‘Anyone caught carrying a map or book using those names’ may be fined or imprisoned

Anthropologist Rebecca Bryant has highlighted that the Greek Cypriot-administered Republic of Cyprus (RoC) ‘unanimously passed a law that criminalises the use of Turkish names given after 1974.’ To put that in practical perspective, I would have been fined or imprisoned during my PhD for doing my PhD. Some of my publications are now illegal. Get them while they’re hot!

Alternate history

If this law had existed during my doctoral research, I would have had to live with the knowledge that I could be detained at almost any time. And, due to my research, the police would have had “just” cause to stop and search me. Notably, once, Greek Cypriot police stopped and searched me and my car as I left an academic institution. Another time, when I visited an abandoned Turkish Cypriot village, Greek Cypriot police threatened me with false charges, then detained me, questioned me, searched me and my car, and warned me not to return. If that happened again now, they could press these charges with genuine legal authority.


The amendment to the law was passed on the 19th of July 2013, but it was remarkably little reported or discussed; I know people who have been at risk of prosecution ever since then, who only heard about the law from me, and I only heard about it accidentally, when a Greek friend shared Bryant’s (excellent) review of the situation of the Turkish Cypriot community. I had to ask her for another source.

A criminal act

Anyone caught carrying a map or book using those names may be subject to a fifty thousand euro penalty or a stiff prison sentence’, Bryant explains. She kindly sent me the Human Rights Report of the United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.(1) Through searching for and back-translating its keywords, I found the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Question of Human Rights in Cyprus (2), which singled the law out as a matter of freedom of opinion and expression, and a copy of the original legal text.

According to the law on the Procedure for the Standardization of Geographical Names of the Republic of Cyprus (Διαδικασίας Τυποποίησης των Γεωγραφικών Τοπωνυμίων της Κυπριακής Δημοκρατίας), specifically the section on the corruption/distortion of geographical names and toponyms (αλλοίωση γεωγραφικών ονομάτων και τοπωνυμίων),

A person who publishes, imports [or otherwise acquires or uses (3)], circulates, offers, distributes or sells in the Republic [of Cyprus] maps, books or other documents, conventionally or digitally printed, in which are contained geographical names and toponyms of areas of the Republic printed differently from those that are set in agreement with the procedures that are stipulated in this Act or those that are included in the Toponymic Dictionary commits an offense and, in the case of their conviction, is liable to imprisonment that does not exceed three years or to a fine that does not exceed fifty thousand euros (€50,000) or to both of those punishments and all of the offensive documents are subject to seizure and destruction.

[Πρόσωπο το οποίο εκδίδει, εισάγει, κυκλοφορεί, προσφέρει, διανέμει ή εμπορεύεται στη Δημοκρατία χάρτες, βιβλία ή άλλα έγγραφα, συμβατικά ή ψηφιακά αποτυπωμένα, στα οποία περιέχονται γεωγραφικά ονόματα και τοπωνύμια περιοχών της Δημοκρατίας αποτυπωμένα διαφορετικά από αυτά που ορίζονται σύμφωνα με τις διαδικασίες που προβλέπονται στον παρόντα Νόμο ή από αυτά που περιλαμβάνονται στο Τοπωνυμικό Λεξικό διαπράττει αδίκημα και, σε περίπτωση καταδίκης του, υπόκειται σε ποινή φυλάκισης που δεν υπερβαίνει τα τρία έτη ή σε χρηματική ποινή που δεν υπερβαίνει τα πενήντα χιλιάδες ευρώ (€50.000) ή και στις δύο αυτές ποινές και όλα τα έγγραφα του αδικήματος υπόκεινται σε κατάσχεση και καταστροφή.]

Stiff indeed! How will they destroy the books – by burning them?

The law is a Cypriot donkey

Ironically, it is now illegal to publish a record that documents how some historically Greek Cypriot places have been renamed as part of a Turkish nationalist campaign of ethnic cleansing.

And not all of the new names were nationalist impositions. As has been explained in a book on archaeological field survey, which was published by Archaeopress in Oxford and is now illegal to import to Cyprus, some were (for example) restorations of historic (Ottoman) Turkish-language names or translations of displaced communities’ names into the residents’ language.

