Monday, July 21, 2014

Gitxsan Chiefs in British Columbia Serve Eviction Notice on Fishermen, Railroads, Logging Industry across Vast Territory


Yesterday, July 20th, was the 143rd anniversary of British Columbia’s confederation—i.e., when it ceased to be a colony of the United Kingdom and became a member of the then-four-year-old independent Dominion of Canada.  But celebration by some Canadians in one vast territory in the northern interior of the province was muted.  For it was also the ninth day of a countdown to August 4th under the terms of an indigenous “eviction notice” that challenges the legitimacy of settler rule in B.C.  For it was on July 10th that the hereditary chiefs of two tribal villages of the Gitxsan nation, Gitwanga (a.k.a. Kitwanga) and Gitsegukla, gave notice to Canadian National Railway (C.N.) and individuals and institutions representing the sport fishing and timber industries.  The notice, issued by the Gitxsan Treaty Society in Hazelton, B.C. (even though there is no Gitxsan treaty and many Gitxsan don’t want one; more on this below), states that it covers all of the approximately 33,000 square kilometers of northern B.C. territory belonging to the land-holding leaders of the several dozen extended matrilineal families (“houses”—similar to European noble houses) that make up the Gitxsan nation.  It states, in part, “This eviction notice affects all sports fisheries on the Skeena River and tributaries, all forest activities … and C.N. Rail.  All are expected to vacate and cease activities on Aug. 4, 2014, until both Crowns [i.e. the provincial and federal governments] have obtained the required consent of the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs.”


The Gitxsan chiefs are using centuries of legal precedent.  This includes not only the millennia of Gitxsan law strictly governing the use of family-owned territories—the Gitxsan ayookw—but also a series of Canadian legal decisions which recognize Gitxsan law.  In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, King George III (yes, the same chap who later got so grumpy about surrendering certain other North American territories) affirmed that no scrap of Indian land can come under the rule of the Crown without treaty—and yet in only a few remote corners of B.C. were any treaties ever signed.  Then, Delgamuukw vs. the Queen, a massive lawsuit against the federal and provincial governments brought in the late 1980s by the Gitxsan (the spelling Gitksan was preferred in those days) and a neighboring nation which speaks an unrelated language but exercises an interlocking system of land tenure, the Wet’suwet’en, was struck down in an openly racist court ruling but then partly upheld in an appeal a few years later in a decision that recognized that aboriginal title did exist and that mostly oral traditions such as those of the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en could constitute title.  It left open what the nature of such title was, let alone its implications.

Earl Muldoe (seated, at left), holder of the chiefly title Delgamuukw,
a made famous in the annals of Canadian law
A 2004 ruling in a case brought by the Haida people of northwestern B.C., Haida Nation v. Minister of Forests (B.C.), laid out a stricter process for consulting in land use than the de facto system of “‘consult’ with tribes, then do what you want anyway” under which government and industries have mostly operated in the treatyless lands.  Earlier this year, a case involving the south-central B.C. Tsihlqot’in (a.k.a. Chilcotin) nation, Tsihlqot’in Nation v. B.C., reaffirmed the Delgamuukw 1997 appeal decision in more concrete terms and recognized a governmental-type role for First Nations on equal par with, and in some respects above, the Crown.


As Vernon Smith, who holds the Gitxsan hereditary title Sagum Higookw, pointed out, “In line with our ayookw, the Supreme Court of Canada says repelling trespassers is a necessary element of our title.”  And, as Beverley Clifton Percival,* a negotiator who holds the hereditary title Gwaans from Gitsegukla’s House of Hanamuuxw, said, “There is no legislative authority for these government bureaucrats to make determinations regarding Gitxsan strength of title and rights.  Without the consent by the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, they are trespassers.”

Beverley Clifton Percival
Clifton Percival also told media that the specific land dispute which brought about the eviction notice involves territories claimed by Gitxsan houses which are being treated in Crown negotations as territory of the Kitselas (Gits’ilaasü) and Kitsumkalum (Gitsmgeelm),** two tribal villages downriver which are part of the linguistically and culturally related Tsimshian (Ts’msyeen) nation.  She added, “We want the Gitxsan lands taken out of the offer, that’s the only part we’re interested in; we also want to achieve reconciliation with the crown of Canada and British Columbia, and we want to have a good legal relationship that moves us all forward in a positive way in the creation of a sustainable economy here in the northwest that allows people to benefit, and as well we have an economic component to our title, so any revenues that are generated on our lands, we’re entitled to that.”

