- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

Twenty teenagers from the two opposing sides of Cyprus strangers until they met July 1 on American soil were called "young peacemakers" during the three weeks they spent in Washington.
The youths, 14 to 16, are separated at home by their country's so-called Green Line, which divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. They came here for a total immersion project called Peace Through Art in Washington, D.C., organized by the International Child Art Foundation in cooperation with the Cyprus Fulbright Commission.
The young people, all of them interested in art, learned leadership skills as they worked at a variety of creative tasks and along the way formed strong friendships.
Whether such experiences will one day help to bring peace to their island home can't be known, but just five days before their departure on separate flights, of course participants spoke freely about what they learned during their stay.
"I learned that we are the same. I just saw it," said 16-year-old Melis Eroglu from Turkish Cyprus.
"We will keep up by e-mail," vowed15-year-old Vasiliki Paraskevaidou from Greek Cyprus.
"We learn their thinking about us," said Turkish Cypriot Sesil Erdal, 15. "It's beautiful to feel their feelings. I think we make a good group."
"We've learned they are not enemies and everyone can live in peace," volunteered Turkish Cypriot Ulas Nazim, 15. "Back there I didn't think we could live together because we don't have chances to make friends. We're here proving we can."
If such words sound scripted straight out of an idealists' dream book, organizers should take note of some other reactions voiced by the youthful participants when asked what they would have done differently.
Being polite, they demurred at first, then laughed and admitted that they would prefer "fewer sandwiches at lunch" and "more time to shop." A day trip to a private farm in Mercersburg, Pa., included "just 15 minutes" in a nearby mall "where you didn't have to pay any taxes," volunteered the knowledgeable Ulas, who purchased equipment to make compact discs along with some Nike shoes.
All agreed that some of the best moments in a carefully planned out three-week program were those spent together in their downtown Washington hotel at the end of the day. Two chaperones a Greek Cypriot graphic artist and a Turkish Cypriot art teacher accompanied them. The teacher, Aycan Utkan, suggested that a Turkish Cypriot and a Greek Cypriot be paired in the same room.

Education can happen in unexpected ways, as sponsors of this innovative venture readily attest, but the preparation and philosophy behind this program was thought out with some very particular goals in mind.
Cyprus was split into two parts 28 years ago, and for peace to come to the island in any lasting fashion, a degree of mutual understanding and cooperation is essential. Mindful of suspicion and distrust arising from the years of separation, organizers hoped to instill in a younger generation fresh attitudes and ideas about how the two communities can exist side by side in an open society.
Two things the teens generally Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims had in common at the outset were their interest in art and the ability to speak English. The professionals working with them on this side were skilled in conflict resolution techniques as well as art, music and photography.
Instrumental in making the event happen was the Cyprus Fulbright Commission, headquartered on neutral territory on the island. The commission joined with the Washington-based International Child Art Foundation (ICAF), whose chairman is Harriet Mayor Fulbright, widow of Sen. William Fulbright. Mr. Fulbright created the popular Fulbright scholarship program that promotes study abroad and understanding among cultures.
"Peace Through Art" is only the latest of many ICAF programs aimed, as their literature states, "to encourage multicultural communication through the common language of art."
Few people would argue with that high-minded concept, although words in the abstract are apt to fail as a description of how this works in practice. Participants engage in carefully monitored conversations and workshops and leisure activities that bring them together.
The Cypriot group went sightseeing (Arlington Cemetery, the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival, Kennedy Center, and so forth), saw a D.C. United soccer game at RFK Stadium and an outdoor movie on the Mall, toured Civil War sites around Mercersburg, dined in private homes as well as the Rayburn building cafeteria, and met several members of Congress. The art they created was displayed in the World Bank and the Rayburn House Office Building foyer.
They probably saw more in a short time than most Washingtonians ever do. And they did most of it traveling by Metro, complaining mildly at the end like ordinary tourists that they had to walk too much.

The art was fun, too, although it had a very deliberate purpose, with three hands-on workshops called "past, present and future." As instructor Rocio Campos notes, "in any conflict there are roots and causes in the past, present and future."
The young people's working base was ICAF's ChildArt Gallery at the Chevy Chase Pavilion on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Friendship Heights. At one afternoon session in the gallery, Miss Campos a Mexican-born art teacher who is a member of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, based in Lund, Sweden asked them to make a sculptural mosaic representing Cyprus out of simple materials such as stones and paint.
"The idea was to find a similarity between their cultures," Miss Campos explained, noting that the two sides share a lot of history.
By way of introduction, she held up untitled photos of scenes from all over their island and asked the teenagers to identify the sites. There was a spontaneous murmur of Turkish and Greek and a lot of guesswork in their attempts to answer correctly. Often they could not tell whether a scene was in the Turkish or in the Greek part of the island.
"These are not kids who have experiences in refugee camps, but they may have preconceived opinions from their parents' or grandparents' experiences," Miss Campos said privately.
Another day, mixed groups were asked to create a poster with any theme each could agree upon, using words from newspapers they had been asked to bring with them from Cyprus. That brought up talk of what they like and don't like to read in newspapers at home. One group created a flag on paper using both Greek and Turkish elements with the island's outline in the middle. Another invented an article about an all-Cyprus football team. The "future" workshop had them seated with Greek Cypriots on one side and Turkish Cypriots on the other drawing portraits of their opposite partner.
"This is done to explore how they were feeling working opposite another, since another element in conflict is how people perceive one another," Miss Rocio said.
This was the most difficult exercise, she noted, since "they are much more comfortable working in teams." Those pleased with the results asked to have their photograph taken with the portrait. The rest hung back, or said boldly and openly why they objected.
The latter expression indicated progress, since in the first days, as supervisors noted, there was a natural reluctance to hide their true feelings.

Younger teens were chosen, explained ICAF program manager Lydia Gizdavcic, because they are at an age when they are mature enough to enjoy such a program and are able to think for themselves. The methodology involved in the experiential encounters was developed with the help of psychoanalyst Maurice Apprey of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
"It's very hopeful for this age group to use the art [for self-expression] because even if a person says, 'I love you,' they may be full of ambivalence," Mr. Apprey said in a brief interview after one of the workshops. "The artwork shows this gap." Three weeks are essential to produce constructive results in a process involving several quite definitive steps, he said.
"They inch towards each other and pull back" until a final stage he described as "assuming ethical responsibility" saying we have to find a way to get along, where they envision solutions.
"What they learn is that conflict always is present in human beings but the more successful of us always have tools to deal with conflict," Mr. Apprey said.
His last session, he said, was helping them prepare for "re-entry problems. People might call them traitors, and they should be prepared for that. You immunize them for the future."
Immunized or not, the Cyprus Fulbright Commission, Mrs. Fulbright says, is considering how to get the group together again in the future at home.
The young Cypriot artists' work will go on display today for a month in ICAF's ChildArt Gallery on the Metro level of the Chevy Chase Pavilion, 5335 Wisconsin Ave. NW. The gallery is open to the public. Call 202/362-3729 for hours.

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