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A great initiative by Ergon!
Greek Transnational Diaspora Studies: The “Next Generation”

This project seeks to redress the historical imbalances perpetuated by traditional archival institutions by creating a community-based archive devoted to the Cypriot Canadian diaspora. Audiovisual in nature, this archive foregrounds personally recorded interviews with members of the community while also working with donated media materials from across a variety of platforms, such as home movies, videotapes, and photographs. These interviews and artifacts emphasize the importance of film as a mediator of memory and history. In turn, these items help to reconceptualize our understanding of Cypriots in this country and demonstrate audiovisual media’s power as a form of historiography.
Principal Investigator
Theo Xenophontos is a PhD candidate in the Cinema & Media Studies program at York University. His current research is focused on creating a community-based audiovisual archive with members of the Cypriot Canadian diaspora. He has worked with such organizations as Archive/Counter-Archive and Vtape, and his writing can be found in Found Footage Magazine. Xenophontos holds a BA from the University of Toronto (double major in Cinema Studies and English, with a minor in History) and a MA in Cinema & Media Studies from York University.

My dissertation project, Film as Mediator: Cultivating a Cypriot Canadian Community Audiovisual Media Archive is creating a community-based archive that is devoted to the Cypriot Canadian diaspora. At the centre of this archive is video testimonials with members of the community that connect the intertwined threads of personal history, familial history, community history, socio-cultural history, political history, film history, and film as history. This is particularly heighted in a small, but politically fractured community such as that of the Cypriot Canadian diaspora, especially as we near the fiftieth anniversary of the junta engineered coup and Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Concurrently, this archive is built upon the foundation of donated media materials from across a variety of platforms, such as home movies, videotapes, and photographs. Conducting these interviews and obtaining these items are essential because they serve as the means for the community to create and understand history on their own terms. Thus, these interviews and artifacts emphasize how film functions as mediator of memory and history that helps interviewees try to make sense of Cyprus’ tangled past, their place in it, and their place within the Canadian multicultural mosaic.
My work synthesizes ideas from numerous academic fields, including cinema and media studies, diaspora studies, archive theory, political science, history, and autoethnography. This rich tapestry of theoretical insight allows me to ask multiple entwined research questions that include, how does audiovisual media influence how individuals understand and engage with the past, both in a personal sense and a broader socio-historical sense? How does audiovisual media serve as a means for the average person to preserve their familial and communal histories? Are there any substantive differences in how Greek and Turkish Cypriot Canadians remember the past and how they construct history through audiovisual media? Can a community-based archive function as a mode of reconciliation amongst Greek and Turkish Cypriot Canadians? And most importantly, how does a community-based archive enhance our understanding of the Cypriot Canadian diaspora that is absent from traditional histories of Canada?
At this stage of my research, it is my belief that while there are significant differences in how Greek and Turkish Cypriot Canadians remember the past, there are not any considerable differences in how they construct history through audiovisual media and how they use audiovisual media to preserve familial and communal histories. Furthermore, while both scholars and the general public tend to only understand Cyprus through the ethnic divide, my interviews demonstrate that history is always more complicated given that there are internal divisions amongst both groups in terms of political affiliation, class, sexual orientation, religion, and level of devotion to that religion. These findings disprove simplified nationalistic narratives and show how a community-based archive can function as a mode of reconciliation for open-minded Greek and Turkish Cypriot Canadians alike.
The intellectual motivation for my research stems from a lifelong desire to advocate for my culture given that outside of a family setting, I am often the only Cypriot amongst my peer group, whether it is in elementary school, high school, or university. Accordingly, I have always taken great pride in teaching others about Cypriot history and culture. Moreover, as I have branched out into Greek studies in recent years, I find that Cyprus and the Cypriot diaspora are still relatively underrepresented, so I want to rectify that with my work as much as possible. Lastly, despite being a Canadian of Greek Cypriot descent and having several family members directly impacted by the Turkish invasion, I am also motivated by the desire to get Turkish Cypriot Canadian perspectives heard. While the practical reality of my direct ties with family and Greek Canadian heritage groups have led to Greek Cypriot Canadians still being prioritized in this research (sixteen Greek Cypriot Canadians were interviewed in comparison to three Turkish Cypriot Canadians), I believe that this is a necessary start for intercommunal dialogue, especially since the perspectives of Turkish Cypriot Canadians are often neglected.
As a student at York University, I am lucky enough to be working with the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Greek Canadian Archives (HHF GCA), so my research is able to reach both academic and general audiences. Full interviews (which range from as little as half an hour to as long as three and a half hours) are in the process of being uploaded to the HHF GCA’s Digital Portal for scholarly use. These full interviews include pertinent metadata and are broken up into distinct segments so scholars can easily find material that is most relevant to their particular interests. Meanwhile, edited versions of selected interviews (ranging from five to ten minutes) will be posted to the HHF GCA’s YouTube page, which has the benefit of being accessible around the world. These edited interviews combine video testimonials and personal photographs with appropriated footage from newsreels, documentaries, and docudramas about Cyprus to not only make the videos more compelling for spectators, but also to demonstrate how my interviewees themselves are historical actors despite being “ordinary” citizens.
Finally, I am working with the Hellenic Heritage Foundation’s History Committee on a podcast mini-series to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the tragic events of 1974, which will be released this summer.
My partnership with the Hellenic Heritage Foundation ensures that I am able to avoid most of the pitfalls that hamper many early career scholars as my work will have multiple public outreach venues beyond academia. Therefore, my overall goal is to use film as a way to connect myself and others to their Cypriot heritage by reaching general audiences and not just academics. It is also my hope that this work will inspire future Cypriot scholars to join the HHF GCA’s research team.

January 12, 2024

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