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What’s a Geopolitical Conflict Between Friends? Turkey, Greece and Cyprus

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Maggie Callahan
May 21, 2020

A longstanding hostility has typified Cyprus since the end of British rule in the 1950s. The island is home to Greek and Turkish Cypriots who have both fought incessantly for political power and influence. After Turkish Cypriots gained more political power despite their relatively small population size, Greek Cypriots orchestrated a coup d’état causing Turkey to invade and overtake the island in 1974. Despite the establishment of a UN buffer zone, an uneasy peace exists over the status and future of the island.

The Cyprus Friendship Program (CFP) has been working since 2009 to combat stereotypes and encourage cross-cultural friendships between young Greek and Turkish Cypriots. This program was inspired by the Children’s Friendship Project in Northern Ireland, which sought to ease tensions in the context of geopolitical conflict through youth friendships and empowerment programs.

Originally, the CFP was initially started by the nongovernmental organization HasNa, but in 2012, CFP became an independent NGO. The organization has expanded and is now housed in the larger NGO, Friendships for Peace. This NGO now works across the world to form youth friendships in the midst of international conflict, including Israel and Palestine. Its expansion is testament to the success of fostering change through individual interactions to enhance cross-cultural friendships and build mutual understanding.

CFP works with Cypriot teens from both Greek and Turkish communities with at least one Cypriot parent. To apply, teens must answer three essay questions regarding why they would like to participate and what they bring to the exchange program. Over 100 teens are selected each year for participation, and they join an expansive alumni network upon completion of the program.

The teens are paired together across, one Greek and one Turkish, and embark on an all-expense paid trip to America. Before departure, the teens meet multiple times in Cyprus for outings and family meals. During their American trip, participants engage in activities like a team building ropes course, workshops on conflict resolution and community service organization trainings and events. The teens are also able to meet the rest of the CFP participants in frequent social outings.

Upon returning, participants become volunteers for the organization, which entails recruiting new members, organizing events for other returned volunteers and recommending programming and events for the American trip and Cypriot return.

The impact of international study and continual cross-cultural exposure has served to undermine stereotypes, create a network for change and increase engagement and work beyond the organization itself. For example, women who met as a part of the exchange program created a Cyprus Women’s Association which operates a Peace2Peace program that connects women across cultural lines to break down prejudices.

The CFP program’s expansion and extensive network for change highlight how impactful individual relationship building can be in dismantling stereotypes and creating a fertile ground for friendship and cooperation. The organization’s success demonstrates that even tense, longstanding geopolitical conflict is nothing between friends.

To learn more about this case https://participedia.net/case/5531. To read about other innovative applications of public participation, visit www.participedia.net.

Author: Maggie Callahan is a master’s student of public diplomacy at Syracuse University and a graduate assistant for the Participedia Project at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She holds a bachelor’s in political science and economics from Mercer University and has worked in Georgian, Moroccan and Nepalese nongovernmental organizations and the American government. Follow her on Twitter: @laissezmaggie

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