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April 2019
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Speeches

A. Demosthenous: Women's Initiatives for Peace and Reconciliation in Cyprus


Reconciliation is a religious and cultural duty of Orthodox Christians. In the New Testament we come across the word “peace” 99 times. In the Epistle of St. James (3:17) it is written: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.”

St. James continues as if he wanted to answer the burning question of our days on why wars are waged and so much enmity exists among people: “What causes wars, and what fights among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?” (4:1). According to the Gospel of St. Mathew (5:9), “blessed are those who are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Sons of God will be called all those who have peace and create peace.

That is, therefore, why according to the Bible the reconciliation of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots is a religious and cultural duty of people of faith on the island. It is religious, because, according to Romans (15:33) God is nothing else but a God of peace. It is also cultural, because the peacemakers will be called sons of God. Let it be noted here that the study of history shows that war does not keep pace with civilization. The former obviously destroys the latter. Civilization and culture are born in peaceful periods. For this reason, blessed will be the peacemakers and be presented as sons of God during the Day of Judgment.

In 1 Timothy (5:8) we read: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Who does not care for his relatives and more specifically his intimates commits the sin of infidelity and becomes even worse than the infidels. Considering that the Turkish Cypriots lived as neighbors with us many years, Christians have both a cultural and religious duty to reconcile with them and join efforts for a united Cyprus free from any kind of intolerance and violation of human rights just as is mentioned in the Bible: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).

Reconciliation between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots in Cyprus is one of the most important tasks of faithful Greek Cypriots. The idea to write some pages about this issue emerged when one day (in 2009) during the radio program "Culture and Peaceful Coexistence" on the Cyprus State Broadcasting Corporation,[1] a listener attacked the presenter and her invited guest who was presenting some cultural poems written in Greek by Turkish Cypriots – something really amazing.[2]

In Cyprus, women’s activities for reconciliation were many times disapproved, as has happened in many other places where post-conflict reconstruction is in progress. After the invasion of 1974, a conflict situation was created which made any active involvement in informal or formal peace activities difficult. The interest of women and girls in becoming involved in the peace process in Cyprus stemmed from their experiences during the war, whether primarily as relatives of victims or refugees.[3] This was one of the main reasons why women and girls, especially after the Turkish invasion, became aware of the necessity to strengthen the potential for transformation and reform in spite of many difficulties.

Peace processes consist of a complex range of informal[4] and formal[5] activities. The participation of women and girls and the inclusion of gender perspectives in both formal and informal peace processes are crucial in the establishment of sustainable peace. Women cannot voice their concerns if they are not consulted by fact-finding missions or if they are not involved in peace negotiations. It is a matter of fact that political structures, economic institutions, and security sectors negotiated in peace talks will not facilitate greater equality between women and men if gender dimensions are not considered in these discussions.

At the global level, women have long been active in peace issues. In groups and individually, women have lobbied for the goal of disarmament. During the First World War, nearly 1,200 women from warring and neutral countries came together to protest against the conflict and formed the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Since then, women around the world have continued to pursue the goal of disarmament.

The cases I have studied[6] include activities of persons or groups and non-governmental organizations led by women who contributed decisively to the creation of a better understanding between the two main population groups of the island that are in conflict and at enmity. These efforts and activities were welcomed by many other groups and have had a good impact on Cyprus’ civil society.

KAYAD Toplum Merkezi (KAYAD Community Center) is a Turkish Cypriot women’s organization working in the field of community development in the Cypriot community. It was established in 1997 and has growing membership since then.[7] Meral Akinci is the president and initiator of KAYAD. The objectives of KAYAD include: working for human rights in general and women’s rights specifically; raising the awareness of the special needs of the girl child; strengthening women’s position in the society; working for international peace and understanding as well as for tolerance, acceptance, kindness, rights and responsibilities; communication skills, and many more. The objectives include also working to establish ethical and moral values in the society but mainly promoting the understanding of “unity in diversity.” This means respecting and valuing all kinds of diversity: race, personality, economic and cultural background, ability and disability, belief, language, sex, appearance, health, and age. Meral Akinci has well-educated women working with her. Some of them are Nehe Miralay, Serpil Cananoglu, and Gülsen Simge.

The next case of women working for peace in occupied Cyprus includes women journalists. Among the initiators for peace is Sevgul Uludag, the journalist of the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Yeniduzen.[8]Sevgul Uludag with a group of journalists writes and publishes her views, helping people to understand what democracy means and how this can be achieved. The Center for World Dialogue is a good initiative for promoting peace in Cyprus. Jila Faramarzi is the co-founder of it. She often says that there could be no peace among nations without peace among religions. The Center for World Dialogue is a non-governmental organization established in 1995 in order to promote greater understanding between the peoples of the world, especially those in the Middle East.

