By Andy Theocharous
While at a workshop at George Washington University, I led a “walk of history” activity between teenagers from both sides of the divide. The activity entailed two mono-communal groups discussing the island’s history and marking it with important headlines. Then, the “newspaper” headlines of the two groups were arranged in chronological manner and participants walked through the timelines, observing both viewpoints of history. I happened to have led the same workshop in two other camps in Cyprus, and the results were the same. Greek Cypriots overemphasised the 1974 invasion and the 1983 declaration of the pseudo-state, while Turkish Cypriots the massacres of 1963 respectively. Greek speakers barely made – if any – reference to that year. In conclusion, each community placed emphasis on its own pain and suffering.
Cypriot history is filled with taboos and grey areas that are founded on the insecurities of the two largest communities. It becomes evident that each community suffers from selective amnesia where they choose which events it wishes to recall that directly support that it was the victim in the violent events of 1963-4 and 1974. In order to harbour trust and cooperation, both communities should be aware and recognise the pain and suffering of the other. And it requires formal and expedited action from both leaders of the island.
A question and a proposal: First, have there been clear formal judicial investigations into who executed and ordered these violent conflicts? Now for the proposal. As a confidence building measure, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci should appoint an independent bi-communal judicial committee to investigate the instigation of such crimes to promote forgiveness and show that nationalist violence will be unacceptable in the future.
The nature of this commission should be reconciliatory and restorative rather than punitive. The role of such a commission would be to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations. For example, the victim of a crime would request a hearing from the commission and further investigation would be conducted. In addition, the body should be responsible for providing psychological and reparative support to the victims, in order to avoid further trauma and deepening of open wounds.
As for the perpetrators, they should be given the opportunity to appeal themselves to such a commission and then to request full amnesty provided that their crimes were politically motivated, proportionate and have provided full disclosure. It would then be an indication that they have recognised the malice of their crimes and would boost security confidence in all communities, thus fundamentally establishing a culture of peace. Finally, the commission would publish a comprehensive report of its activities and findings and suggest methods in which future potential violations of human rights abuses could be averted. However, the commission should avoid placing the blame on one community or another, but rather restore assurance on security on both sides and to draw lessons for the future. Finally, it is of major significance that the structure of this body reflects expertise confidence.
As was the case in South Africa – which was widely regarded as a success – it is of pivotal importance to ensure confidence that members be of independent background and not swayed by any political colour. In consequence, the hearings and its decision would be accepted by all the island’s communities. A study by Orlando Lentini from the University of Naples found that British Africans, Afrikaners and the Xhosa believed that the commission was effective in bringing out the truth in such crimes.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was effectively used as a tool for an effective and smooth transition to democracy after fifty years of bloody apartheid. In our case, it would be used as a powerful tool to harbour trust and better and more effective communication between the two communities for future governance.
Such an act would very powerful in encouraging the people to accept and consider the past faults of their own community and realise that all were subject to pain and suffering. In my opinion, that would form the most significant step towards true reconciliation and would serve to remove – as one peacebuilder described – “the devil’s mask that we painted on each other’s faces”.
In addition, such a move would serve to strip away the insecurities of both communities and inevitably work towards the flow of a better government and enhanced momentum in the negotiations. Both communities would feel safer as they would be confident that similar violence would be much less likely to occur in the future. It would also show to the international community that Cypriots are together facing the harsh realities of the past and are on their way towards real reconciliation.
For this to occur, the media must place great emphasis on the hearings of such a committee so as to reveal the horrors of the past, to accept them and show that these would be unacceptable in the future also because a monitoring mechanism for the protection of human rights for all should be established. Once achieved, the case for needing guarantees from any community would subside.
Most importantly, in South Africa no single person or entity was under immunity in the hearings. This meant that even members of the African National Union, the ruling party, or the police could be charged. Thus, no known perpetrator would be able to seek refuge without facing his past. Such a clause would be pivotal in ensuring that the commission has completed its task successfully.
If both leaders agreed to appoint such a committee, it would be the greatest step towards healing the wounds of the two communities. However, such a move may be mere fantasy in Cypriot reality as it would entail some being brought down from their high chairs of power.
Andy Theocharous is the alumni chairman of the bicommunal Cyprus Friendship Programme and is about to study economics at the University of California, Berkeley