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10 Countries You’ve Never Heard of and Why

Adam Aleksic, Editor-in-Chief

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You may know about the recent independence referendums in Catalonia and Kurdistan, which are trying to break away from Spain and Iraq, respectively. You may also know that disputed countries exist, like Kosovo, Taiwan, and the Palestine. However, if you’ve heard of any of these following countries, you’re very much in the minority. What follows is a run-through of ten almost-sovereign states that are completely unrecognized and barely get publicity.

1.  Transnistria- On the border between Ukraine and Moldova, there is a thin but long landlocked strip of land along the Dniester River, where folks just don’t agree with Moldovans in many aspects. This is because there are more ethnic Ukrainians and Russians in the area, who are also politically opposed to the Moldovan administration. They have their own governmental systems, military, infrastructure, and all the foundations of a nation, as well as not being administered by Moldova at all. The only problem is that no UN nation recognizes them as a state.

 2. Abkhazia- Georgia is a sliver of a country below Russia, and on the Black Sea. As you’re about to find out, it has some serious problems. For one, the northwestern section of the country, comprising about half of its coastline, does not recognize the Georgian government as in charge. Abkhazia is a nation-state run by the Abkhaz minority, who didn’t want to stay with Georgia when it seceded from the USSR and still retains a lot of favor with Russia. Two wars in the 1990s and 2008 pitted Russia against Georgia over this territory and created a lot of tension. Abkhazia is also fully autonomous but unrecognized.

 3. South Ossetia- Georgia really has problems. Recognized by Russia, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Venezuela, South Ossetia is in the central-northern region of the embattled country, and also has full autonomy. Another war in the early 1990s, some conflict in 2004, and the same war in 2008 all caused more drama. South Ossetia gets along with Abkhazia very well, because they both share the same goal of seceding from Georgia and allying with Russia.

4. Artsakh- The last major unrecognized state in the Caucasus area, the Republic of Artsakh (sometimes referred to as Nagorno-Karabakh) is an ethnically Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan. To put it in context, the two ethnicities generally hate each other on principle, and this has caused a lot of strife. Artsakh has been effectively independent since 1988, and many there see Azerbaijan as attempting to continue the Armenian genocide, an Ottoman atrocity that scarred the region.

5. Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic- After Spain withdrew from its Northern African colony in 1975, a power vacuum was created, and the newly formed states of Morocco and Mauritania fought over a strip of land between them, a strip of land called the Western Sahara (for obvious reasons), not acknowledging that a third group of people wanted the same territory: the Sahrawi people, who now control the eastern part of Western Sahara. The Sahrawi republic is a member of the African union and has international relations with many other countries.

6. Somaliland- There actually was a short-lived, proper country of Somaliland in 1960, but that has since been annexed by Somalia. Now, Somaliland, the northwestern panhandle jutting out at an angle from regular Somalia, took the opportunity of an ongoing civil war in the area to declare themselves an independent state, mainly so local officials could seize some power. It’s fully autonomous and administered from its capital, Hargeisa, with a legislature, executive branch, and has been called “the most democratic system” in east Africa.

7. Cabinda- Internationally recognized as part of Angola, Cabinda is an enclave far from the mainland, lodged between the two Congoes. The problem is that it and Angola were always considered separate colonies, but when Portugal decided to grant them independence, they lumped both countries into the deal. The much larger Angola took the opportunity to assert control, and some guerrilla warfare rocked the region as the two governments competed. Right now the Cabindan government is in exile in Paris.

8. Sealand- The least country-like of all the nations in this list, Sealand has to be mentioned at the very least so as to introduce the concept of micronations. Covering an area about 1/100th the size of the Vatican, Sealand comprises an oil rig in international waters between England and France. They have their own royalty, currency, passports, stamps, and international crises (there was an attempted German coup in 1978). It is one of many micronations, which are dead serious and stretch our definition of what really is a country.

9. East Turkistan- Many people know of Tibet and its dubious occupation by China. But that isn’t the extent of China’s problems. Above Tibet, in the northwest corner of the country, there has been some ethnic strife in the autonomous Xinjiang region. Specifically, the Uyghar people (religiously Muslim, ethnically Turkic) there have been agitating for independence for the past 80 years. There’s been some repression and stuff, but this may be on its way to an independent state.

10. West Papua- Papua is an island shared by two countries, that of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The part owned by Indonesia wants its own country; a recent petition was signed by 70% of the island’s population for independence. The UN rejected any such proposals, and since West Papua doesn’t really have much autonomy, it is quite possible that its government in exile will remain in exile.

All of these “nations” challenge us to define the word “country”. The UN has 193 members; is that it? Well, then you include the Vatican, Taiwan, Kosovo, and the Palestine, to bring the total to 197. After that, since you got the ball rolling, why not throw in Somaliland, which is effectively independent anyway? You can see that it’s hard to draw the line. The Oxford Dictionaries define “country” as “a nation with its own government, occupying a particular territory”, so technically all of these are countries. Now you know!

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You Can't Hide That Falcon Pride!
10 Countries You’ve Never Heard of and Why