Confronting the ‘Post-Conflict’ Label: An Exploration of Ethno-Sectarian Identity in Northern Ireland and Cyprus

Note: this paper was excerpted from a longer thesis, which is accessible here: brody-thesis-final.




There is something uniquely shameful about Cyprus. The political

 quagmire our children have inherited is just being passed on,

unresolved, in a dread motionless state.”  – Mike Hajimichael[1]


I sat on the peaks of Beşparmak Dağları gazing at the sun set around me, waves caressing the sparkling shoreline down below. An ophiolite, this paradise rose out of the sea more than 20 million years ago. The Mediterranean’s turquoise complexion reaches in all directions towards the invisible distance. In Greek mythology, this is the birthplace of Aphrodite: goddess of love and beauty.

The previous summer I had stood nearly five thousand kilometers away atop Clochán an Aifir, sapphire waves striking jagged rocks down below. Brisk winds whispered across the ‘Emerald Isle’ skyline. In Irish folklore, this is the land of magic, its lush green meadows home to fairies and leprechauns.

Beneath these realms of beauty lurk contrasting realities. Both Northern Ireland and Cyprus are haunted by ghosts of conflict. Pervasive memories of violence ensure that old wounds remain open and that both societies remain divided along ethno-sectarian lines.

In Northern Ireland, Nationalists are loyal to Ireland and Unionists are loyal to the United Kingdom. In Cyprus, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are more loyal to Greece or Turkey than to the island itself. In this paper I will focus on the most recent eras of violence known as the Troubles and the Cyprus Problem.

Both Northern Ireland and Cyprus are considered ‘post-conflict’ on the basis of treating the Troubles and the Cyprus Problem as isolated historical events. In official discourse, the Troubles began in 1969 and ended in 1998, and the Cyprus Problem ranges from 1955 to 1974. Yet in the quote above, Greek Cypriot Mike Hajimichael insists Cyprus’ “political quagmire” to be ongoing.[2] The same is true in Northern Ireland.

These are not isolated events but parts of much larger conflicts driven by centuries-old Irish-British and Greek-Turkish rivalries. Passed down through generations, these tensions perpetuate present-day sectarianism. Political Scientist Edward Azar coined the phrase ‘protracted social conflict’ to describe such conflicts that lie dormant and periodically resurface.[3]

The very idea of a protracted social conflict calls the ‘post-conflict’ label into question. Referring to societies governed by sectarian sentiment as ‘post-conflict’ marginalizes the need to actively work towards reconciliation between opposing communities. It also creates a hierarchical perception of suffering by dismissing experiences of first-hand and trans-generational trauma.

In this paper, I aim to challenge the ‘post-conflict’ label by extending the popular definition of violence past that of bloodshed to one that also encompasses representational forms of violence. I also aim to delineate present-day spatial and mental divisions that inhibit cross- communal interaction and harden existing tension in Northern Ireland and Cyprus. These patterns may aid in understanding social practice in all divided societies.


Why Northern Ireland and Cyprus?

Similarities between Northern Ireland and Cyprus render their comparison useful in exploring the implications of a ‘post-conflict’ label. Unlike most ethno-sectarian cries of nationalism, those in Northern Ireland and Cyprus did not beckon independent statehood. Each proclaimed allegiance to a perceived motherland: Ireland, the United Kingdom, Greece, or Turkey.

While most national struggle narratives end in triumph, those in Northern Ireland and Cyprus differ once more. These are failed nationalisms; neither side in the Troubles or Cyprus Problem fully attained their goals. This will prove important in understanding constructions of national pride in the case studies to follow.

Geography is another important factor linking Northern Ireland to Cyprus. As islands, both Ireland and Cyprus are geographically isolated. Their nearest neighbors are the United Kingdom and Turkey: actors in the Troubles and Cyprus Problem. This meant there was little chance of escape from political violence, starkly distinguishing the Troubles and Cyprus Problem from conflicts resulting in mass migration to neighboring safe havens.

Post-colonial legacy also links Northern Ireland to Cyprus. Both were subject to British colonialism, the aftermaths of their conflicts negotiated in large part by the British government. The main difference is that Cyprus’ positioning at the crossroads of continents resulted in a revolving door of colonizers throughout its history. The entirety of Ireland only experienced British colonization.

In the context of this paper, the similarities between Northern Ireland and Cyprus are more important than their differences. These similarities will prove important in understanding the political manifestations of my research in Belfast and Nicosia.



I will refer to the opposing communities in Northern Ireland as Nationalists and Unionists. Nationalists desire to reunite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland and Unionists desire it to remain a part of the United Kingdom. I may also refer to more extreme subsets of Nationalism and Unionism as Republicanism and Loyalism. Republicans and Loyalists hold the same beliefs as their less extreme counterparts, yet are more willing to use violence to achieve their goals.

It is also important to clarify the role of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Although Catholics are overwhelmingly Nationalist or Republican and Protestants are overwhelmingly Unionist or Loyalist, this is not a perfect equation. There are indeed Protestant Nationalists, Protestant Republicans, Catholic Unionists, and Catholic Loyalists. To avoid bias I will avoid referring to these groups by their religious affiliation.

I will refer to the opposing communities in Cyprus as Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. In popular discourse, they are often referred to as Greeks and Turks. When I employ these terms it will be to reference the wider historical context of tension between the Greek and Turkish nationalities. These distinctions will prove vital to the following case studies.