Approximate territories of the coastal nations of British Columbia
Art Mathews, who holds the chiefly title Tenimgyet from Gitwangak, added, “The Crown has never been honourable in their engagement with the Gitksan since 1997.  Harvesters of trees and fish are now evicted.”

Heiltsuk protesters greet a visiting government
negotiating team in Bella Bella, B.C., in 2012.
Al Wilson of the B.C. Wildlife Federation acknowledges that the Tsihlq’otin ruling is still so recent that no one has really grasped its full implications, which are immense. “Clearly,” Martin said, “government is trying to get their mind around that [court decision].  It’s early days.  It’s clear there is a lot of work to be done to figure out the implications of this as you translate from the judgment level of the Supreme Court to how things will actually work across landscapes and watersheds and how it will affect the use of resources, including fish and wildlife.”  The Gitxsan eviction notice accelerates mightily the timetable under which the implications of the decision will need to be sorted out.

The Enbridge pipeline would run through the territory of the Wet’suwet’en, which has joined other
Dene (Athabaskan) speaking nations in the anti-pipeline Yinka Dene Alliance.
But these latest developments have a much larger context as well.  The Northern Gateway Pipeline being planned by Enbridge, Inc., to run from Alberta’s tar sands to the small northern-B.C. harbor city of Kitimat, in the Haisla nation’s territory, would run through a snippet of Gitxsan territory—and, as discussed earlier in this blog, a significant part of Wet’suwet’en lands as well.  Numerous First Nations along the route have organized against the pipeline, which they see as not just an environmental but an existential threat, and the movement has galvanized indigenous communities throughout Canada and the United States under the catch phrase “Idle No More”—evoking the image of a sleeping giant being stirred to action by a further atrocity.


Nathan Cullen, the New Democratic Party’s member of parliament (M.P.) for the area, has pleaded for calm.  Meanwhile, the squatters have till August 4th to clear off.  I have a feeling they won’t, and that the struggle for the land will enter a new chapter.  Watch this space.



[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]


* Full disclosure: Ms. Percival was a graduate student of mine some years ago at the University of Northern British Columbia’s Terrace campus, though I think I learned at least as much from her as she did from me.

** More full disclosure: I have worked very closely with the Kitsumkalum and Kitselas communities, and in particular with hereditary chiefs and treaty negotiators of the Kitsumkalum community.  I myself take no personal position in any territorial dispute; my work there has not focused on territorial questions but on other governance issues such as membership policy.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Virginia Dad Crowns 7-Year-Old Daughter “Princess” of African No-Man’s-Land He Dubs “Kingdom of North Sudan”


This Bastille Day, the world awoke to news that a new independent nation had been declared.  No, not Kurdistan or Catalonia or Scotland, but something called, in what is one of the more bizarre “micronations” to be founded in recent years, the Kingdom of North Sudan.  Nor was it founded by any of the numerous rebel groups—Nubians, Darfuris, etc.—who are battling the genocidal regime that runs the Republic of Sudan.

Bir Tawil is now the “Kingdom of North Sudan.”
The declaration was made by one Jeremiah Heaton, a former Democratic Party Congressional hopeful from Abingdon (pop. ca. 8,000), in the Appalachian western reaches of Virginia, who last month made a 14-hour overland trek via desert caravan to a remote, disputed shard of territory between Sudan and Egypt, planted a flag, and declared it, provisionally, “the Heaton Kingdom” and later, officially, on a suggestion from his children, the Kingdom of North Sudan.


His children?  Yes, well, this is sort of all about his children.  The reason Heaton has made himself king of North Sudan is to fulfill a promise to his seven-year-old daughter, Emily Heaton. As the self-styled monarch told the press, “Over the winter, Emily and I were playing, and she has a fixation on princesses.  She asked me, in all seriousness, if she’d be a real princess someday.  And I said she would.”

