Unite Cyprus Now activists said that tangible collaboration and contact between the two sides, even in the absence of negotiations, is vital.
They said that the biggest mistake is solely focusing on the negotiation process for the Cyprus problem. They believe that more contact between the two sides, and additional crossing points, are much needed.
UCN activists see themselves as guardians of the crossing points, lobbying for more connections and meaningful interactions – literally building peace on the ground.
“Voice International” interviewed Kemal Baykalli and Andromache Sophocleous, members of Unite Cyprus Now and discussed the movement, the Cyprus problem, and how collaboration is a necessity for the development and the future of the island.
What is the future for Cyprus? What do we ask from people?
Andromache: You will never be able to proceed and develop unless we find a political solution. But while we are working for that, we need to be in a position to be also working for the things on the ground that influence the relationship between the two communities. Collaboration is the only key to our well-being, regardless of the political circumstances. If you don’t have collaboration and work on our synergies, we are just going to hand the island to the seeds of hatred and fanaticism.
Kemal: The tendency to use past as a leverage to shape our future is misconstructed. We need to understand that any incident, any development in the past has happened in this historical context. There have been many local, international, small, big things that have shaped our past. The question we want to ask is, what kind of a country do we want to live in? And who are we now? You are not the same person you were 10 years ago. How do we define our connection to this country? And what kind of a life do we want to live? And these are the questions we need to ask ourselves.
Although, at the moment, we are in the bubble of the absence of a negotiation process…
Kemal: I remember the times that it was not possible for me to cross to the other side. Today, there are crossings, people can see each other and now we are discussing the possibility of opening new crossings. We are talking about restoring the historical monuments, this wasn’t possible in the past. So yes, we are feeling that this is not the country that we want to live in at the moment, but we also look at it from a context of where we are now.
Andromache: We must be mindful of our successes, acknowledging the significant progress we have achieved step by step, particularly, as Kemal said, in allowing people to cross and accomplishing what once seemed unattainable. While our primary focus remains on reaching a comprehensive solution, appreciating these milestones can inspire us to continue working towards the future we want to achieve.
From the perspective of “Unite Cyprus Now”, what do you think are the plans and the next steps?
Kemal: You know, UCN is more of a belief, a movement where people connect. UCN has started as a protest because we wanted to push the leaders to finish what they started and in light of the lack of progress, we came to the realisation that our principal objective should be the facilitation of Cypriot connections. We’ve always emphasised on positive action We are active on social media, and supporting other organisations as much as possible. We see ourselves as guardians of the crossing points, lobbying for more connections and meaningful interactions, literally building peace on the ground. Our strategies evolve and now we are investing in social and alternative media. We’ve supported various causes, giving voice to those advocating ecological, LGBTQI, and human rights or using art as a positive action. So, we believe that fostering a diverse community will create a fertile ground for peace, and that’s where our efforts lie. But apart from these, we plan to launch a strategic campaign by collaborating with multiple organisations on the ground. So about our next steps, as we wait through the dull summer months, we’re already strategising for the upcoming period, anticipating potential political openings and staying prepared for action.
Andromache: It’s worth mentioning that we’ve presented tangible collaboration suggestions and ideas for communication and contact between the two sides, even in the absence of negotiations. As Unite Cyprus Now, we maintain political pressure while also working on the ground. Being able to articulate actions that can strengthen Cypriots’ position on the island, even without negotiations, is vital. More contact, additional crossing points, and empowering the Turkish Cypriot community are especially essential given the current circumstances. The biggest mistake is solely focusing on the negotiation process for the Cyprus problem. As Unite Cyprus Now, we see regional dynamics shifting due to events like the war in Ukraine. Resilience against external factors is crucial, and we aim to be part of the broader picture rather than being sidelined by the Cyprus problem. Concrete suggestions are forthcoming.
Kemal: We maintain close contact with the international community, EU members, diplomats, and the United Nations, to demonstrate Cypriots’ ongoing interest. Advocating for more crossings and positive actions, we aim to foster meaningful contact and address citizenship-related issues. We keep the EU and UN engaged to promote better understanding.
