International Operation Name: United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP)

International Operation Dates:  1964/03/04 – ongoing

Mandating Organization: United Nations

Region Name:  Europe

Location:  Cyprus

Canadian Operation Name: Operation SNOWGOOSE

Canadian Operation Dates:  1964/03/13 - ongoing

Mission Mandate: UNFICYP was established through Security Council resolution 186 (1964) of 4 March 1964, with the mandate to prevent a recurrence of fighting between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities and to contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order and a return to normal conditions.

UNFICYP became operational on 27 March 1964. Following the hostilities of 1974, the Security Council adopted a number of resolutions, clarifying its mandate given the new military/political balance on the island. These included supervising a de facto ceasefire, which came into effect on 16 August 1974, and maintaining a buffer zone between the lines of the Cyprus National Guard and of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces.

Mission Notes:

Sitting at the crossroads of history in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has been occupied by various invaders over the centuries.  As a result it has a mixed population, predominantly Greek, but with a sizeable Turkish minority --reflecting both its geographical location and the fact that for some 340 years (up until 1919) it was an integral part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.  Britain annexed the island after the First World War, but some members of the Greek community, citing the principle of national self-determination, began a campaign for eonsis – union with Greece.  There was some violence in the 1930s, which by and large ceased during the Second World War, when Cyprus remained an important Allied strategic bastion in the Mediterranean, but when Britain re-asserted its authority after the war, Greek militants renewed their campaign.


Understandably, the idea of enosis did not sit well with the island’s Turkish community or with Turkey itself, but although it was never formally embraced as policy by Greek governments of the day, there were suspicions that the Greek Cypriot National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) – who by the mid 1950s were attacking both the British administration and Turkish Cypriot communities – were receiving more than a little help from supporters in Greece.  The Turkish Cypriots retaliated, and bombing, arson, and riots became regular occurrences. 


Cyprus was fundamentally a British problem, but it was also a problem for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after Greece and Turkey joined that alliance.  Britain’s continued possession of Cyprus also ran against the current of decolonization which was taking root in the late 1950s.  Accordingly, in early 1959 representatives of Greece and Turkey, with British support, sat down in Zurich and concluded an understanding on Basic Articles for a Constitution for an independent Republic of Cyprus.  These Basic Articles included three treaties, creating the status of “Guaranteeing Power” for Turkey, Greece, and Great Britain.  At the London Conference of February 1959 the British government gave its assent to the new Constitution.  Representatives of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities were then called in to give their approval.  When they did, the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus was signed on 16 August 1960, and it gained its independence that day.  The Treaties of Guarantee, of Alliance, and of Establishment ensured that the Guaranteeing powers would be consulted on and agreed to any amendment to the constitution.  The latter also provided that two “Sovereign Base Areas” (SBA) of 99 square miles were granted to Great Britain.


It was hoped that the Republic of Cyprus would be a multi-ethnic state that would reflect and protect the needs and rights of its Greek and Turkish communities.  However, there were flaws in the constitutional arrangements; and these were made manifest when, on 30 November 1963, the Cypriot President, Archbishop Makarios – long linked to the enosis movement – outlined thirteen areas in which he wanted constitutional changes that would have the effect of reducing the political power of the Turkish Cypriot community and its political leaders.  While Turkish Cypriots initially made no response, Turkey rejected them out of hand.  Tensions between the two communities increased, erupting in violence on 21 December 1963.  The Turkish national military contingent in Cyprus, stationed there by the Treaty of Alliance, deployed to areas outside Nicosia where the largest disturbances were occurring.  Under international pressure, all sides agreed to a cease-fire line (Green Line) between the areas of the two communities in Nicosia, patrolled by a “peace-keeping force” which was effectively the British army in Cyprus coming out of its Sovereign Base Areas. 


At the United Nations, the representatives of Cyprus, Great Britain, Greece and Turkey requested the Secretary-General to appoint a personal representative to observe the peace-keeping operation.  The situation throughout Cyprus was deteriorating, with inter-communal fighting, kidnappings and murders leading to fears that Greece, Turkey or both nations would intervene.  On 4 March 1964, the Security Council approved Resolution 186, which created a United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) to maintain the peace throughout the whole island.  UNFICYP’s mandate was to prevent a recurrence of fighting, contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order and a return to normal conditions.


Despite the Resolution, the situation deteriorated further, giving a real sense of urgency to the deployment of the UN contingents.  The first troops to join the British were Canadian; however it was not until 27 March that there were sufficient advanced troops from the other contributing nations for the mission to be considered underway.  The main bodies from Ireland, Finland, and Sweden arrived in April; Danish troops, an Austrian field hospital, and additional Swedish troops (coming from Sweden’s contribution to the UN Operation in Congo) came in May.  By 8 June 1964, UNFICYP reached a strength of 6,411 augmented by civilian police from Australia, Austria, Denmark, New Zealand, and Sweden.


