The President's Body: Conspiracy-Mindedness in Cyprus and Beyond

The President

Tassos Papadopoulos, President of Cyprus, briefing correspondents at UN Headquarters in 2005. (Photo: United Nations, Photo no. 93329 ; cropped. Fair Use.)

CPSC lecture by Elizabeth Davis (Princeton University, Anthropology). Organized by the Department of Anthropology, cosponsored by CERS and CNES.

Thursday, January 16, 2020
12:15 PM - 1:45 PM
352 Haines Hall

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This paper begins from the theft of the body of Tassos Papadopoulos, former president of the Republic of Cyprus, from his grave in December 2009. Stories of this event radiate in many directions from the figure of Papadopoulos, a paramilitary tactician and ethnonationalist politician regarded by many progressive Cypriots as paranoid; his presidency began with a vigorous campaign to defeat the Annan Plan for reunifying the island, which has been divided into Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot regions since the war in 1974. The theft of Papadopoulos’s body one year after his death attracted intense public speculation, including accusations against Turkish Cypriots, Turkish nationals, and the Papadopoulos family itself, later determined to be false when members of a Greek-Cypriot organized crime family were convicted of the crime. This paper works through some of the speculation, tracing theories and counter-theories about the theft of the President’s body published in the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot press in the months afterward to other so-called conspiracy theories about the division of Cyprus that have circulated in oral and published forms for the last forty years. In thus crossing time, borders, languages, fields of discourse, and forms of expertise, this paper examines pathways and tactics of “conspiracy theory” in Cyprus in relation to Cypriots’ knowing and critical consciousness of it. This meta-epistemological perspective entails a reconsideration of what anthropologists mean by “local context” when we contextualize conspiracy theory.

Elizabeth Davis is Associate Professor of Anthropology, where she teaches in social theory, medical and psychological anthropology, sensory and visual anthropology, and ethnographic writing. Her research focuses on the eastern Mediterranean region: Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. Her first book, Bad Souls: Madness and Responsibility in Modern Greece (Duke University Press, 2012), is an ethnographic study of responsibility among psychiatric patients and their caregivers in the “multicultural” borderland between Greece and Turkey. She is presently completing two books (forthcoming from Duke University Press) based on her long-term ethnographic and archival research in Cyprus: Artifactual: Forensic and Documentary Sense in Cyprus, addressing public secrecy and knowledge projects about the violence of the 1960s-70s that led to the enduring division of the island, including forensic investigations and visual archives; and The Time of the Cannibals: On Conspiracy and Context, addressing “conspiracy theory” and presidential power in Cyprus, the United States, and other locales. Beyond these projects, she has written on economic crisis and suicide in Greece, and is currently studying Orthodox and heterodox death rituals and burial practices in monastic and worldly contexts of austerity. She is also working on a documentary film addressing the public life of sacred bones in Cyprus.


Culture, Power, and Social Change (CPSC) is concerned with a broad range of issues in sociocultural anthropology and is housed at the UCLA Department of Anthropology. As the name of the group suggests, we are particularly interested in how the workings of culture, and of different forms of power and inequality, play out in the contemporary world. And behind these two issues are questions of social change, that is, of the ways in which the rapidly changing world of today impacts people’s lives, and in turn, how people in different circumstances seek to bring about change in the world. CPSC I hosts talks by both in-house faculty members and visiting post-doctoral and faculty level scholars; CPSC II hosts talks by advanced graduate students. All CPSC events are open only to UCLA faculty, students, and invited guests.


Cost : Free and open to the public. RSVP not required for admission.

Sponsor(s): Center for European and Russian Studies, Center for Near Eastern Studies, Anthropology