The following text originally appeared on the Georgetown University of Qatar website. Access the original story here, and make sure to check out 2023 Reporting Fellow Elene Chkhaidze's project "Reconciliation in Cyprus Through Religious Peace Building" on the Pulitzer website.
Elene Chkhaidze, an undergraduate student at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), spent her summer delving into the heart of the Cyprus conflict. Through her journalistic pursuit, Elene hopes to shed light on how religious peacebuilding can help pave the way for a united Cyprus.
As the 2023 Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow selected by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center in Washington, DC, Elene traveled to Cyprus, where a long-standing political dispute has created divides between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots over the control and governance of the island.
“I wanted to cover the often-overlooked religious dimension of the conflict in Cyprus and explore various roles religion plays in either hindering or promoting reconciliation.”
Religion also offers a critical inter-faith platform for bringing people together around shared values, she said. “I interviewed people working on the Joint Appeal in 2014 that aimed to address the handling of missing persons as a result of the conflict. It was led by religious leaders, but was built around a humanitarian framework.”
The stories she gathered interviewing a range of representatives from various peacebuilding initiatives all shed light on how belief and religious practices shape complex global challenges, and will be shared on the Berkley Center website for a global audience.
Due to the deep nuances of religion, Elene said she worked hard to keep an open mind and approach sources with respect. That commitment to objectivity drew Elene to various locations on both sides of the island, including the divided capital of Nicosia and the controversial buffer zone ghost town of Varosha. Through her interviews and experiences, she identified differences, as well as similarities, across the communities.
“Both sides often perceive themselves as victims, designating the opposing faction as adversaries. And there is no looking into the heart of the ‘enemy’ because fear and pain for one’s own community dominate the perception,” said Elene, expressing her observations from the field.
Elene ultimately credits her theological courses at GU-Q, as well as her time spent in Qatar, with facilitating her interactions with religious communities in Cyprus and making her work as a reporter more effective, contributing to broader discussions on peacebuilding and reconciliation.
“As a reporter, I feel a responsibility to not overestimate anything,” she said. “Religious reconciliation efforts won’t solve the conflict, but it’s important to show that even in these small steps, groundwork is laid for progress.”