“Someday, princess, all this will be yours.”
The piece of land in question is Bir Tawil, an 800-square-mile lozenge of desert.  Its special status is due to it having fallen between the cracks of two border agreements: first, the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium Agreement of 1899—which made the 22nd parallel the frontier between the United Kingdom’s newly conquered “Anglo-Egyptian Sudan” (with an emphasis on the Anglo) and what was then an Ottoman Empire puppet state called the Khedivate of Egypt—and, second, a British modification of the boundary in 1902, taking tribal territories into slight account.  For a time, Egypt ruled Bir Tawil while the British in Sudan ruled the larger, coastal wedge of land falling between the two borders, the so-called Hala’ib Triangle.  Today, the independent states of Egypt and Sudan both claim the far larger and more strategic and valuable Hala’ib Triangle.  But the Egyptians, as part of their insistence on using the 22nd parallel as the boundary (thus granting themselves the Hala’ib Triangle), have relinquished their claims on Bir Tawil, and the Sudanese have done the same as part of their position that only the 1902 line is valid.  Thus, today, Egypt de facto administers the Hala’ib Triangle, and no one administers Bir Tawil.

Bir Tawil has attracted the attention of micronation hobbyists before,
as in this image from a 2010 cybernation blog—but only King Jeremiah
has actually planted a flag there.
This is what made Heaton figure that no one would mind if he, you know, just took the territory.  As Heaton himself put it this week, “It’s beautiful there.  It’s an arid desert in northeastern Africa.  Bedouins roam the area; the population is actually zero.”  Whoa, wait, wait—what did he say again?  “Bedouins roam the area; the population is actually zero.”  Yes, that’s what he said.  So, let me get this straight: Bedouins don’t exist? or they aren’t people? or is it just that Bedouins, being nomadic, are presumed to have no rights in any territory whatsoever?  The same callous, dehumanizing logic that has been used to legitimize European colonialism not just in Africa but in the Americas, Australia, and elsewhere is on full display here: “You’re not doing anything with the land that I recognize as ‘ownership’ or ‘permanent residence.’  Thus, white people can take it.”  Oh, but, wait, no—it’s all about Daddy’s Little Princess!  Sorry, sorry, I forgot; didn’t mean to make it sound colonialist or anything.


Africans, sadly, are used to white monarchs—most often, admittedly, legitimate ones—using their land to hand out as party favors to ease family relationships.  One example is the Heligoland Treaty of 1890, in which Germany’s emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, swapped Zanzibar to Queen Victoria in exchange for the North Sea island of Heligoland and the Caprivi Strip territory (which, as discussed in an article on this blog, Germans could could use as a supply route between German South-West Africa, today’s Namibia, and German East Africa, today’s mainland Tanzania).  That treaty included a special clause which threw a dogleg into German East Africa’s otherwise ruler-straight border with British Kenya, leaving Mt. Kilimanjaro on the Tanganyika side.  This was done because Wilhelm, who was also Victoria’s grandson (yes, that eventually made things kind of awkward, oh, ’round about 1914), had been pouting about the fact that he didn’t own as many African mountains as his English cousins.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


But Jeremiah Heaton is hardly Kaiser Wilhelm II.  In fact, even though the Kaiser’s facial hair is considered much more hip in 2014 than Heaton’s evenly trimmed full beard, Heaton nonetheless very commendably refrained from using mustard gas as a campaign tactic when he sought the Democratic nomination to represent Virginia’s 9th District in 2012.

Kaiser Wilhelm’s facial hair:
hip in 1914, and in 2014
King Jeremiah’s facial hair:
so 1990s

As for Princess Emily, she seems determined to become a benevolent dictator (though with two brothers, she may never accede to the throne, at least under Salic Law).  True, she is as pampered as any well-off little American girl and sleeps in a princess-themed canopy bed.  But she has expressed concern that the people in and around her new realm have enough to eat.  “That’s definitely a concern in that part of the world,” King Jeremiah told an interviewer.  “We discussed what we could do as a nation to help.  If we can turn North Sudan into an agricultural hub for the area—a lot of technology has gone into agriculture and water.  These are the things [Emily and her brothers Prince Justin and Prince Caleb] are concerned with.”

