The social and spatial dimensions of ethnic conflict : contextualizing the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus



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Ethnic conflict is a persistent and vexing problem for the world today. The intercommunal violence during these conflicts not only significantly alters the social and spatial geography in these regions for decades, but also frequently involves external actors who magnify the social conflict. It is within the urban areas that the impacts of violence are often most acute and deleterious to the once functioning system. Ethnic conflict transforms many urban areas into “divided cities” in which barricades and armed posts dominate the landscape. With this paradigm of conflict in mind, the overarching purpose of this dissertation is two-fold: 1) to examine how and why certain peaceful societies devolve into intercommunal conflict, and 2) to outline how ethnic conflict ultimately, and often irreparably, transforms an urban area into a “divided city.” In this dissertation, Nicosia, the ethnically divided capital of Cyprus, serves as the primary case study used to illustrate the process of social devolution from ethnic conflict to a militarily fortified urban division. The three main research questions are asked concerning Nicosia’s division. 1) What historic factors contributed to the progression and intensification of the social and spatial cleavages that appear in the urban landscape today? 2) To what extent is the urban divide diagnostic of the overarching ethnic conflict on Cyprus? 3) How is Nicosia’s urban division similar to or different from other “ethnically” divided cities and how might this comparison help further the general understanding of the causes and consequences of these entities? These three questions help frame Nicosia within the context of the larger social conflict on Cyprus as well as assist in developing linkages with other divided cities. As articulated throughout this study, Nicosia is a “model” divided city that typifies how the historically-laden process of ethno-territorial polarization can manifest itself in the physical and social geography of a contested region. In the end, divided cities epitomize the “worst-case-scenario” outcome of ethnic conflict and once the urban divisions take root, they prove exceptionally challenging to remove from the social and physical landscape.