Vasileios Karakasis

Establishing a roadmap towards the Transformation of the Cyprus conflict

The Cyprus conflict has witnessed innumerable 3rd party mediations from 1960s onwards. Nevertheless, it has resisted with tenacity multiple efforts and initiatives to bring about a solution. It still resembles one of the oldest unresolved regional and ethnic conflicts, along with the Korean, the Kashmir and the Israeli-Palestinian cases, making it synonymous with intractability.

The goal-concept that both the UN and the EU have set –with respect to the Cyprus question- is its resolution. The world “resolution” is the buzzword in the relevant academic literature and diplomatic vocabulary. Reading into this concept, the key question that resolution seeks to address is how to bring an impasse or a problematic status quo to an end. As implied by its etymology, resolution, is built around the notion of seeking a solution to the problems that made the conflict erupt. Nevertheless, the “resolution” rationale neglects the fact that the nature of conflict reflects a more dynamic phenomenon than a simple problem. It impacts people into several levels –individual, relational, cultural. Due to their narrowly defined character, resolution approaches -even if they are prognosticative of solving problems- miss the greater potential to constructively alter the parameters (and institutions) that enabled the genesis and the perpetuation of the conflict at hand (Lederach 2003). The central issue for a conflict intervention in intractable and protracted conflicts is not how to resolve the issues in dispute but rather “how to transform from the coordinated ensemble of dynamics perpetuating the conflict to a different coherent state that enables benign relations between the contending parties” (Vallacher et al 2010; 263).

Therefore, central objective of this research project is to establish a “roadmap” towards the transformation of the Cyprus conflict. It aims to create a conceptual framework that would help a negotiator –authorized to deal with this conflict- gain a practical insight into strategic peace-building endeavors, designed for the transformation rather than the resolution of the conflict on the island. What is meant by strategic peace-building is the “capacity to develop strategies to maximize the impact of initiatives for constructive change within conflict’s complexity” (Lederach and Apple 2010; 22). Strategic peacebuilding, as a notion, “focuses on transforming inhumane social patterns and flawed structural conditions that weaken all conditions necessary for a flourished human community” (ibid.). Strategic peace-builders should employ complexity and come up in any given situation or issue with practical approaches that stick together key people and initiatives to change destructive patterns and build healthy relationships and patterns (ibid.).

If an EU policy maker wants to fully comprehend the genesis and the dynamic evolution of the Cyprus conflict, he needs some “lenses” that bring varying aspects of its complexity into focus and at the same time create a picture of the whole (Lederach 2003; 11). More specifically, he needs a first lens to observe the immediate situation unfolding on the island. He needs a second lens to see the problems in the past and read into the deeper relationship patterns of the disputants that formulate the context of the conflict. This lens goes beyond reaching a quick solution to the problem at hand, and seeks to address what occurs in human relationships between the conflicting parties at a deeper level. Finally, he needs a third lens that helps the policy-maker to envision a framework that holds the abovementioned lenses together and establishes a platform designed to address and change –to the extent this is possible- the three parameters: the content of the problem per se, the context within which it occurs and the structure of the relationship among the conflicting parties (ibid.).

The Cyprus issue is so convoluted that crucial aspects are overlooked or linkages between different dynamics are not evident. Thus, the proper diagnosis is crucial in making theses lenses work. Thus, the negotiator needs a roadmap or GPS to guide him through this conflict. The current project functions as an assessment guide useful in navigating this conflict and capable of contributing to outlining all its various facets and sources of intractability. This guide is framed as the Conflict Mapping Guide (CMG). It is designed to offer him information regarding the origins, nature, dynamics, stakes and possibilities for the transformation of the conflict.

Ethnic conflicts are essentially past-oriented. They are rooted in personal traumas and collective indignities born in the past that are engines of current confrontations. However, when we try to formalize the beginning and the end of traumatic episodes which reflect epoch-long phenomena, we find ourselves on very thin ice. “Does a conflict start at the moment of an act of aggression, at the installation of conflict structure or only at the moment of violent interactions” (Azar 1986; 28-39)? The historical background of this project will look at historical sweeps of certain episodes identifying a set of conditions that have been responsible for the transformation of a non-conflictual situation into a conflictual one and tracing the patterns of causal relations among these conditions.

Drawing upon Wehr’s (1979), Kriesberg’s (1998) and Sandole’s (1998) work, the next step  is to adopt a three-pillar approach on the conflict. The first pillar is based on a 3A method (Actors, Arena, Aspects), with the contribution of which, the EU negotiator will get informed on the:

a) Actors: the project identifies the characteristics of the parties and categorizes them into primary, secondary and external stakeholders (according to their degree of involvement). With special reference to the primary parties, this dimension casts light on their self-conception (nationalisms, ethnicities, religions or other political ideologies can be important sources for self-conceptions) and the constituencies (insofar as leaders have followers, they must think about mobilizing and maintaining support from their own constituencies).

b) Arena: the project delineates the location and more specifically the (geo)political and structural milieu within which the primary parties are operating

c) Aspects: the project sets forth the issues in contention that the disputants are fighting about as well as the relevant and official negotiated positions.

