Category Archives: Peace it Together partner profile

Fuelled by injustice: disability rights


Faize Erdoğan has been living in a wheelchair for the last decade, and at recent local elections in northern Cyprus, was unable to vote because her polling place was an inaccessible elementary school. Faize’s son, Mehmet, decided to take action and campaigned against the obstacles preventing his mother from voting: “My mother was unable to even access the building, as she, and many other disabled individuals like her, had not been considered during the election-planning process. The room that had her voting booth had at least seven or eight big steps, and she couldn’t even enter the room. I watched her being turned away and witnessed up close her sense of demoralisation, and it pushed me to a place of anger fuelled by this incredible sense of injustice.”
The incident was symbolic of a much larger, all-too-familiar struggle – the complete invisibility of disabled individuals and their alienation from public spaces. Following this incident, friends and family were mobilised to rally the local media, and Faize was able to gain the support of more than 50 civil society organizations, including non-profit associations and almost all active political parties. With this support, a protest was organised and a petition was launched based on the UN Declaration of Disability Rights.
“We see this victory not as the end but as the beginning of the struggle.”
This initiative, now known as EngelSiz, asks the question, “Am I disabled? Or are you the disabler?” The group strives to show that it is possible to live without being disabled from public life if only society at large puts effort into it. By distributing a petition over the Internet, EngelSiz collected more than 4,000 signatures in less than a month. The group presented the signatures to the leadership in the Turkish Cypriot community on 13 July, 2010, resulting in an acknowledgement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons.
“We see this victory not as the end but as the beginning of the struggle,” explains Mehmet. “The northern part of Cyprus is not considered a legal state by any other country other than Turkey, and the authorities cannot sign or be held accountable to the provisions in the UN Declaration”. However, EngelSiz hopes to use the UN Declaration as a basis in the updating of rights related to the disabled community. “Therefore, as a volunteer, independent group of activists, we plan to continue doing awareness raising activities as well as staying involved with high level authorities in seeing through the full implementation of the law.”

Restoring the historical infrastructure for peace

Peace Exchange was musing the other day at how common heritage crops up in different ways and in various guises.

It can be heard in the dialects of a language, and mirrored in the shared values of people living in the same geographical location.

It can flow as the undercurrent in folktales, poetry and traditions. It can even determine the names of children, in a bid to remember, honour and renew.

But where history’s influence is unmistakable is in a country’s infrastructure and in its public spaces.

And of course, those structures that have bound together the people of any age still resonate with the power to unite through common usage and as important gathering points.

For this reason, Peace it Together’s various Cultural Heritage partners and the Future Together Project partners have turned their efforts towards not merely restoring important structures from Cyprus’ past, but identifying best practices arising from stakeholders participating in such restoration – and in this way doing their part for reconciliation.

You might say that the Cultural Heritage partners and Future Together partners take peacebuilding rather literally!

To date, the Cultural Heritage initiatives have overseen the restoration or rehabilitation of seven key buildings and monuments, including an Armenian Church and Monastery, Peristerona House, the Grand Turkish Bath, Prophet Elias Monastery, Cultural Heritage Circle Preservation, Day Care Centre at Paphos Gate and the Church of Agios Neophytos in Troulli.

Meanwhile, Future Together is helping existing partners and other interested parties to extract lessons from already established participatory development models, to produce a Best Practices Guide for both Cypriot and regional practitioners.

Peace Exchange invites you to watch the video above on the opening of the Turkmenkoy/Kontea peace park, as an example of the positive impact of participatory planning – and making an asset of common heritage in bringing people together.

Another project that aptly demonstrates this dynamic is summed up in a podcast on the provision of a day care centre for the mentally handicapped in Favierou. You can listen to the moving story here.

As ever, more good stuff to follow, so stay tuned and… see you in the next post!

Bracing news – A look ahead at future possibilities

Peace Exchange was musing the other day on how familiar the daily offerings seem to be, by way of Cyprus news.

In a small place with lots of history – an island no less – the reportage can sound at times rather akin to that of the day before.

Imagine, however, what it might be like to tune in to the national broadcaster some two decades in the future, and take in the day’s events arising from a united landscape.

Yes, it would be familiar in some respects, but there would also be much that would be exciting and new.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, click ‘play’ on the above video and find out just how such a news bulletin might appear with The Nine o’ Clock News in the Year 2030.

An initiative of Peace it Together partner Economic Interdependence, and created by the prolific Crewhouse media team, the fictive bulletin offers a vision for a reunified Cyprus based on the aspirations of Cypriots.

