This is an idea that is purely symbolic yet could have the potential of encouraging social cohesion. To preface this idea, let me properly introduce myself and explain the reason for my interest. Though I am originally from Northern Ireland, I grew up in Cyprus from the age of twelve. Later I moved to Israel/Palestine and then to the UK for studies. I married a wonderful English-Cypriot woman and we now live back in N.Ireland where I am studying for my Masters in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice.
We often travel to Cyprus where both my parents and my wife’s parents live and we hope to move back once I complete my studies. My father-in-law is a refugee from Agia Marina, a village north-west of Nicosia.
Due to this exposure to divided societies, though I am by no means an expert, Cyprus is of great personal interest to me as is the study of peace and conflict transformation. Now that I have explained my interest let me now propose my idea. If Cyprus were to become reunified it would take a great deal of time, patience and energy to establish social cohesion on the island.
To accomplish this a great number of programmes would need to be set into motion. My idea is for one such programme. Across the island runs what is known as the ‘Green Line’. This line is what separates the peoples of Cyprus.
If peace is achieved and the island is reunified then this line will go, however I propose that it stays. No longer as a line of division but rather as a line memorialising peace through which anyone can freely walk or drive.
I propose that along this line Cypriots (Turkish and Greek) will plant olive trees. Perhaps school children, youth groups, politicians, religious leaders, other members of civil society and possibly even soldiers could be invited to engage in this ‘cross-community’ programme.
Teams can go out and take down fences and barbed wire and replace them with olive trees that will keep the ‘green line’ green. Why olive trees? Olive trees are all over Cyprus, north and south. Olive trees and the oil they produce have provided a livelihood for many Cypriots.
The olive branch not only appears on the Republics flag but is also a universal sign of peace. Also olive oil tastes great. This could also be made into a cycle path that runs the length of the island with various memorials along the way. It could become a tourist attraction and the olives themselves could be exported to boost the national economy. This idea has a number of ways in which it could be developed or expanded. I realise that this idea is probably premature, highly idealistic and possibly even naive.
I concede that as with any divided society there a multiple considerations to be made, wounds to be healed and grieving to be done before we can celebrate peace, nevertheless, in the event that peace can be achieved, I believe that it very much should be celebrated. Perhaps this program could be one of the means by which reconciliation and healing could occur.
Phil Hilditch, Northern Ireland