Technology for Peace
The project Technology For Peace (Tech4Peace) was envisioned and implemented in order to enhance one of the most basic human rights, the right of communication across the military barriers in Cyprus. It was "born" because it was needed. What led to its birth was neither the availability of relevant technology nor the availability of funding, because both were simply not there! The ban of bi-communal meetings imposed by the Turkish Cypriot Authorities following the EU’s decision to postpone accession negotiations with Turkey (summit meeting in Luxembourg, December 1997) stopped our face-to-face dialogues and threatened to nullify all peace building efforts. An alternative means of communication across the border became necessary. At the same time, notwithstanding its status as a developed/ing country, Cyprus was one of the last countries to connect to the Internet. This was partly because of a monopoly of the state-owned Telecommunications Company and partly because of the communications embargo imposed by the authorities.
The Tech4Peace project was founded as one of the projects selected for implementation during The 1995 Agora Peace Bazaar organized by the Cyprus Conflict Resolution Trainers Group on June 24, 1995 during which the Cyprus Conflict Resolution Trainers Group invited in the premises of Ledra Palace others who had expressed interest in joining them in peace building efforts . The members of the founding team were Yiannis Laouris, Harry Anastasiou, Dervis Besimler and Bekir Azgin.
The Technology for Peace concept began as early as 1995 as a spin off from activities of the Cyprus Conflict Resolution Trainers Group as well as initiatives of US-based Cypriot students.:
- A bicommunal virtual organisation (known at the time as UCM: United Cyprus Movement) has been set-up on the Internet to discuss matters of general interest and attempt to inform and recruit Cypriots (both Turkish and Greek) who lived abroad. The software for automating the workings of this virtual community was partly designed and developed by Greek Cypriot Yiannis Laouris and Turkish Cypriot Turgut Durduran. The whole system was hosted in various university servers (USA, Australia), but since 1997 it became a "refugee project" because the expenses rose to a level that the participants couldn’t afford.
- Members of the three groups (Establish bi-communal center to teach Internet and Greek and Turkish languages; Organize bi-communal workshops on problem solving techniques for educationalists; Set up bi-communal training/research center on conflict resolution and problem solving) their June 1995 Agora organised by Cyprus Conflict Resolution Trainers Group teamed up with the internet group and created the Technology for Peace Initiative which organised a number of trainings.
- In July 1996, Yiannis Laouris, Mustafa Anlar, Lefteris Neoptolemou and Dervis Besimler all members of the Cyprus Conflict Resolution Trainers Group, planned and materialized an Internet Workshop for students. This activity was funded (provision for space and snacks) by the Cyprus Fulbright Commission and took place in the Fulbright Building in the Buffer zone.
- In August 1997, Laouris and Anastasiou (from the Greek Cypriot side) in coordination with their counterparts in the North, Dervis Besimler and Bekir Azgin, together with other members of the Technology for Peace Initiative from both communities founded the internet group, which became known as Tech4Peace.
- In July 1998 Technology for Peace held an Internet Training Workshop in Nicosia, Cyprus. This training workshop was jointly organized by the Institute of World Affairs in Washington, D.C., and the Technology for Peace Group in Nicosia, Cyprus.
In 1997, a USAID grant ($12,000 for the Greek Cypriot side) to Dr. Hrach Gregorian of the Institute of World Affairs, who has been collaborating with the two sides of the Tech4Peace initiative, was used to purchase for two computers, in the South and four in the North, a server in the States, rent for space and internet fees for six months, and modest facilitators' remunerations. Following two parallel workshops, and a follow-up for a six-month period of virtual negotiations in the context of the ICONS Project of the University of Maryland allowing Turkish- and Greek- Cypriots to participate in virtual negotiation workshops at a time when crossing the border was not possible,) and communication, the project was brought to existence and its significance and contributions became visible.
Tech4Peace enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the USAID representation in Cyprus Mrs. Judith Baroody, it received great and positive attention by the media, by diplomats and of course, more importantly, it was embraced by the peace builders of both sides who gradually saw the potential and opportunity provided by cyberspace.