Peaceful Violence: Underlying Division in the ‘Post-Conflict’ Era

“The Troubles started in 1969 officially, but to me they started before that. They

went off and on for hundreds of years. That’s the way history does, it repeats

 itself every so often if you don’t deal with it. If there were an end to the

 conflict, it’d deal with the past as well. Today they haven’t dealt with the

past yet, and it’s going to repeat itself I think.” Seamus Kelly[4]


In July 2014 I came to a sudden halt on the Springfield Road. I had been warned that July in Northern Ireland is turbulent. Only now I believed it. Stones flew from Nationalist territory into Unionist territory through a temporarily open peace gate in west Belfast. Each was reciprocated from the other side. I heard the slurs ‘Fenian’ and ‘Prod’ shot in either direction. Yet none of this surprised me. I was struck by something else: youth.

These were children throwing stones. They didn’t experience the Troubles firsthand. They even grew up in a model of post-conflict peacebuilding. In my mind this had exempt them from sectarian ideology. Yet they still conveyed such fiery hatred for the other side of this so-called peace wall. I realized in this moment how very wrong I was.

Children are not exempt from sectarian ideology. They inherit it. Sectarianism is transmitted to younger generations through the heroic and villainous representations discussed in the previous chapter. Spatial divisions enhance mistrust for the other side. Marking territory safeguards insiders and threatens outsiders.

In the quote at the beginning of this chapter former Official IRA member Seamus Kelly predicts history will repeat itself in Northern Ireland. I argue that history has already done so. In fact, it never stopped. The Troubles and the Cyprus Problem are fragments of much larger conflicts that have been ongoing for centuries.         Moments of reduced political violence are not moments of peace. Representational and spatial division is a continuation of violence. Sociologist Nico Carpentier insists that this continuation is “simply lethal” and “can lead people to killing each other.”[5] As I had just seen, it could certainly lead children to throwing stones. This renders the term ‘post-conflict’ inappropriate.


Trans-generational trauma

Psychologist Sigmund Freud proclaims a clear distinction between mourning and melancholy. Mourning is a conscious and healthy response to loss. Taking place in the unconscious mind and stripping away the sense of self, melancholia is pathological.[6] It is the response to a loss that is not yet identified or understood.[7]

Opposing nationalisms in Northern Ireland and Cyprus believe themselves cheated of national justice. Yet a loss must be something first acquired. For Northern Ireland and Cyprus, national destinies were perceived yet never obtained. As such, they cannot be lost. Believing in the loss traps Northern Ireland and Cyprus in a perpetual state of melancholy. Having lost the sense of self, opposing nations cling even more tightly to national identity.

Sociologist and Turkish Cypriot Vamik Volkan coined the phrase “chosen trauma” to describe historical constructions born out of national melancholia.[8] In the context of Northern Ireland and Cyprus, these take the form of heroic and villainous archetypes that represent the moral justification of one’s own community and moral indictments of opposing communities. These implications are the intentional consequence of choosing which historical events to preserve, or not to preserve, in the collective memory of the nation; exhibiting such chosen traumas ensures their deposit in younger generations.
Volkan asserts national trauma passed down “under the premise that it can be kept safe” until the opportunity for justice arises.[9] Each generation is brought up in the shadows of representational and spatial divisions that plant seeds of nationalist fervor and revenge in its inner psyche. As such, children grow up in Northern Ireland believing themselves Irish or British. In Cyprus they are Greeks and Turks. Never are they Northern Irish or Cypriot.

History education plays an important role in delivering chosen traumas to younger generations. In both Northern Ireland and Cyprus, school systems are segregated according to national affinity. Opposing nationalisms tell the same history with radically different messages. Greek Cypriot Hadjineophytou insists:

“Young kids can easily be lead on, as you know, and if you press on these things in the minds of young children they will become fanatics when they grow up. I’ve seen this happen all these years.”[10]

Hadjineophytou testifies to history education’s leading role in perpetuating ethno-sectarianism. Child development is a process of absorption. With no alternative to absorb they will believe in the political ideology presented to them, regardless of its sectarian nature.

In a 2008 study Papadakis juxtaposed Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot history textbooks. A Greek Cypriot textbook describes the 1570 Conquest of Nicosia when the Ottoman Empire first landed in Cyprus:

“It was obvious that one day the Turks would try to grab Cyprus. The way that the state of the Sultan expanded, little Cyprus appeared like a weak mouse in the claws of a wild lion.”[11]

The above paints Turks at best as a bestially savage people ceasing at nothing to snatch what isn’t theirs. It directly commands both hatred and fear. With such lessons, it is no wonder Greek Cypriot children are mistrusting towards Turkish Cypriots and Turks.

Growing up in Cyprus Papadakis reflects on his own experience in the Greek Cypriot history classroom: “Every important date in our history as Greeks bespoke our encounters with Turkish barbarism. And I was a product of this history.[12]  Here Papadakis asserts his identity to have formed in large part due to the historical narratives he was told as a child.

After visiting Turkey for the first time, Papadakis comments, “I thought my trip to Turkey had made it impossible for me to remain a Greek. I did not hate the Turks, and that was what being Greek meant, or so my schoolbooks had taught me.”[13] Here Papadakis testifies to the Turk’s role in defining Greek identity. To be Greek is to hate Turks, and suppressing this hate is national treason.

History education in Northern Ireland is equally contested. After the partition of Ireland, Protestant leadership redesigned Northern Irish history curriculum to develop a “strong British national identity and loyalty.”[14] The Ministry of Education inspected textbooks to ensure sufficient emphasis on British rather than Irish history.[15]

In the 1940s Catholic leadership advocated for more emphasis on Irish history.[16] Protestant leadership responded with the revised textbook Northern Ireland, Its History, Recourse and People.[17] The new curriculum included Ulster history, but failed to satisfy Catholic leadership by presenting Ulster as inseparable from the United Kingdom.[18]

Some Catholic schoolteachers simply ignored the Ministry of Education’s stipulations for history curriculum.[19] Northern Irish journalist Eamonn McCann recalls from his childhood a teacher “at pains to discredit English propaganda.”[20] At the beginning of each school year, the teacher would “lead the class through the set textbooks and instruct them to tear out pages of fiction.”[21]

In the 1960s the European Association of Teachers created an Irish Board to assist in the development an unbiased history curriculum in the hopes it would diffuse ethno-sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland.[22] The attention these arguments acquired demonstrates just how conscious and powerful a tool history education is in the formation of national identity and allegiance. However, these tools may also take place outside of schools.

