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Last Updated: 11/05/2012
Indigenous Conflict Resolution and Durable Peace in Cyprus
Oluwaseun Bamidele

Cyprus remains deeply divided, despite (or perhaps because of) years of legalistic and nationalistic attempts to resolve the conflict. In this essay, researcher Oluwaseun Bamidele argues that greater emphasis should be put on "indigenous" models of negotiation and reconciliation, common to both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, as well as to a "politics of feelings", in order to breakdown divisive narratives of historic trauma and strengthen the emerging culture of empathy and peace on the island.


It is clear from the sad experiences of Cyprus today that the abandonment of traditional methods of bargaining and indigenous conflict resolution is largely responsible for the multiplicity of avoidable (violent) conflicts all over the nation. The Republic of Cyprus, with a population of about 850,000, comprising some eighty two per cent Greek Cypriots (GC) and eighteen per cent Turkish Cypriots (TC), became an independent State on 16 August 1960, and a Member of the United Nations one month later. The Constitution of the new State was intended to balance the interests of both the GCs and the TCs and provided for power sharing between the two politically equal communities.

The recent history of Cyprus, however, has been dominated by ethnic conflict between the Greeks and the Turks on the island, which goes back in time over a number of centuries. Looking at this recent history, one can easily find competing discourses within each side about the other. Each side constructs feelings that are different with respect to how the other is portrayed, but the common themes focus on the violence, hatred, and historical trauma that one side has inflicted on the other. There is now much theory indicating how individuals as well as organized groups from both communities systematically nationalize suffering and highlight the need to remember what the enemy has committed in the past.

Without any doubt, anger and grief have lingered in both communities over the years, but the biggest problem, according to Kizilyürek (1993), is the mentality of “us and them” that continues to be dominant in both communities. The most powerful way of forming an “us and them” mentality is to idealize one’s own group and demonize the other. Idealization and demonization are accomplished through mythmaking that justifies the negative evaluation of other groups and glorifies one’s own nation. It is, therefore, argued that the intensification of national hatred in Cyprus shapes a sense that there is a commonality in being GC and TC with Greeks and Turks, respectively.

Indigenous conflict resolution can promote the use of more inclusive categories, such as Greeks or Turks, at the expense of more synthetic or hybrid ones, such as Greek and Turkish Cypriots. This article seeks to initiate a discourse on the fundamental issue of Indigenous Conflict Resolution (ICR) in Cyprus Conflict; but this can only be an exploratory not a conclusive treatment of a theme that is so diverse and so susceptible to controversy.

Specifically, I intend to explore the concept of Indigenous Conflict Resolution (ICR), with reference to peoples’ feeling about the “other”, trauma, suffering, peace, reconciliation, and emotions of living in a conflict-ridden area and highlight the rational and the ethical concern in durable peace in Cyprus.

Indigenous Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation

The task of this piece is also to examine the increasing relevance of traditional models of reconciliation and conflict resolution to contemporary conflict situations in Cyprus. It needs to be emphasized that before the coming of the foreign models of conflict resolution in Cyprus, Cypriots had developed methods of monitoring, preventing managing and resolving conflicts, as well as peculiar ways and manners of effecting peace-making, peace-building and confidence-building. These methods have today been adulterated and in some areas wiped out by the forces of hyper ethnic instability and various pressures towards war, including religious fanaticism. The result is widespread violence, which promotes instability and retards development. Dialogue between the GC and the TC has been replaced by fighting; the mediating role of elders, highly revered societies, and third-party neighbors has been replaced in several cases with police action and endless foreign legal proceedings.

A major aspect of mediation and resolution is to convey the affective implications of feelings that revisit traumatic events of the past, such as war, violence, and ethnic conflict. In particular, I consider that nationalism, in the sense of idealizing one’s own nation and vilifying others, remains largely unspoken and unacknowledged in public discourse and the media. As the vast majority of indigenous conflict resolution experts in this historical and political context mediate and work within nationalistic feelings related to traumatic events, it is important to explore how indigenous conflict resolution and people at all levels of the social system may be educated towards an understanding that encourages an alternative affective, ethical, and political response.

Such a response would move beyond nationalistic reactions to trauma or mere recognition that the other is different and would take into account alternative meanings of feelings about trauma as well as the possibility that the traditional mechanism might be a site for political transformation. Peoples’ personal feelings about trauma, suffering, peace, and resolution in Cyprus tell us what is obvious to an outside observer, that there is a memory industry prevailing in Cyprus. These personal feelings highlight two important aspects in the circulation of histories that are woven through nationalist discourses of resolution.