A small follow-up grant by the USIP ($6,000 for GC side) supported the purchase of two additional computers, and paid for internet connection fees during a workshop that took place in the summer of 1998. This workshop signalled the new revised strategy of the initiative, which was to involve and train active members of bicommunal groups so that they could benefit from the potentials and advantages that virtual cyberspace infrastructures had to offer.
Tech4Peace has also been supported both financially and in terms of man hours by its members. For example, while the funds for renting Internet Services have already been used up, the system continued to operate with subsidees from its members. It has organised and hosted many seminars and workshops, organized many other activities and laid the foundations for the first organized infrastructure for the bicommunal world. In contrast to its surprisingly numerous activities and significant contributions, it had been supported only by modest funds.
CYBER KIDS has also supported the Tech4Peace project by donating funds and space. It hosted the project for 12 months at its own expense and offered technical know-how at no cost.
Needs Assessment at the time
As the political situation stood at the time, the Tech4Peace project provided the only form of communication in a bicommunally structured system between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The ban on direct bicommunal contacts and events had consequently raised the Tech4Peace project to a new level of significance. For the first time, citizens engaged in peace building had in fact been able to sustain communication through periods of paralysis of the rapprochement efforts resulting from political reasons and impasse. Through e-mails and chatting they could keep the citizen peace process alive, sustaining motivation through difficult times, while anticipating possible progress on the political level. In fact, a number of bicommunal groups which had been active through regular meetings were then requesting training and participation in the Tech4Peace project as the only means of sustaining communication and continuity for their work.
Using technology to promote communication and peace activities in a conflict area like Cyprus, in which physical access was restricted at the time, was a top priority on the agendas of those who wished to support rapprochment. The need for communication between the two sides was obvious. The fact that hundreds of people who were involved in bicommunal activities communicated through emails was to a large degree due to the fact that dozens of people received direct training by Tech4Peace and dozens of others regularly called and requested help, contact information or technical support by Tech4Peace. Volunteers had invested hundreds of hours supporting all those who wished to stay in contact with the other side. It is probably worth noting that Internet was first made available in Cyprus in 1996, thus, the number of people who could capitalize on such technologies was indeed negligible at the time.
It is probably fair to state that peace builders from both sides, viewed the initiative as their virtual "office" which provided them support at all levels.
Moreover, a new Coordinating Group, led by Dinos Lordos had been formed in each respective community which was making full use of the group e-mailing system that was set up in the context of the initiative. The members of the Coordinating Group were working with their respective groups to introduce them in Tech4Peace and encourage them to use and benefit from its infrastructure. In that context, sustaining and further developing the project had far reaching repercussions for the cause of peace in Cyprus, particularly by way of sustaining citizen involvement, in spite of the periodic political odds.
The facilities made available by Tech4Peace did not entail only a means of communication, but also a hi-tech type of infrastructure, which could be used for a vast range of projects and activities. In that sense, the need and also the opportunity of the project was to optimize its utilization by adding informational content to the system and inviting citizens to utilize it efficiently and effectively.
In addition to providing a sustainable means of communication, internet exposed peacebuilders from both communities to global information. The fact, for example, that within a few minutes, one could access first-hand information on most recent issues (e.g. EU-Cyprus relations, Palestinean-Israel disputes etc.) or read about the mission and activities of all types of organizations (e.g. Peace Centers, funding organizations, government agencies etc. world-wide).
In light of the above perspectives, activating and further expanding the Tech4Peace project in 1997 was then a crucial priority and urgent need. It was a fact that the full potential of Tech4Peace was far from realization because of two main reasons:
- A number of bicommunal groups were in queue waiting to be trained in using Tech4Peace to reactivate, enhance and expand their rapprochement activities, and
- More equipment was needed to meet the demand.
Tech4Peace was subsequently funded through UNDP/UNOPS with three grants:
- Using Technology for Virtual Negotiation and Peace
- Technology for Peace: Phase 2
- Technology for Peace: Phase 3
Electronic Archives (web pages) and Strategies
In a series of workshops, the various bicommunal groups created their web pages giving a profile of their work and activities and creating a virtual meeting and promotion place. This entailed:
- Designing the electronic base for their home page with a great range of sub-pages reflecting the entire spectrum of their bicommunal activities and
- Adding the relevant textual-literary content for their pages.
