Self-declared (and unrecognized!) republics are not a new thing. In fact, most people I meet are more prone to know about some short-lived, unrecognized kingdoms in their high school history classes than one in the modern era. What is so bewildering to me is that political geography is growingly an unrecognized discipline and skill by the current generations. With some dabble in political geography, you can find out for yourself where all those countries lie, the ones talked about in the news; and you can learn that there are numerous more countries which are not even recognized by the world’s leading, governing bodies.
One such example of a self-declared republic came about in the wake of the fall of the Sovient Union. In 1990, the Ossetian ethnic group of Georgia, a country which borders Russia to the South, declared a self-autonomous republic. In August 2008, Georgia and Russia went to war, which was fed upon growing regional tensions, and not surprisingly had to do with the Republic of South Ossetia (commonly referred to as South Ossetia).
A little further to the South, sandwiched in between Armenia and Azerbaijan, is the self-recognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (commonly referred to Armenians by its historical name Artsakh), or literally the Black Garden Republic.
——RANT ALERT—– SKIP THIS SECTION IF YOU WISH
Now, before I continue, I must admit that I am Armenian. Ask anyone who knows me for more than three minutes; I am Armenian. I am unapologetically proud. That being said, I do not fully recognize the authority of Artsakh (please, no one tell my dad I said that!). I shed a small tear as I beat out these keystrokes, something akin to the beating war drums my people spent centuries using while maintain our freedom. However, I sometimes have to question the means of achieving freedom, and with that, I would like to rid any question of validity or bias one might accuse me of. What is both ironic and beautiful at the same time is that one of my best friends is Azeri (that will make sense soon). Now off to this unknown region!
——END OF RANT——
Artsakh is a region that has historically been Armenian. Armenians are a people with a recognized and continued culture and history extending 3,500 years. Armenia, as a modern day country, was the first absorbed satellite state of the Soviet Union. Josef Stalin, the bastard, discontinued what Lenin so innovatively strived for; republics based on ethnicity, all contributing to the larger confederation; that is, one country for one nation of people. Stalin (may he forever stir in his grave!) took regions of these ethnic countries and redefined nearby boundaries so these regions would be part of other countries. It is speculated that he did this to wring control from these nations and keep them manageable from Moscow, as they would spend time arguing amongst themselves over the right to control land. As Stalin continued this practice with Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh and placed it in Azerbaijan, the Armenians and Azeris had something to fight over in the 1980’s as the eminent dissolution of the USSR was in sight.
In 1991 a referendum was held, and it was voted upon; Nagorno-Karabakh would succeed from Azerbaijan, forming a new republic. So the story unfolds, the USSR dissolves, and former republics are recognized by the UN; all except for a handful of small, hyper-regionalized, self-declared republics, unaligned with any former Soviet national boundaries.
What followed was a devastating war between Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and Azerbaijan, from 1991 to 1994. The war left refugees from both Azeri and Armenian sides. To this day, occasional snipers and patrols from both sides duke out their might for control and international recognition. I could delve deeper into the emerging history of this conflict, but that is not my intent.
Self-declared, and unrecognized, republics (or countries) are not a new thing. They have been around perhaps as long as civilizations began emerging. On the other hand, in the last two centuries, we see a new phenomenon in the wake of the fallen commercial and exploitive empires; we see renewed nationalism, and exploited ethnic groups fighting for historical territory, often by whatever means necessary. They almost always go against their deep-rooted, religious philosophies; they often form from brutal conflicts; and they are almost always unrecognized by the global community at large.
I mentioned before that I was not in full faith with Artsakh Republic, and that is because of the innocent casualties at the hands of my brothers and sisters who involved themselves with the fight for independence. It raises the questions; what is freedom? Can freedom be historically motivated and justifiable? And can we live in the global community without our all of our national markers?
There are many more questions that come to my mind when I learn about these unique political and geographical phenomena, and I’ll be taking you on more journeys through them. Together we can raise more questions, and answer them.
Thank you sincerely.