The UN peacekeeping operation has been operating in Cyprus for 60 years - the Embassy's seminar "60 years of Finnish Peace Mediation" gave a glimpse of the past with some guidance for the future

It has been 60 years since the establishment of the UN peacekeeping operation UNFICYP in Cyprus on March 4, 2024. Over 150 thousand peacekeepers from 42 countries have served on the island. Past events were commemorated in Nicosia in various ways, including a wreath-laying ceremony organized by the embassy at the memorial for Finnish peacekeeping veterans, an UNFICYP medal parade, a photo exhibition, and the unveiling ceremony of the memorial at the historical Ledra Palace Hotel. The following day, on March 5, a peace mediation seminar organized by the embassy attracted over 140 participants, with former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja and former Secretary of State and Cyprus peacekeeping veteran Pertti Torstila, among other speakers, addressing the audience.

Security Council Resolution 186 established the Cyprus peacekeeping operation on March 4, 1964. Over a thousand Finnish peacekeepers arrived on the island in April of the same year. By 1977, more than ten thousand Finnish peacekeepers had served in Cyprus.

After 1977 until 2005, there were relatively few Finnish peacekeepers, around ten at a time, mainly serving in staff positions. The Finnish flag was lowered from the flagpole at UNFICYP (Link to another website.)in 2005 as a sign of the departure of Finnish personnel, but it was raised again in 2021 when five Finnish UN police officers began their duties. Since then, Satu Koivu from Finland has been leading the UNFICYP police component.

Finnish Force Commanders in the UN forces have included Lieutenant General Eino Martola from 1966 to 1969 and Brigadier General Ahti Vartiainen from 1994 to 1997. General Ensio Siilasvuo served as the commander of the Finnish battalion in Cyprus from 1964 to 1965. Over ten Finnish peacekeepers died while serving on the island.

The former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja and former Secretary of State and Cyprus peacekeeping veteran Pertti Torstila arrived from Finland to attend the commemorating events. Tuomioja and Torstila, along with Ambassador Harri Mäki-Reinikka, Honorary Consul Demosthenis Severis, SRSG and Head of UNFICYP Colin Stewart, Police Component Director Satu Koivu and Penelope Erotokritou representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus laid wreaths on the recently renovated memorial. Embassy staff and Finnish officials working in the UN and EU were also present.

The dignified wreath-laying ceremony did not have any speeches, but two Cypriot music students performed J. Sibelius' “Finlandia Hymn(Link to another website.)”.

Four hundred invited guests followed the UN solemnities, medal parade, and speeches at the UN compound. UNFICYP presented a commemorative item to representatives of the countries that have participated in the peacekeeping operation in Cyprus.


Ambassador Harri Mäki-Reinikka, UNFICYP Peacekeeping veteran and former State Secretary at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Pertti Torstila received the award from UNFICYPD Director Colin Stewart. Photo: Embassy of Finland, Nicosia

Pertti Torstila, who served as Head of the Finnish Battalion's Intelligence Team in 1966-67, delivered a speech to medal winners. Among other things, he told about the challenges from 60 years ago when material shortage affected the peacekeeping operation.

Pertti Torstila's speech at the medal parade. Image: UNFICYP

Listeners were both amused and pondered by the fact that Finnish peacekeepers, due to insufficient transport, had to cycle a scorching 50-kilometer journey from Dhekelia to Nicosia. During the first year of their presence in the mission, Finns built over 20 saunas. Besides relaxation, these saunas served as places to reconcile differences between the island's Turkish-speaking and Greek-speaking parties.

The day continued with a visit to the old Nicosia airport, closed since the 1974 war, where Erkki Tuomioja reminisced about arriving and departing from the island in 1968. Subsequently, the event continued at Ledra Palace, once a hotel and now UNFICYP headquarters, where a memorial was unveiled in honor of all peacekeepers. Once again, wreaths were laid by the memorial. The day concluded with a reception hosted by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and UNFICYP Director Colin Stewart.

A memorial built in honor of peacekeepers in the UN buffer zone in front of the historic Ledra Palace Hotel. Ambassador Mäki-Reinikka and former Secretary of State of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Pertti Torstila laid a wreath at the memorial. Image: Embassy of Finland, Nicosia.

A regrettable aspect influencing the atmosphere was the absence of leaders or other senior officials from either negotiating side of Cyprus at the reception. However, present were the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Cyprus, Annita Demetriou, and representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and from the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce.

Peace Mediation Seminar: Rich Participation and Constructive Discussions


On the morning of March 5, the Embassy of Finland in Nicosia organized a peace mediation seminar that attracted over 140 participants. Ambassador Harri Mäki-Reinikka highlighted in his opening speech the contribution of Finnish peacekeepers, but also mentioned that the first Special Representative and Mediator appointed by UN Secretary-General U Thant was Sakari Tuomioja.

