Imagine being far away from home, spending a tense six months or a year in the midst of hostile groups of people and knowing that the constant tension in the country where you are serving could flare into violence at almost any moment. This was the situation that Canadian Forces members serving on the United Nations (UN) peace mission to Cyprus often faced from 1964 to 1993.
The Canadian mission to Cyprus lasted 29 years, making it one of the longest overseas commitments in which Canada has ever participated. In total, more than 25,000 Canadian Forces members served in Cyprus over the decades. Many of them served in Cyprus more than once, participating in several rotations. In 1993, Canada withdrew most of its troops from the UN peace efforts in Cyprus but a small Canadian presence remains as UN efforts to bring about a permanent peace continue.
The length of the mission and the large number of Canadians who have served in Cyprus over the years makes it a well-known effort to many of us. Like veterans of the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War, the men and women who willingly left their homes and travelled halfway around the world to serve in a tense and violent place like Cyprus are Canadians who achieved and sacrificed much to protect peace and freedom.
The World Responds
Soon after independence in 1960, inter-communal strife led Cyprus to ask the UN to establish a peacekeeping force in 1964. Once it arrived, the situation was unlike anything that UN peacekeepers had previously experienced. The populations of Turks and Greeks were very intermingled on the island and the UN troops were faced with maintaining the peace in a situation where many small groups of Turks lived among the larger Greek population.
Canadian soldiers needed both their traditional skills of soldiering and the skills of managing disagreements and conflicts between civilians. It has been remarked of difficult situations like these that "Peacekeeping is not a soldier's job, but only a soldier can do it."
The fragile balance was upset in 1974 with a Greek junta inspired coup. Turkey invaded the island and took control of the northern part of Cyprus. Canadian and the other UN peacekeepers suddenly found themselves in the middle of a war zone.
After several weeks of active fighting in which three Canadians died and 17 were injured, a cease-fire was negotiated. The UN established the famous 'Green
Line,' a cease-fire line and buffer zone stretching across Cyprus.
UN peacekeeping forces patrolled this uneasy buffer zone which, in places, was only several metres wide. At times, gunfire regularly occurred along the Green Line. It was not safe to move so much as a sandbag along the buffer zone because it might create an incident. Canadian peacekeepers had to live with the fact that they were between two very agitated groups and that they were tasked with keeping a lid on simmering tensions. Crowd control and dealing with unruly mobs upset over some violation, whether real or imagined, were ongoing issues that the Canadians were constantly called on to diffuse.
In Cyprus, 28 Canadian peacekeepers gave their lives, paying the ultimate price in their country's efforts to help. The injuries and harsh experiences that veterans live through while on these international peace missions can impact them for the rest of their lives.
The Canada Remembers Programme of Veterans Affairs Canada encourages all Canadians to learn about the sacrifices and achievements made by all those that served, and continue to serve, during times of war and peace, and to become involved in remembrance activities that will help to preserve their legacy for future generations of Canadians.
FACTS AND FIGURES
- The Canadian Forces contingent in Cyprus varied in size from fewer than 500 to more than 1,100 personnel.
- More than 160 UN personnel from different countries have died in the course of the peace efforts in Cyprus.
- The 180 kilometre-long Green Line buffer zone that runs the width of Cyprus varies in width from 20 metres to seven kilometres.
- The operation in Cyprus, from 1964 to today, is one of Canada’s longest and best-known overseas military commitments.
- A large Canadian contingent served on the island from 1964 to 1993. A small Canadian Armed Forces presence remains there today as United Nations peace efforts continue.
- More than 25,000 Canadian Forces members have served in Cyprus since 1964.
- More than 125,000 Canadians have served in peacekeeping missions over the past six decades—a record unsurpassed by any nation.