While politicians have held negotiations on the Cyprus problem for over four decades, a dedicated 22-member technical committee on education is quietly working on the sidelines to bolster relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Although it has been accused of not doing much, the Greek Cypriot chairman Michalinos Zambylas said since the first meeting at the end of February, already three working groups have been established with a pilot programme ready to be launched on June 1.
Zambylas told the Sunday Mail he was aware of the accusations but “we don’t try to showcase ourselves to advertise. We work soundlessly.”
The committee, he added, doesn’t want to make loud, bold statements brandishing announcements left, right and centre. Comprised of academics, they prefer to study their options, test different approaches and see what works and what doesn’t.
“This is our philosophy, our strategy: step-by-step.” He said a large part of what they have done up to now is to create a mechanism through which children, parents and educators can come into contact with each other.
The pilot programme on June 1 will be a meet up of 50 Greek Cypriot students and 50 Turkish Cypriot students, aged 11, at the Ledra Palace and Home for Cooperation.
There they will play games and spend the day together.
This is the result of the second working group, Zambylas said, which aims to implement confidence building measures between teachers and students of the two communities and reduce discrimination.
Although June 1 is a small test, the committee has bigger plans which will be heightened at the start of the new academic year. For instance, encouraging joint projects for both Greek and Turkish Cypriot students.
“Some teams might meet to study environmental projects such as the water situation in Cyprus or climate change,” and in the meantime both students and teachers will be further trained to adapt to the new changes.
“We have some very positive developments,” Zambylas said “and even our relations within the committee are very positive. There is a lot of understanding and honest discussion between us.”
The committee was created last year by President Nicosia Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci after a widely condemned attack in which 15 teenagers were arrested for attacking three Turkish Cypriots during demonstrations against the anniversary of the UDI in the north.
A case against them has been filed to court where the pupils face charges of assault, causing actual bodily harm, malicious damage, disturbing the peace, incitement to hate and violence, racism, and conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour.
“We don’t even think about that now. It served to create something very positive,” Zambylas said referring to the committee.
The first sub group of the committee deals with studying both domestic and international bibliography to come up with a series of proposals that serve to fight against racism and discrimination.
These will be submitted to policy makers, teachers and parents by September, Zambylas said.
Lastly, the role of the third working group is to propose ideas for new policies and actions that contribute to a bicommunal federation.
For instance teaching Turkish in the Greek education system and vice versa.
“How could we through language bring the two communities together?” Zambylas said.
“We are very glad and motivated to make this committee work with a careful and academic approach.”