“And next, I want an Oompa Loompa, Daddy—and I want one right now!
Such magnanimity, unfortunately, may not mollify the brutal Islamist regime in the Republic of Sudan.  The country’s military dictator, Omar al-Bashir, rules through shari’a (Islamic law), something made easier after Western powers sheared off the predominantly-Christian, oil-rich southern half of his country away as an independent state, the Republic of South Sudan, in 2011.  Since then, Bashir has also faced Arab Spring uprisings challenging his rule, insurgencies in the southern regions of Nubia and Darfur, and a 2009 International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) arrest warrant on charges of crimes against humanity, including genocide, for his pitiless proxy war—using the dreaded Janjaweed militia—against the civilian population of Darfur.  Because of these international criminal charges, he is barely able to leave his country, and Sudan is excluded from participating as a full member of the international community.  Sudan was (as discussed at the time in this blog) also one of only 11 states—alongside pariah nations like Syria, Iran, and North Korea—to vote with Russia against a United Nations resolution recognizing Ukraine’s territorial integrity following the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea.  To sum things up, Omar al-Bashir is a very, very grumpy man indeed.
The supposed “Kingdom of North Sudan” is highlighted in blue.
Nor does the official absence of a territorial interest in Bir Tawil mean that this piece of land is not an ideological and political flashpoint.  Sudan’s narrow Red Sea coastline is now its most important economic asset, that being the only route by which Bashir’s former captive nation and current arch-enemy, South Sudan, can bring its oil to market, via pipelines through Sudan proper to Port Sudan.  That interdependence between the two Sudans is probably the only thing keeping Sudan and South Sudan from destroying each other in all-out war (that and the fact that South Sudan is busily destroying itself in a civil war).  But South Sudan’s military, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (S.P.L.A.), a former rebel army, is, by most accounts, at least indirectly in league with rebel groups within the predominantly-Arab rump Sudan—not just the Justice and Equality Movement (J.E.M.) rebels in Darfur (a formerly quasi-independent region on border with Libya) but also something called the Eastern Front.

Flag of coastal Sudan’s
“Eastern Front” rebels
The Eastern Front, which draws support from the coastal area’s Cushitic-speaking Beja ethnic group and the Saudi-derived Rashaida Bedouin Arabs—and perhaps from the dictatorship in neighboring Eritrea—routinely demands more autonomy and is well aware of the strategic importance of the coastline.  In 2005, the Sudanese military killed 17 Beja rioters in Port Sudan, stoking anti-government feeling.  And one of their key demands is wresting the Hala’ib Triangle from Egyptian control—a demand which has become shriller as the new Egyptian dictatorship has cracked down harder on Islamists.  In short, the Eastern Front, with its preoccupation with the unsettled Egyptian border, is a potential mortal threat to the Bashir regime.  The question of who runs Bir Tawil and Hala’ib could conceivably be reopened at any time.

Omar al-Bashir, Princess Emily’s new enemy
King Jeremiah’s naïveté in the face of such realities is stunning.  As he told reporters this week regarding the question of diplomatic recognition, “I feel confident in the claim we’ve made. That’s the exact same process that has been done for thousands of years.  The exception is this nation was claimed for love.”  That’s right: he loves his little princess so much that he’s giving her the gift of a coveted spot on the target list of a terrorist Islamist régime.

Sudan’s pro-government Janjaweed militia
doesn’t like it when people get in their way.
Welcome to Africa, Emily!
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]

As one might imagine, sometimes my friends and colleagues let me know about a news development before Google Alerts has a chance to.  In this case, thanks are due to Susan Abe, Tea Krulos (author of Heroes in the Night), and Emperor George II (Empire of Atlantium; like it on Facebook) for calling this story to my attention.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

“State of Jefferson” Backers Remain Optimistic, While 6-Way Partition of California Heads for 2016 Ballot


The mixed results in three northern-California county ballot proposals on forming a “State of Jefferson” have not discouraged proponents of the idea—nor have its low chances of success even if majorities could be rallied.  Meanwhile, a more bizarre and ambitious plan to subdivide California into six separate states (discussed recently in this blog) has now gathered enough signatures to be put to voters in a state referendum in 2016.