This process involved a combination of computer experts designing the electronic base of the Tech4Peace internet page(s) working together with active representatives of the various bicommunal groups who provided and prepared all the relevant information for the content. The objectives were:
- Design all the essential pages to be prepared, and their electronic-thematic interrelationships, involving all the relevant persons representing the corresponding areas i.e. Archives of past conflict-resolution workshop results, a magazine section hosting articles on peace, policy scenarios for peace, a record of past bicommunal and peace events, announcements of upcoming events, a "library" of book lists on peace related issues, a page presenting official political documents of the two sides side-by-side including UN documents, a section on imaginative post-solution, news bulletins, etc., a creative ideas section, etc., etc.
- Designing the electronic base for the server that would host the page(s), and their interactive relationships, mostly by people versed in technical matters, graphic designers etc.
- Compilation of the content materials, classifications, and uploads. There existed a mass of material, ideas and projects which were scattered and essentially unknown and inaccessible to the public and interested parties.
- Developing an on-line web-based system, which would permit the members of the various bicommunal groups to re-vote, thus changing their votes on certain questions based on changes in the real political arenas and the changing broader political environment of the Cyprus problem. The Interactive Management methodology introduced by Professor Benjamin Broome in Cyprus had been used to develop the first bicommunal vision maps, obstacle maps and options map. With this tool, Tech4Peace wanted to not only have a stationary picture of the three maps, but also a dynamic one that would reflect the changing phases that the Cyprus problem was going through. That would in essence provide a picture of how bicommunal consensus changes in time due to external factors (i.e. political environment, economic changes, crisis events, development of the peace movement etc.). Furthermore, the system would allow any Cypriot citizens from anywhere in the world to participate in a collective map, thus contributing to a Cypriot Bicommunal Peoples' Vision Map. This objective has not been achieved to the present day.
Training practically all Bicommunal Groups to use internet
Two-day workshops were organized to train key representative members of all bicommunal groups in using Internet and Technology For Peace Facilities, such as group e-mail, the TFP Virtual Negotiation Program etc. to facilitate their peace promoting work and coordinate their activities using Cyberspace.
Cultivating a cyberspace culture and publicizing of activities
In a series of small workshops, Tech4Peace identified, designed and developed the electronic base for Web Pages for each bicommunal group. Each group was encouraged and trained to assume responsibility in designing, developing using and promoting their own cyber office.
Tech4Peace contributed in the collecting of content information on activities and work of all the bicommunal groups and up-loaded it on its Web Pages. It also provided continuing technical support and technical advise to all groups.
Attracting Interns from across the globe
Many international students have been attracted to work as interns for the Technology for Peace project. Among them, most notable were:
- Akihiro Sando
- Astrid Blümlein
- Björn Rohde-Liebenau
- Isaac Kastellano
- Jenine Alexander
- Kerstin Wittig
- Larry Fergeson
- Pelin Aksoy
- Randolph Dilday
- Reinhard Eckert
Note: Alphabetic order
- Peace Bazaar in Wikipedia
- July 1996 in the Chart
- Institute of World Affairs Web site
- Kaufman, J.P. (1998). Using Simulation as a Tool to Teach About International Negotiation. International Negotiation, 3:1, 59–75
- Laouris, Y. (2004b). Information technology in the service of peace building: The case of Cyprus. World Futures, 60(1 & 2), 67–79
- Laouris, Y. and Tziapouras, G. (2002). Technology used for peace in Cyprus. Peacebuilding 3(3), 4-8.
- Laouris, Y., Laouri, R. and Christakis, A. (2008). Communication praxis for ethical accountability; The ethics of the tree of action. Syst Res Behav Sci 25(2), 331–348.
- Laouris, Y. and Laouri, R. (2008). Can Information and mobile technologies serve close the economic, educational, digital and social gaps and accelerate development? World Futures, 64(4), 254-275.
- Laouris about Technology and Peace Building (2001). In Marketa Geislerova (Ed): CYPRUS: SHARING THE CANADIAN EXPERIENCE OF LIVING TOGETHER, Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development, June 15-17, 2001, Larnaca, Cyprus, 7005.3E Download.