Within a quarter of an hour, the bilingual film offers viewers a snapshot of a thriving island, where the buffer zone is a distant memory and reconciliation has yielded economic gains for both sides.

Via the “Cyprus News channel, broadcasting islandwide”, we encounter students planting trees in the national park that was once the dead zone, an al fresco celebration in an olive grove to mark the success of a Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot business partnership and the exciting transfer to Premier League football team Arsenal of a London Cypriot striker of mixed heritage.

Meanwhile, the island’s president is now a woman and new air routes between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey are poised to capitalise on the wealth of historical treasures offered by the three neighbour countries.

Incidentally, while the film had its local premiere back in September, it will be shown for the first time at the United Nations’ New York headquarters this Friday, as part of a special event to highlight the worldwide initiatives of the UNDP.

After the screening, there will be a Q and A with Haoliang Xu (Deputy Director UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS), Elizabeth Spehar (Director of Europe Division DPA) and Nilgun Arif (UNDP-ACT, Cyprus).

Regarding Peace it Together partner Economic Interdependence, the project was established by the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Greek Cypriot Community and the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce to foster inter-communal trade and to demonstrate first-hand the potential economic benefits of reunification.

The Nine o’ Clock News in the Year 2030 offers an inspiring and creative look at just how such benefits might play out.

The best of kids’ TV in Cyprus – come with an open MIDE

Did you know kids in Europe watched two-and-a-half hours of TV a day?

That’s a lot of cartoons, adventure series, educational shows and so forth. And a big responsibility for TV producers and programmers, hoping to both entertain but also offer wholesome, progressive content for young minds.

To help tackle such a responsibility, the Prix Jeunesse Foundation was set up in 1964, whose main focus is organising a biennial competition  – the Prix Jeunesse International – to draw the best in children’s television around a theme.

Producers from around the world attend the event in Munich to learn from one another and identify the next big show in kids’ TV.

(In fact, one of its early winners was ‘Sesame Street’ – recognise those furry faces in the photo above? – which was sold to over 50 countries within four years of being awarded the prize. )

Winning entries then tour the world via the Prix Jeunesse ‘suitcases’, passing on insights from the festivals to local TV producers in special training programmes.

One such ‘suitcase’ is now in Cyprus in a two-day event this week, organised by the Goethe-Institut Cyprus in partnership with the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) and the Cyprus Community Media Centre.

As there hasn’t been an entry from Cyprus in the Prix Jeunesse festival yet, this event will hopefully encourage Cypriot media practitioners to enter the competition, while encouraging dialogue, a deeper understanding of quality kids’ TV and professional cooperation in the field of children’s media between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.

More info on the Prix Jeunesse ‘suitcase’ here.

On a related note, Peace Exchange is keen to introduce yet another of the Peace it Together partners – the Multiperspectivity & Intercultural Dialogue in Education (MIDE), helmed by the AHDR, which also focuses on identifying and making available the keys to an environment of learning that leaves young minds on the island open to diversity and dialogue.

Through MIDE, from July 2008 until November 2011, the AHDR has expanded its scope to include extensive research, diverse public outreach and a wider range of materials and trainings it offers to its core target groups.

In addition, the AHDR has broadened the resources it offers the general public, with the formation of a library and archive related to Cyprus history, history education, inter-communal relations, and global outlooks on similar subjects.

Meanwhile, as of November 16, 2011, the AHDR embarked on the second phase of the MIDE project, which, over the next 24 months, seeks to enhance the work already undertaken.

This phase aims to leverage the resources the AHDR created within the first phase of the MIDE project, with the focus on:

  • Further developing efforts to engage the general public and key stakeholders on issues related to history, historiography and history education in Cyprus, as a means of advancing greater sensitivity to the importance of multi-perspectivity and critical thinking
  • Extending educational and research programmes to ensure key actors – educators, youth, researchers and policymakers – have opportunities to engage with AHDR
  • Continuing to work in partnership with organisations such as the Council of Europe, teacher trade unions across the divide, EUROCLIO, PRIO, CCMC, the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Elders, as well as developing new local and international relations with other institutions
  • Increasing the capacity of history educators, influencing public perceptions on critical approaches to history and history education and guiding policy change to promote intercultural skills and understanding, as well as multi-perspective approaches to education

Peace Exchange highly recommends the videos on AHDR’s YouTube channel  for more of an entertaining and compelling insight into its mission.

That’s all for the moment, but we’ll be back again soon with more good stuff for your reading pleasure. See you in the next post!

