This language of separation and division renews distrust, kindling the popular belief that the Turkish and Greek perspectives are incompatible and irreconcilable.

After several Cypriot reporters were targeted with violence, international journalism advocates began to call for reform. One idea is the concept of “peace journalism,” which encourages mutual understanding by undermining the divide between “self” and “other” in journalistic reporting. Developed over 40 years ago, the idea has only recently reached Cyprus. Inspired by the concept, the Boston-based Cambridge Foundation for Peace has developed a pluralistic Cypriot news source, CyprusMediaNet, which pools reporting from both sides of the green line and translates each article into Turkish, Greek and English. While only first steps in bridging the Cypriot language barrier, such initiatives are providing broader access to information.

On the ground, however, progress is slow. Journalist George Pittas of the popular Greek Cypriot newspaper Politis described his publication as “the one and only newspaper in Cyprus that has a couple of Turkish Cypriot columnists on a permanent basis.” Although there is some movement towards bridging the two communities, according to Pittas, these efforts remain limited.

The financial structure of the industry has also posed an obstacle to the pursuit of a more closely connected media on the island. Because Turkish Cypriots depend heavily on Turkish financing, nationalist news broadcasters in Turkey hold a monopoly on culture and information for Turkish Cyprus.

There is no doubt that media in Cyprus will continue to play an important role in easing, or blocking, the road to reunification. As Karayianni put it, “Journalists should be the initiators of peacemaking. On the contrary, some are only repeating the same stories of the past, repeating what divides us, not what unites us.”

Emily Sosangelis ’13 is in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at emily.sosangelis@yale.edu.

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