HE.S.T.A.F.T.A. - Scientific Society of Mental Health Professionals


  • Michael PetroClinical psychologist, Social anthropologist of the University of Lumière – Lyon 2. Psychoanalyst, member of the Hellenic Psychoanalytical Society and of the International Psychoanalytical Association. Group analyst, member of the French Group Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy Society (SFPPG)
  • Group Psychoanalysis
  • unresolved mourning
  • Political Anthropology
  • common secret
  • loss
  • mourning-holder
  • mourning
  • negation pact
  • Missing-person
  • unconscious alliance
  • absence
  • intersubjective link
  • collective trauma

Periklis Antoniou Photo

Translation: Aimilia Markouizou-Gkika, Psychologist, M.A., Family Psychotherapist, Drug Addiction Counsellor,                       Vicky Panoutsakopoulou, Psychologist, Psychotherapist


Since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, several hundred persons are still considered missing. Despite the exhumations of bones recently identified with a considerable number of those missing-persons, their mourning processes are still incomplete.The article highlights how the hobbled mourning of Greek Cypriot missing-persons is linked to a series of unresolved mourning processes, more general in nature, mainly concerning the collective trauma of the invasion and its aftermath: The families of missing-persons are entrusted with the task of mourning-holderin favor of the community. Unconscious alliances and negation pacts are formed around these mourning-holders, that are the relatives of the missing-persons.

**Key-Words: ** Missing-person, absence, loss, collective trauma, mourning, unresolved mourning, common secret, mourning-holder, negation pact, unconscious alliance, intersubjective link, Group Psychoanalysis, Political Anthropology.

… I teach him
Names like prayers, I sing to him of our dead.
Enough! We have to tell our children the truth.
M. Anagnostakis “My child…” [1]


Psychoanalysis, according to the definition put forward by Freud, is firstly “ a procedure for the investigation of mental processes which are almost inaccessible in any other way ” (1923, p.235).

The quest for understanding of the unknown and the integration of the unfamiliar in humans, that is the Unconscious, is always the object of Psychoanalysis regardless of where it manifests: within the individual subject, in the family, in the group, in society or in the culture.

For decades, psychoanalytic investigation has been trying to understand pathologies less known in Freud’s time, to bring to the foreground new fields and to elaborate upon emerging psychoanalytic problematics, concepts, tools and methods for their treatment. The study of such a new field as the social group is being built upon the theoretical foundations laid by Freud in many of his writings, in addition to the famous Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921).

Psychoanalytic group work has already counted several decades since Wilfred Bion (1961) designated the basic assumptions of group functioning in the 1940’s. René Kaës, a psychoanalyst who has been working clinically and theoretically for the past fifty years with groups, in his book  Linking, Alliances and Shared Spaces  (2007), concludes:

Work at the boundaries between the subjective and the intersubjective space confronts us with hybrid forms of reality, with mixed formations, with “mixed bloods”…We begin to doubt in the stability of the fields of thought and of the contexts of practice. These doubts can bring about moments of loneliness, despair, and discouragement. But they are fertile moments, as the history of Psychoanalysis testifies, and at this point we have a reason to put our hope in its creativity, its revolutionary potential and its capacity to nurture.

It was within such a field, where the personal and social pain are intertwined under multiplicities of political over-determination, that I started working in 1989. The object of my research is concerned with the response to the issue of Cypriot missing-persons resulting from the Turkish army invasion of Cyprus in summer of 1974. We tried to illuminate various aspects of this interminable mourning, the causes and processes, both personal and collective, which led to the consolidation of the inability of relatives of missing-persons to process their loss (Γεωργιάδη& Πέτρου, 1991, 1996, 1998). I then showed the implications of the absence of a corpse and the denial of burial procedures, and of the social and political parameters on experiencing the missing-person not as a loss but as an absence instead (Πέτρου, 2014, 2017, Petrou 2017). Regarding the relationship of the relatives of the missing-persons with the wider body of the Cypriot community and the former’s performative function, I proposed the concept of “mourning-holder” (Πέτρου, 2016). For the Greek Cypriot community at large, the missing-person remains the symbol of a more general and constant quest which prevents the processing of collective traumas, the completion of the mourning work, the remembering, and the historicisation process (Petrou, 2016).


It is common knowledge that on July 20, 1974, on the occasion of a Junta-led coup against Archbishop Makarios, Turkey invaded Cyprus. What is perhaps not known to everyone is that the Greek Cypriots, despite participating in bloody revolts within the island (1821, 1930), in wars outside Cyprus (1912-3, 1940-4), in fights for independence against the British colonial rule (1955-59), in bloody inter-communal conflicts (1953, 1963-4, 1967) etc, they did not experience a war on their territory in recent History. The last war was in 1571, when the Ottomans occupied Cyprus.

The massive invasion of the mighty army of a neighbouring country, threatening to annihilate a divided people of just half a million, occupying 36.2% of its territory in an ambush, turning half of its population into refugees, slaying or injuring thousands of people, disintegrating its economic and social fabric, precisely along with the absence of a living memory of war, comprise the determinants of experiencing the invasion as a collective trauma.

During that summer it had already become known that many hundreds of Greek Cypriots and dozens of Greeks were missing. Over decades the number of missing-persons has become the symbol of an interminable, agonizing imperative: 1619. Who has not seen the pictures of those black-clad women showing the photographs of their missing parents, siblings, spouses and children? The relatives of the missing constitute a powerful social and political group. No official visitor to Cyprus, even today, would fail to meet with their representatives. But what exactly is that imperative?

