- Bodies of Evidence: Burial, Memory and the Recovery of Missing Persons in Cyprus
Sant Cassia's book is the most comprehensive and analytically sophisticated study of a topic that has occupied center stage in the Greek Cypriot popular imagination since the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island, namely, the issue of the missing persons. The research community's relative silence regarding the issue of missing persons in Cyprus attests perhaps to Sant Cassia's observation that for many years, and until recently, the topic itself was too sensitive to allow for an open and in-depth investigation.
In this book Sant Cassia is concerned with exploring memory and, more precisely, with the political economy of memory, by which he means how memories are produced and consumed, distributed, and exchanged (p. 2). The author uses metaphors from Greek tragedy, primarily the characters of Antigone and Creon, to discuss, on the one hand, the respective roles of the relatives of the missing (both Greek and Turkish Cypriot) and, on the other hand, the political authorities or the State.
Sant Cassia's argument is that Creon, by claiming to speak on behalf of his Antigone, managed to maintain his rule by fabricating stories that served his own respective political agendas. For the Republic of Cyprus this has meant the fabrication of the story of the missing persons, the agnooumeni, who are missing and potentially recoverable; for the Turkish Cypriot authorities, it has meant that the disappeared ones, the kayipler, were constructed not as missing but as sacrificial victims, as dead or lost and hence beyond recovery. In this way both communities have advanced their political ideologies and strategies: for the Greek Cypriots, the recovery of the lost territories, and for Turkish Cypriots, the clear message to the rest of the world is that Greek and Turkish Cypriots cannot live together and that the establishment of their own state, the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," is therefore justified.
Sant Cassia is at his best when he draws upon art and ethnography to illustrate the utility of explicating one through the other. Rather than becoming reductionist, the use of art to interpret the ethnographic evidence becomes empowering and revealing of the underlying significance of the reconstructed past; though it is pieced together from the individual stories of those involved, the narrative of the missing is always larger and requires creative imagination on the part of the ethnographer, much like that of the artist. [End Page 129]
The author describes how the Greek Cypriot story of the missing was produced to prevent closure: in some cases the political representatives of the missing, despite the fact that they knew that some of the missing were really casualties, refrained from passing on such information to the relatives while at the same time the Greek Cypriot press engaged in self-censorship. The State was thus able to continue blaming Turkey at the diplomatic level for the lack of progress in determining the fate of the missing, while at the same time some of the relatives could continue enjoying special privileges and entitlements (e.g., scholarships, housing benefits, etc.) because of their status as relatives of the missing persons.
Sant Cassia illustrates how memory has been manufactured on both sides of the divide to serve the strategic goals of the political authorities; not through a process of repression of private memories, but rather through constructing particular versions of the past which allowed the elaboration of certain kinds of memories. The Republic of Cyprus has reinforced the uncertainty regarding the fate of the missing "by ensuring the continuing presence of the Missing as legal individuals, through salaries, pensions, and representation of their legal rights as property-holding individuals" (p. 87). By continuing to view the missing as a liminal category, Greek Cypriots continue to mourn but also deny their death. To acknowledge that the missing are dead, or in other words, not recoverable, would symbolically signal that the occupied territories are also lost forever; an admission that could never be...