Family in War and Conflict: Using Social Capital for Survival in War Torn Cyprus *

By Mehmet, Karen A.; Mehmet, Ozay | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview
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Family in War and Conflict: Using Social Capital for Survival in War Torn Cyprus *

Mehmet, Karen A., Mehmet, Ozay, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


The original hypothesis behind this research was that in times of civil war, government services, such as education, health and welfare, become unavailable. It is then that the family emerges as the leading, often the sole, support organization, to provide mutual aid to its members thus helping them to survive in times of insecurity, trauma and deprivation. This hypothesis was to be applied in a study of Turkish Cypriot families during the civil war in Cyprus from 1963 to 1974, a subject that has received surprisingly little attention (Volkan, 1979; Oberling, 1982). Hence the research aim was to determine, empirically, on the basis of fieldwork, the extent and nature of social capital (Coleman, 1989; Putnam, 1993; Woolcock andNarayan, 1999; Lesser, 2000; Mehmet et al., 2002) during and after the Greek-Turkish Cypriot ethnic conflict.

This hypothesis had to be abandoned, or significantly modified, early in the fieldwork. The explanation had to do with the historical facts of the ethnic conflict that erupted on Christmas Eve 1963. Turkish Cypriot survey informants indicated that in the aftermath of the conflict the post-colonial, bi-communal Republic in Cyprus as set up under the 1960 Constitution ceased to exist. The Greek Cypriots, by violent means, had ousted the Turkish Cypriots from the Republic, and declared themselves the "Government", serving only themselves. Furthermore, Turkish Cypriots, now concentrated in small enclaves surrounded by Greek Cypriot forces, were then placed under an economic and political embargo by this Greek Cypriot government. Under these circumstances, the Turkish Cypriots were effectively denied services from the 1960 Government and had to create their own government. As put by Oberling (1982: 144),

       Having been reduced to the status of stateless persons during the
       1963-64 crisis, the Turkish Cypriots had had to organize
       themselves to survive the economic blockade that followed. Thus,
       a patchwork government had been set up. It consisted of the
       Vice-President of the Republic, members of the Turkish Cypriot
       Chamber of Commerce and a few others--all of whom formed a body
       known as the General Committee.

Through the period 1963-64 to 1974, ethnic conflict continued in Cyprus sporadically, and as a result, the creation of a Turkish Cypriot government became essential for survival. In this way, Turkish Cypriots were able to obtain some essential services provided by this alternate government which underwent stages of growth and development as cycles of ethnic conflict on the island continued. Again, it is instructive to quote from Oberling (1982: 144): "... when Grivas embarked upon his campaign to overrun Turkish Cypriot enclaves, the Turkish Cypriot leaders realized that a more efficient administrative machinery was required. Thus, on December 28, 1967, a Provisional Turkish Cypriot Administration ... was established."

The formation of the Turkish Cypriot government was the result dire necessity. It arose out of a total breakdown of civil administration and the termination of essential public services for the Turkish Cypriots. In response, a de facto government was set up for public administration and financial and food aid from Turkey began to arrive. Consequently, during much of the civil war, Turkish Cypriots had access to some type of formal social capital via public services such as education and food rations. However, these formal services were inadequate due to Greek Cypriot embargoes and limited public resources. These political constraints limited the availability of formal social capital for Turkish Cypriots, and in the process gave rise to new forms of social capital amongst families. These new forms of social capital were vital in the creation of trust and solidarity that brought beleaguered families together to cooperate in the provision of collective security as well as to share scarce food, shelter and other basic human needs.

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Family in War and Conflict: Using Social Capital for Survival in War Torn Cyprus *


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