Some Turkish Cypriot communities became refugees as communities and continued to identify by their old neighbourhoods’ or villages’ names in their new residences (the neighbourhoods and villages from which Greek Cypriot communities had been made refugees). Now, if people acknowledge both communities’ suffering and resilience by using both communities’ names for places with dual identities, the act of not depriving a Turkish Cypriot refugee community of its historic identity is legally regarded as having deprived a Greek Cypriot community of its historic identity and criminalised on that basis.

At least one institution is in criminal [perilous] possession. At least tens of citizens on the island are guilty [in peril] right now – and they’re only the ones whose legal acquisition of my now-illegal texts I have been able to count by download. [Possession of material that was acquired before the passing of the law is exempt, but subsequent “circulation”, “offering”, “distribution” or sale is criminal.] In digging season, possibly tens more (foreign) workers are liable to be fined or imprisoned for being in possession of [importing] peer-reviewed research in[to] a European Union country. And my now-samizdat publications have been circulating by e-mail too.

Still, at least some of the people who have tried to sabotage my work are now liable to be fined or imprisoned for having the publications that they tried to prevent being published or that they tried to make me retract.

The (other) good news is that I have not always discussed recently-renamed places. In one already-controversial article, I chose not to include the new names as well as the old ones, to prevent it from being attacked “unnecessarily”. Little did I know that I would prevent it from being banned!

So, people can still read about the destruction of Muslim Cypriot cultural heritage [η καταστροφή της μουσουλμανικής κυπριακής πολιτιστικής κληρονομιάς]; the destruction, theft and rescue of archaeological artefacts in Cyprus, 1963-1974; ‘a masterpiece in political propaganda‘ and a futile exercise in archaeological blogging; and using open-source data to identify participation in the illicit antiquities trade.

The bad news is that they’ll have to be a lot more careful about interrogating archaeological ethics in conflict zones; the destruction of cultural property and narration of violent histories; and threats to cultural heritage in the Cyprus Conflict.

To be absolutely clear, clicking on those links in the Republic of Cyprus will download material for which the downloader may be fined €50,000 and imprisoned for three years. The research into the destruction of cultural property and narration of violent histories, which elsewhere is legally protected because it has been peer-reviewed, in Cyprus will be destroyed. The documentation of threats to cultural heritage will be destroyed as a violation of cultural heritage.


Update (1st May 2015): I added the original legal text, appended the information from the United Nations’ and United States’ human rights reports, and extended my commentary.

1: According to United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (USBDHRL, 2014: 10-11 – Section 2, Paragraph a),

In July [2013] the parliament passed a law that penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in Cyprus other than those included in the gazetteer that the government presented at the Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names in 1987. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island of Cyprus other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable with up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($67,500) or both.

2: According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OUNHCHR, 2015: 13 – Chapter III, Section F, Paragraph 44),

The Law on the Procedure for the Standardization of Geographical Names of the Republic of Cyprus was amended in July 2013, criminalizing the alteration of names of regions, cities and villages. According to article 6, paragraph 1 of the law, any person who publishes, imports, circulates, offers, distributes or sells in the Republic of Cyprus maps, books or other documents, conventionally or digitally printed, in which geographical names and toponyms of areas of the Republic are printed differently from those designated in accordance with the procedures provided for in the law or of those in the dictionary of toponyms commits an offence and, if convicted, is subject to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding €50,000, or both penalties, and all related documents are liable to seizure and destruction.

3: According to the Parliamentary Legal Committee (Κοινοβουλευτική Επιτροπή Νομικών) that ‘unanimously recommend[ed] [ομόφωνα εισηγείται]’ the law, it ‘provides for the prohibition of importation, acquisition, use, circulation and distribution of maps, electronic devices for positioning and navigation, known as GPS, or other similar products with or without software [προνοεί για την απαγόρευση εισαγωγής, απόκτησης, χρήσης, κυκλοφορίας και διάθεσης χαρτών, ηλεκτρονικών συσκευών εντοπισμού θέσης και πλοήγησης, γνωστών ως GPS, ή άλλων παρόμοιων προϊόντων με ή χωρίς λογισμικά]’.

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