Interview with Faika Deniz Pasha
July 22, 2017 at 11:30 a.m. in Nicosia
Anna Prodromou (AP)
Faika Deniz Pasha (FDP)
AP: Faika Deniz Pasha a woman, a professional, an activist, a friend. Quite a few identities - individual, social, collective identities - intersecting in just one person and I’m sure we could add more. Which identity, or which part of your identity do you feel defines you the most?
FDP: Activist. I would like to think at least that - an activist and a friend.
AP: Why is that?
FDP: Because, for example, you mentioned professional. There is so much you can do within the system, within its boundaries; it has its own very rigid limits and, for me, that is not good enough for us to create change. So, I rather identify myself as an activist outside those boundaries, trying to bring real change, trying to really make good use of the time that I have on this earth, on this island.
AP: You talked about boundaries, but do you think that there are no boundaries in activism, just obstacles that you have to overcome perhaps?
FDP: Well by that, especially considering that I am a legal professional, I am trying to say that outside the roles that have been put there by those that are in power, by the ruling elite. They give us a certain space that we can work within, the playground there is quite limited, quite restrained, so that’s why I would rather think of myself of an activist who can move beyond those boundaries, because what I believe is that there’s obviously something really wrong with the system in which we are living today, with the way that we socialize as human beings, with the way we influence each other’s’ lives and that requires substantial changes to the rules of the game. And, of course, that in itself might have its own limits, but it’s broader than the limits that are imposed upon us within the system.
AP: Someone might choose to bring change into his or her community, into society in general, by, let’s say, getting involved into politics, but actually, on the other side, it’s activism that can really….
FDP: Well activism is not different, in our daily lives, the cars we drive, the water we drink, the streets we walk on and our daily lives are not free from politics. When I wash my hands at the office, the water itself is a political action.
AP: Everything we do is a political action. You are right.
FDP: The water itself is political, the bills you pay. When you enter a certain type of building, I mean, I also struggle in the “Kyrenia Initiative” for the right to our city, for example, that’s where my grandparents are from. And the buildings we live in and the streets we walk on, actually everything is very political, so politics is part of life itself, that’s what I would say.
AP: Each person has their own individual passions, sectors or subjects that they are more interest in or concerned with. What is the subject that influences you the most and that you want to bring change to?
FDP: Well, it would be difficult to identify only one thing, but maybe there are three issues, I could reduce it down to three these days. The first is the issue of displacement, the Refugee Rights Association, that’s one aspect of it, especially for those that are experiencing a humanitarian crisis. The crises is not a refugee crisis, I want to underline this. Our humanitarian values, what makes us human, are in crisis right now and one thing is to bring change into that area. And the other one is that I’m involved in the LGBTI movement, and that’s another aspect that we are struggling with and finally on matters relating to the rights to the city and the ecology in Kyrenia.
AP: Do you think in regards to activism that there are more challenges in the north, because I know that you also studied in the south. You did some legal training in the Republic of Cyprus.
FDP: I think that the coin has two sides. The tools of the system that we can utilize in the north are extremely limited. When we look at the displacement issue, refugee issues and the migration issues, the Republic of Cyprus is part of the 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention, has signed the protocol, complies with all these EU directives so people are not returned back to their countries systematically, people are not systematically detained for irregular entry and they should have certain rights. Of course it’s not perfect, it’s not in a place that it should be, there are very serious shortcomings that need to be fixed, but there is a legal ground and a system that you can work with. However, when you look at the north, refugees are treated like any other third country nationals, so refoulement is systematically practiced, it’s not a concern that someone is sent back to their country of origin if there is a war there or if they will be subjected to persecution. Similarly, when we look at issues that primarily concern the LGBTI community, there are laws against hate speech and against discrimination that exist in the Republic, so you have something to work with, however it’s very different in the northern part of Cyprus.
AP: So, in the south there is a legal framework, directives etc. and it’s just a matter of implementation, while the situation in the north is different.
