Healing divisions on the ‘Island of Love’

The work of Home for Cooperation across a divided Cyprus.

By Marianna Panteli

Cyprus bears the physical and social marks of a conflict that has come to define its modern history. An extensive UN Buffer Zone forms a division line running through the island and cutting the capital of Nicosia in two. The divide separates the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and the self-proclaimed northern region illegally occupied by Turkish military; with largely Greek Cypriots in the former and Turkish Cypriots in the latter. The UN Buffer Zone is overrun with bracken and dilapidated buildings. However, an uncharacteristic hive of activity is Home for Cooperation’s community centre based in the Buffer Zone, by the Ledra Palace crossing point in the island’s divided capital. The Cooperation works to build bridges between the separated communities. They provide work spaces and opportunities for NGOs and community projects. Given the troubled history between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, the aim of Home for Cooperation is to secure peaceful intercommunal relations. I spoke to Communications Officer, Hayriya Rüzgar, to find out more about their work.

“It’s volatile”, Rüzgar says of relationship between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The bond between the two communities has long been fraught. So it is not surprising when Rüzgar explains that the nature of the relationship remains in flux: “when there is a positive atmosphere in the political field and in the negotiations you can see that people are also keen to engage with us”. However, when difficulties between governments arise the intercommunal kinship grows cold.

This does not stop Home for Cooperation in their efforts. They are focused on local action that can “transform ideas” entrenched about those living across the divide. Their community projects aim for gradual progress rather than sweeping change.

One of the most successful projects are language classes. Turkish and Greek are offered and taught to both communities respectively. The benefits are obvious. To be able to speak each other’s language aids communication. However, Rüzgar notes a symbolic importance: learning the language “is like a window into the other’s culture”. She continues that the lessons show “that there is a lot shared, there are a lot of words in common”.

Beyond language, Home for Cooperation also organises regular music nights. These evenings are used to bring together audiences and artists from both sides of the divide. The organisation works to facilitate collaborations between artists who meet at these nights. Across the north and south, artists invite fellow performers from across the border, to perform at their local haunts.

In 2014, the Buffer Fringe was launched for more alternative arts performances. The festival has gained international recognition and many artists pass through checkpoints for the first time in order to partake. It is an opportunity to express the trauma of Cyprus’ recent past in ways that description does not always allow.

Rüzgar is aware of the limits of Home for Cooperation, “we have limited capacities in terms of human resources and funding and this dictates the extent of our outreach.” With more resources Rüzgar would prioritise educational projects and funding independent programs in towns and cities that they cannot reach themselves. The organisation is also non-political. It will not be them who brokers the deal that sees Cyprus become a unified country. The world of negotiation talks happen on a level removed from the daily lives of the Cypriot citizens that the organisation works with. However, their work remains crucial. As generations pass, the work of Home for Cooperation is a constant strengthening of links between communities that time and conflict is making ever more distant. If a solution is ever reached in the thrones of power, the work of community centres like this will have a large impact on whether it works on the ground.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and may not represent the views of The St Andrews Economist

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