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A multiplicity of voices: Nicosia Beyond Barriers

Posted on 19/02/2020
By Commonwealth Foundation

Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices From a Divided City is a unique collection of diverse perspectives, genres, and authorial styles, by contributors from across the world sharing their views and experiences of Cyprus’ divided capital city. To bring the contents to life, we have hosted readings with featured writers among different communities, from Nicosia Municipal Art Gallery in south Nicosia to Rüstem Bookshop in the north, as well as in London at the Poetry Café and the October Gallery.

 

Aydın Mehmet Ali. Photo credit: Steve Bealing, LMK Media

At the latter event in London, two of my three co-editors, Aydın Mehmet Ali and Bahriye Kemal (sadly Maria Petrides could not join us), spoke about the inception and development of the anthology. It arose out of the activities of Literary Agency Cyprus (LAC), a women-led literary and arts group founded by Aydın Mehmet Ali in 2013.

The city’s Greek, Lusignan, Venetian, Ottoman, and British heritage—and its rich multicultural métissage of Maronite, Palestinian, Armenian, Turkish, and Greek—have created a distinct, partly-European and partly-Levantine culture.

LAC focuses on writers in Cyprus and the diaspora who write in English, re-appropriating the colonial language of the island to create a cultural space that celebrates difference, cultural collaboration, and activism. LAC also provides services to support emerging writers to bring their work up to a publishable standard and to bring the literatures of Cyprus to unconventional audiences and spaces.

Nicosia has a rich and diverse history, if also ugly and violent: the city’s Greek, Lusignan, Venetian, Ottoman, and British heritage—and its rich multicultural métissage of Maronite, Palestinian, Armenian, Turkish, and Greek—have created a distinct, partly-European and partly-Levantine culture. Refugees from Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon, workers from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, and international students from Africa, have joined these historical communities in the twenty-first century and are making their contribution to the city’s cultural life.

While the border between the two parts of the city opened in 2003, the Greek and Turkish-speaking Cypriot communities continue to live divided by a military border known as the ‘Dead Zone’.

Almost four million tourists and travellers visit the island of Cyprus every year, but the vast majority come for the beaches rather than to visit Nicosia, the last divided capital city in the world. A ‘Green Line’ divided Nicosia in 1964, after intercommunal fighting. While the border between the two parts of the city opened in 2003, the Greek and Turkish-speaking Cypriot communities continue to live divided by a military border known as the ‘Dead Zone’.

We were keen as editors to reflect this complex history and diversity, and to open the anthology up to international perspectives, to a dynamic multiplicity of voices; a polyphony that contests and confuses the physical borders and ideological and cultural barriers that divide the city. This collection includes those new to the island and those passing through, as well as traditional communities. You will find the voices of the marginalised that cast new light on dominant narratives of conflict: postcolonial perspectives that link Cyprus to Zimbabwe, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Malta; queer perspectives that disrupt patriarchal certainties and orthodoxies; all are explored in a range of genres and forms, from memoir and poetry, to the short story and historical analysis.

 

Bahriye Kemal. Photo credit: Steve Bealing, LMK Media
It is true we all need the mental and physical space to be creative—but we also need companions and collaborators to inspire, stimulate, and support us.

Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices From a Divided City is the culmination of years of workshops and events, and came about through the support and involvement of many people from many places, not least the Commonwealth Foundation, which has walked shoulder to shoulder with us throughout this journey. The October Gallery, a home for transcultural avant-garde art, was a fitting as well as congenial setting for a celebration of the book in London. Walking home through Bloomsbury, as I passed the bust of Virginia Woolf in Tavistock Square, her famous dictum that writers need a room of their own came to mind. It is true we all need the mental and physical space to be creative—but we also need companions and collaborators to inspire, stimulate, and support us. The anthology is the fruit of such companionship and collaboration, and I feel so happy to have been a part of a kaleidoscopic, collective, literary remapping of my birthplace.

 

(L to R) Antoine Cassar, Bahir Laattoe (back), Shereen Pandit, , Aydın Mehmet Ali, Sherry Charlton, Alev Adil, Laila Sumpton, Bahriye Kemal, Melissa Ekkers. Photo credit: Steve Bealing, LMK Media

All photographs courtesy of Steve Bealing, LMK Media.

Dr Alev Adil

Dr Alev Adil is a performance artist-poet who has performed in London including Tate Britain, the British Museum and The Royal Maritime Museum amongst many other venues and internationally. Her poetry has been included in more than 10 anthologies of Cypriot poetry in English, Greek and  Turkish and translated into eight languages.  

Her poetry collection Venus Infers was praised as ‘both a passport and a trip to new and unimagined communities’ by Aamer Hussein, and ‘occasionally comic and always intriguing’ by Blake Morrisson.  Moris Farhi judged her ‘a multi-cultural poet of exceptional originality’ whose work creates, ‘by counter pointing mythology and the quotidian, an existentialism that is both modern and timeless.’ Alev is also a literary critic and currently reviews for The Times Literary Supplement. She is ‘one of a small circle of reviewers working with a collaborative ethos to promote Turkish literature in the UK’ and provides ‘nuanced commentaries on Turkish literature in English translation’ (Tekgül,and Akbatur, 2013, 46) 

She has a PhD in multimedia poetics from Central Saint Martin’s, the University of the Arts and extensive experience of teaching Visual Culture, Literature and Creative Writing at BA and MA level in universities in the UK and as a visiting professor in Greece, Holland, Trinidad and India.

Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices From a Divided City

Find out more about the anthology, edited by Alev Adil, Aydın Mehmet Ali, Bahriye Kemal & Maria Petrides, and published by Saqi Books, here.