Greek Cypriots’ side is asking for a special representative for the negotiations, what do you think about that?
Andromache: The Republic of Cyprus is actively seeking a new special representative for negotiations, emphasising the importance of this appointment. While discussions on this matter are crucial, we must also address more urgent issues given the prolonged negotiation void. The past five years under the Anastasiades’ government led to a stalemate, and now, with Mr. Christodoulides advocating positively for a federal solution, it brings a sense of hope. It is essential not to underestimate the impact of political statements on the Cyprus problem. Despite Mr. Christodoulides’ stance, the Republic of Cyprus needs a strategic approach to navigate the myriad challenges it faces. This goes beyond negotiations, as there are other significant tasks to be undertaken. Finding a balanced approach that addresses pressing issues while keeping the path towards a solution open is of utmost importance.
(Kemal) Issues with appointing representatives and advisors will persist if they are not addressed. Historically, the United Nations had one person for the UN representative and operations, along with a separate political representative. With no political representative since Mr. (Espen Barth) Eide’s departure, the concern arises: Are we prepared for another potential failure? Having another representative come and go without progress would be disheartening and disappointing.
As members of civil society, we must be impartial and consider the actions of leaders on both sides. Our political affiliations should not cloud our judgment. Even if Mr. Christodoulides’ past actions have left a negative impression, and the support from “reactionary” parties raises questions in our minds. Mr. Erdogan made a statement about a month ago, praising the current Republic of Cyprus government for being more positive and taking more constructive actions compared to the previous one. So, if positive outcomes arise concerning the Cyprus problem, we will wholeheartedly support them. If we constantly maintain conflicting positions, we’ll create a negative environment. Regardless of confidence-building measures, a permanent solution to the Cyprus problem is crucial. It impacts both Turkish and Greek Cypriots, even those living outside the divided area, as its effects are widespread.
Recently, we had a new “discussion” about the gas stations in south and north and the green line regulation, what do you think about that?
Andromache: That was a very problematic case of how politicians are not being able to actually support one of the most important things that Cyprus owns now, which is the green line regulation. It is the lack of capacity by the GC politicians to embrace and stand behind a regulation that allows the movement of people on the island… is mind blowing. Economic contact is beneficial as a communication form, although alone is not the solution to our problems. We also need conscious citizens who understand that a united island is crucial for the well-being of our future and our children. We must not rely on sudo status quo that only serves our interests at certain times, but instead, work towards genuine unity for the greater good.
Kemal: We must recognise that Cyprus is not a normal country, yet we act as if it is. The green line regulation is an example; in a normal world, it would be handled differently. However, the patches we use to address the Cyprus problem are not sustainable in the long term. We must find a solution to the Cyprus problem. The status quo is unsustainable. It’s either two separate states, which isn’t feasible, or one united country with the needed resolution. The Cyprus problem restricts our potential as human beings, hindering our ability to contribute to global partnerships. It hampers our progress and creates unforeseen issues that could persist in the long run, making it unsustainable.
Andromache: The overall perspective of the Cyprus problem is often overlooked. It’s not just a political issue; it involves peace-building, healing wounds, and fostering collaboration to achieve a united Cyprus. These aspects are essential but often missing from our discussions.
You are shouting for a united Cyprus. What do you think about the belief or the statement that some people act for two separate sides?
Kemal: The division and injection of nationalism poison our communities, affecting everyone from the youth till the rest of our society. This is evident in the rise of hooliganism, even in football fields. You know, the division and nationalism create injustices within the community, leading to extremist and reactionary movements. In such a small country like Cyprus, these issues are exacerbated, perpetuating the belief that reunification is impossible. Also, we must be cautious about social media trolling and not mistake it for representing the majority. This benefits the powers who are in favour of the status quo, discouraging the idea of a united Cyprus.