First, conflict management and prevention provide significant evidence of the ways by which traditional mechanism practices are constructed around the politics of emotions, such as hatred, trauma, resentment, and anger. The theme of politics of emotions emphasizes how emotions are not simply an individual matter, but are crucial to the formation of social norms and collective imaginations. In other words, emotions circulate and play an important part in the constitution of collective identities and power relations within a community.

Hadjipavlou-Trigeorgis (1998) emphasizes how personal feelings are political in the sense of how Cypriots’ experiences or memories of past events are embedded in conflict socializing processes and reflect the political reality in each community. These range from adamant feelings of hatred to more subtle narratives full of ambivalence and different workings of negative feelings about the other. The ambivalence of hatred is bound up with the positing of an affective relationality between the “I” and the “we”. But the meaning of “we” is neither fixed nor univocal; in fact, there is some space left for new meanings of “we” (Zembylas, 2006).

Thus, understanding the other becomes an affect and effect of identification and allows individuals to interact with each other outside of stereotypes. On the other hand, this ambivalence (cited by Chubbuck & Zembylas, 2008) also shows how the meaning of hatred is historical and political rather than simply individual and psychological. It is not easy to dismiss collective memories and imaginations; however, it is a pragmatic goal to begin imagining the capacity to reconcile with one’s enemies. Thus, an analysis into the politics of trauma and hatred in Cyprus helps us understand the ways in which emotional practices, sociability, and power are inter-related both in everyday life contexts and in societal settings. In other words, people learn how to remember the past trauma and sustain negative emotions about the other through everyday social and indigenous practices. Inevitably, then, the collective memory of fear, hatred, victimization, and dehumanization of the other becomes a powerful symbol and an effective tool that strengthens the existing, conflicting ethos. Therefore, another important aspect in this article is that discussions of indigenous conflict resolution and peace in Cyprus may be suppressed, yet not completely eliminated. This is usually suppressed in the sense of being played down in favor of legitimating conflicting ethos and demonizing the other.

It is also important to highlight the significance of lived experiences to understand the emotional depth and power of collective imaginations around memory. Peoples’ feeling tell us a lot about how individuals and social groups are engaged in the work of constructing their identities. Such feelings reflect the political circumstances and the larger ideologies and hegemonies that lie behind them. Therefore, feelings should not be dismissed, no matter how painful they are; all points of view must be heard and acknowledged. It is through finding ways to subvert the hegemony of official feelings that indigenous conflict resolution experts and people in both communities will construct spaces for peace and reconciliation in societal settings. There is now ample evidence around the world that, in areas of conflict, contemporary conflict resolution mechanisms may be systematically (mis)used to demonize the enemy and legitimize particular nationalist feelings and agendas.

Approaches to Crisis Victims

The challenging question is how should we, as indigenous conflict resolution experts, approach peoples’ feelings that communicate suffering for past historical trauma and resentment for the other? A pessimistic response would be that these feelings are so deeply embedded in a group’s historical consciousness that nothing can disavow past memories of trauma and resentment. However, an alternative response that is more optimistic aspires toward a critical reconsideration of the representation of each other that goes beyond debates concerning memory and forgetting. Forgetting, argues Eppert (2003), is not only bound up with obligation but also with an obligation implicated in peace and resolution.

As Callahan (2004) explains, coping with the emotions that occur as a result of feelings about suffering and hatred requires more than foreign models of resolution. Ellsworth (1998), in fact, emphasizes that dialogue alone may simply heighten the emotions that result from an increased awareness of the existing power structures and the status quo. Having indigenous conflict resolution, therefore, is not only a cognitive endeavor; it involves engaging in emotional reflection, finding one’s own relationship to peace and resolution, and creating an empowered sense of agency to take action and transform one’s beliefs and practices. If such emotions and the struggles to cope with them are understood and approached as significantly productive components of being a citizen or an indigene in a conflict ridden area, the positive growth and transformation required in that process are more likely.

Implications for Experts

Critical emotional praxis begins with the acknowledgment that enacting bargaining and mediating for durable peace and resolution pre-supposes an understanding of the role of emotion in the everyday lives of those who live in conflict-ridden areas. One way of examining the emotional implications of systems and practices in such areas is to consider how emotions work to differentiate between “us” and “them”. This differentiation is crucial in the politics of emotions and works to establish a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate lives we have positive feelings for those we consider like us and negative feelings for those we see as “other”.

Indigenous conflict resolution experts thus need to understand and care about how issues of power, privilege, and nationalism depend on withholding particular emotional responses toward certain groups of people deemed other and less worthy, such as grief and compassion.

Critical emotional praxis calls on traditional methods of bargaining and conflict resolution experts and parties to unpack their cherished beliefs and comfort zones to deconstruct the ways in which they have learned to see and act. Indigenous or traditional conflict resolution experts and their concerned parties must recognize how emotions influence the ways in which one chooses to see and, conversely, not to see things (e.g., how compassion for the suffering of the “other” often involves discomfort because one’s own group is responsible for the other’s suffering). Thus, emotion needs to be politicized in conflict resolution theory and thus address questions of otherness, difference, and power.

The aim of an indigenous conflict resolution expert who is willing to enact critical emotional praxis is to analyze these “emotional landmines”. Developing the skills and knowledge to analyze how unjust practices teach people to feel the world through an ideological lens, often with little awareness that they are doing so, is an important step in identifying exploitation, violence, and nationalism. As is evident in my studies, peoples’ understandings about peace and indigenous conflict resolution develop in conjunction with their ongoing reflection on their emotions about TCs. Despite the discomfort that this process creates, people are able to feel the politics of emotions in the constitution of society in divided Cyprus; others have more difficulties. For example, both groups of citizens seem to realize that larger political and ideological struggles in the public arena as well as in schooling are inextricable aspects of how they feel.

Critical emotional praxis draws from the above emotional understandings and responds to the particular context in which society is located, creating and enacting indigenous conflict resolution that reconceptualize the emotional culture of society. For example, the absence of an empathetic culture in the societal setting is widely evident, whereas anger and resentment predominate in peoples’ perceptions. Nevertheless, in persistence and creativity in the efforts to enrich the empathetic culture of society can indeed alter the emotional connections between communities, even in the face of larger political issues.

The Way Out

The first role for indigenous conflict resolution and durable peace in Cyprus is to engage both communities in indigenous relational empathy, a process that can be useful in the development of shared meanings created through interpersonal encounters. Such traditional methods of bargaining and conflict resolution of empathetic communication would lead people to start thinking and feeling about the other in different ways than those in the past. Instead of presenting the other as the enemy or someone who cannot be trusted, people should be encouraged to see the other as a human being who has also been traumatized by past events and who has similar needs for security, rights, and homeland.

In Cyprus, there is an urgent need for indigenous conflict resolution that is based on “indigenous relational empathy towards the suffering other”. As Theodossopoulos (2006) asserts, humanizing processes, such as similar cultural characteristics between GCs and TCs and common predicaments, could be some of the things to stress when one involves traditional or indigenous conflict resolution. Vividly, promoting indigenous relational empathy in the society is not an easy process and it often involves a lot of discomfort for people and indigenous conflict resolution experts. To confront the trauma and suffering felt by people and their families in conflict-ridden areas, indigenous conflict resolution experts and concerned parties need to engage in what Zartman (2000) calls traditional cures for modern conflicts, Osaghae (1991) said that traditional methods of bargaining or indigenous conflict resolution transform suffering into compassion and an “alternate criticality” that opposes the hegemonic culture of conflict and suggests that we think and feel differently.

This position is emotionally discomforting and unsettling for those who feel that pain and suffering belong only to them, but, under some circumstances, the discomfort felt acknowledges the creative potential of affect. In the examples shared earlier, the peoples seem to realize the transformative power of empathy; this perspective gives them a new outlook of emotional criticality because it makes them realize the importance of expanding their sense of self in relation to TCs. Although the second statement is more positive than the first, they both attempt to see things from the other’s point of view. As Albert (2001) and Osaghae (1991) further emphasize, an indigenous conflict resolution of discomfort requires that individuals step outside of their comfort zones and recognize what and how one has been taught to see (or not to see) things.

In Cyprus, traditional methods of bargaining or indigenous conflict resolution of discomfort could be used as a powerful resolution tool to help indigenous conflict resolution experts and people to step outside of their comfort zones and reconsider the ways in which GCs and TCs have been taught to see the other (through cultural beliefs and ideology, customary practices, rituals, celebrations, etc.), that is, to understand how resolution is so often politicized and one-sided. In building empathy and durable peace, a wide variety of alternative narratives need to be developed out of the mutually hostile narratives of trauma. It is important to deepen awareness and criticality in young people about how trauma stories can be used to evoke feelings of fear, hate, and mistrust.

All feelings, Kreuzer (2002) emphasizes, even the ones from the perpetrators of violence, need to be considered seriously, because they help us understand the emotional aspects of conflict and they point toward openings for strategic intervention. To build empathy and resolution, it is valuable to identify the feelings that evoke fear, hate, and mistrust and publicize the histories that show positive emotions emphasizing the humanity of the enemy, for example, histories of collaboration and caring among GCs and TCs. Feeling indigenous traditional histories can help rehumanize the other, and they counteract the confrontational symbolical and emotional content of competing behaviors that work hard to dehumanize the enemy.

I suggest, therefore, that the promotion of empathy and resolution in traditional methods of bargaining and conflict resolution is a critical component of developing alternative behaviors about past traumas feelings that contribute to changing the hegemonic conflictive ethos. Another way of applying traditional methods of bargaining and conflict resolution models to critical emotional praxis in Cyprus is to construct traditional methods of bargaining and conflict resolution models that promote the idea of conflict resolution based on accepting differences and hybrid identities. Bekerman and Maoz (2005) suggest that goals, such as peace and coexistence, may be better achieved if the emphasis on separate identity and culture is somewhat relaxed. According to them, strengthening coexistence might not be achieved if alternative options to the ones dictated in the past are not pursued.

As Azar (1990) also notes, it is the perpetuation of exclusionary myths, demonizing propaganda and dehumanizing ideologies that legitimize polarized trauma narratives. We must learn to be open to the possibility of transformation and the exploration of multiple ways of connecting with each other. Such connections will constitute a space that opens possibilities for reimagining the sense of community and identity. This involves resisting and reimagining past identities that have been historically associated with nationalism and struggle, and replacing them with a shared identity of belonging. It is important to emphasize that one need to be careful with claims about what kind of resolution programme is promoted, since much indigenous conflict resolution has been geared to the strengthening of nationalism and patriotism.


Traditional methods of bargaining programmes and indigenous conflict resolutions inspired by critical emotional praxis may offer two important things. First, they can provide a space where indigenous conflict resolution experts and people can question common-sense assumptions and the politics of hegemonic trauma feelings. Second, those indigenous conflict resolution programmes may provide opportunities for traumatized people to work through feelings of trauma and rehumanize the other.

In Cyprus, where suffering has been experienced by all communities, indigenous conflict resolution experts may choose to use the lived experiences of one’s own suffering to enhance his or her understanding of the suffering of the other. This is not an easy task, especially because our enemies are implicated in our suffering (as we are in theirs). Suffering, in itself, does not necessarily lead to compassion or empathy; however, compassionate and empathetic attitudes can be nourished. Through social and cultural practices, our own experiences of suffering, and our memory and forgetting of them, we may enhance our capacity to form wise and compassionate responses to the suffering of others and help us take a critical stance toward the construction of our feelings.

The government of Cyprus should fund research into the traditional methods and institutions of conflict resolution particular to its people and common to both the GCs and the TCs, and work to incorporate relevant ones into the contemporary mechanisms. At different community levels, government should fund researches into the traditional methods and mechanisms common to Cyprus societies and apply them accordingly. If culture can be defined as “the totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempts to meet the challenges of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organization, thus, distinguishing a people from their neighbors”, then Cyprus has no choice now than to look inwards for more efficacious methods of conflict resolution, than the half-baked, half-digested, uniternalised and unworkable methods inherited or adopted from foreign legal systems.

If the country will breed a new generation of Cypriots imbued with a culture of peace, experience meaningful development, and be relevant in the 21st century and beyond, it must make a cultural shift away from historical narratives of trauma and nationalism, and towards a common identity through the application of indigenous models of conflict resolution.


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Oluwaseun Bamidele is an Independent Researcher, Senior Civic Education Tutor and Head of Civic Education Unit at the Department of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Faith Academy, Canaanland, Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria. He focuses on Governance, Society and Values, Peace and Conflict, and his main research interests are Conflict Analysis, Civic / Peace Education, Interfaith Dialogue, Conflict Resolution, and Political Science.