Cyprus is a small island in the Mediterranean, which is divided in even smaller pieces. Nicosia, its capital, is the only divided capital in Europe after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. In-between this division lies the Home for Cooperation, an inter-communal hub dedicated to peace building, a building which has gone through decades of division to now stand as a bridge-builder, with its own story to tell.
The driving force behind this ground-breaking initiative is the intercommunal Cyprus-based NGO, Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR).
History of a Home, past, present, and future…
In the early 1950s, the building was constructed by the Mangoian family to be used as a home, and to also host other businesses including a hair salon, a car rental shop, and a photography studio.
Intercommunal clashes left traumatic marks on the street, the lives of the inhabitants and the building itself. With barricades marking the division of the island positioned on either of its sides, in 1964 the building was caught literally in between. Along with the barricades came a new presence in the area: the UN peace keeping forces. Movement from north to south along the street, and vice versa, was limited.
The dividing line took its current shape after the military intervention of Turkey in 1974. In that summer, the building caught in between crossfire was dramatically marked. The owner and its tenants were forced to evacuate the building, which was now left abandoned in this no man’s land, to tell stories of confrontation and trauma.
- In 1975, Turkish Cypriots moved to north of the divide and Greek Cypriots, to the south, as a result of the Population Exchange Agreement. Soon, the no man’s land took on different names, such as the Green Line, the dead zone, the buffer zone. And it became a symbol of confrontation.
- The Ledra Palace crossing was the route through which very few people could cross from one side to the other. The Ledra Palace Hotel was the venue where politicians held meetings to discuss the “Cyprus problem.”
It was also one of the most suitable places for citizen groups and civil society organizations from either side of the buffer zone to meet and pursue common projects, as well as having the opportunity to meet people from other communities in Cyprus.
- The buffer zone, this demilitarised strip of land, still runs across the island from east to west for 180 km, dividing the island into north and south. At certain locations it is some kilometres wide, and at others only a few steps.
In April 2003, the buffer zone became for the first time in over 30 years permeable. Of the few crossing points to open, the Ledra Palace crossing was the first, with hundreds of people queuing in anticipation. A new dynamic was injected into communal and inter-communal life in the street. During this time, the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR), a group of scholars, researchers and educators across the divide was already working on creating an open dialogue in historical understanding and enhanced research methods in Cyprus.
In 2005 AHDR decided to transform the building, which had been abandoned for several decades, into a shared space, an educational centre, and call it the “Home for Cooperation”. At the time, this idea seemed impossible even to the most passionate adherents of cooperation across the divide.
Nevertheless, in 2007, UNFICYP granted support for an unprecedented civil society led effort to transform the buffer zone.
In 2009, the AHDR received financial support from the European Economic Area Grants and Norway Grants (major donors Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) allowing the “Home for Cooperation” project to move ahead.
The conservation of this building to become an inter-communal research and education centre, extended beyond fixing damaged walls. As a building existing in the buffer zone, in between the two communities, its transformation carried deep connotations. It showed that people who may have been separated for decades can come together, to understand, to learn, and to create together once again. The transformation of this building gave the space to do just that. It was only fitting, then, that renovation works began with a Cypriot style barbeque street party.
The Home for Cooperation opened its doors to the world on the 6th of May 2011, with an opening ceremony bringing together the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, representatives of civil society and dignitaries from around Europe, including the Council of Europe, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. The unique four-day celebration marking the inauguration of the Home showcased the collective efforts of civil society organisations in Cyprus, with musical performances, sports events, art exhibitions, a symposium and film screenings.
Today the Home for Cooperation has organically grown from an educational and research centre to a unique community centre infused with the identities, energies and ideas of people, of all people in Cyprus. Now this building has become a shared space where many narratives coexist. And it is now left to tell stories of healing and hope.