Andromache: We must clarify that the so-called status quo doesn’t actually exist. Time changes things, and a political agreement is necessary. We should allow room for diverse ideas, open discussions about our future and contrast our dreams based on their merit. We had a president advocating for a two-state solution while publicly supporting a Bizonal Bicommunal Federation. Such hypocrisy hinders progress. The political system’s support for such actions doesn’t lead us anywhere.
Kemal: Since 1977, both sides have nominally supported a Bicommunal Bizonal Federal Republic. However, there has been a lack of explanation and understanding about federalism among the communities. Even during the Crans Montana talks, the concept of federalism was not adequately discussed or understood. It remains a crucial aspect that requires proper public discourse and understanding.
Andromache: We are part of the European Union, a big confederal structure, yet there is a gap in our understanding of what a Federation entails. Even though our movement aligns with the official line of a Bizonal Bicommunal Federation, we face opposition from the establishment. We consciously support and defend our vision for a bicommunal island, aware of the challenges and changes on the ground. Having said that, why are we wasting time on other discussions when the situation on the ground and the concept of bicommunality keep evolving with time? UCN is a multi-communal organisation, not just bicommunal, as it represents the diverse communities on the island. We must act now to address the issues; otherwise, time will resolve them.
How do you deal with attacks as members of the movement of UCN?
Andromache: I think we get used to it. Although, to those who criticise or label others, there is only one question for them: What are you doing to against division? Expressing thoughts and taking action, no matter how small, is a step forward in our current situation. It’s essential to differentiate between those who merely claim to want a solution and those who actively work towards it. Let’s have a meaningful discussion about those who genuinely seek unity versus those who perpetuate division.
Kemal: Attacks intensify when there’s hope for a solution, as certain groups against it trigger negativity through media, social media trolling, and distorted information. Civil discussions should be factual, not based on attacks or misinformation. This trend is seen worldwide, as seen in Brexit and Mr. Trump’s election.
What about the new generations? Do you keep in contact as UCN?
Kemal: I see many positive actions driven by true empathy and common interests, particularly among the youth. They focus on human rights, LGBTQI rights, animal welfare, and ecology. However, outside urban areas, there is still depolarisation and apathy. Nonetheless, organisations like Hade and Avli are doing great work, being inclusive and making a difference.
Andromache: Or the Cyprus Friendship Programme, who are connecting the youth. Our focus is on investing in the youth, promoting unity, and envisioning a peaceful Cyprus. We aim to guide and support young people, fostering a diverse, multi-communal society in line with European values. Politicians must empower the younger generation with hope for a united Cyprus and not perpetuate division or hatred.
Kemal: At the moment, United Cyprus Now is more like a movement rather than an organisation. So, if anybody wants to be part of an action, we always support and help them to do it with UCN. All they need to do is send an email or send a message through our social media channels.
Island Talks, tell us a bit about this initiative?
Kemal: Island Talks is a platform hosting multiple podcasts that allow people to express themselves and foster healthy discussions. Each podcast creates its own base. Take, for instance, “Nicosia Uncut” (one of the podcasts), which has consistently been the most popular political podcast, drawing significant listenership. While not aiming for universal appeal, it fosters meaningful dialogue. Started in May 2020, it’s a grassroots initiative driven by people’s contributions without external financial support. The platform engages Cypriots and non-Cypriots worldwide, generating valuable discussions both within and beyond Cyprus. Our work has reached listeners in over 90 countries, reaching audiences in over 90 countries, including the Cypriot diaspora. Overall, I consider it a successful attempt, given our commitments outside this initiative.
Andromache: It’s mind-blowing that while aiming for a united Cyprus, there is no platform with both languages and this grassroots effort is being carried out voluntarily by a dedicated group of people. At the institutional level, much more needs to be embraced for initiatives to reach the mainstream. Civil society in Cyprus is doing commendable work on various issues, but institutional support is essential for broader impact. Advocacy for a united Cyprus remains crucial to counter enmity and division. We are trying our best, and that’s what matters.
Voice International 2023