By Evie Andreou
IN JUST four years, the Home for Cooperation (H4C) in the Nicosia buffer zone has become a landmark for Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike.
Originally launched to house the Association for Historical Dialogue & Research (AHDR) whose activities aim at promoting a peace culture through education, the H4C has branched out in all directions.
The H4C has become a bicommunal meeting point not just for members of the public who attend a wide range of social and educational workshops and events organised there, but also a neutral place where officials from both sides of the divide can meet and discuss policies and plans.
When US vice president Joe Biden visited Cyprus last year, his wife Jill, made a stop at the H4C after a tour she was given by the UN in the buffer zone and described it as “a shining example of what can be achieved despite the obstacles”.
On Friday Nicosia’s two mayors had a meeting at the H4C café to discuss issues concerning the town.
Just a stone’s throw from the Ledra Palace Hotel, the H4C building was constructed in the early 1950s for residential and commercial purposes. Caught in the crossfire in 1974, it was evacuated and stood empty until it was chosen by the AHDR as an inter-communal educational centre in the buffer zone.
In 2009 it received financial support from the European Economic Area Grants and Norway Grants and, after extensive renovation work, was inaugurated in May 2011 with a four-day celebration. In 2014, it won the Europa Nostra ‘Conservation’ award along with 12 other laureates.
“This place is the baby of the AHDR, they have managed to develop it as a meeting space they can use so both communities can come together for activities dealing with education,” said Marina Neophytou, manager of the H4C.
“The H4C has been established as a landmark building and we feel very privileged that people have embraced it with so much warmth, both locals and international level representatives.”
For Neophytou the past four years are a definite “success story”.
“What we are trying to do here is building a new kind of common culture away from the past, not forgetting the past, what we can do for now is find our common elements, how we can live together and how we can build a new way forward together,” Neophytou said.
At the beginning, she said, the H4C was used as a space where civil society groups could meet with the aim of reaching out to both communities, but it has evolved over the past four years to welcome and accommodate not just civil society and officials but a far wider public.
“The last year has been one of the fastest moving in terms of activities. We were trying to reach out to a more mainstream people as well, so we were trying to organise activities, daily and weekly, that would attract people of different backgrounds, ages, with different interests,” said Neophytou. “We have been trying to make it more of a community centre so that everyone can come here and find something to do.”
The H4C supports instructors financially to offer workshops and courses.
“There are workshops like yoga, theatre, music for kids, and crafts like crochet. There are all different kinds of workshops that have attracted many people that have never crossed the checkpoint before,” she said.
The centre also organises Greek and Turkish language lessons for all levels. Since the election of Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and the renewed hope for reunification, the centre has seen increased interest and has organised extra courses for the summer.
“People have a more positive attitude and they are trying to learn the language of one another. There has been more optimism in the air. Since the elections we have seen a growing number of people show more interest in language learning,” Neophytou said.
The H4C has also become an entertainment space, hosting weekly live music events and musicians from both sides of the divide.
“The buffer zone is a hidden part of the town. People usually need an excuse to be here, so through these music events we try to give them a reason, and I think once they come here they come again. We love to see them return.”
The H4C received a three-year funding grant from the EEA Norway Grants. The grant ends this December, but Neophytou is positive the H4C will be able to overcome challenges ahead.
“We would like to thank all of our supporters and donors for believing in us. For me and the people who had this vision, I believe we can proudly say that we are on the right track and we can begin organising more grassroots actions toward peace building, acceptance and respecting one another,” she said.
To celebrate its fourth anniversary on Tuesday, the Home for Cooperation is transforming the road between the two checkpoints at the Ledra Palace crossing into a ‘Love Park’.
At 6pm and for about an hour, amateur and professional participants from the Theatrical Thursday workshops at the H4C will give an unusual performance under the guidance of their instructor and renowned actor Marios Ioannou.
Performers will mingle with members of the public with a visual feast of balloons, magical balls, painters, beekeepers, singers, talking statues, flower sellers and jugglers.