Testimonies, reportages, films and photographs of war correspondents, including Turkish ones, depict war prisoners, civilians and soldiers, being captured by the Turkish army or detained in Adana prison. Most were released during prisoner exchanges that autumn. Others not. What happened to them? No new considerations have been brought to light. Formal agreements between the leaders of the two communities, successive resolutions of the Security Council and European institutions call for an investigation of their fate. No progress had been made by the end of the 1990s.

Every war inevitably leaves behind missing persons. [2] Is it the Greek Cypriots’ ignorance of this fact that led to their interminable mourning of their missing ones? Is the absence of living memory of war responsible for them not accepting their loss? We know that every people has established formal recognition processes for this type of loss, most prominently by erecting monuments to the unknown soldier. We Greeks are well acquainted with those processes from the words of Thucydides. The Athenians, following ancestral custom, buried their dead at public cost. The funeral procession had particular characteristics (The Peloponnesian War, Book 2.34):

Among these [coffins] is carried one empty bier decked for the missing, that is, for those whose bodies could not be recovered

However, as far as the issue of missing Greek Cypriots is concerned, things are clearly more complex, as I will attempt to bring to light. Missing persons are considered simultaneously and indiscriminately as all those dead whose bodies were not found or recognized, those who were hastily and anonymously buried in mass graves, and those who were executed immediately or shortly after by the Turkish army or armed Turkish Cypriot groups. Furthermore, for reasons that I will analyse later on, there has been, and to some extent there still is, a very specific political handling of the issue which makes the matter of Greek Cypriot missing-persons extremely thorny and intractable.

The main hypothesis that I have been formulating since 1991, is that on the basis of an unspoken agreement between the relatives of the missing on the one hand and the Cypriot society and state on the other, the relatives have been entrusted with the responsibility of ‘bearing the cross’ for a whole community of unresolved traumas.

We know that trauma can be passed on and become intergenerational. We also know that a natural disaster, a war or a genocide also constitute inheritable collective traumas. What I propose to think about is how the trauma of an individual subject is connected to the trauma of other subjects, to think about what exactly we mean when we talk about collective trauma or the trauma of a collective subject. Trauma is connected to or refers to the traumas of other subjects in the present time, not just on the diachronic axis but also on the synchronic. I propose the hypothesis that if traumas link the subjects to each other, it is because traumas are offered to be the psychic matter for the creation of intersubjective links.

In the present article, in addition to some necessary reminders from past studies, I will focus on the understanding of exactly this unspoken agreement which calls for a complementary approach between clinical Psychology and Psychoanalysis on the one hand and Political Anthropology on the other. Interpreting Clifford Geertz’ thinking (1983), the Right, from an anthropological point of view, is not just an academic field and a socially allocated good but it also is one of the symbolic systems through which a society perceives and interprets reality.


In modern times, disappearances, executions of soldiers and civilians, and massive exterminations are treated by the international community as collective traumas: The Jewish holocaust, massive disappearances of dissidents in Latin American countries, victims of inter-ethnic cleansing, such as in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, are the subject of psychological, historical, anthropological and legal research. For psychologist Muriel Katz (2008) the deliberate denial of burial procedures constitutes a "radical evil", a term borrowed from Hanna Arendt’s expression when the latter speaks of the banality of evil. For historian Dominick La Capra (1999, p.723) ‘victim’ is not just a psychological category; instead, the victim of historical events is, in variable ways, “a social, political, and ethical category”.

Indeed, often protected by the frame of reference and action in the clinical context, we overlook the fact that the psychiatrisation of trauma restrains (I would say traumatises) understanding, since psychological inquiry alone can only render partial answers to matters of meaning, since meaning besides being personal is also deeply social.

Was this not exactly what the ancient Greek poetry demonstrated in the most intellectually refined and aesthetically vivid way? The destructive wrath of Achilles, Hecuba’s and The Trojan Women’s lamentations, the despairing lament of the Persians in the homonymous tragedy.  _Seven Against Thebes, Phoenissae _ and The Suppliants  recount civil wars and ask for the burial of their dead, and above all legendary Antigone whose tragic aporiae dominated western thinking from Hegel himself, to Anouil and Dorfmann.

Starting from the Iliad, where honouring the dead through burial customs is both the right and obligation of the deceased’s relatives, honouring the dead emerges in Antigone as ‘morality of shared blood kinship’ in dispute with the law, or rather with the ‘raison d’Έtat’, the national interest ( Antigone , 453-5):

Nor did I think that your decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes given us by the gods

The primordial forces of kinship ties rise above subjugation to state power, especially when the latter is not prudent, as the chorus points out throughout the drama.

When being led to her stone tomb under escort, the princess of Thebes remembers Niobe (823-833): The daughter of Tantalus, Niobe, boasted that she was a mother to more children than the gods. They did not forgive her hubris and killed her twelve children with arrows, whilst turning the people who tried to bury them into stones. Only after nine days did the immortals’ wrath soften by the mother’s begging and weeping and they buried the children themselves in two common graves (Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 9 17.2).

If Antigone thinks of Niobe, who was turned into a weeping rock by the gods, it is because she was condemned to a tragic death: to be entombed alive in a rocky cave, thus evoking parallels with the missing persons we have incorporated as “ neither with the living nor with the dead ” (850).

Therefore, long before Creon, it is the very gods who commit crimes by showing disrespect to the dead and to the morals of the human community way before deciding to make amends. I will argue that all of us in Cyprus, state and people alike, as heirs of a melancholic Antigone and an unreasonable Creon, show disrespect to our dead and their tragic relatives, even if unwittingly.

