Civil society in Cyprus has a crucial role to play in creating room for dialogue and mutual aid between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities. This paper aims to outline the framework, within which, civil society organisations are operating. This includes ways that they contribute to creating a peaceful society and the challenges faced. The paper will also express how important steps are being taken by numerous civil society organisations to overcome prejudices and to also aid the demolition of barriers. Through maturing links with local and international policy makers it is believed that civil society could be a stronger player in the peace process.
Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, since then the island has experienced ongoing political instability, ethnic division and, serious issues surrounding violence. Initially, political crisis arose when the Greek Cypriots attempted leadership to reform the new state’s constitution in 1963. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot population openly scorned this decision. The grounds for this was that it undermined a number of guarantees given under the terms of independence from Britain. A UN peace keeping unit was deployed to Cyprus due to the disorder in 1963, they worked to establish the ‘Green Line’ in Nicosia. As a result, around 30,000 Turkish people were displaced. Turkish leadership also within drew from government and began to issue its own laws, police and economic policies.
Turkish Cypriots became more reliant on Turkey as a result of the 1963 divisions, whereas, Greek Cypriots began to prosper through economic growth. In 1974, a coup d’etat, led by the EOKA-B organisation, attempted to overthrow the Cypriot government. These attempts, however, were unsuccessful but pushed the Turkish military to become more involved with the validation that they were using their right as a guarantor power. Despite being welcome at the beginning by the international community, it soon took a turn through a second phase preceding the reestablishment of democracy in Greece.
Cyprus has been a totally divided island since this. Turkish Cypriot leadership asserted independence in 1983, however, this was only recognised by Turkey. An even greater isolation of the Turkish Cypriots occurred as a result, as the internally non-recognised status disadvantaged Turkey, thus, creating what became known as a ‘settler problem’.
Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, gave an assessment of the peace negotiations. The assessment recognised the role of the Cypriot civil society and its role and contribution to establishing peace. Leaders of the communities were urged by the Secretary General ‘to engage civil society in the task of reaching a comprehensive settlement and to take into account…important civil society efforts to contribute to the peace process’. Civil society groups, however, have argued that more could be accomplished and that their role could have had greater significance.
Whilst peace can be an end goal and worked towards by reaching out to people, peace cannot be built without the full cooperation of both communities and their citizens in their entirety. This may be achieved by including ‘more people’ or including ‘key people’. Hadjipavlou and Kanol emphasise how peacebuilding is both multi- track and dialectic that needs to be “pushed and played at different levels” of society at times of a “favourable international conjecture”. The importance of incentives in people to be equipped, is pointed out by Hadjipavlou and Kanol, particularly in relation to security, democracy, and economic improvement. An example of this was the build-up to Cyprus joining the EU in 2004. It is also pointed out by Hadjipavlou and Kanol that there is a need to tackle “the difficult issue of organising and pressing activities at a cross-community, bicommunal level rather than just focusing on mono-communal movements”. This may help to explain the loss of momentum following the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to EU membership.
Suggested Policies or Actions
Due to the lack of political settlement, a plan must be devised as to how to handle the situation. There are a number of ways, in which, civil society can play a part in the promotion of trust and alleviate some of the existing aspects of division in Cyprus. These include the divided education systems, the role and nature of media, civil society itself, the political culture, and its legislative context. Currently, in Cyprus both sections of the. Education system are based on nationalist ideals and ideology, which often demonises the other section of the population. Greek Cypriot school books, according to Papadakis, show the rule of everyone on the island. The school books also imply that the true owners of the island are the Greeks. Thus, the Turkish Cypriots are placed in an inferior position, the idea that the Turkish community does not belong in Cyprus is enforced, nor are they welcome. Cypriot media has often shown the other side of the community as being the enemy. Peace Institute Oslo carried out research on the Cypriot media and it showed that the relations have been worsened due to the language barriers and the fact that members of one community can only learn of the other through their respective media outlets.
Civil society is deeply divided in Cyprus by the ‘Green Line’ with separate NGOs, labour unions, and charitable organisations, allowing very little room for growth in positive community relations. Nevertheless, a substantial amount of peacebuilding has taken place over the last two decades. Those involved in the Turkish Cypriot community who are involved in such organisations were able to rally their people to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum on the Annan Plan in the early 2000s.
In order for civil society to work effectively and, thus, make a significant contribution to promoting trust and reconciliation in Cyprus between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, there are numerous challenges that organisations and stakeholders need to address.
The absence of bilingualism, in general, between the Greek and Turkish creates a huge problem. With two official languages, bicommunal events become unnecessarily difficult. Such events are often conducted in English. The results of the exclusion of sections of the population who might speak little or no English, leading to such events being perceived as exclusive or elitist. A way to ensure equality of opportunity is through the use of translators and interpreters, thus, allowing people to use whatever language they feel most comfortable with. this practice should be further developed.
Traditionally, there have been shockingly low levels of trust between the Turkish and the Greek Cypriot societies, and research as also suggested that this trust also extends to the CSOs. Within the organisations, through research, it has become apparent that they have to work hard and take time to overcome this distrust. For instance, spending time cultivating good relationships with people to gain their trust.
However, CSOs have been meeting these challenges through presenting a more open and transparent approach to their work. They have worked to create a more professional approach to their work, improving efficiency and aiming to work more effectively with the public and public agencies. Building relations with the media is included in this.
Findings indicate that initiatives have contributed to the building of bridges between the two communities within Cyprus, through addressing a diverse range of issues. Through this, a promotion of understanding as occurred resulting in a consideration of the causes and implications, exploring the aspects of interdependence, and promoting the benefits of engagement. Many examples of approaches have been provided. These approaches can be utilised for taking this process forward through developing the pre-conditions for engagement and enhancing and increasing the opportunities to do so. A pivotal feature of this process is the need to develop infrastructure through strengthening civil society. However, it is also crucial to link the developments to other minor processes. This can be partly achieved through initiating and strengthening connections between CSOs and those with power, influence, and resources.