According to Jila Faramarzi, “people talking face to face are no longer enemies but other human beings with problems to solve.” She has been a Cypriot citizen for decades; her country of origin is Iran. She lives with her family in Nicosia and as a Muslim woman decided to help promote mutual understanding between Turkish Cypriot Muslims and Greek Cypriot Christians through multicultural meetings and seminars, something of great importance.The Center has a famous library with books on Islam and other world religions, including Judaism and Buddhism, that deal with multicultural issues and help students and other visitors to view things in a global perspective. The Center has achieved a great deal in a very short time, hosting a series of highly successful conferences, arranging meetings and seminars that addressed a variety of issues, as well as publishing a quarterly journal, Global Dialogue.

Neshe Yasin is a Turkish Cypriot poet, peace activist, and journalist. She is a pioneer in the way she combines poetry with conflict resolution and other activities for peace. Her work is well known to both communities in Cyprus as well as in Turkey and in Greece. She writes in Turkish, but her poems and articles are regularly translated into Greek. She has been a columnist for newspapers published on both sides of the island and also in Turkey. She has written the lyrics of a very popular song composed by a Greek Cypriot musician and sung by singers in Cyprus, Turkey, and Greece. The lines of this poem: "my country has been divided in two; which of the two halves should I love?" very well express her feelings towards her divided country. She has been involved in peacebuilding activities in Cyprus from a very young age, and she delivers speeches all over the island promoting reconciliation in Cyprus. Nowadays she is a lecturer at the University of Cyprus situated in the Greek Cypriot part of the divided island.

The Bureau of Bi-communal Reconciliation and Strengthening of Civil Society in Cyprus was established on the initiative of Katie Clerides, the daughter of a former President of Cyprus. Although it was created under the auspices of the Democratic Rally,[9] its members are people from different political parties and from all cultural groups and communities of the island, including Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, and the Maronite, Armenian, and Latin-Rite Christians.

The Bureau has the following main objectives: to underline the support of organized groups for bi-communal contacts between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots; to develop a political language that will take into account the multicultural character and tradition of Cyprus society, and to promote the idea and the necessity for reconciliation by organizing activities (lectures, panel discussions, and other programs). Katie Clerides is the head of the Bureau of Bi-communal Reconciliation and Strengthening of Civil Society and she works hard in order to strengthen civil society and promote the multicultural character of the Republic of Cyprus. This initiative initially faced difficulties because it became active after the invasion at a time when many members of the Democratic Rally were not particularly in favor of contacts with the Turkish Cypriot community.

A next important initiative for communication between the two communities in Cyprus is the establishment of the Hands Across the Divide (HAD), a women’s bi-communal association which came into existence after the British Council initiated a bi-communal conference on the theme: “Communication in Divided Societies: What Women Can Do.” This brought together women from conflict areas around the world, such as Northern Ire­land and Israel/Palestine. The need for a strong bi-communal women’s voice was the main conclusion of the conference. After a London workshop in February 2002, HAD became the first internationally recognized Cypriot bi-communal association. Various group activities were promoted, such as press releases and letters to the respective leaders on the eves of their direct talks, collecting messages of peace from the public in Eleftheria Square to be sent to the north for forming a “mountain of peace,” and message in bottles at the park adjacent to the residence of Rauf Denktash (leader of the Turkish Cypriot community). Numerous TV, radio, and newspaper articles have been written about HAD, and projects are already lined up.[10]

Kyproula Makri is Inspector of Special Education at the Ministry of Education and Culture, a TV presenter of the news in sign language, and a sign-language interpreter. She participates in various bi-communal projects concerning deaf individuals and disabled persons. She often organizes bi-communal seminars for deaf children (both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots) at the Buffer Zone in Nicosia. Greek and Turkish deaf children came together, participated in common activities, made drawings, and created a big poster for peace. Moreover, she was group leader of a bi-communal delegation comprising three Greek Cypriot and three Turkish Cypriot teachers of the deaf to Washington DC, USA. This program was held at the Center of Global Education at Gallaudet University, the World University for the Deaf. The program was entitled: "Deaf Education Teacher Training."

Under her initiative, individual contacts and meetings with people and organizations of the Turkish Cypriot community were made regarding the education and rehabilitation of deaf and disabled persons, and a good level of collaboration has started between the two main communities in this field.

A pioneer step in the peacebuilding is the work of the Institute of Historical Research for Peace in Nicosia. It is a “different” contribution, a promotion of peace education. The Institute of Historical Research for Peace (INISME) is a not-for-profit NGO dedicated to the resolution of conflicts, the promotion of research, education for peace, and international exchange programs.[11] According to its profile, historical thinking ‑ meaning the process of understanding history deeply and broadly – can promote peace. This is a tool for predicting future possibilities and probabilities. Peace is hidden by historiography because children learn more about wars and victories but not much about treaties and the national victories of the neighboring countries. The objectives of the institute are the following: to find out the potential for peaceful coexistence among the Cypriot communities; to get to know the unknown Turkish Cypriot neighbor and his/her language and therefore contribute to the peace process; to establish close contacts aiming at cooperating with scientists in our field from the Turkish Cypriot community; to inform the public on the importance of looking back without repeating the mistakes of the past; to use the special power, wisdom, and capacities women have shown across the centuries in order to promote peace and partnership; to study through research the archaeological, theological, and historical development of Muslim places of worship; and to try to find a creative new form of coexistence in countries with heterogeneous populations espousing different values. Interesting activities of the Institute of Historical Research for Peace include the following: research into the interreligious relations between Muslims and Christians in Cyprus from the 16th to the 21st centuries and a weekly program called “Our Neighbors and Us: a radio program aiming at peaceful coexistence in the Middle East” on Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation presented every Saturday (RIK 1), which lasted for seven whole years. Information about many other workshops, projects, and summer schools can be found in the web site of the institute.

