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Nicosia Beyond Partition. Complex Geographies of the Divided City

by Anna Casaglia

8 giugno 2020
Versione stampabile

This book is the result of a long period of research conducted by the author in Nicosia with the aim of understanding the complex geographies of its spatial and social configuration. Nicosia is the capital of the two entities that emerged after the Greek Cypriot coup and the subsequent Turkish military occupation of part of the island in 1974. The book frames the consequences of partition through analyses of different scales, from the urban level of everyday life and interactions, to supranational aspects including the role of the European Union and how Cyprus’ membership impacted the path to the resolution of the longstanding conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The spatial crystallisation of this conflict and the reorganisation of the city are the main objects of the study. The book tackles the roles of diverse political and institutional actors, placing them in dialogue with the experiences of people living in a divided city. It discusses citizens’ encounters with the ‘other’, their emotional relations with space, and the role of urban materiality in shaping narratives on the nation and on history. 

Anna Casaglia is assistant professor at the University of Trento, School of International Studies and Department of Sociology and Social Research

From introduction (pag. 9-11)

Nicosia is a city divided physically, ethnically, religiously, and politically by a double line of fences, walls, barbed wire, and barrels. It is the capital city of two national entities: the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) and the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). […]

Following the presentation of the case study and an explanation of the research conducted in Nicosia, the text opens with an overview of the articulated theoretical framework necessary to study a situation of border dispute, with specific attention paid to its urban dynamics. 

The consequences of the physical division for urban life are then analysed in relation to development and planning, the administration of the city, economic dysfunctions, and interactions among residents living on the opposite sides. The role of external actors is presented throughout the book to afford an understanding of the interconnection of diverse agents at different scales in the definition of the situation and in the structuring of people’s everyday life in Cyprus.  

Finally, a critical analysis of the landscape of partition in Nicosia offers insights into national identities, historical narratives, and the results of the exercise of political power on space.
All these aspects shed light on issues concerning the construction of identity linked to territorial belonging in the specific case of contested territories. Space is considered as both a carrier and receiver of meanings tied to the conflict that characterise a given context. The main assumption is that in cities in which a division, whether materialised as a wall or not, marks the existence of a present conflict or the memory of a past one, people will experience a definition of feelings of belonging and a construction of otherness in strongly territorial terms.

Therefore, the very possibility of imagining alternative relations of coexistence in a shared, though divided, space passes through a resignification of the spatial. Attention to the everyday aspects of partition allows us to go beyond the reduction of Nicosia to its mere ethno-national divisions and look for traces of opportunities and possibilities emerging from the specificities of living in a divided city (Carabelli et al., 2019).

The presentation of research results throughout the book intertwines the analysis of literature and documents with the voices of the protagonists of the history of Nicosia and Cyprus and present life. The analysis draws from different sources: first, from institutional and government materials, which offer extremely valuable insights into political actors’ various perspectives; second, from wider public discourses available in the media; and third, from an examination of the views of administrators, politicians, civil society representatives, and informants in the ethnographic sense. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in four different fieldwork periods between 2008 and 2018, involving civil society actors, experts (both academic and administrative), EU representatives, and Cypriot citizens.

The questions animating this research form part of an interdisciplinary debate that includes political and human geography, urban sociology, international relations, and political science, because they entail a broad range of issues. ‘Theories from multiple disciplines are utilised because no single perspective is likely to capture fully the complex social and ecological aspects of urban ethnic conflict’ (Bollens, 2000, 11).

This project of a study of a divided city developed from an interest in the dimension of space in the urban analysis, both when considered capable to orient action and when studied as the product of social action and interaction. This is related to the subjective experience of space use and the representations people have of it as key elements to understand the process of identity construction, especially in relation to boundaries.

Courtesy by Edizioni Unicopli