The “Six Californias” initiative is the brainchild of the Silicon Valley venture-capitalist and sitcom actor Tim Draper, an enthusiastic Bitcoin investor and all-around eccentric cocky billionaire, who wants to divide the Golden State into the separate states of Jefferson, North California, Central California, West California, South California (that idea has its own grassroots movement, as discussed in this blog), and a—knock on wood—libertarian utopia in the State of Silicon Valley.  This week, his allegedly bipartisan group of backers revealed that more than the required 807,615 signatures—out of a promised eventual total of 1.3 million—have been collected and delivered to the state legislature in Sacramento, which enables the partition plan to be put to voters on the 2016 state ballot.

This Draper is a bit of a mad man himself.
In a recent poll, 59% of Californians were against the idea, which means some public-relations work will be necessary between now and then—though that is smaller than the gap an aggressive Québécois sovereignty campaign was able to nearly close in the 1995 referendum on secession from Canada, which it lost by a whisker.

An early map of the proposed entity
The numbers look a little different, though, when you examine the far northern rural reaches of the state along the Oregon border, where in June of this year three counties held referenda on whether to join a future State of Jefferson (reviving a 1941 plan to create an—as it then would have been—49th state straddling the old California–Oregon line).  In last month’s vote, 56% of voters in Tehama County gave the 51st-state idea a thumbs-up, and that advisory (i.e. non-binding) measure result was bolstered on July 15th by Tehama’s board of supervisors voting 5-0 to back the idea in light of public opinion.


In two other northern counties which polled voters on the question in June, Del Norte and Siskiyou, the idea was defeated by “no” votes of 59% and 56%, respectively.  In Siskiyou, at least—which is the heart of the Jefferson movement—the final count probably belies a majority support for the idea: some voters were turned off by a more radical strain of Jeffersonian separatism which wanted to erect a libertarian-anarchist-style “Republic of Jefferson” with its own currency and judicial system.  The head of the Jefferson Republic Committee, Anthony Intiso, promises a new approach after the Siskiyou results, saying voter turnout could be key.  Opposition to the idea was strongest in the county’s southern half—data Intiso plans to use as the republicans regroup. “With better education,” Intiso says, “Measure C would have passed, I believe. Last time, we pulled the entire thing together in just six months. I think we did pretty good for that.”

Anthony Intiso, third from left, father of the “Republic of Jefferson” movement
Even some of the opposing voices in Tehama should give Jefferson proponents reason for hope.  A letter to a Tehama County newspaper by one Diana Thompson, a former county administrator now living in Red Bluff, Tehama’s county seat, warned direly the other day, “The result [of a full-on push for statehood] would not be a State of Jefferson, but a U.S. Government protectorate or territory, something between Samoa and Puerto Rico because Congress will never accept us as a state.  In effect, we will lose all representation and be governed by Congress like Alaska and Hawaii were before statehood, which took decades.  Both the Philippines and Puerto Rico have [sic] been waiting almost a century to become states, and as we all know, Congress takes forever, if it even does anything.”  In addition to apparently thinking the U.S. still owns the Philippines (it became independent in 1946) and that U.S. territories don’t have their own legislatures, Thompson, bless her heart, also seems to think that it would be constitutionally possible, through some occult legal process, for Tehama County to sever itself irreparably from California—but not the United States—without gaining any kind of new status.  (And just think: this is a sample from the minority of Tehama County residents who even read newspapers to begin with!)  If I were a Jefferson proponent, I would be thinking: this lady is somebody who, if she had the right Tea-Party-distorted factoids lobbed in her general direction, could be brought around to believing just about anything.  (You know, like Bernice Cressey, who wrote to the same local paper, the Red Bluff Daily News, to warn that “those who oppose the State of Jefferson are either stupid or just plain liars.  Liberals will do anything to get their agenda passed.  Look at the I.R.S., N.S.A., V.A. scandals, too many to mention.  We’re already dealing with Agenda 21, with Common Core brainwashing our kids.”  Etc.)  (You know, she’s beginning to make sense.  Come to think of it ... say, I’m not sure I trust the pointy-headed intellectuals who run that newspaper in the first place.  After all, doesn’t “red bluff” mean ... Communist lie?!)

