by Laura Brody, Trinity senior

A ten-minute walk from the old town of Nicosia, the National Struggle Museum is tucked away behind the old Archbishopric Palace, home to the more frequented Byzantine Art Museum, Ayios Ioannis Bibis Church and Cyprus Folk Art Museum. Those who venture slightly past the Archbishopric Palace, towards what seems to be a passageway leading to nowhere, will find the museum’s entrance through a small gate.

Once inside, visitors will find a dimly lit atmosphere lacking color; the museum’s walls are entirely white, and the text and photos on display are all printed in black and white. Even the few Greek flags that can be found throughout the museum’s collection are so old and tattered that their faded blue appearance fails to offer any splash of color to the washed out and almost clinical atmosphere that surrounds them. This rigidity, however, serves only to intensify the seriousness of what is on display.

Brody1

The National Struggle Museum

Indicative of the museum’s intended audience, Greek Cypriots themselves, the text is entirely in Greek. Although there are English translations for most things, the fact that these translations only exist in some displays and that there are no Turkish translations, makes the statement that the museum is not intended for outsiders.

Near the museum’s entrance, a large panel offering a summary of the history of Cyprus becomes immediately visible. This narrative serves to assert the ‘Greekness’ of the island by first claiming that its history began with Cyprus’ Hellenisation at the advent of the Mycenaeans in the 14th century B.C. Since this time, “the arts and culture of the Cypriot people have been Greek” and despite foreign domination, “the national character of its inhabitants has been preserved”. This text also implies that every member of the Greek Cypriot community strived desperately for union with ‘motherland’ Greece, more commonly known as enosis. It goes so far as to bluntly state that “the resistance movement was backed by the whole Greek population of the island, including women and children”.

Not considered by this approach, however, are the various different factions of Greek and Greek Cypriot Nationalism, as well as those members of the Greek Cypriot community who did not or do not currently identify with the movement. Interesting to note as well, as that Greek Cypriots are referred to simply as Greeks, while Turkish Cypriots are referred to simply as Turks – an insistence upon their intrinsic connections with either Greece or Turkey.

The panel continues with the statement that after “four years of heroic struggle, hardships and sacrifices”, the liberation movement ended with the London and Zurich Agreements. What it does not mention, however, is that the independence acquired from the British in 1960 was actually a failure for EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), the Greek Nationalist organization that led the resistance movement. EOKA was not fighting for the acquired result of independence, but instead for union with Greece. This failure is not addressed in the entirety of the museum, and even at the narrative’s end there is no resolution to this story.

Foreshadowing what is to come in the remainder of the museum, the text on this introductory panel continues by stating that the artifacts on display will “reflect the spirit and character” of this struggle – this being the first thing that visitors to the museum see upon entering, it is also a demonstration of the importance of language in presenting a particular point of view. For example, each EOKA fighter is referred to throughout the museum as a “hero” – In other places, such as in the National Struggle Museum in Lefkosia (northern Nicosia), however, EOKA fighters are referred to as “terrorists”. Such a difference in presentation, through the subtle change of language, evokes two entirely contrasting experiences and is a reminder that everything depends on perspective. As history is still a story to be told, it cannot be objective; someone must tell the story, and that someone could be absolutely anyone.

Several themes are identifiable in the narrative of the National Struggle Museum. There is that of destruction, for example, designed to emphasize the sacrifice of the Greek Cypriot community. This can be seen in photos of destroyed buildings, injured fighters, injured civilians, etc. that seem almost to make the statement that, “Although we were the underdogs, we were brave and determined”. Another common theme in the museum is the use of photos depicting large crowds; these photos are of protests, political speeches, etc. and give the desired impression of complete unity and solidarity within the Greek Cypriot community. A final visible theme worth mentioning is the use of several photos of

Greek Cypriot children

Greek Cypriot children

children, as the intrinsic innocence of children aids in the evocation of sympathy for the Greek Cypriot community, and thus its current political desires.

Elsewhere in the museum, an interesting document hidden amongst numerous displays is a copy of the Plebiscite of the Cyprus People, signed on Jan 29th, 1950 by the Archbishopric (the traditional leadership on the island). This plebiscite is reminiscent of the panel at the entrance of the museum, and asserts once again that Cyprus “has been a Greek island for about four thousand years” and that it has “always had close ties with the rest of the Greek world” – it asserts furthermore that this bond is one of “politics, blood, religion and civilization” and that a “common destiny” has bound Cyprus to the rest of the Greek World from the earliest historic times. To an outsider, the aim of this document seems to have been to serve as both a warning and a justification for the Greek Cypriot community’s struggle for enosis that was to come later in the 1950s.

The military side of this struggle against the British was led by General George Grivas, while the political side was led by Archbishop Makarios, who later became the first president of the Republic of Cyprus when the island’s independence was declared in 1960. Each of these men has a display dedicated to them in the museum, which houses belongings of theirs such as boots, bags, books and maps. Interestingly, however, more emphasis seems to be placed on Grivas than on Makarios. Grivas’ code name during the struggle was Dighenis, and he had been an officer in the Greek Army before arriving on the island, founding EOKA and launching the resistance movement.

Once having made it to the top floor of the museum, three nooses representing EOKA “heroes” who were hanged in British prisons become visible. Again, this contributes to the image of EOKA and Greek Cypriots as victims. Photos of EOKA members who died during the struggle line the walls around the display; while most of the individual plaques contain information regarding the way in which the individuals died at the hands of the British, the hands of the Turkish Cypriots or at the hands of the Turks, there are a few that stand out from this pattern. The plaque of fighter Katelaris Pantelis, for example, states that he died “in the explosion of a bomb he was making”. Interestingly, the fact that Pantelis was making a bomb is justified by the presentation of Greek Cypriots as victims – as well as heroes who were merely fighting to protect their honor and natural destiny – throughout the entire museum.

As a result of this, an act that is normally considered violent, such as making a bomb, is no longer a representation of aggression. Instead, it is transformed into a representation of heroism and bravery. Thus it is still included in the museum’s narrative of struggle, whereas other acts committed by EOKA, such as the specific murders of Turkish Cypriots, could simultaneously evoke sympathy for the Turkish Cypriots and therefore must be omitted from the narrative. In this way, the entire narrative up until this point serves as a legitimization of any and all action taken by EOKA fighters and the Greek Cypriot community throughout the periods of inter-communal violence in Cyprus. It will be important to keep this in mind when considering the museum’s role in the larger political debate surrounding what is known in dominant discourse as the Cyprus Problem.

 

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