A solution for Cyprus: on the need for track-two transformative mediation

Posted on Posted in Analyses, Balkans & East Med, Greek Foreign Policy, International Developments

By Niko Costantino, Analyst KEDISA


In the past and current efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem, an aspect was tremendously wrong: the too-great reliance on institutional mediation.

The solution that is being discussed in these months for Cyprus still involves community duality, and still blames the involvement of institutions that are not entirely accepted by both communities: the UN, the British Government, the European Union, the Greek and Turkish Governments. All of them have more than one historical reason not to be very welcome at least one of the two communities.

The present analysis will highlight how a thorough track-two mediation, namely professional, non-institutional and transformative is needed for the settlement of the Cyprus dispute.

The Cyprus problem characterises as an identity-based conflict in Rothman’s terms, that is an ongoing struggle between generally intransigent groups and impervious to resolution, because of being “deeply rooted in the underlying human needs and values that together constitute people’s social identities” (Rothman, 1997). Such conflicts, in fact, are connected to “the more abstract dynamics of history and beliefs of identity groups” (Rothman, 1997).

Identity-based conflicts, whose boundaries are unclear and extremely hard to define in univocal terms, are opposed to resource-based conflicts, which are much more concrete and better defined, the root cause being resources at stake.

In Cyprus’ case, the identity clash is the predominant impairing factor. Thousands of pages could be spent to describe the troubled cultural and political relation between Greece and Turkey but, for the strict proximate cause of the Cyprus identity conflict, may it be enough to consider it as a result from a deep-rooted nationalist elaboration of common history of Greece and Turkey by the respective nationalist movements of 19th and 20th centuries.

A professional mediator, bound to the principles of neutrality and impartiality, is capable of considering peculiarities related to the subjective sphere, that institutional mediation fails to. Among the most recurrent variables:

– anger, frustration and fear;

– distrustfulness;

– misperceptions;

– inability to active-listen;

– achieving clash in order to compete (typical of political communication).

At present stage, and mostly over the last decade, the Cyprus conflict has been ripe for solution, despite its ripeness has varied. The subsequent insurgence of spiralling dynamics easily triggered dangerous situations across the decades.

The generally positive present situation suffers from a hurting stalemate. In particular, both parties are “hurt” by the missed opportunity of benefits that a settlement would bring. Especially, the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) suffers from heaviest limitations to its development possibilities. The occupied territory of the TRNC has only been formally recognised as a legitimate country by the Turkish government, which prevents it from gaining access to other markets. Nevertheless, it participates in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation as an observer state. Given the importance of the cultural contraposition between the two communities, their deep-rooted enmity and mistrust, an important dimension of this stalemate resides in the communities’ leaders’ fear of public opinion: it impairs decision-making and dialogue, while increasing distortion between positions and actual interests. The conflict seems to be straddling hurting stalemate and de-escalation. It does show, in fact, also signs of de-escalation, as show first timid measures that assume and imply elements of cultural proximity between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots – e.g. the reached agreements on cooperation and education.

A combination of internal and external factors that revolve around the European Union are today making it more feasible that the conflict is mediated. Among the internal factors, the Republic of Cyprus’ membership to the European Union, the increased circulation of persons between the UN’s Green Line, the Joint Declaration of 2014. As external factors, the rising EU and international pressure on Turkey to withdraw its troops from the invaded part. However, as seen in the past, the conflict could rapidly escalate to dangerous levels.

After a pre-mediation exploratory phase, the actual mediation needs to start by defining a set of behavioural rules, moving on to defining an agenda as agreed by parties. A clear statement of the mediator’s role is also necessary, so to discuss his/her neutrality and open to questions. Once that is done, a differentiation between positions and actual interests of each party needs to be addressed, promoting an honest and constructive environment. That is meant to shape common interests and give parties a real perception of each other’s motives – the most serious challenge in mediation. The mediator’s role, after this phase, is to generate as many options as possible and let the parties discuss them. By reviewing parties’ responses to the options generated, the mediator adjusts them trying to meet interest in the best possible way.