One proposed shape of a State of Jefferson, with counties
that have held referenda or passed resolutions on the matter highlighted in red.
But Thompson is right about one thing: any candidate for statehood must be approved by the U.S. Congress, and something like the State of Jefferson, which would be solidly Republican, would never gain the necessary votes unless a solidly Democratic 52nd state—with two Democratic senators to balance out the two new Republican Jeffersonian senators in the nearly perfectly divided upper chamber—were admitted simultaneously.  And why would Congress bother?  Both parties are busy enough trying to shore up and maintain their precarious 50%-ish share of national power without introducing crazy new variables like new states.

The original movement began in 1941.  (As you can see from the dateline,
other political matters were about to crowd out 49th-state movements
just as the Jefferson push gained momentum.)
Multiply that degree of unlikelihood by six and you get something like the level of quixotic, hallucinatory self-delusion necessary to think that California could simply tic the box for six-way partition and then move inexorably toward just such a subdivision.  For one thing, why would Tim Draper’s borders be better than those which county-level referenda might generate (and, in Jefferson, are, after a fashion, generating)?  Can you just imagine the decades of wrangling, at county, state, and congressional levels, over which of the 58 current counties would belong to which of the six states?  Draper—who, in addition to managing astronomical sums of money, played Principal Schmoke on the Nickelodeon series The Naked Brothers Bandinsists that all that could be sorted out later.  He is optimistic that leaner, nimbler, more accountable smaller governments can be put in place, with the people bypassing the party “oligopoly” in the legislatures.  How he plans to keep the very body exclusively entrusted with creating new states—Congress—out of the process is unclear.  It would require some kind of revolution—which is much more the State (or Republic) of Jefferson’s style than Silicon Valley’s.  Watch this space.

The tie that unbinds: Tim Draper’s sartorial choice
on the day he announced the petition threshold had been reached.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]


Related articles from this blog:

Friday, July 11, 2014

“Springtime of Nations” Blog on Slight Hiatus as Book Publication Proceeds Apace

Readers may have noted that this blog has lain fallow for a few weeks, and during such crucial turns in world events as well.  But it is for a good reason.  The process of publishing of my forthcoming book has been proceeding apace, with the project now in the layout stage.  The book, titled (take a deep breath) Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas, will be published soon (later summer or early fall 2014) by Auslander & Fox (ISBN is 978-1-936117-99-4).

Before long, I will return to regular blogging, offering updates, analysis, and opinions on some of the more important recent and ongoing developments in the area of separatism and nationalism, including the ongoing wars in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, and the Palestinian Territories, to name just a few.

Meanwhile, please “like” the book’s page on Facebook (here), which, frustratingly, does not allow exclamation points in the names of pages.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Karakalpak Autonomy Rumblings in Uzbekistan Raise Fears Putin Eyeing Central Asia for Next Crimea


Last week I reported here on possibly ethnically-tinged conflicts stirring again in eastern Tajikistan—a country whose destabilization could be in Russia’s interest—between Sunni Tajiks and Shiite Pamiris.  Since then, another separatist region in a former Soviet republic, Uzbekistan’s Republic of Karakalpakstan, has renewed its demands for autonomy as well.  Does this mean covertly Russian-backed Crimea and Donbas type scenarios will be playing out in Central Asia? or is this merely a reaction to the divisiveness and unease in Moscow’s former empire?

The flag of Karakalpakstan
A group called Alga Karakalpakstan (“Forward Karakalpakstan!”), which represents the indigenous people of the vast western half of Uzbekistan, has gone over the heads of the Uzbek government to directly petition the World Bank to halt development aid unless Uzbeks crack down on the use of slave labor in Karakalpak cotton fields.  Referring to well-documented practices which have caused many in the international community to look askance at Uzbekistan, the Alga Karakalpakstan letter tells the bank, “The government owns all the land of Uzbekistan and forces farmers to meet annual quotas for cotton, and sell it to the state at a low purchasing price—under the threat of losing land, criminal charges and physical violence.  Every autumn, the Uzbek government forcibly mobilized 16-17 year old students of colleges and universities, pensioners, education and health professionals, and other public sector workers to pick cotton.”  Even within this already harsh system, according to the group, Karakalpakstan is a “captive” nation under “political and economic blockade.”