The wives of missing Cypriots are not officially considered widows. The few who managed to remarry first requested and then received a divorce. On the name day of their missing ones, the relatives receive wishes. The night before, in a small chapel out of sight, some of them perform a memorial.

" Cold reason , I was told in 1990 by the then secretary of the Committee of Relatives of Missing Persons,  says they do not live anymore. The prisoner of war is a bargaining chip only for a short while. Then they become a burden. Would Turkey ever admit to the fact that it held undeclared prisoners of war? But we keep hoping. Who knows? Maybe some are still alive. Maybe that five-year-old Christakis, you know ... " .

To my question, whether it would have been more of a relief to accept his death, a missing person's spouse answers:  "Perhaps. But as long as I do not know, it's like keeping him alive. And I do not want to lose this ... As much as this is like the road to Calvary and a torment day and night. "

If death is not martyrdom, it is because loss becomes psychologically acceptable over time, emotional separation from the deceased is achieved, pain abates and a remembrance of the loved person is peacefully settled in the relatives’ psyche. This is precisely what Freud (1917) described as the work of mourning, which becomes impossible for the relatives of missing persons for three reasons:

a) Due to loss without remains of the loved person, in the context of the imminent threat and massive destruction that war entails.

b) Due to the continuing absence of societal actions and words, which would accept the finiteness of loss after a reasonable waiting time and would support the individual mourning process.

c) Due to persistent encouragement by Cypriot society, especially its political and spiritual leadership, of faith in the return of the missing, of hope that disregards the passage of time.

As we have already shown (Γεωργιάδη & Πέτρου, 1991), the missing person is preserved in the paradoxical state of being neither alive (since we have no news of him) nor dead (since we have no corpse); the same psychic state is experienced by their relatives. International literature on unresolved, incomplete, flawed, pathological, traumatic mourning is enormous. We focused on showing that mourning is not a completely personal affair. An external frame of reference is necessary to support and bestow meaning. A social institution - the Church, Civic Society - which will embrace personal pain, endorse the necessity of mourning, and through collective action and dialogue will say something socially significant, acceptable and necessary regarding life, death and the succession of generations.

That being said, what is involved here is ‘mourning not to be forgotten’ (άλαστον πένθος) and ‘numbed grief’ (νηπενθής θρήνος). The Homeric phrases express precisely the blocking of the completion of mourning. The typical initial reactions of the subject vis-a-vis the deceased, that is denial of death and the temporary splitting of the Ego (Lipson, 1963), is strengthened socially in our case, justified and legitimized, resulting in the consolidation of unresolved mourning.

The Greek Cypriots have been experiencing a collective trauma since 1974, and have since been divided over the resolution of the Cyprus problem. Perhaps this is because the division is within us as well. In facing trauma, we usually adopt a dual position: one based on reality, the other on the wish that disavows it. Without seeking a dialogue between them, they both coexist as the past sharply sheds its shadow in the future.

With regard to missing-persons, a similar disavowal and splitting is adopted: neither dead nor alive. We have no new evidence since the point in time when films and photographs showed citizens and soldiers being detained by the Turkish army, and although a considerable number of missing-persons have recently had their exhumed bones identified, the mourning process still remains incomplete. For any split is  « a rift in the ego which never heals but which increases as time goes on» (Freud, 1938, p.276).

“They say time heals everything, says a relative of a missing person. But in our case time can’t do anything...” The mechanisms of disavowal and splitting of the Ego vis-a-vis the trauma, omnipotent as they are, maintain lamentation, preserve the loss out of time, and widen the internal rift.

The catastrophic psychic drama, as described by R. Kaës (1989a) has a disorganising and disruptive effect as the weight and representation of the trauma cannot be constituted, not only within the individual’s psyche but also in another person’s psyche, because of the destruction of both the intra-subjective and the external-social frameworks where thought is contained. Their rupture, under conditions of social catastrophe, results in the mobilization of schizoid-paranoid and depressive anxieties, from which social systems owed to have protected the subject, according to E. Jaques (1955).

I will borrow the words of A. Potamianou (2008), because in numbed grief (νηπενθής θρῆνος), in lamentation without mourning, we are talking precisely about repetition compulsion, for “ _organisations fixated on the expectation of the impossible… committed to the undoing of loss… and _ [undoing]  _of human destiny which is marked by endings and separations _ (... As in)  Philoctetes' weep, where lamentation becomes the backbone of identity (...) and the Ego (...) maintains the expectation that the object will respond someday”.

The avoidance of mourning, through the choice of “neither alive nor dead”, leads to the experience of the missing person not as a loss, but as an absence. Loss is final, but absence is a potential presence, a promise of return.

As I have already depicted (Πέτρου, 2017; Petrou, 2017), for the Greek Cypriots, the missing person stands as if he is alive and will return. They create symbols of this absence, which refer to the trauma of the rupture of the continuity of the Republic of Cyprus due to the occupation, and epitomise the hope of finding the missing persons, along with the recovery of the lost territories, with that of the reunification of Cyprus. The showing of photographs by the children and spouses of the missing, often of their wedding day, directly link the happy event of the past with the anticipated happy family reunion and consequently the homeland’s reunion. Personal symbols and symbolism acquire a public function.

By contrast, for the relatives of the missing Turkish Cypriots, their declaration as dead by the Turkish Cypriot leadership makes the loss final, in a parallel to the finality of the end of the cohabitation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The 1974 "peaceful intervention", as Turkey calls it, was intended to protect the Turkish Cypriots from Greek-Cypriot barbarism. Monuments are being erected for this purpose, and the photographs show the murdered. There are no missing-persons. They add up to the rest of the dead, as witnesses (Şehit).

