On today’s date in 1993, about 35,000 Canadian troops left the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, ending a decades-long mission on the war-torn island.
In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a $20 silver coin, marking the 50th anniversary of Canadian peacekeeping in Cyprus, which was the longest UN mission conducted by Canada. Designed by Canadian artist Silvia Pecota, the coin depicts a soldier standing at the base of an observation tower, with a second soldier in the foreground wearing the distinctive blue beret worn by peacekeepers worldwide. The coin has a very limited mintage of 8,500.
Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960. Three years later, conflict broke out amid tensions between the Greek majority and Turkish minority, leading to civil war in the capital city of Nicosia. The rather bloody conflict, which left thousands homeless, prompted the UN to organize a peacekeeping mission.
When the Canadian-led mission eventually began on March 15, 1964, it was expected to last three months. A 29-member contingent arrived on the island, which is about the size of Prince Edward Island, to prepare for the arrival of more than 1,000 Canadian troops – the first to respond to the conflict. The troops were responsible for patrolling a contentious 65-kilometre strip known as UN Buffer Zone in Cyprus, which splits the island, running directly through the capital.
Originally intended to bridge the divide between the island’s Greek and Turkish citizens, the mission’s mandate was updated repeatedly throughout the conflict to accommodate for ongoing changes.