Transgressing borders of parallel worlds

by Socrates Stratis

The Cyprus Case

The Cyprus case is actually very rich and complex. Especially after the dramatic changes of the past year (April 2003), when the military buffer zone had opened in selective points generating the mobility of people between the two parts of the island after 30 years (since 1974), and even more in the case of Nicosia since the first clashes between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots in the beginning of the 60s.

Since now, the ceased fire line could be experienced by the two communities as a dead- end element. The line itself was a two dimensional element only experienced along its length. The concept of dead-end ness has become indeed part of the everyday life of people. After April 2003, the world of paradoxes is enriched even more: a still ceased fire line, in military, political and legal terms can be experienced by Greek and Turkish Cypriots from its both sides. Anyone can cross the cease fire line at a specific check point and witness for example the two fragments of one the most commercial streets of Nicosia within the walls, Ledra Street, cut in two for the past 40 years. Such a transgression however remains only experiential as its status still remains a military one.

In such a context, one could question the role of architectural or urban research. Thus, our task was to focus a possible research not on the consequences of the ceased fire line as a separating element, but on the porosity of such a border. This was done in two directions. The first one is a purely documentation study, mapping the modes of transgressing the borders, physical but also psychological. This study was actually encouraged by the events of April 2003. The purpose of this study is to collect data concerning the anatomy of transgressing the borders relating to both communities of the island. One could suggest that such a data could become part of the base of a constructive history of the two communities. The second direction concentrates more on the concept of commonness of two parallel worlds not in communication for the past 40 years, unthinkable in a globalised world. It is about searching to feed platforms of communication between people from both communities, contributing thus, to a device of managing differences at a borderline. Mapping the coffee trips in both parts of the city of Nicosia becomes a vehicle for such a research. This research was launched in 2000, still in the context of total separation between the two sides of Nicosia.

First research direction:
Transgressing borders.

This documentation has started as a personal "eye-witnessed" study and is seeking actually the forming of a working group of an interdisciplinary team, in order to proceed to different levels of complexity. We are trying to put up a team of architects, urbanists, artists, sociologists and anthropologists. It is equally important that this team becomes international in order to enrich its heterogeneity. Such a dynamic is enhanced by using the Cyprus case as a paradigm amongst other ones, by the international working group at the Greek pavilion of Venice Biennale of Architecture.

This study has focused on four levels of documentation. Firstly documenting the modes of transgressing the borderline, secondly the mapping the transformation of the ceased fire zone, thirdly eye-witnessing the role of the TV relating to the events of April 2003 and fourthly expliciting the complex spatial displacement paths of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot inhabitants who were forced to live in the houses of each other after the Turkish invasion.

1. Modes of transgression of the borderline
One could begin talking about two modes of transgression of a border line and more specifically of a ceased fire line.
The first one is the mental one, which is encouraged and thrived by the lack of physical transgression. The mental transgression of borders is done either on a personal level either or on a collective level. The personal is each one's mental map concerning the 'other': the other as lost habitat, as lost people, as lost youth but also as the enemy. A personal memory is easily influenced by collective mechanisms of constructing 'otherness'. One of the collective ways of transgressing the border line is the persistence of the communities of keeping patterns of the past in their everyday life. For example events related to the left behind villages - marriages, summer festivities etc. We have actually started documenting aspects of this collective memory and how it has influenced the transformation of the contemporary urban environment. For the purpose of this presentation I would concentrate on the 'eye-witnessed' documentation concerning the confrontation of the mental and the real after the physical transgression of the cease fire line on April 2003.
The second mode of transgressing the borderline is the physical one. This could actually be divided in two categories: the first one concerns the way we all know, in Europe, where we can cross a former or a present border line for migrating permanently or temporarily in order to work and live. The second one concerns the crossing of actual cease fire lines, but staying more on an experiential level without being able to migrate or in this case return to a former habitation. In the second case, the physical transgression of the cease fire line brings on confrontation the mental construction of the 'other' with the real one. The 'other' as the left behind habitat, the other as samples of one's belongings found after 30 years (a childhood picture, a wedding photo, a furniture piece, a courtyard tree, some books), the other as the memory of youthness, and finally the other as the enemy of a long conflict but not in touch for a long period of time.
The study has started through an 'eye-witnessed' method of documentation of the actual mobility through the check points and the mode of transgressing the borderline. For example the first days there were masses of people awaiting to cross on foot. On the following days the mode of crossing was enriched by the automobile. It is interesting to note the fact that the use of the car became the ultimate protective realm for those crossing the borderline but also the refuge for waiting for hours to cross.

2. Mapping the transformation of the ceased fire zone
The second level of documentation refers to the study of the porosity of the ceased fire zone and thus mapping its transformation from a military zone to an urban one. This relates to a dynamic situation with continuous changes. For the moment, the transformation takes place in order to facilitate selective crossing check points. The case of Agios Dometios in Nicosia is eloquent where the urban infrastructure has taken over the military one.

3. Eye-witnessing the role of the TV related to the transgressing of the borderline
A third level of documentation relates to the role of the TV at the event of April 2003 when it was allowed to cross the ceased fire line. It is interesting to see how the TV channels from both sides have witnessed the actual event of transgressing the borderline. For example, following somebody to the search of her lost habitat, or documenting the confrontation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

4. Expliciting the complex spatial displacement paths of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot inhabitants
Documenting the complex spatial displacement paths of the inhabitants who were forced to live in the houses of each other. The paradoxical relationships that are being constructed between people who share the same habitat but in a span of time: the displaced people 30 years ago with the actual habitants - the 'extended family'. An example: A Greek Cypriot refugee family from Karavas is displaced to Nicosia. In their house in Karavas there is a Turkish Cypriot family displaced from Larnaca. In their house in Larnaca there is a Greek Cypriot family displaced from Lysi. In their house in Lysi there is a Turkish Cypriot family moved in from a smaller village. A complex equation that people construct at the time being, while visiting their homes, almost like searching for a perverted family tree.