Differences in public and private handling of missing-persons between Greek and Turkish Cypriots are evident. There is, however, one terrible similarity. By this I mean that the personal suffering of the loss was not prudently and honestly supported in a way that would respect the lives and dignity of the relatives, or their right to the truth, which would allow the easing of pain and would promote the processes of mourning. On the contrary, the authorities adopted the political manipulation of the issue in both communities, using it as a tool and as an argument for the promotion of their political agenda, with regard to the preferred solution of the Cyprus problem according to each side.

As anthropologist Katherine Verdery writes in  The Political Life of Dead Bodies  (1999, p. 108),  “because the human community includes both living and dead, any manipulation of the dead automatically affects relations with and among the living… Burials and reburials serve both to create and to reorder community”  It reaffirms that is, that the relations of origin and kinship, that the essence of being is based on belonging. Let us remember the aphorism of a Serbian leader that " Serbia is wherever there are Serbian graves ” (ibid: 98). To the extent that the ultimate ambition of the state is to incarnate transcendence per se, the power of the state - its institutions and its discourses - reaches its peak through the manipulation of death and the dead. But power is everywhere, where the dominant representations of reality impose silently but undeniably their power (Foucault, 1974).

The Cypriot state and the individual power centres, including the relatives of the missing persons, have chosen another route. They promoted a certain policy and built up unrealistic hopes. They adopted strategies of manipulation of the relatives and the people in general, in which the latter have wholeheartedly participated. And all of us together closed our eyes in front of man's most relentless enemy, which is time and therefore death.

In Cyprus, Creon and Antigone have no distinct roles. The economy and progress of the drama have been reversed, and catharsis was renounced from the outset. Both tacitly agree that the dead must remain unburied, not because they are traitors but because they are heroes. The primordial forces of kinship bonds do not oppose subordination to state authority. It is the very authority that negates itself. The Superego, this internalized heir, does not only perform the function of prohibition but also of protection. And the Cypriot state has proved unprepared to take on this role, as will be described below. Thus in Cyprus, Creon and Antigone became collaborating protagonists in the same endless drama.


It is these very phenomena and processes I am describing- partly conscious and partly unconscious- that, among others, led the Greek-Cypriots towards what Kaes (2009) calls  _unconscious alliances _ _and _ negative pacts .

The negative pact is the opposite of the narcissistic pact, introduced by P. Aulagnier-Castoriades (1975). Instead of experiencing a transgenerational continuity between the mother as the representative of civilization and the infant who needs to be protectedso as to ensure the continuation of civilization, a defensive armour both of the individual as well as of the collective subject is being chosen. It has to do with an unconscious pact based on shared repressions, splittings or rejections. It guarantees the acquisition of necessary investments for the safety of unconscious debts and the maintenance of shared, interrelated psychic spaces able to secure certain functions of intersubjectivity. What is special about the negative pact is the creation and solidification of the bond for defensive purposes.

Unconscious alliances include negative pacts. They are wider formulations which aim at, not only the creation and stability of the intersubjective bond, but also at the unconscious of each of the subjects taking part in this bond:certain objects, stakes, contents, and aims of the community bond mustremain unconscious for all the subjects involved. The unconscious alliance presupposes obligation and submission for the bonded parties. Its unconscious character does not pertain only to its content, but also to the alliance itself.

Unconscious alliances bring us inescapably face to face with the problematic issues of the archaic, of the origins, of the enigmatic implications. The collective bond is not only a space for the formulation of the unconscious, but also a space where the subject is exposed to the experience of unconscious alliances through which one can free oneself, reaching the realization that these unconscious alliances have been to a certain extent astructural element of one’s subjectivity.

Certain alliances are structural, while others act as a defence or alienate the subjects of the bond. The latter case is characteristic of the negative pacts and the unconscious alliances gravitating around the relatives of the missing Cypriots.

Under Solon’s law, public grief was forbidden in Athens. According to Nicole Loraux (1990), the burial customs would lead to uncontrollable mourning if left in the hands of the women.The space for mourning, for the social and political existence of women in classical Athens, was the theatre; the social institution where catharsis can finally be reached.

In Cyprus, on the contrary, the grieving women are those figures in black who embody the will of a nation not to forget. I called them mourning bearers, following the meaning R. Kaes (1989b, 2009) gives for bearers in a group: speech-bearers, symptom-bearers, dream-bearers, etc.

Let me explain. Already since the Introduction to  Narcissism , Freud sets the basis of this approach: Every human being lives a double life— “…one in which he is an end to himself and another in which he is a link in a chain which he serves, against his will or at least independently of his will”(1911, p. 78).

Respectively, both in the Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Freud supports the view that the community bond is organized based on two axes of identification: each member, giving in part of his Ideal Self and entrusting it within the leader- representative of an ideal-identifies with him; while at the same time each member identifies with other members of the community, via a trans-Ego identification.

The libidinal structure of the community bond brings to the surface the Ideal of the Ego as well as the identifications with psychic forms and double-faceted processes.

Like Janus, one facet comprises an indispensable part of the individual subject’s psychic structure, whereas the other is directed toward the external world, towards the psychic structures of other subjects. Such psychic formations take part in the structure and the creation of  both intra-subjective and intersubjective bonds and connections, since they act as aninterface among the members of the community, where, in their in-between,in what Winnicott calls a creative space, multifaceted structures of communication and mediation are formed.

