Canada's longest peacekeeping mission began a few years after the Suez Crisis. In 1959, Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean, gained its independence from Great Britain. Greek and Turkish communities on the island, however, could not coexist peacefully. By 1963, fighting had broken out between the two groups. When both Greece and Turkey threatened to intervene, the conflict was poised to become an international crisis. Britain hoped to restore peace through the intervention of the UN. Subsequently, UN troops, including a Canadian contingent, were stationed in Cyprus to keep the peace. In the past, Canadian troops had been regarded as essentially "British." However, their presence in Cyprus elicited no objection from either the Turkish or Greek Cypriots, indicating that Canada was regarded as a state whose position was essentially a neutral one. The conflict continued, however, and led to the partitioning of Cyprus into Turkish and Greek republics.

Liaison with the Muhktar LdSH(RC), Louroujina, Cyprus, by Dr. Geoffrey George Jamieson.
Copyright Canadian War Museum (AC 19900170-004).

Liaison with the Muhktar LdSH(RC), Louroujina, Cyprus, by Dr. Geoffrey George Jamieson.

An officer of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) facilitates negotiations between two Cypriot leaders. From 1963 until the mid-1990s, Canadians were very active in keeping the peace in Cyprus. Canada still has a small contingent of observers on the island.

On 15 July 1974, Greek army officers serving in the Greek Cypriot National Guard staged a coup d'état against the president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios. Their aim was to unite Cyprus with Greece, the goal that was the original cause of the Cypriot civil war. Turkey reacted five days later by launching an amphibious invasion of Cyprus with 40,000 troops. Turkey's stated aim was the protection of the Turkish Cypriot minority. Within 24 hours, the Turkish invasion force had gone beyond its initial objectives, securing the port of Kryenia, their beachhead in the northern part of Cyprus, and extending its territory into the Turkish sector of Nicosia. Their final objective was to be the Nicosia airport on the western end the city. Indian Lieutenant-General Prem Chand, who had also commanded the 1962 UN action against secessionist Katangan gendarmes and mercenaries, led the UN forces in Cyprus. He and his chief of staff, Canada's Colonel Clay Beattie, who was also the commander of the Canadian contingent, decided that to allow the Turks to take the airport would be an unacceptable blow to UN credibility.

Peacekeeping Force, Kato Pyrgos, Cyprus, 15 April 1964.
United Nations (UN 84573).

Peacekeeping Force, Kato Pyrgos, Cyprus, 15 April 1964.

The United Nations Security Council established the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus to help prevent a recurrence of hostilities between Turk and Greek Cypriots. The force was comprised of contingents from Canada, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Elements of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, Canada's UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus) contingent at the time, were deployed to the airport, which had been defined as a UN protected zone. An initial attack by the Turks was stopped by Greek Cypriot defensive fire, but, when word of an impending second assault reached the Canadian contingent, it reminded both sides that they had agreed to a ceasefire. The Canadian soldiers also clearly stated that they would defend their positions. The world press could then report a Turkish assault on UN troops. The Turks apparently believed that the Canadian contingent would stand its ground -- they certainly had the means to overcome these troops but chose not to do so. Bravado, credible because of the evident professionalism of Canada's soldiers, won the day. In addition to preventing the Nicosia airport from falling into Turk hands, the action defined a new style of peacekeeping: actively intervening between opposing sides rather than passively occupying ground between them. Actions at the airport and other hot spots throughout Nicosia came at a high cost for Canadian peacekeepers, 2 dead and more than 30 wounded! The same proactive style of peacekeeping, which certainly has its roots in the UN action in Katanga in 1960s, was to be used in Croatia and Bosnia. These operations, however, exacted an even higher price.

Canada kept an infantry battalion of varying size in Cyprus until the mid-1990s and still maintains a small group of observers there. Virtually every Canadian infantry battalion did at least one Cyprus tour and most did several. Armoured regiments and at least one artillery regiment also took their turn.

With Suez, Cyprus, and a number of other smaller missions, peacekeeping was established as a central feature of Canadian foreign policy. It continued to be vital both to Canadian diplomacy and military policy right up until the 1980s and 1990s.

 

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