ECMI Minorities Blog.The Bicommunal Technical Committees in Cyprus: A Rare Example of ‘Engagement without Recognition’

Nasia Hadjigeorgiou
© / Thanasis F

*** The blog posts are prepared by the authors in their personal capacity. The views expressed in the blog posts are the sole responsibility of the authors concerned and do not necessarily reflect the view of the European Centre for Minority Issues. ***

Author: Nasia Hadjigeorgiou  |

 Dr. Nasia Hadjigeorgiou is a Resident Expert at ICLAIM and an Assistant Professor in Transitional Justice and Human Rights at UCLan Cyprus. She is currently the Project Coordinator of the InPeace project. Her monograph, entitled Protecting Human Rights and Building Peace in Post-violence Societies: An Underexplored Relationship (Hart Publishing, 2020), which received the Constantinos Emilianides Annual Book Award in Law, focuses on the protection of human rights in Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. She has also edited a book on Identity, Belonging and Human Rights (Brill, 2019) and has published a range of peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in the area of human rights and the Cyprus conflict.



This post focuses on the bicommunal Technical Committees in Cyprus which, it argues, are rare instances of successful ‘Engagement without Recognition’ (EWR) between a parent and a de facto state. EWR is based on the idea that non-internationally recognized states cannot remain isolated forever; interacting with them is necessary both because this will resolve problems they face within their de facto borders, and also because this is likely to make them more susceptible to international pressure to resolve the frozen conflict of which they are part. At the same time, when international actors engage with de facto states, there is a risk that this will directly or indirectly result in their international recognition. Yet, this is not a risk that the international community is willing to take. EWR strikes a balance between the two conflicting considerations as it allows the international community to not entirely ignore de facto states, while explicitly making it clear that engaging with them does not also signal a change in their non-recognized status.

Despite the important work the Technical Committees have been doing since their establishment – with some having been formed 15 years ago – very little is publicly known about them (for a useful overview, see here). This post sheds light on the Technical Committees by explaining how and why they were established, and in what way they can be understood as examples of EWR. It offers examples of successful projects that were implemented by the Technical Committees and identifies lessons we can learn from their experiences to date.

The historical context of the Technical Committees

Cyprus is the home of one of the most long-standing frozen conflicts in the world. Bicommunal conflict started in 1963 and culminated in 1974. The violence resulted in forcible population transfers, with Greek Cypriots being displaced to the southern part of the island and Turkish Cypriots to the northern part. Since 1974, the southern part of the island has been under the effective control of the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus (RoC), while the northern part is under the effective military, political, and economic control of Turkey. In 1983, Turkish Cypriots declared the independence of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (‘TRNC’), which, however, has not been recognised by any state, with the exception of Turkey.

This state of affairs – with an internationally recognised and a non-internationally recognised state existing side by side – creates a number of practical problems for Cypriots. While the conflict remains unresolved and, in theory, stagnant, life on the ground continues. The ideal response to these practical problems, short of a comprehensive peace agreement, is for Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to cooperate in order to address them. For the longest time, this simple observation was not accepted by either community, both of which refused to recognise the other as legitimate.

The situation became increasingly unsustainable after 2003, when a number of checkpoints along the UN Buffer Zone were opened, thus allowing Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to interact for the first time since 1974. As a result, in 2008, the leaders of the two communities established eight bicommunal Technical Committees, which are responsible for ‘addressing issues that affect the day-to-day life of people, through encouraging and facilitating greater interaction and understanding between the two communities’. The bicommunal Technical Committees – of which there are now 12, covering a range of different themes such as health, crime, and the environment – are operated by expert volunteers working in their personal capacity who are appointed by the respective community leaders.