Therefore, certain processes, morphemes and subjects which connect the members of a community, take on phoric functions.  At the level of the bearer, the agent, and the mediator, expressions of the unconscious are being met.  With this we refer to in-between or mediating functions that subjects take on regarding the space, the dynamic and the economy of the bond. The difference to the systemic approach, i.e. of the symptom-bearer, is fundamental.The beareris not only an element of the system, but an individual subject subjected to his own unconscious and at the same time a subject of the community, subjected to and participating in the community’s conscious and unconscious psychic reality.  According to Kaes, it concerns the articulation of the part which refers to the individual per se, together with the function delegated to him by the community.  A subject to whom another subject delegates the role of ‘representative”, is going to talk in his place for a painful part of his history, while feeling that the words he uses relate to him personally. The discourse-bearer talks to another subject, representing another, about another, for the other subject inside him.  In our case, the mourning-bearer expresses his personal grief for the missing relative and at the same time, as an agent of the community and of the society, takes on the task of expressing their wider grief.

Even recently, the wife of a missing person says: Everybody believes tha _t they are alive and that _ _they’ll return some day, _ _irrespective of war, _ _age or anything else. _ Each one of us expects his own missing relative to return alive .

The faith, the illusion is unshakable to the extent that it is collective.  A trauma is collective not because of the number of the victims, but because of the intra-subjective bonds connecting the subjects. A subject can become collective (the families of the missing people, the Cypriot community,) if it is libidinally invested as an object of re-enactments and emotions. In traumatic cases, the quality of the intersubjective bonds, the re-enactments and the emotions is aggravated by psychic loads that refer to the investment inthe absence.

Absence is considered synonymous to a bad object according to both Klein and Bion. According to Winnicott, the absence of the mother, beyond a certain time limit, analogous to the level of the maturity of the Ego, constitutes a cause of trauma for the child. The absence, what we have named both in Psychoanalysis and in Anthropology during the last decades as the negative, or more accurately, the work on the negative-quoting Hegel-most times is not worked through (Winnicott,1971, p.15).

If the mother is absent for a period beyond a certain limit...the memory trace of the mental representation fades away. While this happens, the transitional objects gradually lose their meaning and the infant is not able to experience them as such. At this point, we can observe the de-investment in the transitional object.

A. Green connects this fading of mental representation with the internal representation of the negative,  “a representation of  the absence of representation (2011, p.95). The failure to work through the negative leads to the attack against external and internal bonds. Totally opposite to the drive of life, which enables the representation and thought processes, the catastrophic drive leads to the deconstruction of the representational apparatus and to feelings of vanity, emptiness or void.

These feelings are the evidence of the negative: Indeed, one of Winnicott’s  patient s _, _ _feeling nostalgic about her previous analyst, _ al _though she was constantly _ _complaining _ about him _, _ tells Winncott : His negative is more real than your positive…. I suppose I want something that never appears”. So, Winnicott concludes: “The thing, the real, is that which is not here” (op. cit. pp. 23 - 2 4).

This observation helped me to give an extra meaning to the answer a relative of a missing person gave me about to what extent it would be more relieving to accept his death:  “Perhaps. But a s long as I don’t know for sure _, _ _it is as if I keep him alive. _ _And this is something I do not want _ _to lose…even if this _ _is a Calvary, a day and night torture”. _ It is interesting that Cecilia Taiana (2014) reports the same answer by a relative of a missing Argentinean. I had only thought about the keeping of the hope, within the context of the disavowal concerning reality testing, as well as of a sense of identity based on psychic pain, which acts as a narcissistic spade, rekindling an all-powerful masochism and rejecting any change.

In line with Winnicott, in his study on the negative Andre Green (1990,1993) depicted the importance of investment in the absence, which is experienced as the only reality which can,  a minim a poena , hold the psychic apparatus together, hindering any further disintegration. The loss is disavowed and in its place absence is invested.

Absence is from now on the reality. The content of absence is separated from its equivalent meaning. It is totally supported, it becomes the totem of a nonexistent reality,while trying to persuade us that it represents this nonexistent reality.  Nevertheless, it is a totem, like Helen in Troy, quoting Euripides: “I did not go to Troy; that was a phantom” (582).  But the totem,  le simulacre , as depicted by Jean Baudrillard (1981), has enormous social and political power.

As I have already shown (Petrou, 2017; Πέτρου, 2017), behind the totem of the missing person lies the collusion of the relative’s natural need to avoid mourning with a short-sighted and coward raison d’ Etat _. _ Even more so when the state knows—and it does know—how to manage the secret. According to Elias Canetti (1973) the secret is the utmost core of power, while to Michael Taussig the public, common secret is the labour of negativity: The most important social knowledge is to know what you are not supposed to know (.. )  Knowing and n o _t being able to talk about something _ _in public is yet _ ano _ther _ witness of the power of a secret _” _ (1999, _pp. _ _2 _ _& _ 6).


Nevertheless, lies “have short legs”.The night of the 17th of August 1998, two women, Antroulla Palma and Maroulla Siamisii, holding mattocks in hand, during strong lamentation,which in Cyprus we call  _anakalita _ (re-callingthe dead), try to open one of the community graves of the military cemetery in Lakatamia, on the outskirts of Nicosia, searching for the bones of their husbands.

