Building understanding through open dialogue

Thirty-three senior high school pupils from Greece, Turkey and Cyprus who attended a recent conflict resolution workshop drew inspiration from some words by musician Carlos Santana: «The only way you have peace is, you invite people to have a talk, soulfully and calmly, and you find out how we can feed their children and educate the children with dignity and grace.» Four participants spoke to Kathimerini about the workshop, which was held on the island of Spetses, organized by the Center for Research and Action on Peace (KEDE). Diziana Baloli, 17, who attends school in Crete, noted that despite differences it was not at all difficult for Greeks and Turks to make friends. «We may have learnt history from a different viewpoint, but during the lessons the teachers made it clear that it’s good to respect written history, we should also seek other sources outside school so as to form our own opinion, and always to respect the beliefs of other peoples. » Ece Ozenir, 17, from Turkey, agreed: «Despite some prejudices, most of the children made friends. We learnt a lot, such as using a strategy to ensure people don’t emerge as winners or losers and that there are many different sides to history. We also practiced anger management and trust building.» Ece felt enriched by the experience, which had changed her way of thinking: «Now I know better how to tackle an issue and how to behave less emotionally when there is disagreement.» The KEDE workshop made Anastasia Argyrou from Nicosia realize that she had only been taught the Greek-Cypriot side of history at school. She learnt how to understand others better and to understand the position of the Turkish Cypriots. «Through talking to them,» she said, «I realized that we have shared visions and many ideas about how to achieve peaceful coexistence.» She explained how the conflict resolution exercise taught the participants how to control themselves, to listen to the opinions of others, even when disagreeing with them, and to make decisions in a peaceful manner. «At first we disagreed vehemently, but as the days passed we learnt self-control so that disagreements didn’t end up in a fight. I hope,» she concluded, that we, the young generation, can make a difference.» Alp Bamci, a Turkish Cypriot, said he was leaving with a more open mind. «We were able to see how the system works, how mechanisms work, and how an ecumenical way of thinking is built. We looked at history from different points of view. It was nothing like school. I was surprised that children from Greece and Turkey didn’t know much about the Cyprus issue. I’d really like to pass on what I’ve learnt to my friends in Cyprus.»