What is Irredentism?

North Korea and South Korea both oppose the legitimacy of the other state.
North Korea and South Korea both oppose the legitimacy of the other state.

The term irredentism refers to any political or mass movement intended to claim a territory on national, historical, or ethnic grounds. The word's origin lies in the Italian term irredento which means unredeemed, and it initially denoted an Italian political movement which gained popularity in the late 1800s into the early 1900s which intended to detach mainly Italian-speaking regions from Switzerland as well as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The movement sought to include these areas in the new Italian State. An irredenta is a term given to an area that may be potentially claimed.

Irredentism Versus Secessionism

Irredentism is associated with secessionism, but the two concepts are distinct. Merging does not take place in secessionism, whereas irredentism involves the separation of a territory from a state and its subsequent inclusion into an existing state. Research on the two concepts suggests that irredentism is more likely to turn violent than secessionism. Secessionist conflicts are more often than not advanced by minority groups who because of their marginalization may lack sufficient military resources. Irredentism conflicts, on the other hand, are championed by sovereign states who boast the kind of military strength required to participate in full-scale wars.

Formal Irredentism

Some countries give their irredentist declarations formal recognition by adding them to constitutional documents or any other laws. An example of this situation is Afghanistan's claim of the Durand Line. This territory marks the border between the State and Pakistan and it was decided by British Indian and Afghanistan in 1893. The Pashtun communities residing in the territory were subsequently divided between the States. Afghanistan refused to acknowledge the border as evidenced by the breaking out of clashes in the 1950s and 1960s between the countries. All Afghan administrations of the past century have communicated a long-term objective of re-joining Pashtun-dominated regions under Afghan rule.

Another example is the ideology of United Bengal which intends to create a Unified Bengali-speaking State situated in South Asia. Bengali Nationalists popularized this ideology in the aftermath of the 1st Partition of Bengal in 1905. The Bengal Presidency, ruled by the British, was subdivided into Eastern Bengal and Assam, and Western Bengal which was a strategy to demotivate independence agitators. Bengal became reunited in 1911 after much resistance. The British attempted to separate Bengal again in 1947 and attempts to reunify the region failed because of tensions between Bengali Hindus and Muslims and British diplomacy.

The Constitution of Comoros recognizes the country's territory as encompassing the islands of Grande Comore, Mohéli, Anjouan, and Mayotte. Among the four islands, Mayotte was the only one who voted to be a department of the French Republic.

The two Korean States have continuously questioned the legitimacy of the other since they were founded. South Korea's Constitution acknowledges jurisdiction across the entire Korean Peninsula. A Ministry of Unification was unveiled in South Korea in 1969 which is mandated to facilitate Korean reunification. North's Korea's constitution recognizes the significance of reunification too.

Irredentism in Europe

Greater Albania is an irredentist idea of territories outside Albania's borders which most Albanians consider to be part of a larger national homeland. This concept is referred to as Ethnic Albania by Albanian nationalists, and it is founded on claims of the historical or present-day presence of Albanian communities in the regions. The phrase includes claims to Kosovo and parts of the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Greece. A 2010 report by the Gallup Balkan Monitor asserts that 63% of Albanians in Albania support the concept as well as 81% and 53% of the populations of Kosovo and Macedonia respectively.

The Kingdom of Norway claims some territories ceded during the disintegration of the Denmark-Norway union. The territories of the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Shetland, and the settleable parts of Greenland were incorporated into the Norwegian Empire. Denmark maintained the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland in 1814 when the Treaty of Kiel allocated Norway's territories to Sweden from Denmark. Norway made the Ihlen Declaration in 1919 which claimed a region in Eastern Greenland and which triggered a dispute that was settled in 1933.

Irredentism in Asia

The Pan-Iranism ideology, developed in the 1920s, champions for the reunification of all Iranian communities residing in the Iranian plateau in addition to other territories which have adequate Iranian cultural influence such as the Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Persians, and Ossetians; the Baloch and Pashtuns of Pakistan; and the Tajiks of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. This ideology is commonly used in association with the concept of creating a Greater Iran which denotes the regions of Central Asia, West Asia, and the Caucasus, as well as those parts of South Asia with substantial Iranian cultural influence.

France's Mandate of Syria gave Turkey the Sanjak of Alexandretta following which Turkey made it Hatay Province. The State of Syria still considers this area as belonging to its territory. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party agitates for the reunification of nearly all of the modern states of the Levant into a state called the Greater Syria. This suggested country includes Jordan, Israel, parts of Turkey, and Syria and is sometimes expanded to incorporate the Sinai Peninsula, Iraq, and Cyprus.

The Lebanese nationalism features irredentist elements which aim to unify all the regions of ancient Phoenicia surrounding modern day Lebanon. This idea is founded on the fact that the current day Lebanon, northern Israel, and Syria's Mediterranean Coast is the region that is roughly consistent with ancient Phoenicia. Most of the Lebanese thus identify with the medieval Phoenician community of that region. The suggested Greater Lebanese nation includes northern Israel, Lebanon, and Syria's Mediterranean coast.

Irredentism in Africa

Irredentism in Africa is well illustrated in Somalia. Greater Somalia describes a territory in the Horn of Africa where ethnic Somalis currently reside or have historically inhabited. This territory extends from the Republic of Somalia to the Ogaden region situated in Ethiopia, to the Kenyan North Eastern Province, and eastern and southern Djibouti. These claims triggered the Ogaden War (1977-1978) involving the Somali and Ethiopian military. However, the Somali failed to retake the region. The Shifta War, which began in 1963 in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya, saw ethnic Somalis from Mandera, Lamu, Wajir, and Garissa counties attempt to integrate with their fellow Somalis to make a "Greater Somalia."


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