I don’t know if there was only the sound of one mattock of a desperate Antigone who moved Creon out of his delusion, because a little earlier, publications were referring to community graves in territories always controlled by the Cypriot Democracy. Some of them had even being dug hastily and the remains had been given to the wrong families in Greece. This is when the famous secret list of the missing Cypriots is published and is disconnected on a diplomatic level from the strategies for there solution of the Cypriot issue. In 1996 the Turkish-Cypriot leader Raouf Denktash admits publicly that the Greek Cypriots who had been arrested had been executed by Turkish-Cypriot warriors. In ‘97 an agreement of President Clerides with Denktash finally reactivates a mixed and scientifically valid Investigation Committee which initiates exhumations and identifications of the remains. The Turkish Cypriot authorities step back shortly afterwards, hindering the exhumations and asking the Turkish Cypriot relatives of the missing people not to give blood samples. Some members of the Greek Cypriot Committee act similarly. The President of the Greek Cypriot Committee even threatens to throw the wives of the missing people in the street, if names on the list of the 1619 missing people are removed. It seems that the political ploys of manipulation show limited imagination.

As a matter of fact, in 406BC six Athenian generals, despite their victory upon the Spartan fleet in Arginouses, are sentenced to death because, due to an extraordinary rough sea, they left the dead warriors unburied. On top of that, to bring forward their conviction, the following ploy is worked out. I am quoting Xenophon (Ellinika, Book A, Ch.VII,8):

_arranged at this festival _ ( he refers to the Apaturia, the Athenian family festival)  _with _ _many _ people, who were clad in mourning garments and had their hair close shaven, to attend the meeting of the Assembly, pretending that they were kinsmen of those who had perished, and they brib ed Callixeinus to accuse the generals in the Senate.

Two sequences of events, at the beginning of the new millennium, took the issue out of the deadlock. The first refers to the activation of the Investigation Committee for the missing people, which proceeded, based on recent evidence, to more than 950  exhumations of anonymous graves, and with the support of the Genetics Laboratory of the International Committee for Missing People (ICMP), which has its headquarters in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has proceeded to identifications, since 2007 up to this day, of about 700 remains of Greek Cypriots and Turk Cypriots, which were handed over to their families to bury.

The second sequence of events refers to the appeals of the Cypriot Democracy, as well as of some relatives of the missing people, to the European Court of Human Rights. In one of its resolutions (Case of Varnava and Others vs. Turkey,10/1/2008), the Court considers Turkey guilty of violating the rights of missing Greek Cypriots, andtheir relatives:

Specifically, regarding Article 2 for omission to proceed to effective investigation of the detainment conditions and survival of the missing people; regarding Article 3 for inhumane and humiliating behaviour towards their relatives, depriving them of any information; regarding Article 5 for omission to proceed to effective investigation, rejecting Turkey’s view that the people who disappeared should be considered dead.

The situation would have been simple, and the Greek Cypriots would be justified, if the Cypriot Courts had not found the Cypriot Democracy similarly guilty regarding cases of missing people (Passia, Palma, etc.), who were found buried in communal graves on territories controlled by the Cypriot Democracy.

The judges rejected the argument of excusable mistake during burial, which the State supported, because Its obligations to follow the necessary procedures could have been maintained, even within the given climate of panic of those days. I am quoting excerpts of the rationale of the verdict on the Palma case (28/11/2017):In general, the Cypriot Democracy has acted against Its duties, deriving from the Constitution and the International Treaties, posing a tormenting burden on the plaintiff. Even now, the Democracy has yet to issue an apology for Its lack of action. Palmas has never been missing. The fact that Turkey might be responsible for his death does not release the Cypriot Democracy of the responsibility to investigate and inform the relatives once his body had been collected by the Cypriot Democracy. The plaintiff wife was treated negatively and cruelly by all, officials and others. (She was dragged with her children) to various events about the issue of the missing people. The fact that she had never been officially told that her husband was or might have been dead (…) proves the off-handedness (of the state…) to say the least; even worse, the attempt to conceal evidence”.

The Palma widow declared: “My life would have been different had I known sinc _e then that my husband was _ dead _. _ _It is one thing to be the wife of a husband who died fighting and another of a husband who is missing. I was 27 years old then. _ I could have married another man who would have supported my children. _I would have _ hono ured the memory of my husband, but my life would have changed. The way things turned out, my life has been a constant tragedy. This tragedy has been inevitably transmitted also to my children...”

The Cypriot Democracy has been convicted of actions and omissions, of active concealment and deception which contributed to the tragedy of the relatives of the missing people.

In recent years, the funerals of the ex-missing people, referring to the Greek Cypriots whose remains were identified, are held with the appropriate formality and the deceased are honoured as heroes. This is proper. But, is it enough, so that mourning can be worked through? Oris it that all this makes the already sacred missing person even more sacred, rendering mourning impossible, exactly as in the case of a saint or a martyr? The manipulation of the dead bodies, writes San Cassia (op. cit. 223), as a final sanction of power and as an eternal means for the control of access in general shows that the old fight between the power of the state and the experience of the relatives still exists. And, as Taussig adds:  _“The drama of exposure does not destroy the secret, but provides the material for new myths and innovative rituals” _ (op. cit. 716). The longed-for expected attribution of a meaning is blocked, since the communal experience cannot be written in medical, psychological, or legal terms. The process of recognition of the stranger in Homer and in tragedies is a public reaffirmation of interpersonal bonds, a connection which brings meaning, personally as well as socially, with the past, the present and the future.

I cite the answers of three widows, more than 60 years old today, when asked how they feel now that their husbands have been identified and buried:

“We know that now we h _ave our grave. We _ _go _ _every day to light his oil-lamp, to put some incense, _ to put a picture. We know that our person is here now. We talk to him every day, a lot.”

_I feel great relief, because every day I can go somewhere where I can find my husband. It _ _is as if we have an appointment at the same _ place. He looks at me in my eye _, _ _and it is as if I am now eighteen years old, _ _and my husband _ twenty-three _, _ _as _ _we were when we got engaged. This is how I feel now. I look at him in his eyes and he _ _looks _ at me and we talk, we talk….” .

