A Divided Island United by Illness: The Construction of a Cypriot Community Identity through Responses to Thalassemia
Dr Daniele NunziataZoom
Thalassemia is the name given to a series of blood disorders which have a significant impact on Cypriots. In the 1970s, it was estimated that over 25% of all Cypriots – Greek-speakers and Turkish-speakers – were carriers of either alpha- or beta-thalassemia (Ashiotis, 1973). In reaction, an extensive screening policy was enacted. Simultaneously, however, this same decade also saw the rise of intercommunal conflict on the island, culminating in the ethnolinguistic partition of 1974.
Nonetheless, thalassemia has remained a life-threatening symbol of what Cypriots have in common – highlighting the urgent need for a collaborative and united healthcare response to this pan-Cypriot issue. Moreover, in the sizeable Cypriot diaspora of the UK, organisations (including the UK Thalassemia Society) have attempted to create open healthcare spaces for patients of multiple ethnolinguistic backgrounds. This paper will examine this context to explore the intersections between healthcare and cultural identities. It will explore ‘pan-Cypriot’ responses to thalassemia after 1974 and consider the ways in which international organisations (including the NHS) frame these blood disorders as a particular concern faced by all Cypriots. Despite the division between Greek-speakers and Turkish-speakers on the island, how does the language used to refer to thalassemia help construct a uniquely ‘Cypriot’ community?