FDP: Yes and they are implemented to a certain extent. While in the north, you don’t have the tools of the system available to you in the same way. But that’s one side of the coin, the other side of the coin is that in my experience this not to say that I’m ok with that, but the consequence of this very unfortunate situation is that we can see more clearly, we can see in a negative way how the system actually functions. How homophobia operates, how heteronormativism runs, how hatred manifests itself in its rawest forms. So then, in our activism, I believe that in the Northern part we can be more organized, and we can be more radical, because there is no system to incorporate us or create the small playground. Imagine that you’re a horse, in the Republic there are fences around you, but within those fences you’re free. But then, the downside of it is that you never think or you rarely think of jumping over the fences and don’t think what might be in the forest on the other side. You’ve got your freedom, but it only exists within the limits and the boundaries of the fences, while in the north, there are no fences and the attacks are coming from everywhere, but that enables you to react, in a way that is, that might ultimately lead to more substantial change, that might enable you to see what those fences actually are, what might exist outside those fences, which enables you to question more, so I think there are two sides of the story. I would say the same thing for the women’s movement. It’s definitely about existence and implementation.
AP: You also wrote a report about the human rights of women in the north in 2012
FDP: Yes, but after that report, many substantial changes were proposed, the law was changed, the family law was changed, so those were the successes of the women’s movement and the feminism movement in the northern part of Cyprus so that no longer reflects the reality. But I would say that it’s still the same with the women’s movement, we’ve got fewer system tools in our hands. I mean we’ve got, when you talk about domestic violence, you would think that one of the necessities would be shelters, that are not ideal, but do they save lives, yes? Well for the whole of the northern part of Cyprus we’ve got only one run by a municipality which has very limited abilities and that was actually established with the endeavours and hard work of the women’s movement and a member of the council of the municipality in which it is located, who was also part of the women’s movement. So I would say the same about the women’s movement, we have fewer tools for it, regarding discrimination against women, domestic violence, in cases of trafficking etc. Although there are fewer tools in the north side, you actually see a more vibrant, much more radicalized feminist movement. So, like I said, when we compare, I believe that in those areas, there are two sides of the story, I would say that there is more oppression in the north, well, I wouldn’t say the oppression is greater, it is more visible, the conditions are harsher, but then as a result of this, the struggle is also stronger.
AP: Do you feel it’s harder, to be a female activist?
FDP: Well, I wouldn’t say that in my specific case and that’s because I believe this has to do with, not with the way the system is construed, but on my personal privileges, and my own personal conditions. Based on my own personal conditions I never felt it. In some instances I did, now I am thinking out loud. In general, I didn’t feel that me being a woman was an obstacle for my activism but yes, age and gender did play roles; for example, in group discussions in platforms meetings that we used to have, with my group of civil societies and the trade union. So I remember it was on the 1st of May, five or six years ago, in the original text of the 1st of May declaration they listed night clubs as one of the factors that have a negative effect on our society, together with casinos. But in the feminist movement where I was performing my activism, that’s not how we conceptualized the nightclubs. We didn’t perceive them as an erosion of our morals, but places where women were being enslaved, women were being assaulted and we did not want to have night clubs discussed within the concept of morality, but rather in terms of slavery and the worst forms of gender discrimination as well as racial and ethnic discrimination. So I was there at the meeting to voice this opinion, I remember having a very hard time trying to get my point across, until some other older male trade union member backed me up, and he did of course because my political viewpoint was similar to his, being from the radical left, so they were supporting a radical left idea. But yeah, if they hadn’t done that, I don’t think I would have be taken seriously as a young woman. It was mostly the men who sat on that platform back in the day, but that 1st May platform changed their minds and perceptions a few years after that so that today, when the radical left talks about the issue of night clubs, they conceptualise it within slavery and now, when we write press releases, we talk about slavery. In answer to your question, that would be the one incident that I can quickly recall. All those people that where not happy to make these amendments regarding the night clubs, were not happy to see night clubs through a gender lens, although they changed their minds institutionally and they have now progressed to where we wished them to be.
