Yeraltý Notlarý, 27 Temmuz 2004

Sevgül Uludað


Ideas for a way forward…(*)

Ideas for a way forward…

Ideas for a way forward…(*)


Sevgul Uludag


Brendan O’Malley, the writer of the book `The Cyprus Conspiracy – US Intelligence and Turkish invasion` is here, in Cyprus again…

We sit in the garden to talk… He tries apricot juice… His work as the editor of  the education supplement of THE TIMES takes him around the world – last time I had spoken with him, he was going to Afghanistan. He’s been to Uganda this year he tells me and also went to visit his sister in New Zealand, paying for a ticket to take him around the world, stopping in Tahiti – Gaugin country! Tahiti is beautiful, he says, just volcanoes, flowers and people. Just like the pictures Gaugin painted…

Eventually we `speak Cyprus` because Cypriots are too focused on the Cyprus problem! Brendan has seen a lot, experienced a lot, has written a lot… He has ideas he can offer for us to try out…

He speaks of what’s being done in education in Northern Ireland to bring the two communities together and to stop segregation.



`Personally I think there are reasons for optimism in Cyprus` he says… `The overwhelming international criticism of the Greek Cypriot side is perhaps misplaced in the sense that it doesn’t bring a solution forward. I’m struck by the number of people in the south who’ve said YES but who are depressed and that doesn’t bring a solution forward. What is often forgotten is that there were two massive steps forward in the referendum, although there was one step backward with the Greek Cypriot vote. The international community only focused on the negative side, they didn’t focus at all saying `Hang on a minute! Turkey has actually agreed to withdraw over time from Cyprus.` It has also agreed to a reunified Cyprus along with a kind of power-sharing arrangement, not particularly similar to what Greek Cypriots had for a long time asked for. And Turkish Cypriots have voted overwhelmingly for it. It creates a brand new context in which people can start to achieve a solution. I think it’s a time for optimism and when I met Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in London, every meeting I’ve gone to they were depressed, there was a certain bitterness that the Greek Cypriots didn’t vote for it…Every meeting they go through this pattern. And they are all amazed when I get up and say that I’m actually optimistic because I think two massive steps forward has been made where people can build on…`



Brendan believes that Cyprus and Turkey’s defense interests are closer than Greece and Cyprus’s defense interests… He says `One day, when there’s a solution in Cyprus, `Cyprus’s natural ally would be Turkey in defense against threats from the Middle East. One day when they regard Turks as friends, they will look in a different direction and the great thing about the European context which has happened in Northern Ireland is that it changes an awful lot of things – it changes the values, it changes the way you behave, it dramatically increases contacts between the governments… European Union is a great problem solving machine and encourages multi-perspectives and multi-ethnic way of life which would make the Annan Plan seem anachronistic once everyone enjoys the full benefits of Europe…`



Brendan O’Malley believes that one of the answers to the current deadlock is that there should be more focus on grassroots cross-community involvement in the solution and cross-community initiatives to improve things on issues that matter to everybody. He says:

`Two places where this could start that may be a less contentious and therefore more achievable than others. One is – we know from the work of the technical committees working on the Annan Plan – that area worked very well to quote Mr. Annan’s report. We could build on that by having something like they had in Scotland where they had a constitutional convention when they were trying to set up the Scottish parliament not so many years ago. The way they did it was: NGOs, community groups, religious leaders, respected leaders from the community got together in a non-party political way, they debated and thrashed out issues and ended up going beyond the constitution. Because it was done in this way, political parties were much more willing to compromise with the things that the convention came up with. I think you could create and apply a cross-community convention in Cyprus that could look at the functioning of the future new political situation, new state as envisioned by the Annan Plan and iron out problems which may not have been dealt with yet. You might suddenly find that problems that seemed big problems before, could be solved quite easily. It would be a step forward and you might find it getting beyond the deadlock between the political parties for instance. In the south it might be a way to open things up a bit… And at the same time that would really test Mr. Papadopoulos’s assertion that he wants a solution. I think we should give him benefit to the doubt and give the chance to prove that by supporting these kind of measures that would increase cooperation and increase understanding… And remove some of the fear and some of the mistrust because some of the problems are psychological, rather than they are on paper.`



The other field that where we could build reconciliation is education… Brendan saw that there was a whole page in the Cyprus Mail last week about how Turkish Cypriots are rewriting history books now… He says: `In many ways, they’re doing what happened in Britain. And I think there are parallels with how they dealt with education particularly in Northern Ireland…` He gives details of what’s being done in Northern Ireland:

`First of all in history, they changed the way history was taught. Instead of following a narrative set down by politicians of key dates and key things to study, they started teaching evidence-based history where children begin to act like mini-historians, able to sift through evidence way up the bias, understand the emotion that goes behind inflammatory statements or reports. So rather than shying away from controversial history, you can actually look at the most recent history – in Northern Ireland they could look up history right up to date and they would have no problem looking at an extreme Protestant view or an extreme Catholic view because they would encourage the children to think about why do these statements seem extreme, what caused the emotion behind these statements, understand the different perspectives, rather than keeping out the controversial things to keep it safe you actually tackle the controversy…`



In Northern Ireland at schools they have a compulsory lesson called `Common Cultural Heritage`… Brendan says:

`Instead of learning about your own national heritage, the way you could do it here would be you could make sure every child learns about the contribution that both ancient Greeks and the Ottomans made to the world at large, not just in Cyprus. And that would give kids something to value from the heritage of either the Turkish Cypriot or Greek Cypriot. Another compulsory element is `Education for Mutual Understanding` - that really is about learning conflict resolution and I don’t mean how you resolve wars between states or political conflicts like you have now. That’s about conflict between people – to learn how you deal with someone you’re having an argument with in a constructive way, rather than allowing it to build into a physical fight. That’s also a very positive thing. The last element is the `Cross-community contact schemes` in schools. This is voluntary.`

In the cross-community contact schemes, school kids from Catholic and Protestant communities, one day a week work on a joint project `that’s important part of the education, rather than just visiting each other’s schools… So the point is to do joint curriculum work together, when you work together you build friendships and kids could meet other kids they wouldn’t have a chance to meet. That has helped change the context in Northern Ireland, which has helped the progress towards peace there.`



And Brendan O’Malley, has a suggestion for Cyprus:

`What I would suggest as a way forward would be to have a joint cross-community study visit to Northern Ireland as a starting point – to look at some of these ideas to see if they trigger new ideas… Instead of having just one little group let’s get the policy makers on both sides over, let’s get the teachers’ trainers, let’s get groups of head teachers as you have to convince them… Bring them over, let them see what’s going on in Northern Ireland, see if it excites them as a way forward and then get together afterwards to talk about what they want to do in their own schools, in their own systems, what would become under the Annan Plan, the individual constituent states. Mr. Talat has been very helpful in stressing that he’s not asking for a full recognition and recognition has been the problem, it’s been a block in all these kind of initiatives in the past. So can we find a way for Greek Cypriots to encourage or allow this kind of cross-community contact – it has nothing to do with recognition, it’s to do with something that’s important in every child’s life – to give them a better education…`

Finally he says, `We should find ways to unblock the problem and recognize that there are psychological obstacles that can be removed because they are not necessarily a problem, they are in people’s minds and people can work constructively together on things that matter to them…`

(Published in ALITHIA newspaper on the 26th of July 2004)

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