The UN recognises 193 Official Member States across the world.
But across Europe, Asia and the rest of the world, there are many more self declared nations that have existed unrecognised, unknown and fiercely contested for years.
And in September of 2015, Travel Tramp will be setting out on a trip of epic proportions, to bring you- the reader- the very best first hand accounts of these places. Travel Tramp will be living its motto, Crossing Borders and Going Where You Fear To Tread.
This will be a journey to uncover these unrecognised, self declared nations. A journey to visit the people and places that don’t officially exist- the people and places that have no real status in the International Community- and to ask the simple question- what makes a country a country?
The unrecognised nations across the world are invariably the result of conflict, and those that aren’t still at war exist in a state of tension with those countries around them.
These can be small micronations, such as the recently proclaimed Liberland. Places that have declared independence as grand social experiments, or for idealistic political reasons, or because, why the hell not?
Self declared states exist across the Old Soviet Bloc and Yugoslavia, the result of disputed territory or ethnic tension. These are places that have been divided by history and torn apart by conflict. Nations like Kosovo, who have stood silently, unrecognised, in the shadow of the conflicts that created them.
I will be exploring these divided, self declared, or unrecognised nation states, from Europe to Asia, from Kosovo to Tibet. I will be meeting the people who don’t exist, in the countries that don’t exist. I will be asking why some countries can be recognised when others are left in the shadows. What gives a nation the right to govern themselves and the right to independence?
With your help I will be setting off on an overland journey from my home country of the United Kingdom, following the contours and fault lines of modern European nation states, across the steppes of Central Asia and finally into China. Along the way I will be visiting the disputed territories and self declared nation states, as well as the recognised ‘official’ nations that surround them, to get both sides of the story. You can follow every moment and every interaction right here or on Travel-Tramp.com.
You will be able to track every moment of this trip, as I make the epic overland journey through disputed lands and breakaway countries.
There’s only so much you can achieve from the comfort of an armchair after all…
The Route (roughly)-
Part 1] The European Nations
The travel begins in Oxford and then across the continent to Istanbul, with more than a few stops in between of course.
The Channel Islands: These islands are technically part of the UK, although closer to France, but officially are neither part of the United Kingdom nor the European Union. This semi independent status hasn’t stopped the islands from becoming financial powerhouses though.
The Kingdom of Wallachia: This micro Kingdom in the Czech Republic was started as a practical joke to pull in tourists in 1997. And it worked, that is until things started to get too real- the fictional King tried to seize power and had to be ousted in a coup.
Transnistria: A casualty of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Transnistria is truly a place that doesn’t exist on any official terms. This de facto Republic was declared on the banks of the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine in the early ‘90’s. The citizens preferred the idea of remaining part of the Soviet Union, to becoming part of the new nation of Moldova, and this led to all out war, until the Russians stood in and forced a tense ceasefire and partition which has just about held to this day. There’s now a population of well over 500,000 people, they have a government, currency, flag, probably even a football team and yet there is zero recognition from any of the UN member states. This breakaway state has a reputation for being a gun running, mafia state that clings to its communist roots.
Liberland: The most recently declared independent micro nation, a Czech politician in April of this year proclaimed the state on unclaimed land between Croatia and Serbia. This might just be a political stunt, or it may well be the start of an idealistic libertarian experiment.
Kosovo- After travelling through the countries of the former Yugoslavia, modern nations which once themselves had to declare their own independence, I will make it to Kosovo. The country broke away from Serbia- who still claim sovereignty over the area- in 2008, after years of tension since the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the following Balkan conflicts. Kosovo is not a UN member state, and only has recognition from 85 states, but for all practical purposes, they run their own affairs.
Northern Cyprus- Most countries consider Northern Cyprus to be the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, the nation state which governs the southern part of the island. Cyprus has been divided in two though since a Turkish invasion in 1974. The Turks are the only ones to recognise Northern Cyprus, and with the partition they are heavily dependent on Turkey.
Part 2] The Edge of Asia
Abkhazia- The self-declared Republic of Abkhazia was for years a popular tourist destination in the Soviet Union. On the black sea, this frozen conflict zone has been in tense relations with Georgia since the disintegration of the USSR. Vicious wars have been fought and most Georgians who lived in Abkhazia were forced to leave. Russia supports the breakaway Republic, and is one of the few nations to recognise their independence from Georgia.
South Ossetia- Like Abkhazia, the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia lies between Russia and Georgia. Another victim of Post-Soviet conflicts, South Ossetia decided it would be better off independent than a province of Georgia. Wars were fought, culminating in the full scale 2008 Georgian-Russian war, when the Russians stood in to help the South Ossetians. Since then, the Russians have formally recognised the nation, but Georgians fear they are simply, slowly annexing the territory.
South Ossetia is incredibly difficult to get into for the independent traveller, so dependent on the political situations on the ground, I may not be able to enter this breakaway Republic.
Nagorno-Karabakh- The self declared Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised by the UN as a territory of Azerbaijan, yet they have been independent and self governing since the early ‘90’s, when, with the help of their neighbour Armenia, they ousted the Azeris from the region. The Republic runs their own affairs now, but the border with Azerbaijan is still an active war zone, and the people live a tense existence.
Part 3] Into the Wild West of China
Xinjiang Province– After travelling overland through Iran and Central Asia from the Caucasus’ , I’ll be venturing into China’s western province of Xinjiang, following the ancient silk road route. This diverse region has long been disputed, and has been a part of different Empires stretching back centuries. Now it is a part of the People’s Republic of China. The local, largely Muslim populations are slowly being engulfed by the influx of Han Chinese from the east, and nationalistic ideals and ethnic tensions have seen terrorist attacks by locals on the Chinese infrastructure in recent years.
Tibet- After exploring the deserts of Xinjiang Province, I will be heading South for the final leg of the journey, and into the high mountains of the Tibetan plateau. This almost mythical land has long been seen in the Western world as the victim of Chinese oppression. Since 1950, when the Chinese invade and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee, the formerly independent country has slowly been incorporated into the People’s Republic of China.
And from Tibet? The journey will only continue- to Nepal, India and onwards.
Travel Tramp was started for one reason. To travel. This will just be the beginning of the adventure.
The journey starts in September. Follow all the action on Travel-Tramp.com
Follow the twitter page here @traveltramp_uk
Email me at [email protected] for tips, advice or if you just fancy going for a beer along the way!