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A Piece of Cyprus Crafting Peace



Rocío Campos

Program Associate
International Budget Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Washington, DC

TFF Peace Antenna

July 30, 2002

The opportunity to participate in the Peace through Art Program with the International Child Art Foundation (ICAF) and the Fulbright Commission in order to promote peace in Cyprus' future sets an amazing example of the work that the non-profit sector can do in the tenacious search for peace. With tremendous energy and an open and agile way of organizing volunteer expertise, ICAF staff created a unique opportunity to combine art with a conflict prevention framework. This took place in Washington, DC and the participants were 10 Turkish Cypriots and 10 Greek Cypriots aged between 14-16.

The sui generis character of Cyprus is not based on a current war; however the present territorial divide of the island poses difficult challenges to the people living there as they are not able to travel freely, and do not have the opportunity to meet or get to know one another. This setting can potentially be a source of conflict in the future, where either side, i.e. Greek or Turkish, can develop feelings of superiority based on language or cultural differences, miscommunication, or simply lack of trust. For this reason, working at a conflict/violence-prevention level demands strengthening communication, finding common traits and values, and seeing cultural differences as a source of collaboration and sharing, as opposed to a source of conflict and division.

The empowerment of youth - as the main component of this program - through collaborative projects designed to bring out common values and build a common culture based on bi-communal elements constitutes the basis for the three workshops described here. Parallel to these workshops, conflict elements rooted in the past, living in the present, and potential in the future were incorporated into the design of these workshops. I wanted the participants to explore, discover, and uncover their perceptions and interpretations of their past, present, and future through art activities that would build trusting relationships and share joy as well as promote cross-communal recognition, rapprochement, and ultimately assist a better understanding of 'the other'.


Rocio leading the workshop



The first workshop was intended to take the students to the essence of the human condition, where historical interpretations, nationalities, and ethnicity are blurred by the primary need of expression, communication, and collaboration, using rudimentary tools where hands become the most ancient and versatile of all instruments. The warm-up exercise of this session was to identify the origin of Greek and Turkish paintings, frescoes, tiles, and architecture looking at a series of slides to highlight the common traits of Turkish and Greek art and raise awareness of the roots and history they all share. The exercise illustrated the similarities in their origins and prepared them to work in four groups of five, where gender and background were carefully combined.

The assignment was to work together on a piece of stone to decorate it using materials such as stones, pebbles, shells, dry petals and leaves, tile, charcoal, and imagination to convey a message they wanted to tell the other groups. The message or theme would be something the members in each team shared or had in common. The results were remarkable. The groups selected deep, insightful themes for their stone projects, such as, a circle of hope made by leaves blown by the wind which also created a question mark depending on the position of the stone. Another group designed a dolphin in the middle of the sea to express their concern for a clean environment in which species can survive. A third team explored the balance in nature and decorated their stone as summer and winter. The last group decided to work on a calm, peaceful beach and ocean scene, as something all Cypriots have in common and can share. After everybody was finished, the different groups presented their projects and received feedback from the other teams. The themes selected for this assignment represent a tangible example of communication and collaboration where the common values and key elements of peace, such as sharing, hope, a clean environment, and nature in balance, were indeed brought to the working table by young Cypriot hands.


Art in Progress - A Circle of Hope, or a Question?



The second workshop was an opportunity for the students to work together in five groups of four to cut out images, shapes, letters, words, phrases, or paragraphs from Greek and Turkish Cypriot newspapers to create an article, poem, story, or song. The only rule was to use both Greek and Turkish words. The session started by brainstorming about all the different kinds of news one reads in the newspapers and about imagining the types of headlines one would like to find. By using both Greek and Turkish words, the kids' individuality was empowered as they explained the meaning of words to the other members in each team in order to create something together. One of the teams imagined a Cyprus football team with Greek and Turkish Cypriots and cut out a map of Cyprus with green letters across it which read, "No More Green Line".

The kids worked together by listening to each other and creating something through which their language difference worked as a source of mutual enrichment and bonding. Peace is not about dissolving or ignoring cultural differences, but about sharing, learning, and understanding cultural differences. Another team's poem started with two hands far away from each other and, towards the end, after a dialogue in Greek and Turkish was exchanged the hands appeared intertwined. The opportunity to cut and paste and make collages out of local Cypriot newspapers is a way of transmitting a tangible sense of empowerment, where one can change the news, dictate the present, change events, and be capable of telling one's own story, one's own dream.


Groups working together to create works of cooperative art



As the kids head toward the end of the program, the last workshop we have together should help them explore their perceptions of one another and give them something they can exchange with each other and take into the future. A Greek Cypriot drew the portrait of a Turkish Cypriot and vice versa. Some kids were more comfortable than others. Some did not like how they were seen. Others took pictures with their cameras with the portrait next to their face, but they all signed them and dedicated their work to their model and friend. This session, like the others was followed by some debriefing questions to explore how they felt, if they were confident or afraid when looked at by the other, and why.

By this time, after several weeks of intensive community-building, the kids were very open in expressing themselves. As we were showing the portraits to the class so they could identify their peers, Christos' portrait stood out. His talent was evident as suddenly the whole class started clapping to show their respect and admiration for their Greek friend's work. Maybe Christos will become a painter; maybe Melis will become a singer; maybe Vasiliki will become a journalist; maybe Ulas will become a doctor. Whatever these kids decide to do in the future they need to know now that they can make a difference, that envisioning the future in the present is already the beginning of change.


One of the groups created this beautiful dolphin



International Budget Project at the
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
820 First St, NE, Suite 510,
Washington, DC, 20002
Tel: 202 408 1080 Ext 365
Fax: 202 408 1056




© TFF & the author 2002  


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