On today’s date in 1993, about 35,000 Canadian troops left the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), ending a decades-long mission on the war-torn island.
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 bloody dispute, which left thousands of people homeless, prompted the United Nations (UN) to organize a peacekeeping mission.
The UNFICYP was “assured today of the manpower to begin operations within the next few days,” reported The New York Times on March 15, 1964, as a Canadian advance party arrived in Cyprus a day earlier.
Additional troops would come from Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Britain, fulfilling the 7,000-person requirement for the UN force.
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 and runs 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.
In 1974, after the Greek Cypriot coup d’état and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the UN Security Council expanded the UNFICYP mandate in an effort to prevent the dispute from turning into a full-fledged war.
“After the hostilities of 1974, the Council has mandated the Force to perform certain additional functions,” reads the UNFICYP website. “In the absence of a political settlement to the Cyprus problem, UNFICYP has remained on the island to supervise ceasefire lines, maintain a buffer zone, undertake humanitarian activities and support the good offices mission of the Secretary-General.”
2014 UNFICYP COIN
In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a $20 silver coin to mark the 50th anniversary of Canadian peacekeeping in Cyprus—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 weight of 31.39 grams; a 38-millimetre diameter; and a limited mintage of 8,500 pieces.