Family is another important passage for chosen traumas to travel through younger generations. Familial loyalty may incite national loyalty. In the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland’s 2014 study, former Official IRA member recalls:

“I joined because of family tradition. My family had been involved since 1918-19, so there was always someone in the family in prison or active. So you just saw it as your duty to do that. It was an alien place we lived in, my family had burned out; our home had been burned twice since 1918. My great grandparents’ house was burned and my grandparents’ was burned. My father was five years old when his house was burned, and he left home and ran away with his 7 year-old brother and they were lost for a week. These are things   that I lived on, and they made me think that I had to help get rid of this state, this British occupation.”[23]

The above testimony reveals an important point. One reason people join nationalist groups is to protect those they love. Family suffering engenders an implied duty to seek justice. If rooted in ethno-sectarianism, nationalist fervor may swiftly follow. The above also reveals the Troubles not isolated from previous centuries of Irish-British sectarianism.

In Cyprus, family belief also plays an important role in perpetuating ethno-sectarianism. In an interview with PRIO, Greek Cypriot Lolly discusses the effect of her mother’s hate towards Turks:

“I hate Turks not only because my mother transmitted it to me: I believe that even if my mother did not say anything I would hate them. Sometimes when I listen to what the Turks are asking for, absurd things…such as in the referendum they were asking us to vote yes. But yes would mean like agreeing to sell Cyprus. That is why I hate them…No, we cannot co-exist. I would not like to live with Turkish Cypriots… they did so many things to us and besides that, there is what they did in 1915 to the Armenians, in Greece in 1821…”[24]

Lolly’s testament not only demonstrates an automatic absorption of her mother’s hatred, but also calls upon history long before the Cyprus Problem to incriminate Turks. She demonstrates that the Troubles and Cyprus Problem are parts of much larger conflicts persisting to the present day. I will discuss the manifestations of present-day divisions in the following sections.


Divided Space

Many scholars label territoriality an innate human trait. Geographer David Smith insists that it is not innate but always a “means to some end” such as political control or material survival.[25] In this case territoriality requires motive. Smith says that nationalism is one powerful motive in both uniting and dividing territory.[26] In Northern Ireland and Cyprus, dividing space is a means of legitimizing national identity. These spatial divisions take various forms.

Peace walls separate Nationalist and Unionist neighborhoods in Belfast and show few signs of coming down. Many reach over seven meters in height. The first walls built in 1969 were meant to be temporary. Yet over forty walls remain, many built after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

In an interview with Belfast local Kay Laverty I learned just how alienating these walls are. Laverty declared:

“They tell you that there’s a ceasefire in Northern Ireland now and there’s the peace agreement; but if you go to walk along the Falls Road, you’ll come to peace gates everywhere. You’ll come to the peace walls. You’ll come to bridges that are built. If we live in peace, why are all the walls up? Why are all the gates closed? Because we can’t live in peace.”[27]

Laverty’s opinion is not unique. In 2012, sociologist and Belfast local Johnny Byrne conducted a study on attitudes to peace walls. He found that 69 percent deem peace walls necessary to avoid sectarian violence.[28] Only 38 percent could imagine a future without them.[29]

In Cyprus a United Nations patrolled buffer zone separates the Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north. The zone is over 180 kilometers long and in some places reaches over 7 kilometers in width. Access remained restricted until the first pedestrian crossing opened in 2004. The same year, an agreement was proposed to reunite the Cypriot north and south, but was down-voted by 76 percent of Greek Cypriots.[30] Today there are a handful of crossings, but the border remains intact.

The Peace Research Institute of Oslo’s (PRIO) Nicosia branch conducted a 2007 study on prospects of reconciliation in Cyprus. In one interview, Turkish Cypriot local Gümüş expresses gratitude for the buffer zone: “It is not possible to forget what happened, but it is possible to not repeat it. Now we live separate and I feel safe”.[31] The desire to remain separate is shared by many participants in the study. About 80 percent claim Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot interaction to be non-existent or extremely limited,[32] while around 60 percent believe reconciliation impossible or improbable.[33]

Territorial markings enhance physical division. One way to mark territory is with flags, and those in Northern Ireland and Cyprus demand attention, serving as warnings for those on enemy territory. This sharply contrasts what sociologist Michael Billig deems “banal” markings––such as flags on United States government buildings––which go largely unnoticed and disappear into society’s background because they don’t compete for territory.[34]

In Northern Ireland, Irish flags mark Nationalist territory and British flags mark Unionist territory. Some sidewalks are painted in national colors: green, white and orange for Nationalists, red, white and blue for Unionists. These markings seek to legitimize territorial claims. As discussed in Chapter One, Loyalists seek to delegitimize the Nationalist claim by burning Irish flags.

In Nationalist territory flags are often accompanied by sectarian slogans. c-i-1The photo to the left is an example. I took this photo in Derry in June 2014. Attached to this flagpole is a sign that reads “Brits Out Now” and is signed by the IRA. This is not unique––the slogan “Brits Out Now” and others like it abound in Nationalist territory. Paramilitary graffiti also abounds, from my experiences, much more so than in Unionist territory.

In Cyprus, territory is marked with the flags of perceived motherlands. Yet each community uses a second flag. In the Greek Cypriot south, the Greek flag accompanies the internationally recognized Cypriot Republic flag. In the Turkish Cypriot north, the Turkish flag accompanies the flag of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) that only Turkey recognizes.

