Jul 17, 2008

Overview of De-facto States

Northern Cypriots are well versed in what it means to be a de-facto state seeking international recognition, but as Hendrik J. Owel explains, they are not alone.

Below is an article published by Cyprus Observer:

The Unrecognised Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) organised a Conference of ‘de facto’ States in the European Parliament in Brussels on 15 May 2008. The main purpose of the conference was to bring together officials from the governments of unrecognised states with the aim of creating and sustaining a permanent mechanism of involvement and consolation of such state entities in the international arena. This would be for the benefit of not only the peoples of these ‘de facto’ states, but the international community at large.

The interested Turkish Cypriot reader may like to know a little more about some of these de facto states, as they are in more or less similar situations as the TRNC.

The Republic of Abkhazia

Abkhazia, is situated on the east banks of the Black Sea. It consists of 8,432 square kilometres and has a population of around 200,000 people, with more than 10% being Muslim. In Abkhazia today there live about 500 Turkish nationals, as about 500 peoples of Abkhaz decent live in the TRNC.

Abkhazia, originally a sovereign and independent principality, was conquered by Czarist Russia in 1864. After the Russian Revolution the Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia was proclaimed and recognised by the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic on 21 May 1921. Abkhazia became one of the founding states (Union Republics) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1924, among others like Georgia. In 1931 Stalin, a Georgian himself, demoted Abkhazia to become the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Georgia adopted again the Constitution of the Georgian Democratic Republic of 1921, without Abkhazia. On 23 July 1992, the Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia adopted their Constitution of 1925, under which Abkhazia was a sovereign state and subject to international law. An Abkhazian government offer to restore the pre-1931 mutual treaty was declined by the Georgian government which replied on 14 August 1992 with an offensive against Abkhazia that signally failed. Negotiations between Georgia and Abkhazia have been ongoing since 1993 and have failed to resolve the difference between them, leaving relations frozen in a condition of neither war nor peace. Due to the premature recognition of the Republic of Georgia by the UN on 21 December 1991, within the boundaries of the Stalinist geography of the 1931 Georgian SSR, the Republic of Abkhazia is today another ‘de facto’ existing but non-recognised state. However, only recently the government of the Russian Federation took steps in connection to Abkhazia, which can be considered nothing other than an implied ‘de facto’ recognition of the Republic of Abkhazia.

Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic

Another victim of the Stalinist geography is the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica), better known as Transdniestria. In the eighteenth century it was part of the Russian Empire, while Moldova at that time was a vassal-state of the Ottoman Empire. The international border was formed by the river Dniester.

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Pridnestrovie formally became part of the Ukraine, a Union Republic of the Soviet Union. Moldova, in contrast was then part of Romania. In 1924, the territory of Pridnestrovie became part of the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Meanwhile, Moldova stayed fully part of Romania and the river Dniester stayed as the international recognised border. Under the so-called Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact, agreed by both Stalin’s and Hitler’s ministers of foreign affairs, the Moldovan part of Romania would be assigned to the Soviet Union, which invaded it in 1940 and annexed it to the above mentioned Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, later to be became a Union Republic of the USSR.

On 2 September 1990, based on Article 3 of the 3 April 1990 USSR law regarding the procedure for a Soviet Republic to secede from the USSR (Register of the Congress of the People’s Deputies of the USSR and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 1990, issue No. 13, page 252), Pridnestrovie seceded in a completely legal way from the Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic and from the Soviet Union, declaring independence as the Pridnestrovian Soviet Socialist Republic. It declared that the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact had been null and void from its very beginning. In August 1991 the country was renamed as Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica.

The former Romanian part of Moldova declared itself independent only one and a half year later, on 27 August 1991, declaring the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact null and void as well. By doing so, in fact neither the Republic of Moldova nor the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic laid eye to each other’s territory, or parts thereof, by recognising the existing border formed by the river Dniester before 1940 as their international border. Romanian is the national language of Moldova, while Russian is spoken in Pridnestrovie, which is sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine and has a total area of 4,163 square kilometres. The population of 555,000 is made up of 35 different nationalities.

In 1992 the army of the Republic of Moldova made a failed attempt to occupy Pridnestrovie by force. Like in the case of Abkhazia, the international community recognised the Republic of Moldova within the Moldovan borders drawn up by Stalin, not taking into account the Soviet law on which Pridnestrovie had seceded from that Republic in Soviet times. Since 1994 the negotiations and relations between Pridnestrovie and Moldova can be compared to those between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus. There is free traffic of persons, but there is an embargo of goods against Pridnestrovie and although the capital Tiraspol has a suitable airport, the country has no international air traffic connections. Nevertheless, Pridnestrovie maintains trade relations with over 60 countries.

Republic of Somaliland

A third example, although of another kind, is the Republic of Somaliland, which is situated in the Horn of Africa, to the south of Djibouti, to the east of Ethiopia, and the north of Puntland. It was a part of the former Italian colony of Somalia. It has an area of 137,600 square kilometres and a population of about 3,500,000 who are Sunni Muslims.

Somaliland was under Imperial Ottoman rule for centuries until 1866 and under Egypt-Ottoman rule until 1884. From then on, it was a British colony until 26 June 1960, when it gained independence from Great Britain as the State of Somaliland.

The Italian colony Somalia became independent on 1 July 1960 as the Somali Democratic Republic. Under international pressure a small group of political leaders in Somaliland were persuaded to merge the country with Somalia. Neither Somaliland politicians nor those of Somalia consulted the people. Moreover, none of the parties signed an act of union. When in 1961 a referendum was held on the constitution of the two nations, the people of Somaliland rejected it by an overwhelming majority. The Somaliland parliament voted against the union as well and never ratified that constitution. Consequently, the union between the two former colonies was totally unlawful. When the people of Somaliland voted against the union their voice was not listened to. However, it was a clear signal to the south-dominated government in Mogadishu. The people of Somaliland were soon punished for their attitude as they became treated as second class citizens and were discriminated against.

After that Mohamed Siad Barre came to power after which the situation deteriorated. Somaliland political leaders were put in jail and, over the course of years; thousands of innocent civilians were killed. In the 1980s the people of this former Turkish and later British colony revolted against the oppressing regime of Siad Barre in Mogadishu. After a fierce fight for freedom, under the Somaliland National Movement, the cities of Hargeisa and Burao were completely destroyed by shelling and bombing by Siad Barre's forces. Siad Barre, by the end of the eighties, lost the ‘de facto’ control over Somaliland. In 1991, after the failure of Siad Barre and the collapse of the central government of Somalia in Mogadishu, a civil war broke that is going on today. Somaliland asserted its independence on 18 May 1991.

The reason of the non-recognition of the Republic of Somaliland lays not in instability. On the contrary it is a more stable, prosperous with a well-organised and democratic government, than many other countries in Africa. However, in 1963 the governments of the African countries agreed not to change the borders in Africa. On the other hand, Somaliland has been independent before that, like for example Montenegro. The reinstatement of the independence of the latter was recognised after some hesitancy by European governments. Thus it may be expected that in the long-run the Republic of Somaliland will be recognised as well.