After a couple of phone calls, Faro’s Dennis Elliston got his Nobel Peace Prize.
A former peacekeeper, Elliston co-received the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize in a small ceremony at Faro Town Hall on August 11.
The 1988 Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces.
Any UN solider or observer that served before 1988 is eligible for the prize – about half a million people, according to Nobel Foundation estimates.
Elliston found out about the award just a few months ago, while speaking with a fellow member of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans’ Association.
“He said, ‘Did you get your Nobel Peace Prize?’ and I said, ‘What?’” said Elliston.
The Veterans’ Association got on the phone with the Nobel Foundation, and Elliston’s certificate was soon en route to Faro.
“It’s all in Norwegian, but I know what it says, basically,” said Elliston.
Elliston donned his blue beret in 1977, when he was posted for six months on the island of Cyprus.
Ever since 1964, UN troops had been in place to prevent fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
In 1974, Turkish forces had staged a full-scale invasion.
Three years later, when Elliston arrived, UN forces occupied a thin ribbon of territory between the Turkish and Greek sides of the island.
“Sometimes some Turkish soldier might be sneaking over the buffer zone, trying to sneak onto the Greek side, and vice versa,” said Elliston.
“It was kind of like a powder keg and you had to keep everybody calm,” he said.
UN troops were forbidden from firing their weapons – a disquieting prospect when your job is to straddle two belligerent armies.
Elliston once saw a Turkish soldier shot by his own officer for falling asleep on duty.
Another time, Elliston was helping to clear a building that had been at the centre of a skirmish between Greek and Turkish forces.
He walked into a rubble-strewn “room that used to be a kitchen,” and saw that it had been peppered with machine-gun fire.
Elliston noticed a pan on the stove filled with overcooked food rendered into charcoal.
The food’s cook – a civilian – had been killed in the firefight, and the meal had been left to smoulder until the stove ran out of fuel.
In 1988, the UN had overseen 13 peacekeeping operations composed of personnel from 53 countries.
At the time of the award, 733 peacekeepers had been killed on UN missions.
In the years since, 1,735 more have lost their lives.
In the last 50 years,114 Canadians have been killed in peacekeeping operations.
“For the first time in its history, the Peace Prize is to be awarded today to an organization which, at least in part, consists of military forces,” said Egil Aarvik, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee at the 1988 awards ceremony.
Peacekeeping forces reduce the level of conflict, but “the fundamental causes of the struggles frequently remain,” said a 1988 Nobel Foundation press release.
After 45 years, close to 1,000 UN soldiers remain in Cyprus.
Canadians often cite peacekeeping as a cornerstone of national pride – right alongside the beaver and the robotic arm on the Space Shuttle.
“Canada has always been one of the world’s most committed peacekeeping nations,” states the Veterans’ Affairs Canada website.
Technically, a Canadian invented it.
In 1956, then Canadian secretary of state for External Affairs Lester B. Pearson first proposed peacekeeping as a resolution to the 1956 Suez Crisis.
For hatching the idea, Pearson got his own Nobel Prize in 1957.
When Elliston disembarked in Cyprus, Canada was among the world’s top contributors of UN troops.
In the last decade, however, peacekeeping has largely been dropped by the Canadian forces.
In 2007, Canada ranked 61st in UN troop contributing nations, just below Zimbabwe.
There are now a mere 65 Canadian soldiers wearing blue berets.
Contact Tristin Hopper at