In 2011, while a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, Rabia Harmansah received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Social Forgetting in Post-Conflict Landscapes in Cyprus” supervised by Robert M. Hayden. In 2018, Dr. Harmansah had the opportunity to share the results of her fieldwork when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to organize an exhibition titled “Remembering Forward: An Anthropological Exhibition on Shared Sacred Spaces in Cyprus.”
The project develops an exhibition on shared sacred spaces in the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It features brief historical information about six Orthodox Christian and Muslim sites, a variety of personal accounts, and visual material related to the sites, where sharing occurs or used to occur in the past. The exhibition is based on the ethnographic fieldwork project I conducted in Cyprus between 2010-2012, which examines the practices of memory-making and forgetting at sacred sites in Cyprus after the ethnic conflict and 1974 partition of the island. The exhibition is designed to share this research with the people of Cyprus and to stimulate a bi-communal dialogue on shared spaces and ‘alternative’ readings of the past.
The exhibition is a collection of diverse readings of the past, present, and future through the loud silence of sacred spaces. The past is highly fractured and strategically reassembled in Cyprus. The memories of the past have been transforming since the Greek and Turkish communities fell apart in 1974. On the one hand, there is longing for a lost past and for a lost future, and on the other hand, a need for creating a new present and future. The reference to past is omnipresent in all narratives related to now and onward. Temporalities turn into permanence, permanence is absent and only imagined.
By introducing the practices at the shared sites and the transformation of them, the exhibition is designed as an invitation to explore the disregarded communication and exchange at these sacred sites before and after the division of the island in 1974. The exhibition creates a new avenue for the local people to contribute with their own stories, and memories that could both expand the dissertation research on shared sacred sites and also foster dialogue between the two communities on a topic that is relevant to them in their everyday lives.
The exhibition covers six religious sites, where both Orthodox Christian and Muslim communities visit and assert claims: Apostolos Andreas Monastery (Karpas Peninsula), Hala Sultan Tekke (Larnaca), Holy Forty (east of Nicosia), Hz. Ömer Tekke (east of Kyrenia), Saint Barnabas Monastery (Famagusta) and Saint Mamas Monastery (Morphou). The physical sharing of sacred sites has been restricted since the de facto division of the island in 1974, but they have started to be visited again by both communities with the opening of the dividing Green Line in 2003. Two of the mentioned sites (Saint Barnabas and Saint Mamas Monasteries) have been functioning as museums since their re-opening after the division.
Each site expresses a different story; manifests a deeper and shared history, bringing to view the complexity of exchanges for Cypriot people. The exhibition takes a fresh look at the Cyprus conflict and highlights both the coexistence and conflict happening at the shared sites. It aims at communicating the themes of sharing and understanding without defaulting to the hollow rhetoric of ‘peaceful coexistence and tolerance.’ The stories and memories harmonize with one another as much as they contrast. In that sense, the project goes beyond the sterile picturing of shared sacred sites in scholarly debates that approach these sites either as sites of tolerance or conflict. In some cases, the multivocality of holy sites provokes discussion over the identity and politics of these places. In other cases, Cypriots, whose cosmologies about these polysemic holy places are embedded in a land of many cultures, have been going beyond the political and ethnic boundaries with their shared cultic practices.
This public anthropology work is designed in the form of an exhibition, not only for involving people in the research endeavor but also for questioning and rethinking social science methodology. I seek to reconceive methodology to bridge the conceptual gaps between disciplinary approaches, and between art and science. I collaborated with two artist-curators in this exhibition, Aslı Tanrıkulu, a graphic designer and a painter, and Ersan Ocak, an urbanist, a (visual) cultural researcher, and an independent filmmaker. This has provided an excellent opportunity to widen my perspective for thinking through the data collected in the field as well as the alternative ways to share the research with the public.
The exhibition was held between June 19th-26th, 2018 at the Home for Cooperation, a space easily available to Greek and Turkish Cypriots for bi-communal activities in the Buffer Zone in Nicosia. The exhibition is intended to be moved to several other locations in both parts of Cyprus, including the Bedesten in North Nicosia, Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta, and Peace House in South Nicosia. It is also invited to be displayed at the Ruhr Universität Bochum in Germany and TED University in Ankara, Turkey. The stories were displayed in three languages, English, Greek, and Turkish. Visitors were provided cards to express their opinions about the exhibition, contribute their own memories about the sites, or answer the question “what would you like to remember forward about Cyprus?” The exhibition is complemented by an interactive website, which was launched to promote the project, and to provide a platform for exchanging ideas, memories, and photographs.