A third widow was given what was found of her husband’s remains: two legs and a hand. Nohead and no body were found. After 34 years, she buried him:  _“Is it over because they gave us the remains? Two legs and a hand? Is this _ _my husband? _ ( One of her daughters refused to come to the funeral): _To me the hand of my father is on my hand (exactly how it was that day that they were shooting _ _at _ _us) _ _and he is holding it. My daughter, who is a student, has a daughter herself, but she _ still feels the hand of her father holding hers”.

Therefore, for the relatives of the missing people, for the refugees, for a lot of Greek Cypriots, it seems as if time stopped that summer—witness the persistent sense of the father’s hand on the hand of his daughter. It is amazing what Aristotle was able to think about this (in “Memory and Reminiscence”):

That the affection is corporeal, i.e. that recollection is a searching  for an 'image' in a corporeal substrate, is proved by the fact that in some persons, when, despite the most strenuous application of thought, they have been unable to recollect, it (viz . the anamnesis = the effort at recollection) excites a feeling of discomfort, which, even though they abandon the effort at recollection, persists in them none the less; and especially in persons of melancholic temperament. For these are most powerfully m oved by presentations.


Keeping open the question upon the causes of the disappearance of the missing people and the responsibility for the concealment, their families quite rightly refuse to cross them out or send them outside the realm of their thinking. Nevertheless, as we have already seen, conscious strategies and unconscious alliances maintain the common secret, the unconscious complicity and hinder the process of mourning.We let time widen the gap, as if the working through of mourning would signify oblivion.On the contrary, it signifies reminiscence. And reminiscence has nothing to do with disavowal.It exists via psychic processes, the painful working through of the negative, the bridging of dichotomies, which can lead to repression, memory and History, as I have shown in previous articles.

If, according to Maria Torok (Abraham, Torok, 1987), the overcoming of mourning resembles a sacrilege, then isn’t it a sacrilege to question that which is considered sacred in a community haunted by the dead it does not want to recognize, that is by what its history has led it to lose?

Reminiscence, according to Jacques Derrida (1992, p.331) is in mourning. And the historian, writes Pierre Nora (1977, p.731), is obliged  _to combat the inertia of the _ _reminiscence, the illusions a society _ _needs to maintain”. _ Disavowal tries to take the place of repression within the context of an unconscious pact. Taking part in a coalition which alienates, the state and the Greek Cypriot society support the relatives of the missing people in a never-ending mourning, which pertains to a wider one. By courageously repeating the motto  _I do not _ forget” , do we hear ourselves whispering that we do not want to forget the miseries of the past, thus running the risk of repeating them?   _Families of the missing _ people _, _ _do not forget, it is vital for the others. _ Cypriots, do not forget, it is vital for all of us…”

Within the mourning for any object lies the mourning of those parts of the self we have entrusted in it and which have been lost with it.This view is supported by Leon Grinberg (1963): since in every relationship with an object there also exists a relationship with those aspects of the self placed in it through projective identification, any loss of the object is accompanied by the threat of the loss of those parts of the self. In such a case, the self becomes weaker, poorer, while at the same time a part of the same self feels guilty for this impoverishment. And this guilt is persecutory. It would have been depressive if, apart from the reparation of the lost and imaginatively destroyed object, the subject had proceeded to the recovery and reparation of those parts of the self it had entrustedin the object. Therefore, the mourning of Greek Cypriots has to do with all those parts of the self we lost: relatives, state, land, houses, property, dreams….

The flow of time is disrupted not only because of the violent events, the demolition of the social contexts, the unresolved traumas. It is disrupted also by illusions which insist onre-enacting the experience. The Ideal of the Ego is the exemplary psychic intra-contact between the subject and society as a whole. It is an index of the future, which is based on the past. It opens horizons and calls for further working through. But if the Ideal of the Ego is surpassed by the Ego-Ideal, this narcissistic formation, resulting from an infantile omnipotence which does not accept any restrictions, whatever lies in the past cannot be mourned; on the contrary it becomes sacred, and the ideals, as Kaes had already shown since 1980, will resemble both patches of traumas against thinking, as well as –according to Robert Hinshelwood (2009) - lethal utopias.


[1] Manolis Anagnostakis, Poems , translation by Philip Ramp, Shoestring Press, 1998

[2] There were missing-persons among the Turkish Cypriots as well, both during the invasion and the conflicts of the decade preceding it. The anthropologist Sant Cassia (2005) studied the differences regarding the political handling of the subject of missing-persons between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. My own research is limited to Greek Cypriots.