As the UNFICYP forces arrived, they were deployed into zones along with a contingent of civilian police.  Where possible, the police were teamed with military forces from their own nation or with contingents that spoke the same language.  The distribution was based upon the intensity of the violence in each region.  It was thus that the Canadian and Finnish contingents took over the Nicosia zone, which included the city and a large area running from the northeast to the northwest of the city.  UNFICYP forces deployed between defensive lines where they existed or interposed themselves in areas where fighting was likely to occur.  Observation posts were built with mobile patrols covering spaces between.  The mobile patrols also surveyed potential problem areas, moving from place to place as required.


While the presence of the UNFICYP forces put an end to major violence, it could not resolve the underlying tensions.  Pro-enosis elements continued to work behind the scenes, while intercommunal talks proceeded from failure to failure.  Frustrations culminated in a coup d’état on 15 July 1974, by the Greek-officered Cypriot National Guard.  Then, on 20 July, Turkish troops landed on the north coast of the island, the Turkish Government invoking the Treaty of Guarantee, which permitted any of the three guaranteeing powers to intervene if it appeared that outside forces would cause the island to sway towards a course that led-away from independence.  A cease-fire was arranged and took effect at 1600 hours, 22 July.  Fighting resumed the next morning, however, and was especially intense around Nicosia airport, but in the end UNFICYP forces managed to convince both sides to declare the airport a UN-protected area.


Throughout the violence, UNFICYP forces did what they could to protect isolated Turkish Cypriot villages from attacks by National Guard forces.  UNFICYP also played a major role in the evacuation of foreign missions.  A cease-fire again took effect on 25 July when negotiations began in Geneva, but when talks broke down on 14 August the fighting resumed.  UNFICYP was subsequently able to arrange partial cease-fires in Nicosia and other areas of the country, but in some areas the fighting was so intense that the UN troops had to withdraw. 


At 1800 hours, 16 August, a Turkish forces-declared cease-fire took effect.  UNFICYP quickly delineated the disengagement zones between the opposing forces – in some cases the line was only metres wide, while in others it stretched for seven kilometers – and, treating them as de facto cease-fire lines, took over responsibility for their security.  With that done, UNFICYP’s major task now was the maintenance of peace between the two sides until a permanent political solution could be found.  As a result, several local agreements have been negotiated to establish limits on what either side can do along the front lines, all the while trying to ensure that there are no changes to the 1974 status quo along the buffer zone (and especially no new military structures.)  That task is a little easier than it was in 1964 because the front-line soldiers on both sides of the line are, in the main, professionals, not the undisciplined paramilitary troops of 1964.


UNFICYP remains deployed around the buffer zones, ensuring the safety of Greek Cypriots in the Turkish zone and Turkish Cypriots in the Greek zone.  The force’s activities include humanitarian ones such as ensuring the delivery of supplies and the proper treatment of minorities.  In the buffer zone, which contains some of the richest agricultural land on the island, UNFICYP ensures the security of the farmers, as well as ensuring that no military-related activities occur.


UNFICYP’s strength has varied considerably with time.  From a maximum of 6,275 in December 1964, the force gradually reduced to 4,610 in December 1966, as tensions overtly lessened.  The reductions were temporarily halted by limited fighting in November 1967, but resumed again so that by 1972 UNFICYP’s establishment was 3,150.  It was further reduced to 2,366 by the spring of 1974; however, the Turkish intervention saw additional forces rushed to the island, increasing the UN presence to 4,444.  Reductions began again in the late 1970s until, in 1992, several of troop-contributing governments announced their intentions to withdraw altogether due to the lack of progress in reaching a political settlement.  The result was that the force’s strength was reduced from 1513 to 850 in mid-1993.  Argentina then deployed troops to the island in October 1993, bringing the force to its current level of 1165, mainly from Argentina, Austria and the United Kingdom.


            Canada indicated its willingness to become involved in Cyprus early in 1964, when it was put forward as a likely contributor at a succession of NATO conferences aimed at finding a solution there.  At that time, the designated UN standby unit in the Canadian Army was the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment, and it was therefore proposed as the Canadian contribution.  Once the United Nations took up the issue, Secretary General U Thant observed that Canada’s participation would be pivotal, and so it was that Canada agreed to contribute to UNFICYP.  With the UN mandate approved, the business of organizing the transport of the Canadian contingent could begin.  The government approved the implementation of Operation SNOWGOOSE on 13 March and the military operations order issued.  The mission, as stated in the operations order, was for the Canadian contingent to “use its best efforts to prevent a recurrence of fighting and, as necessary, contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order and a return to normal conditions”.  The 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment (709 personnel) and the Reconnaissance Squadron, Royal Canadian Dragoons (91 personnel), were detailed to deploy.  In addition, a headquarters contingent of 178 personnel was created.