Greek and Turkish flags exist in greater abundance than Cypriot flags. On Greek Cypriot territory, the Greek flag often stands alone, though the Cypriot Republic flag is usually accompanied by a Greek flag. On Turkish Cypriot territory, the Turkish flag stands alone but the TRNC flag is accompanied by the Turkish flag. These patterns suggest for both communities that being Cypriot is secondary to being Greek or Turkish.

Greek Cypriots label the TRNC flag illegitimate. Turkish Cypriots issued a response. On the Kyrenia mountain range, both the Turkish and TRNC accompany the words “Ne mutlu Türküm diyene” translating to “How happy is the one who can say he is Turkish.”[35] Targeting a Greek Cypriot audience, this display faces the southern part of the island.

c-i-2I took the photo on the left at the top of Shacolos Tower in Greek Cypriot Nicosia. It demonstrates the display’s visibility kilometers away on enemy territory. A colleague who lives on Turkish Cypriot territory told me she only notices the flags on Greek Cypriot territory or in the buffer zone where our office was located, and where I faced the flags daily working by the window.

This display sends Greek Cypriots a hostile message. Directly printed on the mountainside, it communicates permanence. The motto not only expresses content with being Turkish, but underlying superiority to being Greek. The entire display lights up at night as if mocking the Greek Cypriot south, and most importantly, to ensure its permanent visibility.

Dividing space via physical barriers and territorial markings is a pattern shared by many post-conflict societies, but this does not imply that each is identical. Northern Ireland and Cyprus share many patterns, but they also divide space in distinct ways. This chapter does not have the capacity for an exhaustive list, so I will offer one example in each location.

Political murals mark territory in Belfast. These murals come from extreme versions of Nationalism and Unionism: Republicanism and Loyalism. The messages they send play a large role in transferring trauma to the next generation.

The following depiction of IRA hero Bobby Sands is located on the Falls Road in West Belfast. Sands led the 1981 Republican hunger strike for political prisoner status in Long Kesh prison. During the strike he was elected Republican MP of Belfast. After 66 days on strike he died before taking office. His death was followed by the deaths of nine other prisoners.

c-i-3Today Sands represents what he and his comrades were fighting for: justice. The mural reads, “Everyone Republican or otherwise has their own particular role to play…our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”  These are some of Sands’ most famous words. They remind those who read them not to lose faith in justice, an essential quality of heroism.

The depiction of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) below appears on the Shankill Road in West Belfast. The UVF was a Loyalist paramilitary group that opposed the IRA. The mural shows the faces and names of five UVF volunteers who died during the Troubles, along with four masked volunteers holding machine guns. They surround the UVF’s slogan: “For God and for Ulster.” These words mark the UVF as heroic rather than villainous, and as a result, brave rather than violent.

c-i-4Both of the above murals are calls to justice, depicting Bobby Sands and the UVF volunteers as martyrs who represent national suffering. For those who experienced the Troubles, these depictions deepen old wounds. For children, they create them. Each glance at these murals and others like them is a reminder to seek revenge.

In Cyprus, language marks territory. In the Greek Cypriot south signs are in Greek and English, and in the Turkish Cypriot north they are in Turkish in English. Each side welcomes tourists with the English language, yet neither uses the language of its closest neighbor. This message is clear: Greek Cypriots don’t welcome Turkish Cypriots, and Turkish Cypriots don’t welcome Greek Cypriots.

As an outsider, I was not used to switching languages within a stretch of ten yards. If after spending time in the north I instinctively used the Turkish ‘Merhaba’ with a Greek Cypriot officer, I received an incriminating glance. If I used the Greek ‘Yassas’ with a Turkish Cypriot officer, the glance was less incriminating than annoyed. This made it clear to me that language choice communicates communal allegiance in Cyprus.

Spatial division was meant to promote peace in Northern Ireland and Cyprus, but instead it promotes sectarianism. It is a perpetual reminder to declare allegiance, for to declare allegiance is to declare an enemy. Shared space is limited in Northern Ireland and non-existent in Cyprus; without shared space, cross-communal interaction is limited, enabling mistrust and fear to multiply.


Divided Minds

Volkan compares group identity to a tent.[36] On peaceful days the tent remains empty, yet during a storm it offers protection.[37] Individuals seeking shelter flock to it, just as individuals cling to group identity seeking protection from social turbulence;[38] the greater the turbulence, the tighter the grasp. The term ‘post-conflict’ is inappropriate to describe Northern Ireland and Cyprus because representational and spatial divisions may be viewed as representational violence, indicating that Northern Ireland and Cyprus are still stuck in storms. Clinging to their national identities shelters them from turbulence.

I interviewed former Provisional IRA member Tim Brannigan at the Healing Through Remembering office, which houses a large collection of photos related to the Troubles. Browsing the photos on the wall, Tim remarked, “If you walked in here without knowing anything these may not make a lot of sense, but to me that’s the gravity of my life.”[39] Brannigan was born in 1966, three years before the Troubles began. As a child of the Troubles, Brannigan considered violence a normal part of life.

Pointing to the scene of an explosion he reflects on his own participation in political violence:

“There’ve been times I’ve cheered when I’ve seen that scene and there’ve been times where I’ve been appalled when I’ve seen it, you know? Depending on what the target was and who planted the bomb.”[40]

Irish Nationalists have been seeking justice throughout Brannigan’s entire life. Loyalist violence was villainy and obliged Republicans to fight back. Republican violence meant justice.