Professional mediation is considerably focused on relationships. As such, it does address systematically the “human problem”: emotionality, dealing with public opinion, confidentiality are dealt with by developing strict rules of communication, involving order, listening, addressing each other and the mediator, staying in the room while the other is speaking.

In the final stages of mediation, communication is also fundamental, with the adding of some more aspects: developing a clear formula, elaborating further mediation procedures for harder issues, defining details clearly by working on wording, setting deadlines, and ensuring everyone is positive about the steps made.

The steps to achieving a formal settlement consist of establishing monitoring mechanism, giving guarantees, and deciding on dispute settlement procedures.

Transformative mediation addresses the mentioned issues of mediation in a facilitation-focused manner.

Previous and ongoing mediation has been addressing the Cyprus problem at the wrong level. The institutional mediation efforts – above all, those of the UN – have been dominated by a positional bargaining approach that conceives the international relations in a realist, coercive-power fashion. The lack of address of the above factors has resulted in them persisting and even increasing in intensity over the years of frustrating failed negotiations. This kind of power broker mediation based on leverage showed to be an inefficient method of resolving an identity-based conflict as is the Cypriot one: a propositional mediation like the one followed by the official track will lead to poor results. The past efforts have proved that incentives or sanctions have not been decisive, and no coercive tactics nor prospects of economic development have worked.

The transformative mediator is a non-political, expertise-based, facilitating figure whose pivotal method is to empower communication and dialogue between the parties, with a minimal power role. Aspects much needed to foster the overcoming of the ancestral hostilities that prevent a joint solution from being achieved.

Transformative mediation is a critical theory and human needs approach, grounded upon the conviction that current peace-making institutions reflect a neorealist tradition of operativity and that non-state actors are unjustly marginalised in the international system. Its goal is to transform a conflict system in order to overcome its root causes. To achieve so, it evaluates human motives as opposed to institutional ones, as grassroot causes for conflicts – as we saw applies to the identity-based Cyprus conflict.

Among the human needs that transformative mediation takes into account: identity, recognition, security, personality and development, applying an analysis of the contingent motives behind such needs.

Conflict recurrence means a call for social change. This is the premise that takes the transformative approach to giving the utmost importance to human factors behind conflict. And that is not different as for the Cyprus conflict.

For these reasons, a transformative mediation is what the Cypriots need, away from the involvement of the motherlands, which, at this very moment, are only cause of greater problems.

The setting, private and off-the-track, will empower constructive behaviour. Furthermore, facilitating dialogue, accepting and discussing proposals give ground to much needed trust building dynamics.

Brainstorming in informal meetings with experts from the field have proved positive for identity-based conflict resolution.  The inter-communal discord needs to be addressed through group brainstorming, in dialogical and creative ways.

A consideration of the positions expressed and actual interests suggests that both parties are willing to find a joint solution, but at the same time the identity conflict and the still high levels of underlying mistrust make them reluctant to take joint action. Still, the level of cooperation between the conflict actors is high, as demonstrated by the steps taken – however slow and often impaired by contrary actions – towards educational and cross-border cooperation.

Further key elements for an optimal mediation are schematised below:


– Historical analysis of the cultural roots of the conflict

–  Identifying needs and fears of the parties

– Deconstructing the reasons for coming to conflict and transform them to irrelevant in the parties’ eyes. In this sense, an appeal to the pride of the parties should make them feel the higher importance of the good of their people.


– Limited and aimed at creating incentives with the perspective of European investments for development,

infrastructures, education, culture. Could prove particularly significant for Turkish-Cypriots.

– Could be involved in informal meetings and interface with the mediator to stimulate a friendly atmosphere. Listening will be essential.

– Validate proposals for joint agreements on development, infrastructures, education, and culture.



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