Despite the similar objectives of, and rationales for, the Technical Committees, there are important differences between them. First, some Technical Committees are very small in terms of their membership, while others are significantly larger. Second, most Technical Committees have spent very little money in their operations to date, while others have managed to attract significant amounts of funding. Third, some Technical Committees have failed to implement high-impact projects. The Technical Committee on Gender Equality, for instance, has published an Action Plan on how to secure women’s full participation in the ongoing peace negotiations but has not followed the Plan very effectively. Similarly, the Technical Committee on Crisis Management has been generally sidelined, and the Technical Committee on Humanitarian Affairs has reported almost no activities since its establishment in 2015. Conversely, others have received international awards for their activities; some of their success stories are discussed in more detail below.

Examples of ‘Engagement without Recognition’

While there are some examples of engagement without recognition between de facto states and the international community as a whole, it is much rarer to see instances of EWR between de facto and parent states. This is unsurprising because while de facto states might be keen to cooperate with the international community, they are less enthusiastic about acknowledging the existence of the parent state from which they attempted to secede. Similarly, a parent state is a lot less likely to want to engage with the de facto state as it works on the assumption that the more isolated it is, the more likely it is to disappear. Despite factors discouraging EWR between parent and de facto states, the Technical Committees are well-developed, long-standing, and relatively successful examples of precisely this practice.

Three examples will be discussed here to showcase the Technical Committees’ impactful work. First, in recognition that “criminals in Cyprus resolved the Cyprus problem long before the politicians did”,[i] in 2009 the Technical Committee on Crime and Criminal Matters established the Joint Contact Room (JCR). The JCR provides a forum where members of the law enforcement agencies of the two communities can exchange information on ongoing police investigations. In true EWR style, the exchange does not happen directly between the two agencies. Rather, the RoC police share this information with a Greek Cypriot member of the JCR, who then informs his Turkish Cypriot counterpart. The Turkish Cypriot member then communicates this information to the Turkish Cypriot police, and vice versa. The JCR has been fairly successful since it has contributed to more than 1,000 instances of information exchange between 2009 and 2018, which is the last year for which we have publicly available statistics.

Second, between 2017 and 2022 the Technical Committee on Education ran an education programme called ‘Imagine’. The programme aimed to increase contact between members of the two communities in Cyprus and promote peace and anti-racism on the island. It did so by bringing together teachers and students from the two communities in the UN Buffer Zone. For most children, and even many adults, this day-long event was the first interaction they had ever had with members of the other community. As of 2022, 6,117 students (accompanied by 714 teachers) had been trained in the ‘Imagine’ project. Another 518 teachers had received peace education training both mono-communally and bi-communally, and a further 92 headteachers participated in the ‘Imagine’ headteachers conference in 2019. ‘Imagine’ was abruptly stopped when the newly-elected Turkish Cypriot community leader declared that the programme was not in line with the Turkish Cypriot community’s political objectives. Despite persistent urgings from the UN Secretary-General to resume ‘Imagine’, this has, to date, not happened.

The third example of a successful project is the ad hoc sharing of electricity between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. In 2013, a container full of explosives that had negligently been left sitting next to the island’s largest power station exploded, which left Greek Cypriots without electricity for days. In an effort to respond to the urgent demand for electricity, Greek Cypriot members of the Technical Committee on Economic and Commercial Matters approached their Turkish Cypriot counterparts and asked whether they could buy electricity that had been produced in the areas not under the effective control of the RoC. This operation was not risk-free for the Turkish Cypriots since the two electricity grids had not been connected in the past, and the rushed attempt to do so put the whole island in danger of blackouts. Nevertheless, the Turkish Cypriots agreed, the grids were successfully connected, and electricity was shared from one side of the island to the other. Since then, the two electricity grids have been connected following more robust safety protocols and electricity can now be shared at the flicking of a switch. Even though Greek Cypriots have not made use of this service since 2013, Turkish Cypriots rely on the linked electricity grid approximately once per year. Instead of exchanging money, it has been agreed through the Technical Committee, that the community that is borrowing electricity will return the same amount to the provider as soon as possible.