The incredible shrinking Aral Sea paid the cost of the Soviet mania to
make arid Uzbekistan a cotton producer.  So did Karakalpaks.
Like Crimea, Karakalpakstan is a victim of redrawn internal borders during the Soviet period which are now international borders.  Karakalpaks are ethnically and culturally closer to Kazakhs than to Uzbeks; some even classify them as Kazakh.  Thus, Stalin moved the region out of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.) into the Uzbek S.S.R. to dilute Kazakh influence.  But then Karakalpaks caught the brunt of Soviet eco-pillage and central-planning lunacy.  A cotton industry in this desert region required the draining and near-disappearance of the Aral Sea, which decimated the Karakalpakstan’s more traditional fishing economy.  And after the Soviets located a chemical-weapons facility on an Aral Sea island (which soon ceased to be an island as the sea vanished) and then abandoned it to rot and leach poisons after Communism fell, Karakalpakstan has become the world’s worst toxic-waste dump.

Stranded rotting ships in what used to be the Aral Sea
Though Uzbekistan’s 1993 constitution guarantees Karakalpakstan the right of secession, it is generally understood that the brutal regime in Tashkent would never actually permit this.  One United States diplomat has referred to Karakalpakstan as a “time bomb.”  Or perhaps it is only a fuse that needs to be lit, and that the Crimea crisis could do that.  Because Uzbekistan is so closed, it is hard to evaluate how strong Karakalpak separatism is; after all, they are a minority in their own republic, with the nearly 2 million people being about equally divided among three ethnic groups: Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and Karakalpaks.


But Karakalpakstan has most of Uzbekistan’s oil, plus it is just to the west of the Transcaspia region of Kazakhstan, a strategic area with a huge Russian minority, many of whom would like to join Russia.  Russia’s expansionist president, Vladimir Putin, surely would not mind encircling more of the Caspian Sea the way he has done in the Black Sea—especially if it meant seizing more energy resources.

How many ethnic Russians, like those in Crimea, will Putin decide need “protecting”?
Kazakhstan itself has long been a likely site of Russian irredentism.  In addition to Mangystau oblast (province) in Transcaspia (ethnically, about half Kazakh and about a third Russian), the oblasts of East Kazakhstan (55% Kazakh and 41% Russian) and North Kazakhstan (almost half Russian and less than a third Kazakh) have seen Russian separatism as well since Communism fell.  Cossacks are a presence in all three areas and have been at the forefront of intermittent drives to secede and join Russia.  As the Russian analyst Anatoly Baronin has noted, Vladimir Shtygashev, the speaker of parliament in Russia’s nearby Republic of Khakassia (which is less than an eighth Khakass and 81% ethnic-Russian) has said that mineral-rich East Kazakhstan, “the so-called Mining Altai, is historically a part of Russia.”  Kazakhstan’s long-serving authoritarian ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is ever mindful of all this and put Kazakh border patrols on high alert when Putin moved into Crimea earlier this year (as reported at the time in this blog (also discussed here)).  At a hastily arranged presidential summit, Putin “convinced” Nazarbayev that his territory would be more secure if he didn’t make trouble and dutifully signed the agreement to create the “Eurasian Union” (Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan) trading bloc, which indeed was inaugurated in late May.  (This is the group which Ukraine’s refusal to join sparked the current conflict there.)

Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev, Belarus’s Lukashenko, and Russia’s Putin are the core of the new “Eurasian Union.”
As Putin tries to rebuild the Soviet Union, his eyes may next be turning eastward.



[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Is Gorno-Badakhshan Stirring Again?


Outsiders are still trying to sort out what happened on May 21st in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (G.B.A.O.), the sealed-off eastern half of the Republic of Tajikistan.


According to the Russian news agency ITAR–TASS, three people were killed and seven wounded in Khorog, the Badakhshani capital, in the wake of a drug raid in which police killed two local residents.  Other suspects escaped in a car and shot and wounded four police officers in the ensuing chase.

Khorog, Gorno-Badakhshan’s capital
In response to these deaths at police hands, mass protests were held, cars were overturned, and public buildings were subjected to grenade attacks and set on fire, including a court, a police station, and the public prosecutor’s office.  One policeman was killed in street confrontations associated with the protest violence.  This was followed by demonstrations in the days following, with the public demanding an investigation.