Second research direction:
Commonness in two parallel worlds being apart for 40 years. The anatomy of coffee trips in spaces of borders.

The second direction of research concentrates more on the concept of commonness between parallel worlds. The problematic to investigate is what kind of research on urban or architectural level could depart from such a concept. In fact, through this second direction, there is an exploration for alternative methodologies of mapping the urban territory in proximity with a cease-fire line, hoping that it could become food for thought for platforms of communication on one hand between architects and urbanists of the two communities of Cyprus, and on the other hand between architects and urbanists on a european networked level.

Mapping the coffee trips in both parts of the city of Nicosia becomes a vehicle for this second direction of research. The study was launched in 2000, still in the context of total separation between the two sides of Nicosia. There was firstly a documentation of the coffee trips in the Greek Cypriot side and secondly in the Turkish Cypriot side taking advantage of the possibility to cross the ceased fire line after the events of April 2003. (Working group: Socrates Stratis (CY) - assistants Riccardo Urbano (I), Miguel Herraiz (E), Ayse Ufuk (CY), Halide Orgunoglu (CY) ).

Description of the coffee trip
Since the introduction of coffee in the traditional societies of eastern mediterrenean the act of drinking coffee has been associated with a pause. It is a pause after work, but also a pause within working hours. These two genres of pauses have generated two urban situations which usually overlap. On the first case, the act of drinking coffee has generated spaces of socializing of men. On the second case, the act of drinking coffee has generated trips of coffee-service usually in commercial areas: a man or a woman serve clients (shop keepers) within a commercial area bringing a very fine blended coffee in small cups, called "turkish coffee" or "greek coffee" or "byzantine coffee". The transportation of coffee is a very delicate act because of the required equilibrium capacities of its transporter: small coffee cups are filled up and placed on a special tray which is held by a handle created by wire extensions.

Method of research
Study the tactics of a traditional activity, that of a coffee-trip through contemporary issues, those of mobility, flow, space-time patterns. (An approach with references to the work of Michel de Certeau on the tactics of the everyday life, Chombard de Lawe, Torsten Hagerstrand, Aldo Van Eyck or even François Ascher and Richard Sennette).

The choice of this particular activity as a case study is done because of its overall straightforwardness. Its simple nearly simplistic structure allows us the study of complex urban issues of the contemporary city, that of urban mobility. Furthermore its simple structure reduces the variants and allows an on-site study without being forced of a clinical isolation of the case study. The movement of the man/woman with the coffee in the urban space generates a complex pattern of time-space relationships. There are relationships, which depend on variants that it is hard to imagine. For example, the space range of the limitation of having the coffee cold, or the time needed to cross a busy road or the change of means of transportation that allows us to talk about the jumping-up scale phenomenon (a bike or a motorbike instead of walking).

We are using several case studies of such services located on one hand in the historical part of Nicosia and on the other hand in the commercial part of the city developed in the 40s and 50s. The case studies are situated on both sides of Nicosia. The study of the location of the coffee shops and of their owners, as well as the nature of the coffee trips becomes important for the research. There are for example, the more traditional walking coffee trips taking place in the historical part of the city (in pedestrian or low traffic roads) and in the new commercial area closed to busy roads. There are also contemporary transformations of coffee trips taking place by a motorbike within the low traffic roads of the historical city (the so called "flying coffee shop").

Map an aspect of the urban mobility through the study of tactics of the everyday life. The anatomy of various urban tactics, in this case of the coffee trips, can give food for thought for the definition of urban strategies by the people who deal with such issues.

Generate an alternative map of the city based on time-space relationships. Representing the urban fabric in its wholeness, (contemporary, historic- in Greek Cypriot use and in Turkish Cypriot use), in order to identify similarities and differences.

Introduce horizontal ways of looking at urban issues, in this case related to the city of Nicosia. Provide common ground for discipline specialists that have the city as an object of interest (politicians, citizens, architects, planners, economists, etc.). In this manner the outcome of the project as well as the process of its making could be a contribution to a common representation for all these legitimate heterogeneous interests and priorities regarding the city.

Study the similarities and differences that are generated by tracing this traditional activity in different kinds of urban fabric: historical - contemporary, center - periphery, or even more important in the two sectors of Nicosia, the Greek-Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot. The study of the activity in these different contexts allows on one hand the comparison of these contexts (for example, the comparison between the urban peripheries of the Turkish Cypriot and the Greek Cypriot side of Nicosia). Furthermore, it is possible to detect the mechanisms of adjustment of such a simple activity related to its surrounding urban environment. For example, the change of mode of transporting the coffee from walking to motor-biking it is possible simply because the automobile traffic at the borderline is very low and in addition, there is not much of police control. Such an activity hasn't been detected on the new heavy traffic commercial areas away from the borderline.

Another level of objectives relates to the study of the urban flow through the anatomy of coffee trips. The proximity of some of these activities with busy roads generates relationships between parallel flow of cars and crossing - vertical flow of pedestrians (the coffee delivery person). It is thus, possible to study the degree of permeability of the parallel flow that allows the crossing over of the activity, (for example servicing of clients on the other side of the road - referring to informal ways of crossing the street rather than any formal assigned way / traffic lights, zebra crossings which are often absent or placed too far away.