Lessons learned from the Cypriot EWR experience

Four lessons can be learned from the experiences of the Technical Committees. The first is that EWR is possible even in places like Cyprus, which have historically experienced high levels of recognition phobia, and where the conflict has been in place for decades. The RoC has, over the years, adopted a series of strategies in order to ensure that the ‘TRNC’ is not recognized, and has done so very successfully. Even with this background (which is different to what has been happening in other frozen conflicts, such as Transnistria), it has been possible to establish Technical Committees that produce meaningful results.

The second lesson is that there is not just one way of doing EWR. Different thematic areas that require cooperation might need different types of EWR to be adopted in order to produce results in the most efficient manner. So, the Technical Committee on Health has relatively free rein to implement projects it considers necessary in order to safeguard the health of the island’s inhabitants, presumably because it is concerned with matters that require medical expertise, rather than political savviness. Similarly, the Technical Committee on Broadcasting is not subject to much political control, as it has, on occasions, had to act extremely quickly in order to stop radio signals from one side of the Green Line inadvertently interfering with the frequencies used by planes when taking off or landing on the other. However, the same is not the case with the Technical Committee on Education, which is perceived as dealing with inherently less technical themes and where political intervention is considered a lot more necessary. All three Technical Committees have produced important work in Cyprus, thus suggesting that the model that has been chosen for each is the appropriate one.

Thirdly, if the objective of EWR is to get parent and de facto states to cooperate on a given matter, then decentralising the process and putting in place experts that are willing to cooperate to get things done is a strategy that has generally worked well. By explicitly calling (and treating) these experts as volunteers, who are not employed by and do not necessarily have the same agendas as the political leaders, it becomes possible to create positive dynamics among people who are interested in addressing a common issue. Members of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage are concerned that unless they intervene, historical monuments will be lost forever, and members of the Technical Committee on the Environment care about protecting the island they jointly inhabit. When these considerations come to the fore, experts who know that that their actions as volunteers cannot lend legitimacy to the other side, find it easier to collaborate and get things done.

The fourth lesson to draw from the experience of the Technical Committees is that money is important for the success of EWR, but that political support – or at least not politically hindering the work of these bodies – is even more important. No Technical Committee illustrates this more vividly than the Technical Committee on Education. At a time when most Technical Committees were inactive because they had no money to finance their ideas, the Technical Committee established ‘Imagine’, a costly project, by securing funding from the Federal Foreign Office of the Republic of Germany. Five years later, ‘Imagine’ was suddenly stopped, not because the money ran out, but because political support did, following a change of leadership in the Turkish Cypriot community. For the same reason, projects that had been proposed by other Technical Committees following the establishment of the EU Support Facility, which made financial support available to them, were unnecessarily delayed for years. More recently, following the change in the Turkish Cypriot coordinator of the Technical Committees, three ambitious projects of the Technical Committee for the Environment have received the green light for implementation. Lack of political support is not a one-sided problem. In the past, and at a time when the Turkish Cypriot leadership was strongly in favour of cooperation, the Technical Committees faced similar problems, this time due to a lack of sufficient support from the Greek Cypriot community leaders.


One should not oversell what the Technical Committees have achieved to date and what they can realistically achieve in the future. Especially because these are informal bodies relying on the goodwill of the political actors that established them, the Technical Committees can also be sidelined when negotiations between the two communities are at a standstill (as they currently are). Illustrative of this is the allegation that in January 2024, Turkish Cypriot police opted to essentially kidnap two murder suspects who were in areas under the effective control of the RoC, with the help of Turkish Cypriot civilians who were born and raised there, rather than seek to cooperate with Greek Cypriots through the JCR.[ii] However, despite the limitations of the Technical Committees, the work they have done is admirable and worth examining in more detail, as well as being a way of sharing good practices with other frozen conflicts in the European neighbourhood.


[i] Interview with a member of the Technical Committee on Crime and Criminal Matters.

[ii] The Turkish Cypriot police has denied this allegation, but newspapers have reported that Turkish Cypriots implemented a secret operation for 4 days to bring the murder suspects to areas not under the effective control of the RoC; the Turkish Cypriot police were waiting for them at the checkpoints.



This publication was funded by the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of ICLAIM and the Human Rights Platform and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.


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