Reviewed by Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury
The book entitled The Line: Women, Partition and the Gender Order in Cyprus written by Cynthia Cockburn is about the Line – the Green Line, which separates the island of Cyprus into two parts: Greek Cypriots dominated area (controlling over only half of the Capital city including 63% of the total land area in South) and the Turkish Cypriots inhabitant area (controlling 37% of the land area in North known as Turkish Republic of North Cyprus). The Line is similar to the line, which partitions the state of Israel from Palestinian territories with an area of no man’s land between two parallel fences. For almost 29 years since 1974 this Green Line of Cyprus was a closed border with two checkpoints. Ordinary Turkish and Geek Cypriots have not been allowed to move freely through the checkpoints. Suddenly on 21 April 2003 the authorities of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) announced that the line would be opened between 8 a.m and midnight. In fact, with Cyprus joining the European Union in 2004, the pressure is mounting on political leaders to resolve forty years of conflict between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots and to erase the partition line that scars the island. However, the opening of the line did not mean an agreement permitting ‘return’ and the permanent peace agreement remains elusive.
Against this backdrop Cynthia in her book has tried to show how a geo-political partition is not just armored fencing, it is also a line inside our heads, and in our hearts too. In fact, the physical fence is a manifestation of these more ‘cognitive’ and emotional lines that shape our thoughts and feelings. The inner lines express who we think we are and who are not like us, whom we trust and whom we are afraid of. She has correctly pointed out that, when we are very afraid or very angry, at some identifiable moment, a line springs out and plants itself in the earth as a barrier (p.1).
The book is women-centered and gender analytical-based on participant observations, interviews and group discussions with women living at both north and south parts of the line. In order to make gender differentiation, which is a political project (power, purpose and collective action) like ethnic differentiation this book concentrates on Cyprus through women’s lens. The women’s organization called Hands Across the Divide (HAD) is the focus of her study. This book portrays a line tracing the fortune of this remarkable Cypriot women’s project working for peace, using the Internet to defy the barriers to communicating placed between them.
The book is about the ‘making of difference’ and categorizing of people and about partition as a strategy for dealing with conflict. In her study Cynthia has shown us how the distance between people of Turkish and Greek cultures on the island of Cyprus was widened in a number of political projects, so that they became increasingly separate from each other physically and socially. The author has dealt with the inner process of ‘line making’, ‘line negotiating’ and ‘line melting’ based on the narratives of those women, who have shared their memories of nationalist attacks on Turkish Cypriots in 1960s, the violent expulsion of Greek Cypriots in 1974 by the Turkish military intervention following the coup d’etat by Greek Cypriot extremists associated with the Greek military junta and also the gender-specific experiences of being refugees.
While dealing with the narratives she has claimed that history is not memory, but divergent‘re-remembering’, shaped in culturally specific ways. History is recounted with different meanings in north and the south of Cyprus. The violent events sketched in her book, told, re-told, using the words that often differ on either side of the Line are powerful constructs of contemporary Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot national identities. Narratives of what happened or did not happen in very early times often carry even more political freight than accounts of what happened yesterday, because they are about ‘who we really are’ (p.41). Cynthia has agreed that, popular memory is selective. Many women tell one half of the story that of their own people’s suffering, and forget the other (p.44).
The book comprising 243 pages is divided into eight chapters excluding the introduction. In the first chapter (pp.23-40) she has discussed the pleasures and dangers inherent in difference and differentiation, and the way in which individuals acquire a sense of self in relation to ethnic and gender identities. She has ended the chapter with a brief consideration of partition as a political strategy for dealing with conflict and of transversal politics in the renewal of dialogues. While explaining partition as a political strategy she has rightfully argued that a physical partition in a way is a frozen time. Against this backdrop the events in Cypriot history first suggested the Line as a possibility, and then planted it in the ground. (p.38)
The following chapters (Chapters 2 and 3: pp.41-88)) are historical and she has explained in these chapters that how HAD has attempted to overcome the sources of enmity and separation. Chapter 2 specifically has dealt with the period 1960-1973, a period in which nationalist movements and international pressures turned tension into enmity between Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking Cypriots. In Chapter 3 (pp.65-88) her main focus is on the year of 1974, the year of Greek Cypriot coup and the Turkish military action that brought partition. The many lines that already circled Turkish Cypriot enclaves were transformed into a single Line, Green Line extended from one side of the island to the other making the line fixed and impermeable. While sharing the interviews of women that she has captured through her field trips she in this chapter has tried to portray how large population movements have resulted eventually in an ethnically homogeneous Turkish Cypriot north and Greek Cypriot south and also how masculinities acquired hegemony over its separate space.
The next few chapters (Chapters 4, 5, 6, 7: pp.89-194) depending on women’s perspectives Cynthia has described contemporary realities in Cyprus to help us to understand the prevailing gender order and gender cultures. She has illustrated how women perceived the political, economic and military realities of contemporary Cyprus. Based on interviews she looked at how the parallel societies developed after the barbed wire rolled out across the island. Though there is a basis for cooperation between women either side of the Line, but certain differences of positioning, make challenging demands on mutual understanding. In order to explore the changes in the gender order in Cyprus she has put stress on the family and marriage, the politics of sex and the body.
She has claimed that women living parallel lives in adjacent societies, whose gender orders are the systems of male dominance. In both regions, the patriarchal gender line drawn historically between men and women. Women are contesting for political power, but remain on the margins, their issues rarely addressed, obliged to compete with men in the prevailing masculine mode of politics that they find distasteful and disadvantaging. More women have been coming into employment, and seeking opportunities in business and the professions, but unchanged domestic responsibilities and inadequate state support, combined with vertical and horizontal lines of exclusion maintained by those, mainly men, who control access to opportunity, result in women having less disposable income of their own and fewer prospect of economic autonomy. Neither militarism nor nationalism is conducive to women’s equality and autonomy (p.116).
In fact, she has explored the reasons why the feminist movements weakened on the either side of the Green Line. While recounting the grassroots rapprochement activity in Cyprus she has explained the ‘bi-communal’ project of HAD to bring the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots into contact for peace building.
Finally, in conclusion (pp.193-226) Cynthia has tried to explore what the experience of members of HAD and other women in Cyprus suggests for a women’s movement that might be a collective actor in a future process of peace-making and social reconstruction, what Maria, one of her respondent specified as ‘feminist intervention’ and Anthola, another respondent called it as ‘holism’.
This study is extremely valuable document to all who work on feminism, partition, displacement and also who strive to put an end to racist, sexist and militarist oppression and violence in today’s world. Black and white photographs printed in this book have added precious dimension to it.