Eyes on the World

by Mary Shipp Bartlett

Pany Jraige and her friends find it amusing when they use a word from their Core classes that no one but a Scripps woman is likely to understand.

They toss around the term “panopticon” the way teenagers use slang. Literally meaning “all-seeing,” the panopticon was a round-the-clock surveillance machine proposed as a model prison by 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, and described by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish:The Birth of the Prison. Every Scripps student knows that.

The point of the machine was to make it impossible for an inmate to know whether he was being watched at any one moment, and also aware that surveillance was possible at any time.

Pany graduated this spring Phi Beta Kappa in anthropology—that most observant academic discipline that studies how people talk, interact, and behave. Small wonder that “panopticon” trips right off her tongue. (Pany is quick to point out that she disassociates her interests from the “prison” aspect of the word.) She used her keen powers of observation last summer on a Mary Wig Johnson student research grant to Cyprus, where her father’s side of the family still lives.

Pany (full name Panayiota Agrotou Jraige) was born on the southern side of Cyprus in 1983, which was also the year that the northern side declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Pany grew up speaking Greek and learning only a partial story of Cyprus. She and her mother left Cyprus when Pany was eight, settling in Cupertino, California; Pany remains a Cypriot and is in the U.S. as a “resident alien.”

“It wasn’t until I was older,” she says, “that I began to read about the ethnic conflict that shaped the place I called home for so many years.” As a sociocultural anthropology major, Pany wanted to go back to Cyprus to take a more critical look at the people and the political culture that affects the people’s everyday lives.

When she applied for the Johnson research grant, Pany hoped that a United Nations’ plan to reunify the island would be approved in April 2004 so that she could see the process of unification in action during the summer months.”Much to my surprise,” she relates,”the plan was rejected by the popular vote in the Greek south, though it was accepted in the north.”

Pany says that during her time in Cyprus she saw that even though steps have been taken to increase interaction and communication, there is still much work needed to resolve the conflict.”One of the major problems is the incompatibility in the historical narratives that the two sides tell,” she notes.”The website of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus states:’The Cypriot population is the remnant of many races who occupied and ruled Cyprus. At no time has the island been a constituent part of Hellenic Greece.’

“In stark contrast to this interpretation of history is a story told to me by a Greek Cypriot schoolteacher named Andreas. He believed that most of the Turkish Cypriots on Cyprus are actually Moslemized Greeks. He asked me,’How else is it possible that so many villages that were primarily inhabited by Turkish people had names of Christian saints and churches?’

“What is at stake in both of these narratives is the Greekness of Cyprus,” Pany concludes.

Pany believes that despite the problems, positive changes are occurring as more and more Turkish and Greek Cypriots build friendships and engage each other in conversation. She saw this for herself this past summer when she was invited to tag along with a group of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot students on a picnic in the mountains.

“We ate together, played Backgammon, and talked about life and Cyprus. It was just a boring laid-back day in the mountains, but it was the most refreshing and heartening experience of my whole trip. Seeing people who had been brought up to fear each other, talking and singing together, gave me hope.”