AP: Do you think that women generally have a voice and when we talk about women in the north or in the south of Cyprus having a voice, are they interested and if they are, is that voice being heard?
FDP: Well women do have a voice, I believe that, although the situation is not ideal. Over the past decade, the organization in the northern part of Cyprus has changed significantly. Our voices are heard more during times where we’re organized the best and we are the strongest. So it’s not that the system is ready and waiting to hear our ideas, let alone encouraging them, but I believe that we do have the power to force ourselves, to force our ideas and this has been manifested in the last two legal changes in the north regarding the criminal code and the family law. Again, when we look at the LGBTI movement, it is the women who are the most active among the LGBTI community, those who identify themselves as women are the most active numerically as well, which is generally not common as we should not forget that we live in a patriarchal, heteronormative heterosexist, homophobic society, so its within our hands, and we have to work really hard to have our voices heard. But that doesn’t mean we cannot do it. We just have to work really, really hard.
AP: We haven’t talked about the Cyprus problem, which is something that affects our everyday lives. And of course, it is related to everything we talked about.
FDP: It is to some extent. It is thanks to the Cyprus problem that our island is divided into two, that we have six armies on this island, that we have such a large area of military zones, especially in the north. We’ve got six different armies on the island and a great deal of militarization, which is actually more than just the armies and guns. We’ve got the statues, the educational system, with the way we perceive life, the way nationalism is construed. So yes, the Cyprus problem is related to some extent, with the patriarchy, with homophobia, with the way we see the land. I mean, we talked about having an initiative with the way we form bonds with the land on which we live, with the way we form bonds with nature, this is all very much interrelated, but the way that the Cyprus problem has been dominating the political arena, and I believe on both sides of the island and mainly from a nationalist and military stance, or even in the left when we talk about the Cyprus problem and then we hear the libertarians, the leftists, the system opponents going on and on about leaders, and leaders bringing change and the talks about to fail and the UN general secretary and XYZ, this, that and the other and all those international agreements, it’s just, it just gets really frustrating, so I am very ashamed to say it, but I am really bored of the Cyprus problem. It’s a lame problem. I believe it’s really not a hard problem to solve if we put our hearts and minds to it and it was not the most tragic conflict that ever occurred. But again, the way it is dominating everything else and the way that everything else, the solution to everything else is left after the solution of the Cyprus problem, is very tiring. When people talk about the Cyprus problem, they talk about power sharing, land etc. but what about ethnic lines, what about power sharing within genders, within sexes, what about women’s representation, what about the youth representation, what about the LGBTI community’s representation, what about all those people from different countries, different ethnic origins that live on this island and see their future on this island? So, actually, dealing with all those other problems like you’ve said is dealing with militarism, is dealing with the wider issue. Dealing with homophobia, sexism, militarism, nationalism, racism will actually bring peace to this island, not the guarantors, not whether some rich people will get their lands back, not whether even in my generation, in my case really, whatever property my grandparents or my great grandparents had, that does not really interest me, and the right to a home is a different thing. Those that are still alive, those that remember their birthplaces, of course, it is important for those people to go back home, but at the same time, the issue being discussed right now is about property, so I don’t care whether hotel owners get their hotels back and I shouldn’t care about it or how many hectares of land etc. That is not something that would affect the daily lives of Cypriots like sexism, nationalism, militarism do. So, again, because of this, I find this problem to be very lame and I’m sick of it.
AP: To conclude I would like to ask if you are you optimistic or hopeful about the future?
FDP: Well, if I wasn’t I would be sitting in a bank getting my paycheck and going out shopping in my free time. Of course I am hopeful, but I’m not optimistic. But not being optimistic is not to say that nothing will happen and let’s go back home and accept what we have. It shows that we have to struggle more, that we have to find a way. We have to be hopeful, we don’t have any other option. Hope dies last.
AP: Thank you very much for your time
FDP: Thank you!
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