Peacebuilding in Cyprus

Ron Fisher

Professor of International Peace and Conflict Resolution, School of International Service, American University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: I wish I could give you a clear, compelling picture of success as I think we can with Tajikistan for example. I usually say that I have been has been as successful in my work in Cyprus as everyone else who has worked in Cyprus, which means that we haven't gotten to a peace agreement or a renewed relationship and so on.

It has been frustrating because I faced many of the resistances and limitations, particularly around difficulty in acquiring funding that a lot of people have in the conflict resolution field; partly because of political events, and partly because of changing priorities among funding organizations and so on. I actually started the work out of a semi-official institute in Canada that was government funded, and fairly well funded. After the initial series of seminars and then some conflict analysis workshops, one of which was with quite high-level influentials from the two sides, the institute was axed in a budget-cutting move by the Canadian government. I was able to do a couple more workshops in a research fund but some of the budget for the institute went into the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In the early going that fund wouldn't look at work unofficially that was too close to the political action, so I had to go and work in the educational field. I brought a number of people into that, including Louis Diamond from IMTD. It was about that point that fund was axed as well, that IMTD, in concert, first of all with NTL Institute of Applied Behavioral Science and then Roger Fisher's Conflict Management Group started a training program that went on for several years, and I was involved in that as a trainer on a number of the projects, especially the track that trained trainers in conflict resolution. Essentially what we were able to do when other players came in the later stages to that, Ben Broom for example, doing training in interactive management techniques, we were able to create a constituency for peace. They were there before we were able them nurture them but give them a lot of concepts and skills that they could use both in their communities, but across the line to build a peace constituency in Cyprus.

Following that, as I mentioned before we started the interview, was the intractability project, which was used for analysis and then the study group. It had some direct transfer over to the official talks resulting in the so called, "Annan Plan," the latest plan for peace, which unfortunately one side rejected. The side that rejected it, North Cyprus, experienced the most significant outcry of public opinion for peace in the history of the island. There were a number of demonstrations where between 50,000 and 75,000 Turkish Cypriots, out of a total population of less than 200,000, were in the streets agitating and advocating for this peace plan to be used as the basis for a deal. The current president who has been the negotiator for thirty some years took it upon himself to ignore that statement of public opinion and said, "decisions aren't made in the street." You can understand that sentiment, but at the same time he now seems to be more and more isolated. There are elections in December that will probably bring opposition parties to power who will in fact sign that deal. I hope that happens.

All of that is to say I remember in my first trip to Cyprus in early 1990 and one of the people I met with of several was one of the main organizers of those demonstrations. We supported the peace community by giving them what they wanted. What they wanted was conflict resolution training, they now are doing it in Cyprus. They have been doing it in their own community across the line with a lot of frustration, because in 1997 the regime in North Cyprus shut down the Green Line and basically stopped all inter-communal work. At that time I had money available from Foreign Affairs Canada to restart my workshop series and my conflict analysis series. Of course when one side says there is no more of that, they backed off and wouldn't support it.

It has been a continuing series of frustrations for me and everybody else, but over 10-15 years a lot of work has been done which (keeping our fingers crossed) might support the peace deal. Then there will be people on both sides who are well equipped to rebuild the relationship. So I guess in that sense it has been a success story, but it hasn't culminated in a renewed relationship between the two former enemies.