Unlocking the Potential of Youth: A Path to Sustainable Peace in Cyprus
On the 29 September 2023, the Good Offices mission of the United Nations convened a discussion on "Realizing Meaningful Youth Participation and Achieving SDGs" through the auspices of the fourth Cyprus Forum. This is the third year in a row the Good Offices mission has participated in the Forum continuing with the tradition of hosting peacebuilding themed sessions. The two previous sessions can be accessed here and here.
The session provided an opportunity to showcase young change-makers who are trailblazing the peace agenda in Cyprus. It also reflected the UN's commitment to mainstreaming the Youth, Peace, and Security Agenda (YPS) for an inclusive and equitable peace process across the island. The session featured four young peace advocates from both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, as well as Awa Dabo, Deputy Head of the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), at the United Nations Headquarters.
The panelists spoke about their concrete experience and challenges faced when augmenting and incorporating those views and perspectives both into formal and non-formal policy dialogue and peacemaking efforts. They also produced specific policy suggestions, such as establishing a dedicated technical committee focused on youth-related issues or increasing the representation of young men and women across the existing twelve technical committees.
In his introductory remarks, the moderator, Arnaud Amouroux from the UN Good Offices mission, stated that amplifying youth voices and actively involving them is not just “something nice to have”, as it can improve decision-making and promote trust in public institutions. Moreover, youth inclusion in the peace process not only leads to more sustainable peace resolutions but also more buy in at the grassroot level. The session referenced the latest Security Council resolution from January 2023, which mandates the UN on the island to advance youth participation and calls upon the two leaders to “increase their support and ensure a meaningful role for, civil society engagement in peace efforts, in particular strengthening the participation of women’s organizations and youth in the process.”
Asya Beyaz, an alum of the College of Europe and a current employee at the European Parliament in Brussels, shed light on the European Union Cypriot Students (EUCS), a group she co-founded. She stressed the pivotal role of 'peace and economics,' emphasizing how economic interconnections on the island foster favorable conditions for a comprehensive settlement. When addressing the Green Line regulations, she pointed out that 'trade generates positive ripple effects, with increased economic activity promoting interdependence between communities, thus laying the foundation for enduring peace.' Additionally, she underscored the substantial potential of young entrepreneurs on both sides of the island, highlighting the importance of fostering a conducive business environment.
Paris Zingis, a master's student specializing in Peace and Conflict Studies at UCY, shared his recent experience as a member of the first bicommunal sailing team to successfully circumnavigate the entire island. In discussing the role of sports in advancing peace, he emphasized, 'Sports have the potential to make substantial contributions to multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leveraging sports to unite communities is a critical step toward achieving lasting peace.'
Berk Tansel, a parliamentary associate of MEP Niyazi Kızılyürek and a member of the Nicosia-based think tank GLOPOL (Global Policies Centre), expressed his concern regarding the declining engagement of youth at the grassroots level on the island. He noted that the current framework lacks a comprehensive organization responsible for ensuring youth's political participation. He stated that 'To better address youth-related issues, the establishment of a technical committee on youth affairs, comprising youth representatives from political parties, experts, and activists, is essential.' Such a committee could work towards more meaningful youth engagement and participation in political processes.
Evgenia Chamilou, a lawyer and former UN Youth Champion for Environment and Peace, emphasized the significance of her journey at Local Conference on Youth (LCOY). While reflecting on her experiences, she drew attention to the absence of an appropriate platform within the current political framework for meaningful youth engagement and the expression of youth perspectives on the Cyprus Problem. She highlighted the need for transparency in involving young people in Cypriot politics, questioning whether young Cypriots receive adequate political education or if politics is only superficially integrated into their educational system.
Wrapping up the session, Awa Dabo provided insights into the YPS Agenda. She underlined the importance of including youth in peacemaking efforts, stating that “Youth are an integral part of prevention and conflict resolution activities and are essential for ensuring that these activities are effective and sustainable, and inclusive. Resolution 2250 states that a large youth population presents a unique demographic dividend to contribute to lasting peace and economic prosperity. In order to do so, we must ensure that governments have in place policies that are inclusive and address the needs of youth, women, and other stakeholders impacted by the crises. The YPS agenda urges member states to develop mechanisms and strategies that allow young people to participate meaningfully, and not simply as a checkbox exercise. It is important that member states work with young people so they can meaningfully participate at all levels - local, national, and regional.”
All four Cypriot panelists are under 30, and are making significant contributions to a more inclusive, tolerant, and peaceful island. Their journeys epitomize dedication, courage, and hope, serving as a source of inspiration for others and reshaping perceptions about the valuable role of youth in society.