As a black man, national identity plays an even larger role in Brannigan’s life. During his childhood, there were very few blacks living in Northern Ireland. He recalls being stopped by the British Army as young as six for entertainment:

“So they would ask me questions, but it wasn’t because they wanted to know where I’d been since I was only a six year-old child. It was so I would speak so that they could all hear this Irish accent and think ‘Fuck, a black guy with an Irish accent! Have you ever heard the like of it?’ Today it’s still seen as odd.”[41]

Brannigan shared that many people accuse him of lying when he says he is Irish. As such, he fights that much harder to claim his national identity. Brannigan has been fighting for his nation his entire life.

In an interview with PRIO Greek Cypriot Pitsa expresses the importance of national identity in her own life. She exclaims:  “I have grown up as a Grivas-supporter. I believe the island is Greek…I cannot sacrifice my ethnic pride and dignity or even my land for anybody.”[42] Referencing dignity, Pitsa labels national allegiance and identity a non-negotiable matter of morality. Pitsa’s personal pride is defined by national pride. Carpenter claims that the importance of national identity in unresolved conflicts “triggers the need for justice” and perpetuates sectarianism,[43] a mental division that inhibits progress towards peace.

In a 2014 study conducted by the Community Foundation in Northern Ireland about Belfast’s prospects for peace, a former member of the Ulster Defense Regiment admits:

“Today I have no Catholic friends…they are not people that I would like to socialize with or build any great friendships with. I am happy enough to stay within my own community. It is not so much about the Catholic religion, but more about the fact that they are Nationalists and Republicans. We will never, never agree.”[44]

The Ulster Defense Regiment was part of the British Army. Although it was meant to be a neutral peacekeeping force in Northern Ireland, its makeup was overwhelmingly Unionist. The statement above demonstrates the idea that mental divisions inhibit peace. Peace requires change and change requires work, but work also requires motivation. If people are satisfied with the status quo, they feel no reason to work towards peace.

Such mental divisions persist in Cyprus as well. In PRIO’s study on reconciliation, Greek Cypriot Onyx explains her feelings about interacting with Turkish Cypriots:

“Even if a Turkish Cypriot comes here and we talk, it will not feel the same as it feels with Greeks. I will not be able to trust him; I will not see him the same as I see the Greek Cypriot.”[45]

Turkish Cypriot Mehmet mirrors this mistrust:

“When I visit South Nicosia, the Greeks look at me differently because I am a Turk. How can you feel comfortable among the Greeks?”[46]

As in Northern Ireland, these quotes demonstrate disinterest in pursuing reconciliation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus. The attitude is to leave well enough alone. By referring to Greeks and Turks rather than Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, Mehmet also affirms motherland identity playing a larger role than Cypriot identity.

In both Northern Ireland and Cyprus, individuals blame disinterest in reconciliation on the other community. Each community claims to be open to peaceful negotiation while the other is too villainous to consider it, mirroring the hero and villain archetypes discussed earlier.

On the topic of forgiveness, a Greek Cypriot claims: “We have it in our religion but they don’t have it in theirs.”[47] The statement implies that the Muslim religion will always prevent the Turkish Cypriot community from working towards a solution with the Greek Cypriot community, and also assigns Greek Orthodoxy the moral inclination towards reconciliation aligned with heroism.

In Northern Ireland, a similar pattern emerges. In my interview with former PIRA member Paul Norney he declared:

“People have different perceptions of the past. That’s understandable… we need to sit down and talk about this. Unfortunately, I’m prepared to do it. But these other people aren’t prepared to do it because they define themselves as victims. And they’re the only victims. My father wasn’t a victim, my brother wasn’t a victim, my cousin wasn’t a victim, my friends weren’t victims – in their perception…we’re all victims here. You’ve got to understand that. Everybody who’s in a war who died is a victim, and until they understand that we can’t – we can’t talk, like you know what I mean?”[48]

Norney condemns the Unionist and Loyalist inability to acknowledge Nationalist and Republican victimhood, simultaneously upholding Nationalist and Republican readiness to acknowledge Unionist and Loyalist victimhood for the sake of peace. As in Cyprus, the statement upholds the moral righteousness of Norney’s own community.

Yet choosing not to vilify the other side may have its own consequences. When individuals fail to seek protection within large group identity, they are left on the outside of both communities. In his research, Papadakis interviewed a Turkish Cypriot reflecting on his decision to remain in south Cyprus when Turkish Cypriots fled north in 1964:

“I used to live here and when everyone left in 1964 I decided to stay. The children threw bricks at my house. They called me names: Crazy Turk, dog Turk and more. It was hell. That’s when I began to get ill. So I went to the other side and there I was a traitor again because I had stayed on this side. They did not leave me alone either.”[49]

The negative effects of failing to choose a single side in sectarian conflict encourages individuals to take more extremist stances in order to prove their allegiance. Proving their allegiance to a single community enables them to remain under the shelter of the group identity in times of societal upheaval.


Memory: Too Much or Too Little?

Some scholars believe commemorating past conflict prevents future conflict. Holocaust survivor Ruth Kluger disagrees:

The statement ‘Let us remember, so the same thing doesn’t happen again,’ is unconvincing. A remembered massacre may serve as a deterrent, but it may also serve as a model for the next massacre.”[50]    

For Kruger and many others, obsessing over memories of conflict plays a significant role in perpetuating sectarianism; refusing to forget is refusing to forgive.

While this was a popular debate during my time in Northern Ireland, there is no clear answer. In terms of memory, what is right for society may not be what is right for individuals. Commemorating national struggle may perpetuate sectarianism for some and encourage healing for others.

In 2014 the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland published a collection of reflections on the Troubles. Participants were interviewed from various paramilitary groups from both the Republican and Loyalist sides. A former UVF member says:

“People might have lost a son or a brother or an uncle or a mother due to the conflict or the Troubles so those people aren’t, when the ceasefire is called, going ‘Alright, everything is fine now.’ There is still a hatred there of what happened and there is still a process that people have to go through to try and come back from that.”[51]

The above statement demonstrates an important point: the notion of simply getting over the past and moving on for the good of society, so often impressed upon post-conflict societies by outsiders, is much easier said than done.

