OTD: Canada joins United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus

On today’s date in 1964, the Canadian government agreed to join the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), beginning a decades-long mission on the war-torn island.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but three years later, regional conflicts broke out amid tensions between the Greek majority and Turkish minority, leading to civil war in the capital city of Nicosia. The bloody conflict left thousands homeless and prompted the United Nations to organize a peacekeeping mission.

On Feb. 19, 1964, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was questioned in the House of Commons by New Democratic Party leader Tommy Douglas, who asked Pearson to lay out his government’s plan. In response, Pearson outlined four stipulations as prerequisites of Canada’s participation in the peacekeeping force. The stipulations included: the acceptance of the peacekeeping force by the Cypriot government; the promotion of peace and stability; the adherence to a pre-planned timeline; and affiliation with the United Nations.

Pearson spearheaded Parliament’s decision to join the UNFICYP on March 13, 1964. Within 48 hours, the country would send an infantry battalion to Cyprus.

When the Canadian-led mission eventually began on March 15, it was expected to last three months. A 29-member contingent arrived on the island—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. They would be responsible for patrolling a contentious 65-kilometre strip known as UN Buffer Zone in Cyprus, which splits the island directly through its 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.

On June 15, 1993, Canada’s role in the conflict ended as they passed their duties on to British and Austrian peacekeepers.

2014 UNFICYP COIN

In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a $20 silver coin marking the 50th anniversary of Canada’s peacekeeping mission in Cyprus—the longest United Nations 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 mintage of 8,500 pieces.

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