Last but not least, women's initiatives for peace and reconciliation in Cyprus are quite important, and one could say that they resemble the pieces of art on the island, which although they cannot work for peace, they speak silently about the peaceful coexistence which has been a noble tradition over the centuries.[12] A British observer in 1881 wrote:

Nicosia ...  is unique in one respect as being perhaps the only city in the East where Mahomedan and Christian religions are tolerated side by side. The old Cathedral of Santa Sophia is now a mosque and above the walls of the town Greek Church spires rise up side by side with Moslem minarets and in the busy and picturesque bazaars Greeks and Turks are freely mixed.

According to a lovely poem by Costas Fantis,

We, women, deserve better!
Sunset, and the masses are grieving.
Sunset, blood red gives way to evening.
We deserve better!
Sunrise, and our children will play together.
Sunrise, to find nations in peace forever.
Sunrise for the future is brighter.
Because...We deserve better!”

Editor’s Note: The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus is one of the longest-running UN Peacekeeping missions. It was set up in 1964 to prevent further fighting between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities on the island and bring about a return to normal conditions. The Mission’s responsibilities expanded in 1974, following a coup d’etat by elements favoring union with Greece and a subsequent military intervention by Turkey, whose troops established control over the northern part of the island.




[1] Where the author (who teaches theology and comparative religious studies) was compiler and presenter.

[2] According to the opinion of that listener, “people who work for reconciliation in Cyprus are ‘traitors’!” On that day the presenter realized that it is worth writing about reconciliation and its great value for Cyprus.

[3] Cypriot women were victims of violation and suffered unbelievable ill-treatment.

[4] Informal activities include peace marches and protests, inter-group dialogue, the promotion of intercultural tolerance and understanding, as well as the empowerment of ordinary citizens in economic, social, cultural, and political spheres. These activities are conducted by a range of agents, such as the United Nations entities, international, regional, national, and local organizations, grass-roots organizations (including peace groups, women’s groups, and religious organizations), and individuals.

[5] Formal peace processes generally include early warning, preventive diplomacy, conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace-building and global disarmament. These activities include, inter alia, conflict resolution, peace negotiations, reconciliation, reconstruction of infrastructure and the provision of humanitarian aid. These activities are conducted by political leaders, the military, international organizations, such as the United Nations, regional and sub-regional organizations, etc. See “Women, Peace and Security,” Study submitted by the Secretary-General pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), United Nations Publication, United Nations 2002, pp. 53 ff.

[6] I would like to apologize for not considering in this article all women’s initiatives for reconciliation and peace in Cyprus. This small contribution is only the first step of its kind, and this effort will be continued in a next step.

[7] At the national and international levels, KAYAD has been in collaboration with UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services).

[8] Sevgul Uludag together with Sener Levent were honored by the Minister of Culture of Greece and the Bishop of Kykkos Nikiforos during the second International Meeting of the World Forum for Religions and Cultures in Nicosia (May 2003) for their contribution to the civil society and the freedom of the press in Cyprus.

[9] Democratic Rally is the right-wing party in Cyprus; see its website: www.disy.org.cy.

[10] Women founding members are the following: Tina Adamidou, Maria Hadjipavlou, Derya Beyatli, Neshe Yashin, Sevgul Uludag, Magda Zenonos, and Fatma Azgin.

The Institute was registered in the year 2000. The founder and initiator of INISME is the author of this article. See its website: http://www.ellines.de/inisme.

[12] Costas Kyrris, Peaceful Coexistence in Cyprus under the British Rule (1878-1959) and after Independence, Nicosia 1977, p. 29f. Idem, “Symbiotic Elements in the History of the Two Communities of Cyprus,” Cypriacos Logos VIII, 46-47 (1976), pp. 243 ff. Areti Demosthenous, "The Potential of Peaceful Coexistence Among the Cypriot Communities in the New Millennium," Études et Documents Balkaniques et Méditerranéens 24, Paris (2001), pp. 8ff. Idem, "The Role of the Orthodox Church in Coexistence and Reconciliation between Turkish- and Greek-Cypriots in Cyprus," in: Orthodoxes Forum 20 (2006) Heft 1, pp. 53-62.