In the year 1920, the League of Nations officially recognised sovereignty for 86 countries across the world. Nearly 100 years later, and that number has swelled to 195 internationally recognised states.
Over the course of the last century, several groups and factions have revolted against their respective governments to declare a region “independent” and just like their ancestors before them, territorial disputes rage on across the globe.
Countries below, highlighted in red, are currently caught up in territorial disputes
You may have seen the new name of a country pop up on your atlas or Google search and wondered to yourself, “When did that happen?”.
The United Nations (UN) recognises 195 sovereign countries, 193 of which are members, and two – the Holy See and the State of Palestine – being simply observer states.
But depending on whom you ask, by some definitions, there are 197 countries in the world – a number drawn when Taiwan and Kosovo are included.
BUZZ presents eight countries you probably didn’t know existed*:
1. Abkhazia is a de facto and partially recognised republic on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, south of the Greater Caucasus mountains, in what is widely recognised as part of northwestern Georgia. The country, at 8,660 square kilometres, is nearly 80% of Jamaica’s size in comparison.
The unitary, semi-presidential republic – a sore point in Georgia-Russia relations after the dissolution of the Soviet Union – is contentiously recognised as a state by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Syria.
While Georgia lacks control over Abkhazia, the Georgian government and most United Nations member states consider Abkhazia legally part of Georgia as of 2008, with Georgian constitution designating the area as the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia.
2. Kosovo is another European ‘country’, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.
Roughly the size of Jamaica at 10,908 square kilometers, Kosovo is landlocked and located in the center of the Balkan Peninsula in southeast Europe.
It has since gained diplomatic recognition as a sovereign state by 102 United Nations member states. Serbia, the country contesting Kosovo’s sovereignty has accepted its institutions and elected officials but continues to claim it as the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija.
3. Clocking in at about 40 percent of Jamaica’s total area, Transnistria is a primarily unrecognised state that split from Moldova after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The territory mostly sits on a narrow strip of land between the river Dniester and Ukraine – being only recognised only by Abkhazia, Artsakh, and South Ossetia. The region is considered by the UN and its member states to be part of Moldova.
4. The republic of Somaliland is a self-declared state located in what is internationally recognised as northwest Somalia.
Its officials claimed the territory as an independent country in 1991 and the state reportedly spans parts of the borders with Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia to the east.
With an area of 176,120 square kilometres, Somaliland’s self-proclaimed independence remains unrecognised by any country or international organisation.
5. Just larger than Jamaica, Artsakh is a breakaway state in the South Caucasus that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The area has been under a perpetual ceasefire since 1994 and was a hotly contested territory from the early 1920s.
The Republic of Artsakh is neither a member nor observer of the UN or any of its specialized agencies – and is only recognised as a state by fellow disputed territories Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
6. Georgia makes claim to another disputed territory on our list after South Ossetia declared itself independent in 1990.
Also called the state of Alania, South Ossetia is a disputed territory in the South Caucasus, in what is internationally recognised as northern Georgian territory.
At 35 percent the size of Jamaica, South Ossetia is only recoginsed as fully independent and autonomous by Russia, Nauru, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR)
7. The Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) is a landlocked quasi-state in what is internationally recognised as part of eastern Ukraine.
The LPR declared its independence in the aftermath of the 2014 revolution that swept Ukraine and is the stage of an armed conflict that rages on as at April 2019.
No country or member state of the UN has recoginsed the LPR’s sovereignty.
8. The Sahrawi Republic, the 83rd largest country in the world, is a partially recognised state that claims the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara.
Interestingly enough, the Sahrawi Republic controls only the easternmost one-fifth of that territory, along the border with Mauritania. The Sahrawi Republic was proclaimed independent in 1976, but its government controls about 20–25% of the territory it claims.
The Sahrawi Republic maintains close diplomatic relations with 40 UN states and is a full member of the African Union (AU). The majority of the disputed lands of Western Sahara are governed in full or partly by Morocco in what is described as a ‘buffer zone’.
*(The term “existed” is used in this article in reference to countries that are not popularly known. We also acknowledge that these areas are heavily disputed, and not recognized by the international community, outside of supporting countries/territories.)
If you didn’t know, all these countries are visa-free destinations for Jamaicans (but be careful)! For a list of all countries where this is possible, read our BUZZ feature here.
Which ‘new’ country surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments!