During its first five years, Seeds of Peace focused efforts exclusively on the Middle East. In 1998, US State Department officials asked Seeds of Peace to create a program for Cypriot youth and the divided island of Cyprus became a testing ground for broader application of the coexistence model.
The Cyprus program, like all Seeds programs, was designed to build a generation of youth prepared to live the peace that adults work to negotiate. The youth of Cyprus are doubly tasked to bridge divisions both political and physical. The Green Line, manned by UN peacekeepers, is a nearly impenetrable border dividing Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots and evidences the fear and horrors of the Cypriot war that engaged Turkey and Greece. It remains a destabilizing factor in their relations and the stability of South East Europe and NATO.
When the island was divided in 1974, Cypriots from both communities left their ancestral homes and joined their ethnic communities, leaving behind a long history of bicommunal ties. As generations changed and memories of a bicommunal history were lost, younger generations learned stereotypes about each other based on the horrors and perceived histories of the war. To prepare the next generation to live together, Seeds of Peace provides its youth with the conflict management skills and network of friendships required for coexistence.
The Cyprus Program, begun as an experiment in 1998, annually graduated up to 100 youth from both Cypriot communities, Greece, and Turkey. Eighty percent of the youth are Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots selected in a competitive process by the Cyprus Fulbright Commission. The Cypriot program in Maine brought together youth who could not spend weeks together in divided Cyprus. At Camp, they meet and come to know their counterparts rather than stereotypes. Sleeping and eating side-by-side in bunks and at meal tables and sharing as teens in camp sports and activities, they develop friendships and discover a common heritage that includes folk songs and dances and traditional foods.
In daily conflict management meetings, Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot and American facilitators led the youth through the challenge of conflict management training that included the Cypriot “Walk through History,” in which each Seed marked important dates along a timeline of Cypriot history. This exercise brought the most contentious issues dividing their communities to the fore, and heated discussions ensued as each side pointed a finger at the other for misrepresenting historical facts and distorting the truth. Guided by the professional facilitators, the groups gradually moved beyond recriminations toward active listening, and identity and stereotype explorations that led to mutual understanding and trust.
The Cyprus program included an innovative art project each summer, led by an Artist-in-Residence or by Temple Stream, a professional theater troupe.
When Cypriot youth returned home, the physical border dividing their communities was no longer such an impenetrable barrier. They met daily on SeedsNet, the email list serve run by Seeds of Peace, where they continued their debates on Cyprus and other issues of interest to teens and friends.
Throughout the year, they contributed articles to The Olive Branch, a quarterly magazine by Seeds graduates published in Jerusalem, and participated in Leadership programs and educational opportunities. With other Seeds, they participated in follow-up workshops that enhanced their coexistence training, international conferences that developed analytical skills and bicommunal projects including an exchange of video postcards. With their in-depth bicommunal Camp experience and training, they continue to be creative organizers and participants in Cyprus’ active bicommunal network of weekly activities and a variety of annual gatherings.