Αρχαίες πηγές: προσβάσιμες στη βιβλιοθήκη  Perseus Digital Library : <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/> [τελευτ. επισκ. Φεβρ. 2017]. Γεωργιάδη, Ε., Πέτρου Μ. (1991). Οι ψυχικές επιπτώσεις της τουρκικής εισβολής στην Κύπρο, 3ο Πανελλ. Συνέδρ. Ψυχολογικής Έρευνας, Αθήνα. Γεωργιάδη, Ε., Πέτρου, Μ. (1996). Το αδύνατο πένθος των συγγενών των Κύπριων αγνοουμένων. Ψυχικές και Κοινωνικές διαστάσεις,  Ψυχολογικά θέματα, 7 , 1: 66-73 Γεωργιάδη, Ε., Πέτρου, Μ. (1998.). Απώλεια και Ιστορία. Οι περιπέτειες ενός πένθους. ΙnΑναστασόπουλος Δ. (επιμ.),  Ψυχικό τραύμα και εφηβεία. Η περίπτωση της Κύπρου.  Λευκωσία: εκδ. ΚΕΜΨΨ Πέτρου, Μ. (2014). Το ατέρμονο πένθος των κύπριων αγνοουμένων. Προσωπικές, κοινωνικές και πολιτικές παράμετροι, 2ο Συνέδριο Ακαδημίας Δικανικής Ιατρικής και συναφών επιστημών « _Το τραύμα», _ Αθήνα Πέτρου, Μ. (2016). Φορείς-πένθους: Προσωπικές και πολιτικές διαδράσεις σχετικά με τους κύπριους αγνοούμενους. 2ο Διεθνές Συνέδριο Ψυχανάλυση και ομάδα «Ελπίδα και απελπισία», Αθήνα Πέτρου, Μ. (2017). Όταν η απώλεια βιώνεται ως απουσία. Ψυχαναλυτική και Ανθρωπολογική προσέγγιση του παραδείγματος των αγνοουμένων της Κύπρου.  Οιδίπους, 17 , σελ. Ποταμιάνου, Α. (2008). Θρήνοι νηπενθή <www.psychoanalysis.gr/el/documents/ThNhAnnaPotamianou.pdf> [τελευτ. επισκ. Φεβρ. 2017]. Abraham, N, Torok, M. (1987).  L’écorce et le noyau. Paris: Flammarion Baudrillard, J. (1981).  Simulacres et simulation . Paris: Galilée Bion, W. R. (1961).  Experiences in Groups . London: Tavistock Canetti, E. (1973 [1960]).  Crowds and Power . trans. Carol Stewart. London: Penguin. Castoriadis-Aulagnier, P. (1975). _La Violence de l'interprétation: du pictogramme à l'énoncé. _ Paris: PUF Derrida, J. (1992).  Points de suspension . Paris: Galilée Foucault, M. (1974).  Histoire de la sexualité. La volonté de savoir  (vol. 1). Paris: Gallimard. Freud, S.(1914). On Narcissism.  S.E.14 : 67-102 Freud, S. (1917). Mourning and Melancholia.  S.E. 14 : 237-258 Freud, S. (1921). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.  S. E. 18 : 65-144 Freud, S. (1921). Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.  S. E. 18 : 65-144 Freud, S. (1923). Two Encyclopaedia Articles.  S. E. 18 : 233-260 Freud, S. (1938). Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence.  S.E. 23 : 271-278 Geertz, C. (1983). Local knowledge: Further essays in interpretive anthropology (Vol. 5110). Basic books. Green, A. (1990).  La folie privée.  Paris: Gallimard Green, A. (1993).  Le travail du négatif.  Paris: Éditions de Minuit Grinberg, L. (1964). Two Kinds of Guilt—their Relations with Normal and Pathological Aspects of Mourning.  Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 45 :366-371 Hinshelwood, R. D. (2009). “Ideology and identity: A psychoanalytic investigation of a social phenomenon.” Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 14 (2). pp. 131-148 Jaques, E. (1955). “Social systems as a defence against persecutory and depressive anxiety”. In: Klein, M., Heinmann, P., Money-Kyrle, R. (1956).  New Directions in Psycho-Analysis . London: Tavistock. (p. 478-498) Kaës, R. (1980).  L'idéologie, études psychanalytiques.  Paris: Dunod Kaës, R. (1989a). Ruptures catastrophiques et travail de la mémoire,. Notes pour une recherché. In Pujet, J., Kaës, R. et al.  Violence d’Etat et Psychanalyse.  Paris: Dunod Kaës, R. (1989b). Le pacte dénégatif dans les ensembles transsubjectifs. In Missenard, A. Rosolato, G., Guillaumin, J. et al.  Le négatif. Figures et modalit é s , pp. 101-136. Kaës, R. (2007).  Linking, Alliances and Shared Spaces . London: Karnac Books. Kaës, R. (2009).  Les alliances inconscientes . Paris : Dunod Katz, M. (2008). La privation intentionnelle des rites funéraires : un mal radical.  Revue Francophone du Stress et du Trauma, 8 (2) : 114-122. LaCapra, D. (1999). Trauma, absence, loss.  Critical inquiry , 696-727. Lipson, C.T. (1963). Denial and mourning,  _Int. J. Psychoan. _ 44 : 104-7 Loraux, N. (1990).  Les mères en deuil.  Paris: Seuil. Nora, P. (1977). Mémoire de l’historien, mémoire de l’histoire. Entretiens avec J-B Pontalis.  Nouv. Revue de Psychan, 15: 221-232 Petrou, M. (2016). Une déchirure dans la mémoire qui s’agrandit avec le temps,  Revue française de Psychanalyse, 2016 /2 (Vol. 80), p. 474 – 487 Petrou, M. (2017). L’absence comme attracteur d’alliances. Colloque « La Symbolisation et ses environnements », CRPPC, Université Lumière-Lyon 2 Sant Cassia, P. (2005). Bodies of evidence,  New Directions in Anthropology , 20 Taussig, M. T. (1999).  Defacement: Public secrecy and the labor of the negative.  Stanford University Press. Verdery, K. (1999).  The political lives of dead bodies . Columbia University Press. Winnicott, D. W. (1971).  Playing and Reality . London: Tavistock

Read the next article:

ARTICLE 3/ ISSUE 11, October 2017

“The long, short journey of a small, large group within the sea of its dynamics”: An experiential record of my experience as a participant in sessions of a large group

Next >


Support the online journal "Systemic Thinking & Psychotherapy" by making a donation today.Donate