In response to over three decades of conflict and division between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, from 2008-2011 The Elders supported local initiatives working for reconciliation and peace.
The island of Cyprus has been divided into two communities – Greek Cypriot in the south and Turkish Cypriot in the north – for more than three decades, following inter-communal violence and conflict during the 1960s and 1970s.
Over the decades, repeated attempts have been made to bring the two communities back together again, address the past and reunite the divided island. The leaders of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities have engaged periodically in UN-brokered talks to try to find a comprehensive settlement. Only through dialogue, trust-building and cooperation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots will lasting peace be possible.
During periods of violence and conflict in Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s, around 500 Turkish Cypriots and 1,500 Greek Cypriots were reported missing. While they were assumed to have been killed, their bodies were never found. Since 2007, the bi-communal Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus has been working to recover the remains of these missing persons and return them to their families. This initiative is an essential part of the healing process for Cypriots affected by past conflict on the island.
An archaeologist with the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP), explains the work of the dig team to the Elders, Cyprus, December 2009
The Elders support all efforts to build peace, enhance trust and strengthen dialogue between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. They stand ready to use their experience and influence to help the parties bring the peace negotiations to a successful conclusion.
The Elders began working on Cyprus in September 2008, when the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities formally entered into peace negotiations. Since then, they have visited the island four times to support the talks by sharing their experiences with leaders and encouraging dialogue.
Desmond Tutu and fellow Elders speak at a press conference during their visit to Cyprus, October 2008
In addition to discussing the negotiations with decision-makers, The Elders support and amplify the work of Cypriots involved in peace-building initiatives. They worked with the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus and the Cyprus Friendship Programme to film a documentary about the search for missing persons in Cyprus. They hope the film, Digging the Past in Search of the Future , will help Cypriots come to a common understanding about their shared past – and can continue, in a small way, to building a peaceful future.
Desmond Tutu, Lakhdar Brahimi and Jimmy Carter visited Cyprus in 2008 to meet the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities – Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat – shortly after the launch of formal peace talks. They aimed to promote an environment conducive to the successful completion of the talks, and encourage international support for the peace process. The Elders also spent time with civil society leaders, political parties, young people, UN representatives and members of the diplomatic community.
Lakhdar Brahimi and Gro Brundtland visited Ankara and Athens to encourage regional support for the Cyprus negotiations, before travelling to Cyprus to discuss the status of the negotiations with leaders. During their visit they also met leading Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot women, as well as groups working to address tensions between the two communities and help overcome the divisions of the past.
Lakhdar Brahimi, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter returned to Cyprus to film a documentary about the search for missing persons in Cyprus. The film, Digging the Past in Search of the Future, follows the Elders and four teenagers – two Greek Cypriot and two Turkish Cypriot – as they learn about efforts to recover the remains of people who disappeared during inter-communal violence and conflict in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Elders launched their documentary, Digging the Past in Search of the Future, during a visit to Nicosia and London. In Cyprus, Desmond Tutu and Gro Brundtland also met the newly elected leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, Derviş Eroğlu and the leader of the Greek Cypriot community, Demetris Christofias, and called for a renewed spirit of leadership in Cyprus.The Elders also met the Archbishop of the Church of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, to discuss the role of religious leaders in peace-building.