For some, there is a very fine line between the positive and negative ramifications of memory. Nationalist and Belfast local Kay Laverty makes a clear distinction between remembering and celebrating. She recalls:

“I said to this young lad one day ‘What is that fire for?’ He didn’t know who I was and he said, ‘We’re celebrating internment,’ and I said, ‘Well what do you want to celebrate internment for?’ He really didn’t have a clue, he was only fifteen. I suppose like any other country you remember your dead or you remember the bad things that happened, but to go out and celebrate, I think no. I think it only stirs up tensions again, do you know what I mean? Lighting fires and celebrating is rubbish.”[52]

In our interview Laverty testified that remembering the internment of Republican prisoners during the Troubles honors their memory and increases solidarity within the Nationalist and Republican communities. Yet celebrating Republican internment only provokes sectarian tensions on both sides.[53]

Historian and Belfast local Bill Rolston complicates this debate by declaring that individuals have a right to remember. In our interview Rolston expressed his belief that sectarianism will not dissipate unless vocalized:

“So just by pulling down the murals and flags you don’t in itself change the politics or indeed the mindsets behind painting murals and flying flags…I think I’ve got an even more basic argument that people have a right to remember. If people don’t have the right to display their bad politics, where are you going to get the opportunity to confront them? I’m all for the representation of memory even if I don’t like the message, because if I don’t like the message I’ve one of two choices. I ask the person, ‘Excuse me, why are you doing this to me?’ Or I just walk away and at least I know what I’m walking away from.”[54]

Bill’s sentiment reflects that of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in Chapter One: violating memory is a crime against humanity.[55] Although it doesn’t automatically bring peace, the right to remember opens the possibility for peace. Oppressing traumatic memories may only destroy the prospect.


Future Prospects

Many believe that history in Northern Ireland and Cyprus will repeat itself and periods of intense violence will again arise. Kelly’s testament at the beginning of this chapter is an example. For Laverty, the abundance of national symbolism is the culprit:

“Until they get the marching season fixed and this flag protest, I think it’s not going to stop. I really do think history will repeat itself one day here. I really do. People are saying it can’t, we won’t let it; but because of the flag, because of the marching season, because they won’t get over the past…maybe it won’t be today or tomorrow, maybe it won’t be in ten or twenty years, but I think it will repeat itself again one day.[56]

Laverty’s opinion aligns with the viewpoint that too much memory and commemoration is harmful to the prospect of a peaceful future. It is the abundance of national symbolism that provokes these memories.

Amongst those I spoke with in Cyprus, the possibility of relapse into political violence is also thought to be strong. In an interview with PRIO one Turkish Cypriot claimed:

“You should not forget my words: eventually these Greeks will attack us again, because history repeats itself. Every 30-40 years, the Greeks create trouble and call for a slap… they have the ambition to expand their territory and this desire exists, and has existed throughout their history…”[57]

In this statement Greek Cypriots are assigned a predisposition for conquest. They are stripped of their Cypriot identity, associated only with the history of Greek conquest to support the premise of history repeating in Cyprus. Yet again, this demonstrates that the Cyprus Problem is not an isolated historical event and is tied to centuries of tension between competing Greek and Turkish nationalisms.

Despite such negative outlooks, some believe that progress has already been made and may continue to be made towards peace. In our interview, Nationalist and Belfast local Cara McCann expressed one such positive outlook:

“I was eighteen when my son was born and he’s twenty now. He can sit in the City Centre and go out for the night, and I was like, ‘You’d never have done that when I was your age’. You just didn’t. You stayed in your own area where you knew you’d be safe…we just stayed in our own areas and that was just that. But twenty years later, you can see how things have changed, you know?”[58]

Cara’s statement is a testimony that although children in Northern Ireland inherit politicized ideology, there is more interaction between Nationalists and Unionists today than there was throughout the Troubles. Such interaction may encourage the cross-communal interaction and learning necessary for peace.

Similarly, Greek Cypriot Hadjineophytou reflects positively on Cyprus’ prospect for peace in the near future:

“It’s pleasing to see that many people now are beginning to realize now that things have to change…there is a breath of fresh air. I feel it blowing over Cyprus. This also has to do with the election of Mr. Akıncı as the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community… He is the right man at the right time and he has a huge respect within the Greek Cypriot community…You have to exempt the nationalists, they don’t understand anything…but I think Akinci could even become the president of Cyprus in the event that there is a solution.”[59]

Hadjineophytou not only expresses hope for reconciliation in Cyprus, but also cites the Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı as a possible leader for both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. His statement directly contradicts the Greek Cypriot notion of Turkish Cypriots not belonging on the island.



Labeling a society ‘post-conflict’ implies that conflict is no longer present in that society. A lack of conflict implies peace. Yet as demonstrated previously, opposing communities in Northern Ireland and Cyprus struggle to co-exist peacefully. While underlying sectarian attitudes in Northern Ireland and Cyprus are not unanimous, sectarian sentiment drives social norms and structures in both locations, and this overwhelming evidence of continued sectarianism renders the ‘post-conflict’ label inappropriate.

Isolated by artificially assigned start and end dates, both the Troubles and the Cyprus Problem appear resolved. Yet they are parts of much larger conflicts going back centuries. Makeshift solutions may have reduced political violence, but they have failed to erase lingering tensions between communities, and ignoring such tensions enables them to persist and resurface throughout time.

The post-conflict label carries other complications. One worth noting is its instillation of a hierarchical perception of suffering. Labeling a society ‘post-conflict’ determines present-day trauma and suffering invalid. It trivializes both first-hand trans-generational trauma by insisting it is not extreme enough to be associated with conflict.