The source of protracted conflicts is the denial of the following elements that are required in the development of all people and societies: security, distinctive identity, social recognition of identity and effective participation in the processes that determine conditions of security and identity (Azar 1986; 29). The second pillar seeks to investigate whether these conditions exist in this case. It draws the attention to conflict causes and conditions of the Cyprus question, like problems of perceptions and communication that are generally identified in protracted conflict-settings. More specifically, this pillar will help the EU negotiator to grasp the potential sources of conflict operative at three different levels:

a) individual (focusing on the personalized traumas that occurred after certain violent events evoked by the “opponents”).

b) societal (focusing on how the societies have interpreted and perceived certain violent events evoked by the “opponents”). Special attention will be paid to the role of ethnicity in this respect. The study of ethnicity and the drive for ethnic identity entail psychological properties and discursive resources which have the potential to decant into violence. “No other form of social identity, in the early 21st century has a comparable power, save for the closely related forms of collective affiliation, race and religion” (Young 2003; 9).

c) relational (focusing on the images that the one side holds for the other).

The political overtones of conflicts may mirror ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural overtones. It is vital to understand as much as possible about the nuances of both the situation and the relationships involved, particularly those with whom the negotiator will be working closely. The rationale of this pillar is to present a holistic view on psycho-cultural (religious) understanding of those factors that have contributed to the genesis and perpetuation of the conflict. It addresses concerns, belief-systems and needs at the above mentioned levels. In doing so, the project will elaborate on how the contending parties have “objectified” these socio-cultural positions in terms of interests, stakes and goals.

The third pillar takes us into conflict intervention, conducted mainly by the UN and secondly by the EU. The project will record all related peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding initiatives that have been undertaken by the UN since 1964 onwards. The CMG will assist a negotiator in visualizing the development of a strategy and in constructively transforming the conflict. Professional peace-builders are well aware that a comprehensive and sustainable approach to establishing just peace in deeply divided societies takes significantly more time and commitment that governments and intergovernmental agencies typically allot. Aim of this approach is to illustrate how to forge the collaborative local-national-transnational alliances, partnerships, movement to movement and person to person relationships for the sake of just peace (Lederach and Apple 2010; 23-24).

This project, seeking to academically contribute to the field of conflict studies, will conduct an analysis with the following characteristics:

a. multilevel: it embraces all levels of conflict (intra-personal, interpersonal, intergroup, international and the complex interplay between them)

b. multidisciplinary: it has to draw on many disciplines, with special reference –among others- to international relations, political science, sociology, social psychology and religion

c. analytic and normative: on the one side it includes a systematic analysis and interpretation of both the current status quo and the recorded initiatives to improve it. On the other side, this analysis, from the outset, will be associated with the normative aim of learning how to better transform conflict into non-violent processes of social, political and other forms of change (Ramsbotham et al. 2011) capable of leading to just peace (as coined by Lederach 2003).


Azar E. (1986) “Protracted International Conflicts: Ten Propositions” in Azar E. & Burton J. (eds.) International Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice, Colorado: Boulder, pp. 28-39

Bercovich J., Kremenyuk V. and Zartman I. W (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Conflict Resolution, London: SAGE Publications

Kriesberg L. (1998) Constructive Conflicts From Escalation to Resolution, Lanhan, New York, Boulder, Oxford: Littlefield Publishers

Lederach J. P. (2003) The Little Book of Conflict Transformation: Clear articulation of the guiding principles by the pioneer in the field, Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace

Lederach J.P& Apple B. (2010) “Strategic Peacebuilding: An overview” in Philpott D. & Powers G.F (eds.) Strategies of Peace Transforming Conflict in a Violent World, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 19-44

Ramsbotham Ol., Woodhouse T. & Miall (3rd eds. 2011) Contemporary Conflict Resolution, Cambridge UK: Polity

Sandole D.J.D (1998) ‘A Comprehensive Mapping of Conflict and Conflict Resolution: A Three Pillar Approach”, IAPTC Newsletter (International Association of Peacekeeping Training Centers), Lester B. Pearson Canadian International Peacekeeping Training Center, Nova Scotia Clementsport

Vallacher R., Coleman P.T., Nowak A. and Wrzosinska (2010) “Rethinking Intractable Conflict. The Perspective of Dynamical Systems”, in American Psychologist, Vol. 65(14), pp. 262-278

Wehr P. (1979) Conflict Regulation, Westview Press, Colorado: Boulder

Connection with professional experience

My name is Vasileios P. Karakasis and I am born in Athens, Greece. Holding a strong interest in International Relations, I launched my BA studies in Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Athens (from 2002 to 2006) specializing on International and European Studies. I pursued my Master studies in International Relations at Bilgi University in Turkey (2006-2008), focusing on the Turkish-Greek relations. My Master Thesis, The Impact of Europeanization on Greece’s Engagement Strategy towards Turkey, has been published as a book in July 2011.

In 2011-2012 I pursued his MSc in Public Administration at Leiden University, focusing on Crisis and Security Management. In the aftermath of my MSc studies, I started working as an intern at Sen Foundation for Research and Education on International Cooperation and now as a Research Associate and Course Coordinator (voluntarily). I started pursuing my PhD on the Cyprus Issue in April 2014. Pr. Voorhoeve is my current supervisor along with Pr. Steunenberg.

Although my main ambition is to remain in the academia, I seek, through this project, a job position in International Organizations, NGOs, think-tanks and/or research institutes that hold relevant affiliations (international relations and conflict studies). Working as an EU or UN diplomat who gains a practical insight on different conflict grounds and cooperates/consults with pioneers on the conflict studies’ field have been among the reasons that have motivated me to pursue a PhD with this subject.

Laatst Gewijzigd: 23-09-2014