This article focuses on the politics of environmental conservation in the UN Buffer Zone (BZ) that divides the island of Cyprus. On the one hand, it underscores the unintended conservation benefits which resulted after the violent depopulation of the BZ. On the other hand, it shows how the protracted conflict and its transformation into a post-violent one, has ‘softened up’ the BZ, and gave rise to new demands for human access and land development. The BZ as a spatial legacy of the Cyprus conflict thus illustrates the paradoxes of conservation practices in unintended ecological zones, which we term collateral conservation. It also underscores the modi vivendi negotiated among a broadened range of actors in pursuit of rival anthropocentric or ecological goals.
Forest becomes frontline: Conservation and counter-insurgency in a space of violent conflict in Assam, Northeast India
Using the case of the Ecological Task Force (ETF) of the Indian Army as an entry point, this contribution nudges the existing conceptual and theoretical views on green militarization and violent environments in the context of reserve and protected forest areas. This is achieved by going beyond coercive physical violence and accounting for forms of symbolic and structural violence meted out to populations. I position this work within and also complement the broader literature on critical and militarized practices and apply it to the reserve forests in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD) in Assam, northeast India. Here, politics that surround conservation is immersed within a context of violent ethno-religious conflict. The BTAD has been a theatre of recurrent insurgencies between the autochthonous Bodo tribe and the Adivasi, Muslim groups over land and demographics. A key characteristic of the conflict is its occurrence in the reserve forests on Assam-Bhutan borderlands, which can be traced back to the colonial process of forest making that brought immigrants into Assam, threatening cultural and territorial loss for Bodos. During the Bodo movement for a separate state, starting in 1980s and continuing, the militants operated from within the forest, leading to the departure of the forest department. As a result, rebels and locals appropriated the forest through rampant resource extraction. In response, the ETF was constituted in 2007. Fieldwork suggests that ETF through its military tactic and discipline engages in ‘soft’ militarization while also trusting on the regular Army for protection during conservation operations. Further, drawing on regional environmental history, I analyze how ethno-religious conflict influences modes of conservation and is exemplified by continuing inter-institutional competition between the forest department and the ETF. In the ensuing conservation-counterinsurgency nexus, retribution towards insurgents prevail over forest protection. Moreover, despite ETF’s efforts to buffer from local politics, incidents of a political nature seep into its operations, e.g. ambushed by militants during conservation activities.