Pertti Torstila's speech. Image: Embassy of Finland, Nicosia.

Mäki-Reinikka remarked that Sakari Tuomioja's role could be considered a stepping stone in the history of Finnish peace mediation. Subsequently, various parts of the world have seen former Finnish presidents, such as Martti Ahtisaari, Harri Holkeri, and Elisabeth Rehn, serving as Special Representatives of the UN Secretary-General. Mediation had also been a central theme in Finnish presidential elections, with both main candidates emphasizing its importance in our foreign policy. Additionally, Alexander Stubb, who was elected president, has served as the chair of the peace mediation center CMI's board since 2018.

Ambassador Harri Mäki-Reinikka's opening speech (pdf).

Press conference with Sakari Tuomioja from 1964(Link to another website.) (YouTube).

In his speech, Former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja shared insights into his father Sakari Tuomioja's background, his mission in Cyprus, and the situation on the island over the past 60 years. He also highlighted the longstanding role of the Nordic countries in mediation efforts. Referring to Norway, he noted that even as NATO members, the Nordic countries can offer their services in mediation. Tuomioja also emphasized the crucial role of women in pursuing sustainable peace worldwide.

In his seminar speech, Pertti Torstila shared personal experiences from 58 years ago when he arrived from -20 degree frost to the gentle Mediterranean climate. He pointed out that while there were still no ready-made models for peacekeeping, much was learned as experiences accumulated. However, the peacekeeping activities of UNFICYP during its first decade were quite different from today.

Pertti Torstila with a Turkish Cypriot Mukhtar in Epicho village, in 1967. Image: Pertti Torstila's personal album.

Torstila reminded that UNFICYP was initially expected to be a rather temporary peacekeeping operation. However, already 7 UN Secretaries-General and 28 Special Representatives have served throughout the Cyprus conflict and the peacekeeping operation. The Cyprus issue is part of the current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Torstila highlighted Finland's EU presidencies in 1999 and 2006, during which he played a significant role in addressing the Cyprus issue. Plans and proposals were drafted, including placing Varosha under UN control and opening Turkish ports and airspace to Cypriot ships and planes. Unfortunately, these matters remain unresolved.

Torstila noted that Finnish peacekeepers have many unforgettable memories from Cyprus. The children and grandchildren of peacekeeping veterans, as well as many thousands of Finns, have visited the island as tourists, paying homage to the veterans' memory thus maintaining friendly relations between Finns and Cypriots.

Torstila encouraged the different parties and key actors on the island to continue their efforts to find a sustainable and comprehensive solution to the island's political deadlock and division.

Panelists at the Peace Mediation Seminar included UNFICYP Director Colin Stewart, former Secretary of State Pertti Torstila, Ambassador Harri Mäki-Reinikka, former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, former Chief Negotiator Özdil Nami, representative of the Cyprus government Maria Savvides, and former Chief Negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis. Image: Embassy of Finland, Nicosia.

During the seminar, we also heard constructive speeches from former Chief Negotiators Özdil Nami and Andreas Mavroyiannis, as well as from Penelope Erotokritou of the Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs (whose speech was delivered by MFA representative Maria Savvides as Erotokritou's deputy), advocating for the respective views of the parties involved. Warm gratitude was expressed to Finland for its peacekeeping efforts in Cyprus, starting from Sakari Tuomioja and continuing to the contribution of over ten thousand peacekeepers up to the present day.

Nami emphasized the importance of balanced incentives for both parties in peace negotiation processes. According to Nami, currently the biggest challenge lies in the lack of balanced incentives, which has hindered strong mutual efforts to advance peace negotiations for a long time. Mavroyiannis highlighted an important perspective: the closest they had ever been to reaching a solution was during the Crans Montana peace negotiation. The path to changing the current situation exists, but the choice of whether to take this path is up to the Cypriots to make. Erotokritou (Savvides) stressed the importance of creating conducive conditions for negotiations in which both parties would sincerely participate. Erotokritou emphasized that Cyprus could serve as a teaching example for peace discussions in the entire region.

During the seminar, significant emphasis was also placed on the Embassy's bi-communal Startups4peace(Link to another website.) initiative, which has been supporting young entrepreneurs since 2016, as well as the Transformative Scenarios(Link to another website.) concept.

In the discussion, the importance of women in peace mediation, as mentioned by Tuomioja, was highlighted, along with a desire to involve young people more in the efforts to unify the two communities on the island, particularly in sports and cultural activities.

Former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja at the Closed Nicosia airport within the UN's Green Line buffer zone. Image: Embassy of Finland, Nicosia
UNFICYP's Police Component Director Satu Koivu and SRSG and Head of UNFICYP Colin Stewart. Image: UNFICYP.
The Finnish delegation at the conclusion of the UNFICYP events in the old city of Nicosia. Image: Embassy of Finland, Nicosia.