This hierarchical perception of suffering prevents progress towards peace. It engenders both conscious and unconscious tension in individuals who feel their suffering has been marginalized. The feeling of being marginalized only intensifies sectarian sentiment between opposing communities.

Reinventing perceptions of suffering requires reinventing perceptions of violence. In this paper, violence does not only pertain to bloodshed. Representational and spatial divisions in Northern Ireland and Cyprus are also manifestations of violence.

Representational and spatial divisions require active effort to invent and sustain, as the sectarian mindsets they produce are not biological, but a matter of choice. Greeks and Turks are not born hate one another, just as the Irish and British are not born to hate one another. Sectarian mindsets are upheld in social constructions absorbed by younger generations.

Perceptions of the nation are equally constructed. Writer Taiye Selasi questions its legitimacy, asking, “How can I come from a nation? How can a human being come from a concept?”[60] Selasi continues, “History is real but countries were invented.”[61] Selasi’s mindset is applicable to societies like Northern Ireland and Cyprus divided along ethnic lines.

National identities are constructed just as ethno-sectarianism is constructed. Yet the possibility to construct something implies the possibility for its demise. The active effort sustaining national and ethno-sectarian perceptions of identity in Northern Ireland and Cyprus will require just such active effort to destroy.

The temporary solutions in Northern Ireland and Cyprus that resulted in spatial division between communities may have reduced political violence, but are not effective in erasing lingering tensions between communities. Instead, they enhance conflict by restricting physical and mental interaction between communities.

The notion that time and separation will dissipate inter-communal tension is too idealistic. Opposing communities may not resume peaceful co-existence if there was no peaceful co-existence in their pasts. As demonstrated throughout this thesis, Greek-Turkish and Irish-British tensions have persisted for centuries, remaining hidden but still present in perceived moments of peace.

Opening borders is also not a solution. An open border is still a border, and open borders do not indicate open minds. The opening of the peace gates in Northern Ireland and of the UN Buffer Zone in Cyprus did not erase the perceived need for separation between communities.

Instead, these borders need to be destroyed. In order to do so and to foster productive negotiations towards peace, the mindsets leading to the construction of these borders need to be addressed. An important place to start is by breaking the hero and villain archetypes discussed in Chapter Two.

One means of breaking stereotypes is through cross-communal storytelling. Storytelling challenges the reduction of conflict to a series of statistics and pre-conceived group perceptions by placing a human face on suffering. It directly challenges desensitization to opposing communities’ suffering.

I have seen instances of storytelling resulting in cross-communal reconciliation in both Northern Ireland and Cyprus. For example, a ‘Shared History’ group in Belfast enables Protestants and Catholics to come together to discuss differing identities and experiences of the Troubles. The ‘Sharing an Island’ project brought together young Greek and Turkish Cypriots to share the experiences behind the identities they inherited growing up in Cyprus.[62]

Many individuals I interviewed expressed the belief that peace can be reached through economics. Brannigan contends that poor economics may prevent individuals from shifting their focus towards peace:

“I don’t care if the people that built that big bonfire would be Protestants and I don’t care if they burn the picture of the pope on it, I’m more worried about how they spend their lives. How much money they earn. Are they working? Because if you want them to stop burning stupid bonfires with stupid religious emblems on them, give them a reason to live.”[63]

Indeed, the authors of the 2011 World Development Report insist that poverty traps societies in cycles of violence.[64] Both Northern Ireland and Cyprus suffer from poverty.

Addressing the issues of spatial division and poverty may contribute to breaking sectarian stereotypes. To address these issues effectively, they must receive widespread attention. Yet such attention requires removing the ‘post-conflict’ label that distracts attention from societies like Northern Ireland and Cyprus in need of attentive progress towards peace.

Defining a society as ‘post-conflict’ reduces their identity to nothing but the conflict they experienced in the past. Refraining from labeling a society ‘post-conflict is not a refusal to allow it to move forward. Likewise, the absence of a ‘post-conflict’ label does not imply the presence of a ‘conflict-ridden’ label. Refraining from the term ‘post-conflict’ only limits the control memories of violence have over present-day societal structures and norms.




Azar, Edward. “Protracted Social Conflicts: Ten Propositions.” International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations 12, no. 1 (1985): 59-70.

Billig, Michael. 1995. Banal Nationalism Theory, Culture and Society. London: SAGE Publications.

Brannigan, Tim. Interview by Laura Brody (2014).

Byrne, Johnny, Cathy Gimley Heenan and Gillian Robinson. Attitudes to Peace Walls. Belfast: University of Ulster, 2012.

Carpentier, Nico. Interview by Laura Brody (2015).

Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” International Journal for Medical Pyschoanalysis 4, no. 6 (1917):288-301.

“From Conflict to Prison and From Prison to Peace: Reflections.” Belfast: Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (2014).
Hadjineophytou, Mikis. Interview by Laura Brody (2015).

Hadjipavlou, Maria. “The Cyprus Conflict: Root Causes and Implications for Peacebuilding.” Journal of Peace Research 44, no. 3 (2007): 349-365.

Hajimichael, Mike. “Where is the Movement?” The Cyprus Review 19, no. 2 (2007): 125-128.

Kelly, Seamus. Interview by Laura Brody (2014).

Kluger, Ruth. “Forgiving and Remembering.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 117, no. 2 (2002): 311-313.

Korestelina, Karina. “History Education and Social Identity.” Identity: An international journal of theory and reserach 8, no. 1 (2008): 25-45.

Laverty, Kay. Interview by Laura Brody (2014).

McCann, Cara. Interview by Laura Brody (2014).

McCann, Eamonn. War and an Irish Town. Middlesex: Pluto Press, 1974.

