‘Mistake’ to think that failure would have limited consequences
The Elders have concluded a four day visit to Ankara, Athens and Cyprus where they found strong willingness and desire to solve the Cyprus problem by officials in all locations. They arrived in Cyprus as Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat embarked on the second phase of negotiations to end decades of division on the island.
“We are encouraged and truly inspired by these two courageous leaders who are trying to reunify Cyprus through a fair deal,” said Gro Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway. “The direction of negotiations is positive, and we very much hope that the process will now move at a faster pace.”
However Dr Brundtland and Lakhdar Brahimi, the two Elders who visited the region, were concerned and disappointed by the level of scepticism they encountered about prospects for a successful outcome.
“No problem is insoluble”, said Mr Brahimi. “We heard from all sides – Greek, Turkish, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot – that what they want is a solution. Yet we also heard many people on all sides express doubt that the Cyprus problem will be resolved, even though this is what regional governments and the majority of people want.”
The Elders say that the Cyprus process needs support to succeed - first and foremost from the people of this island, but also from the region and the international community.
They warn that it is a mistake to think that Cyprus is not important and that failure of the current reunification talks would have limited consequences. The current status quo on the island does not represent peace and is not sustainable.
The Elders emphasise that the special circumstances that currently prevail present a limited window of opportunity. “Resolving a conflict often comes down to the right timing, the right people and a willingness to make concessions,” said Mr Brahimi. “Right now the stars are aligned but this opportunity won’t last forever. The coming months will be crucial to bringing down the last wall in Europe.”
People and peace
If the leaders reach an agreement, they will have to put the outcome to referenda in north and south – so public support is vital for a sustainable peace. Opinion polls show that the majority of people in both communities want a solution, but they also seem unconvinced that the current process will be successful. Broadening public support and involvement in the peace process is essential.
The Elders met a number of people who are doing excellent work to improve contact and understanding between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, who told them that they get little official support or recognition in the media. Groups working on bi-communal issues also expressed concern that many media outlets in Cyprus tend to highlight and perpetuate prejudice on both sides.
At present women play a limited role in the peace process and their involvement in public life remains low in both communities. The Elders met leading women in Cyprus who expressed the view that it would be helpful to create a gender consultative group to bring more women into the discussion about the future of the island.
Lack of contact fuels mistrust
In a globalised world it is shocking to encounter societies that are deliberately isolated from each other – yet this is the case between most Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. In particular, Greek Cypriot officials and Turkish officials have no contact.
“What struck us most is that lack of contact over many years has fostered suspicion and mistrust to extraordinary levels,” said Dr Brundtland. “There is misunderstanding, lack of confidence and fear – not only on the island between the two communities but also between the Greek Cypriots and Turkey. Ways must be found to help overcome this isolation and build trust between people if there is to be sustainable peace.”
“Mutual ignorance creates problems”, added Mr Brahimi. “You cannot work together to find a solution if you never meet.”
The Elders' main conclusions are:
- A Cyprus settlement is the best guarantee for stability, security and prosperity in Cyprus itself and in the wider region. The status quo is not peace and it is not sustainable.
- Negotiations are going well but need to progress more quickly and need more domestic and international support. We very much hope that the people of Cyprus and the governments of Greece, Turkey, the EU and UN will redouble efforts and continue to work towards the goal of a comprehensive settlement to reunify Cyprus.
- The role of women in the peace process is limited. Women are keen to be more involved in the process so that gender issues will be taken into consideration in future structures.
- Increased interaction between the two Cypriot communities, Turkey and Greece should be encouraged and supported to build understanding and trust.
The Elders’ visit
Gro Brundtland and Lakhdar Brahimi visited Ankara, Athens and Cyprus from 8-11 September 2009. They were accompanied by the CEO of The Elders Mabel van Oranje. It was The Elders’ second visit to the region, having visited in October 2008 as the negotiations opened.
In Ankara, the Elders met President Abdullah Gül, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek and Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bağış. In Athens, they met Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and PASOK President George Papandreou. In Cyprus, they met Greek Cypriot Leader Demetris Christofias, Turkish Cypriot Leader Mehmet Ali Talat and UN representatives Alexander Downer and Tayé-Brook Zerihoun. In all three places, they also met with opinion leaders – including political analysts, think tank representatives and commentators. In Cyprus, the Elders held meetings with leading women from politics, civil society, business, journalism and academia; Cypriots working to promote reconciliation including addressing the painful memories and legacy of the past; official organisations representing victims of conflict and missing persons; and the diplomatic community.
About The Elders
The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.
The Elders are Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Graça Machel, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu (Chair) and Muhammad Yunus. Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi are honorary Elders.
For more information about The Elders’ work please go to www.theElders.org