Engaging with people to people power

One of the key characteristics of Cypriots is their willingness to dispense with formality and not to stand on ceremony. After all, small spaces usually mean people don’t stay strangers to each other very long.

The person you meet across an office desk might well show up the next time you stop off at a petrol station to refuel, or pant at the running machine next to yours at the gym, or share an anxious moment with you in the same hospital waiting room.

It’s just the way it is on this island – familiarity means the most natural thing is to chat or to come together – to engage with each other. And there is great potential, great power in that.

Which is an interesting way of shining the spotlight on another Peace it Together network partner today: ENGAGE: Civic Engagement for Reconciliation.

Led by the Management Centre and the NGO Support Centre, the Engage, Do Your Part for Peace project works in partnership with civil society across the island to provide a platform for dialogue, advocacy and increased citizen involvement in reconciliation efforts.

The video above, recording the occasion where over 50 civil society organisations from the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, gathered in the UN Protected Area to express their support for the ongoing peace negotiations, bears testimony to the people to people power that the Engage project aims to harness in support of reconciliation.

As the Engage team members express in the video, the goal is to create “a synergy in both communities, and hopefully Engage will be contributing to that big time”.

To achieve this goal, the Engage project supports an active civil society not only in taking action at the grass roots level, but also in advocating for change at the  policy level.

The Peace Exchange will be bringing you more on Engage activities in future posts, but in the meantime, wanted to leave you with this thought:

People to people power, at a time when the world is transfixed by dramatic political changes happening all around us, is not just a remote force to be reckoned with; it is universal and lies waiting to be tapped in any place, in any given situation.

When we engage with it, what might we achieve, both on the national and international level, for peace?

That’s all for the moment, so, till very soon, stay warm, have a great weekend and… see you in the next post!

Where media is made, played and conveyed

Here’s another video to brighten your day, because we really do like to pass on the good stuff.

Mind you, better fasten your seat-belt for this one – and turn up the volume on your speakers. It’s not exactly the tame, timid type of vid to watch on auto-pilot.

Far from it in fact. But then, nothing about the Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC) is tame or timid either.

In fact, since opening its doors in late 2009  this Peace it Together partner has offered training, dedicated support and equipment loan to its own members – around 30 organisations (and growing) representing “a broad range of civil society organisations throughout Cyprus”.

Meanwhile, its core team of six staff members have run or hosted a wide range of media-training workshops (blogging, video production and editing, press release production, social networking etc).

They’ve shot videos, taken photos, held public events, set up online forums and, above all, have always been at the end of the phone, offering advice whenever needed.

Indeed, CCMC encourages media pluralism, alternative voices and media collaboration between journalists and the media from both communities, and promotes the benefits of community-based media to as wide an audience as possible, while giving people the skills to be in control of their own messages.

Amid this digital beehive of activity – the CCMC folks are a friendly bunch, too – drop by some time and say hi, their office is located at Nicosia’s Ledra Palace in the buffer zone.

You can always keep up with what’s going on by signing up for CCMC’s weekly electronic newsletter or RSS to their website.

Which is probably as good a place as any to mention that we’ll be posting on the Community Media Forum Europe event that CCMC will be hosting next week.

Till soon and… see you in the next post.

(You can undo your seat belt now).

Actively engaging the island’s youth

Take a look at the short video above. Go on. It’s not very long.

Somewhere towards the end, Turkish Cypriot Alparslan Balci and fellow youth activist, Greek Cypriot Anna Leonidou engage in a mock competition, each trying to rattle off as many words in the other’s language as possible.

It’s a charming moment, very human and warm. Nonetheless, as the video goes on to portray, the young people’s participation in Youth Activism, also means they grapple with the real challenges that exist in fostering understanding and unity amid the island’s two main communities across the generational divide.

What becomes clear, however, is the importance of reaching out to Cyprus’ young people, since, in Anna’s words “if we want to change something in society, we have to start with the young ones, because they’re the most open-minded ones”.

This is a nice encapsulation of the work of the Youth Activism project – one of the most vigorous partners in the Peace it Together network. The aim is not just to bring young Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots together through media outreach, workshops, festivals and summer camps, but hopefully also to nurture “active concerned citizens of a united and sustainable Cyprus” in the medium- to long-term.

To achieve this objective, Youth Activism –  the joint project for the 12 organisations that make up the Youth Power network, working with the island’s youth in a bi-communal context – rarely rests on its laurels, with a full calendar of events and activities constantly planned.

In fact, The Peace Exchange will very shortly bring you a post about Youth Activism’s upcoming Hope Chest workshops.

Stay tuned, and… see you in the next post!