Norney, Paul. Interview by Laura Brody (2014).

Papadakis, Yiannis. Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide. London I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2005.

Papadakis, Yiannis. Interview by Laura Brody (2015).

Papadakis, Yiannis. 2008. “Narrative, Memory and History Education in Divided Cyprus.” History and Memory 20 (2):128-148.

Rolston, Bill. Interview by Laura Brody (2014).

Selasi, Taiye. “Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local.” Lecture at TEDGlobal, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 7, 2014.

Sitas, Ari, Dilek Latif and Natasa Loizou. “Prospects of Reconciliation, Co-Existence and Forgiveness in Cyprus in the Post-Referendum Period.” Nicosia Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO) Cyprus Centre (2007).

Smith, David. “Introduction: The sharing and dividing of geographical space.” In Shared Space, Divided Space: Essays on Conflict and Territorial Organization, edited by Michael Chisholm and David Smith. London: Routledge, 1990.

Smith, Margaret. Reckoning with the past: Teaching history in Northern Ireland. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005.

Stylianou, Danae. Sharing an Island. Film. 2011.

Volkan, Vamik. 2001. “Transgenerational Transmissions and Chosen Traumas: An Aspect of Large-Group Identity.” Group Analysis 34 (1):79-97.

Wiesel, Elie. 1999. “Préface.” In Pourquoi se souvenir? , 9-11. Paris: Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle.

World Bank. World Development Report: Conflict, Security and Development. Washington DC: World Bank, 2011.



[1] Hajimichael, Mike, “Where Is the Movement?” The Cyprus Review 19, no. 2 (2007): 125.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Azar, Edward, “Protracted Social Conflicts: Ten Propositions,” International Interactions: Empirical and Theoretical Research in International Relations 12, no. 1 (1985): 60.

[4] Seamus Kelly in discussion with the author, 2014.

[5] Nico Carpentier in discussion with the author, 2015.

[6] Freud, Sigmund, “Mourning and Melancholia,” International Journal for Medical Psychoanalysis                4, no. 6 (1917): 245.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Volkan, Vamik, “Trans-generational Transmissions and Chosen Traumas: An Aspect of Large-Group Identity,” Group Analysis 34, no. 1 (2001): 83.

[9] Ibid., 86.

[10] Mikis Hadjineophytou in discussion with the author, 2015.

[11] Yiannis Papadakis, “Narrative, Memory and History Education in Divided Cyprus,” History and Memory 20, no. 2 (2008): 133.

[12] Yiannis Papadakis, Echoes from the Dead Zone (New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2005), 8-9.

[13] Ibid., 43.

[14] Karina Korestelina, “History Education and Social Identity,” Identity: An international journal of theory and research 8, no. 1 (2008): 30.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Smith, Margaret, Reckoning with the Past: Teaching History in Northern Ireland (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005), 127.

[17] Korestelina, “History Education and Social Identity,” 30.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] McCann, Eamonn, War and an Irish Town (Middlesex: Pluto Press, 1974), 16.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Korestelina, “History Education and Social Identity,” 30.

[23] “From Conflict to Prison and from Prison to Peace: Reflections,” Belfast: Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (2014): 30.

[24] Ari Sitas, Dilek Latif and Natasa Loizou, “Prospects of Reconciliation, Co-Existence and Forgiveness in Cyprus in the Post-Referendum Period,” Nicosia Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO) Cyprus Centre 2007: 50.

[25] David Smith, “Introduction: The Sharing and Dividing of Geographical Space,” in Shared Space, Divided Space: Essays on Conflict and Territorial Organization, ed. Michael Chisholm and David Smith (London: Routledge, 1990), 3.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Kay Laverty in discussion with author, 2014.

[28] Johnny Byrne, Cathy Gimley Heenan and Gillian Robinson, Attitudes to Peace Walls, (Belfast: University of Ulster, 2012), 28.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Maria Hadjipavlou, “The Cyprus Conflict: Root Causes and Implications for Peacebuilding,” Journal of Peace Research 44, no. 3 (2007): 351.

[31] Sitas, Prospects of Reconciliation, 46.

[32] Ibid., 10.

[33] Ibid., 60.

[34] Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism Theory, Culture and Society (London: SAGE Publications, 1995).

[35] Translated by author.

[36] Volkan, Trans-generational Transmissions, 83.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., 84.

[39] Tim Brannigan in discussion with author, 2014.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Sitas, Prospects of Reconciliation, 47.

[43] Nico Carpentier in conversation with author, 2015.

[44] “From Conflict to Prison,” 74.

[45] Sitas, Prospects of Reconciliation, 57.

[46] Ibid., 55.

[47] Ibid., 46.

[48] Paul Norney in conversation with author, 2014.

[49] Papadakis, Echoes from the Dead Zone, 156.

[50] Ruth Kluger, “Forgiving and Remembering,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 117, no. 2 (2002): 313.

[51] “From Conflict to Prison,” 66.

[52] Kay Laverty in conversation with author, 2014.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Bill Rolston in conversation with author, 2014.

[55] Elie Wiesel, “Préface.” In Pourquoi se souvenir? 9-11 (Paris: Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 1999).

[56] Kay Laverty in conversation with author, 2014.

[57] Sitas, Prospects of Reconciliation, 46.

[58] Cara McCann in conversation with the author, 2014.

[59] Mikis Hadjineophytou in conversation with the author, 2015.

[60] Taiye Selasi, “Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local” (lecture, TEDGlobal, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 7, 2014).

[61] Ibid.

[62] Sharing an Island, Film, directed by Danae Stylianou (2011).

[63] Brannigan, Tim Interview by Laura Brody (2014).

[64] “World Development Report: Conflict, Security and Development.” Washington DC: World Bank 2011: 2.