Events in the Summer of 1974

Note: this history section is an online version of the chapter about UNFICYP in "The Blue Helmets - A Review of United Nations Peace-keeping," a United Nations publication. It covers the period from the establishment of UNFICYP in 1964 until 1996. 

On 15 July 1974, the National Guard, under the direction of Greek officers, staged a coup d'état against the Cyprus government headed by President Makarios. In view of the seriousness of the matter in relation to international peace and security and in view of the United Nations involvement in Cyprus, the Secretary-General requested the president of the Security Council on 16 July to convene a meeting of the council. The permanent representative of Cyprus also requested a meeting. The council met on 16 and 19 July.

On 20 July, the Turkish government, invoking the Treaty of Guarantee of 1960, launched an extensive military operation on the north coast of Cyprus, which resulted eventually in the occupation of the main Turkish Cypriot enclave north, of Nicosia and areas to the north, east and west of the enclave, including Kyrenia. The Council met oh the same day and adopted resolution 353 (1974), by which it called upon all parties to cease firing and demanded an immediate end to foreign military intervention, requested the withdrawal of foreign military personnel present otherwise than under the authority of international agreements, and called on Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom to enter into negotiations without delay for the restoration of peace in the area and constitutional government in Cyprus. The council also called on all parties to cooperate fully with UNFICYP to enable it to carry out its mandate – thus indicating that UNFICYP was expected to continue to function despite the radically changed circumstances. The ceasefire called for by the council was announced for 16:00 hrs, local time, on 22 July.

Fighting resumed on 23 July, especially in the vicinity of Nicosia International Airport, which, with the agreement of the local military commanders of both sides, was declared a United Nations protected area and was occupied by UNFICYP troops. The Secretary-General reported to the council on the breakdown of the ceasefire, and sent messages to the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey and to the acting president of Cyprus, expressing his great anxiety and requesting measures to ensure observance of the ceasefire. The council on 23 July adopted resolution 354 (1974), reaffirming the provisions of resolution 353 (1974) and demanding that the parties comply immediately with paragraph 2 of that resolution, which called on them to stop firing and refrain from action, which might aggravate the situation.

UNFICYP activities

As a consequence of these events, UNFICYP was faced with a situation that had not been foreseen in its mandate. As laid down by the Security Council in resolution 186 (1964), the functions of UNFICYP were conceived in relation to the intercommunal conflict in Cyprus, not to large-scale hostilities arising from action by the armed forces of one of the guarantor powers.

On 15 July, as soon as the coup d'état was reported, UNFICYP was brought to a high state of readiness. Additional liaison officers were deployed at all levels, and increased observation was maintained throughout the island in all areas of likely intercommunal confrontation. Special measures were taken to ensure the security of the Turkish Cypriot community. A few cases of firing into the Turkish enclave north of Nicosia were reported; the firing was stopped through liaison with the National Guard.

On 20 July, the day of the Turkish landings, UNFICYP was placed on full alert. An increased level of observation was maintained throughout the entire island and additional precautions were taken to safeguard isolated Turkish Cypriot villages. The National Guard reacted to the Turkish operations with strong simultaneous attacks in other parts of the island against most of the Turkish Cypriot quarters and villages. The best UNFICYP could achieve under the circumstances was to arrange local ceasefires to prevent further loss of life and damage to property, as the Turkish Cypriot fighters, who were mainly deployed to protect isolated villages and town sectors, were heavily outnumbered. When the war situation made it necessary on 21 July to evacuate foreign missions to the British Sovereign Base Area at Dhekelia, UNFICYP played a major part in the organization and execution of that humanitarian operation. In all areas, including the Kyrenia sector, intensified United Nations patrolling was carried out, a close watch was maintained over the battle zone and all possible efforts were made to promote the safety of civilians.

The Secretary-General reported to the Security Council his understanding that UNFICYP should, and indeed must, use its best efforts to ensure, as far as its capabilities permitted, that the ceasefire called for by the council was maintained. Obviously, a United Nations peacekeeping force, in a deeply serious situation such as the one prevailing in Cyprus, could not be expected to stand by and not make the maximum effort to ensure that a resolution of the Security Council was put into effect. For this reason, the Special Representative, the Force Commander and all the personnel of UNFICYP made every effort to restore the ceasefire, to ensure that it was observed and to prevent any incidents from escalating into a full recurrence of fighting. In this connection, UNFICYP assisted in delineating the positions of the parties as at 16.00 on 22 July. Additional United Nations observation posts were established in the confrontation areas, and extensive patrolling was carried out in order to maintain a United Nations presence throughout the island.

In addition, the Secretary-General requested reinforcements from the contributing countries; they arrived between 24 July and 14 August, increasing the total all-ranks strength by 2,078 to a total of 4,444. UNFICYP was redeployed to meet the new situation, two new operational districts were established on both sides of the Turkish bridgehead, and the general level of surveillance throughout the island was increased accordingly. Because of the suffering caused by the hostilities, UNFICYP undertook an increasing number of humanitarian tasks to assist the afflicted population of both communities.