Though the situation seems to have calmed down since then, it may have had an ethnic and sectarian dimension.  Gorno-Badakhshan—along with the adjacent part of Afghanistan, the eastern “panhandle” province of Badakhshan—is home to the Pamiri minority.  Pamiris, who like Tajiks speak a language related to Persian (see map below), follow Shi’a Islam—and in particular are Ismailis, i.e. followers of the Aga Khan—unlike the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and other Sunni Muslims who make up the other 97% of Tajikistan’s population.  An estimated 100,000 Pamiris and members of a related ethnic group, the Gharmis, were slaughtered in the civil war that lasted from 1992 to 1997 after Tajikistan’s separation from the Soviet Union.

A scene from the violence in Gorno-Badakhshan in 2012
Since then, Gorno-Badakhshan, which covers nearly half of Tajikistan’s territory, has largely run its own affairs, without molestation by the central government.  The conflict was revived in 2012, when the government moved in to reoccupy the region for a while following the murder of a central-government security-chief, which Tajikistan blamed on Tolib Ayombekov, a Pamiri warlord from the 1990s who became a major drugs and weapons trafficking boss.


It is hard to know what goes on in Gorno-Badakhshan.  The area is sealed off from much of the world. But its fate has wider strategic implications.  The Russian government acted aggressively to snuff out the civil war in the late 1990s out of fears that the ascendant Taliban government in Afghanistan could take advantage of ethnic affinities across the Afghan–Tajik border to gain a foothold there.  Both Pamiris and Afghanistan’s ethnic mainstream, after all, had long-standing resentment of Soviet and Russian influence.  It is not as though the Taliban has particularly much influence in the Pamiri areas of Afghanistan; but the appearance or threat of it could be enough for authorities on either side to take overly precipitous action.  The area also borders the People’s Republic of China, in particular the vast and predominantly-Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where the Beijing government is using separatist violence by the oppressed Uyghur people (some of which might even be staged, in “false flag” operations, as many Uyghur exiles believe) as the excuse for a crackdown—and for building cross-border alliances with Tajikistan, Pakistan, Russia, and other states to crack down on “separatist” and “terrorist” networks.

This map of Central Asian languages, seems to classify Pamiri (controversially) as Tajik.
It also shows, in pink, the presence of Kyrgyz people in eastern Gorno-Badakhshan.
One Central Asia expert, Omar Ashour, believes that the currently ongoing winding-down of the United States and NATO war in Afghanistan may be leading to instability (which of course is different from suggesting that those forces should stay). Some groups—the Taliban among them—are betting that the drawdown will leave power vacuums that they can fill. “I think what the NATO departure will do,” Ashour says, “is just make all the major players in Tajikistan think that they can expand their influence without having some big brother in the neighborhood intervene to empower one side or the other.”

Tajik soldiers display weapons captured in Gorno-Badakhshan raids, in 2010.
Surely, in a larger sense, China and especially Russia feel that way too. In particular, the new aggressive “Monroe Doctrine” approach to the former Soviet lands which President Vladimir Putin made public earlier this year with his annexation of Crimea lends extra significance to any unrest in Soviet successor states. The possibility, or even the fear, that events are the work of Kremlin-directed agents provocateurs creating a pretext for Russian intervention or annexation, will help determine the progress of any conflict.  We already see this happening with the ongoing coup d’état situation in the unrecognized Russian puppet state of Abkhazia, on Georgia’s territory.  Tajik instability also serves Russian interests by making Tajiks feel they would be safer inside the new “Eurasian Union” trade bloc of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus inaugurated last week as a counterbalance to the European Union.  Putin has already baldly exploited territorial anxieties to arm-twist Armenia (a prospective Eurasian Union member) and Kazakhstan to pull closer to Russia.

Tajik-Americans angered by the lack of information coming out of the violence-torn
areas in their homeland demonstrate in front of the Tajik embassy in Washington, D.C.
Ashour added, “Tajikistan is really on the brink at the moment and I think without some kind of international pressure to start some serious reforms in the security sector, in the military sector, and the political system, I think this country may see another cycle of heavy violence.”


[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]


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