In preparation for the possible deployment, on 7 March the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure was ordered to return to Halifax to pick up the equipment required for the mission.  Arriving in Halifax on the 13th, the ship was quickly prepared for her new role, including the completion of urgent repairs and the offloading of all unnecessary equipment.  By the 18th she was loaded with fifty-six vehicles and seventy tons of stores and ammunition, and had received ninety-five officers and men from the Vandoos, the Royal Canadian Dragoons and the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps.  She slipped her lines at 1700 hours and met up with HMCS Restigouche enroute.  At 0400 hours on 30 March she anchored in Famagusta Bay and began to offload personnel and equipment that morning.


While this was occurring, the Royal Canadian Air Force was preparing and then despatching Hercules and Yukon aircraft of Nos. 435 and 437 Squadrons respectively.  Starting on 15 March, and for the next seven days, twenty-eight flights transported about 900 soldiers and 400 tons of equipment to the island. 

Once on the ground, the Canadian troops faced a difficult task.  Greece had 6300 more soldiers on the island than authorized by the agreements, and Turkey had 1000 more.  The two forces had to be reduced, separated and their areas demilitarized.  Compounding the problem was the fact that the most militant Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots were not averse to attacking the Turkish or Greek forces, or even the UN.  Indeed, the two ill-disciplined and uncontrolled Cypriot paramilitary forces kept finding ways to break the terms of the cease-fire, including building new fortifications and occupying new (and provocative) positions.


Throughout 1964 and 1965, the Vandoos, the Canadian Guards and the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, supported by Recce Squadrons from the RCD and Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), were kept busy reducing tensions and managing the small-scale flare-ups caused by the paramilitary forces.  These activities often required Canadian soldiers to use force to dismantle outposts and defensive positions, actions not completely in keeping with their rules of engagement.  To the skills of soldiering, the Canadians thus had to add diplomacy, patience and persuasion.


Once matters had settled down, the Canadians maintained vigilance over their sector through some twenty observation posts and mobile patrols conducted by both the infantry and the reconnaissance squadrons.  They controlled an area of about 550 square miles.  Although this was the second smallest UN district, it was one of the most sensitive.  Within its boundaries were the main Turkish-Cypriot enclave on the island, and the greatest number of paramilitary troops, as well as Greek and Turkish Army battalions allowed on the island by treaty.


Initially, the Canadian force consisted of about 1100 personnel.  This was quickly reduced in the next two years, falling to about 900 in November 1967 and 480 early in 1974.  With the Turkish intervention, members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment found themselves in the precarious position of trying to protect themselves while also trying to protect civilians of both ethnic groups as well as UN interests.  It also fell to them to fight to defend Nicosia airport.  As we have seen, when the fighting ended, UNFICYP had to adjust its efforts to the new situation on the ground.  The key change was that the Canadians now patrolled the buffer between the Greek and Turkish lines, including the most sensitive area of Nicosia, where the most minor provocations seemed able to seriously enflame local tensions.  The Canadians also made the so-called Green Line a safer place to operate. 


The peak strength of Canada’s UNFICYP contingent after the 1974 Turkish intervention was 950.  This was gradually reduced to 515 in early 1987, but increased to 575 to fill in some of the positions left vacant by the departing Swedish contingent, but fell to 520 in early December 1992.  By then, however, Canada was one of several nations questioning the utility of keeping forces in Cyprus, especially as neither Greek-Cypriots nor Turkish-Cypriots had made any genuine effort to resolve their problems and on 11 December 1992 Ottawa  announced that it would be withdrawing its battalion from Cyprus.  By June 1993, there were only 117 Canadians left.  Currently, there is one Canadian serving in UNFICYP headquarters.


Overall, more than 33,000 Canadians have served in Cyprus, and twenty-eight of them have died there.  Two of these casualties, Private J.J.C. Berger, and Private J.L.G. Perron occurred during the fighting following the Turkish intervention. 


25 November 2008
Nicosia, Cyprus

A Cenotaph located at the Ledra Palace Hotel across from Sector 2 Regimental Headquarters marks those Canadian servicemen whom have lost their lives while serving on the Island of Cyprus. Operation SNOWGOOSE is Canada’s contribution to United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). The current mandate after many changes during the years is to maintain the cease-fire agreement and maintain a buffer zone between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot regions. Today UNFICYP’s 1200 plus military personnel and civilian police officers come from nine countries of which Canada currently contributes one officer to the Operations staff at UNFICYP headquarters in Nicosia. 

Photo by MCpl Robert Bottrill, Canadian Forces Combat Camera.

Description: United Nations troops search for mines in Cyprus. UN/Cyprus, Mine Clearing Equipment.

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