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Irredentism (from Italian irredento, "unredeemed") is any position advocating annexation of territories administered by another state on the grounds of common ethnicity or prior historical possession, actual or alleged. Some of these movements are also called pan-nationalist movements. It is a feature of identity politics and cultural and political geography. Because most borders have been moved and redrawn over time, a great many countries could theoretically present irredentist claims to their neighbors. The Germanymarker's Anschluss of Austriamarker and annexation of German-speaking Sudetenland from Czechoslovakiamarker in 1938 are perhaps some of the most widely known historical examples of this idea in practice.

However, some states are the subject of potential irredentism from their inception. Post-World War I Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Near East had borders carved out by the Allies that left many of the new states in that region unsatisfied due to minority populations and conflicting historical claims. Many of Africa's borders were artificially imposed by European colonial powers. The result split ethnic groups between different countries, such as the Yoruba who are divided among Nigeriamarker and Beninmarker. In some cases, the irredentist arguing continued well past the Second World War and on to the present day.

An area that may be subjected to a potential claim is therefore sometimes called an irredenta. Not all irredentas are involved in actual irredentism.


The word was coined in Italymarker from the phrase Italia irredenta ("unredeemed Italy"). This originally referred to Austro-Hungarian rule over mostly or partly Italian-inhabited territories such as Trentino, Triestemarker, Istriamarker and Dalmatia during the 19th and early 20th century.

A common way to express a claim to adjacent territories on the grounds of historical or ethnic association is by using the epithet "Greater" before the country name. This conveys the image of national territory at its maximum conceivable extent with the country "proper" at its core. It must be noted that the use of "Greater" does not always convey an irredentistic meaning. For instance, Greater Romania is the common translation given to the Romanian term "Romania Mare", which is the name given between the two World Wars to the Kingdom of Romania. Romania claimed irredenta over Transylvania and Bessarabiamarker after World War I.

During the unification of Germany, the term Großdeutschland (or greater Germany) referred to a possible German nation consisting of the states that later comprised the Second German Empire and Austria; the term lesser Germany, or small Germany, or Kleindeutschland, referred to a possible German state without Austria. These were also called the "little German" solution and the "big German" solution to the question of unification. The term was also used by Germans referring to Greater Germany, a state consisting of pre World War I Germany, actual Austria and the Sudetenland.

Constitutional irredentism

Some states formalize their irredentist claims by including them in their constitutional documents.

The Afghan border with Pakistanmarker, known as the Durand Line, was "arbitrarily" drawn by colonial officials of the British Empire in 1893 following the Second Afghan War, and "imposed" on the then-weak Afghan royal family. Accordingly, the Pashtun tribes inhabiting the border areas were arbitrarily divided; the tribes have never accepted the still-porous border. The Durand Line was not intended as a permanent border, and clashes broke out in the 1950s and 1960s between Afghanistan and Pakistan over the issue. All Afghan governments of the past century have declared, with varying intensity, a long-term goal of re-uniting all Pashtun-dominated areas under Afghan rule.

Part III, Section 1 of the Constitution of Argentina states that "The Argentine Nation ratifies its legitimate and non-prescribing sovereignty over the Malvinasmarker (Falkland Islands), South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islandsmarker and over the corresponding maritime and insular zones, as they are an integral part of the national territory. The recovery of said territories and the full exercise of sovereignty, respectful of the way of life of their inhabitants and according to the principles of international law, are a permanent and unrelinquished goal of the Argentine people."

The 2009 constitution of Bolivia states that the country has unrenounciable right over the territory that gives it access to the Pacific Oceanmarker and its maritime space. This is understood as Chilean territory that Bolivia ceded in Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1904 between Chile and Bolivia after the War of the Pacific which left Bolivia a landlocked country.

The preamble to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China states "Taiwanmarker is part of the sacred territory of the People's Republic of China. It is the lofty duty of the entire Chinese people, including our compatriots in Taiwan, to accomplish the great task of reunifying the motherland." The PRC claim to sovereignty over Taiwan is generally based on the successor state theory, whereby the PRC is the legally recognized successor state to the Republic of China.

  • Republic of China
Article 4 of the 'Constitution of the Republic of China originally stated that: "The territory of the Republic of China within its existing national boundaries shall not be altered except by a resolution of the National Assembly" although recent constitutional changes have moved this power to that of a national referendum.

As part of its current policy of 'status quo', the Republic of China has not renounced claims to the areas currently controlled by the People's Republic of China, Mongoliamarker, and parts of Russiamarker (Tuvan Republic), Burmamarker and other Central Asian states bordering China, however it also does not actively pursue these claims. The only claim it is actively seeking is the Diaoyu Islandsmarker which is also contested by Japanmarker and People's Republic of China.

Article 1 of the Constitution of the Union of the Comoros begins: "The Union of the Comoros is a republic, composed of the autonomous islands of Mohélimarker, Mayottemarker, Anjouanmarker, and Grande Comoremarker." Mayotte, geographically a part of the Comoro Islands, was the only island of the four to vote against independence from France (a 63%-37% majority) in the referendum held December 22, 1974. The total vote was 94%-5% in favor of independence. Mayotte is currently a "departmental collectivity" of the French Republic.

From 1937 until 1999, Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland provided that "[t]he national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland". However, "[p]ending the re-integration of the national territory", the powers of the state were restricted to legislate only for the area that had ceded from the United Kingdom. Arising from the Northern Ireland peace process, the matter was mutually resolved in 1999. The Republic of Ireland's constitution was altered by referendum and its territorial claim to Northern Irelandmarker was dropped. The amended constitution asserts that while it is the entitlement of "every person born in the island of Ireland … to be part of the Irish Nation" and to hold Irish citizenship, "a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island." Certain joint policy and executive bodies were created between Northern Ireland, the part of the island that remained in the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, and these were given executive authority. The advisory and consultative role of the government of Ireland in the government of Northern Ireland granted by the United Kingdom, that had begun with the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, was maintained. The two states also settled the long-running dispute concerning their respective names: Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with both governments agreeing to use those names.

  • Pakistan
From 1956 onwards Pakistan has claimed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmirmarker, as part of their state's "national territory." Pakistan also has a desire to unite it with Azad Jammu and Kashmirmarker, also known as Pakistan occupied Kashmirmarker (POK).

Article 3 of the Basic Law of the State of Palestine, which was ratified in 2002 by the Palestinian National Authority and serves as an interim constitution, states that "Jerusalemmarker is the capital of Palestine."

NOTE: Section VI of the Constitution of Australia refers to Australia's states as being "…such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States". This is not normally seen as an irredentist claim on New Zealandmarker; instead it reflects the fact that New Zealand was invited to take part in the process of federation, but withdrew from the process at an early stage. Similarly, in the incipient United States, Article XI of the Articles of Confederation invited Canada to join the United States.

Other claims

Map showing some irredentist claims on the territory of Serbia.
Spainmarker continues to claim the British overseas territory of Gibraltarmarker, ceded to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht, and argues its case at the United Nations claiming its territorial integrity is affected. During World War II, the Spanish Falangist media agitated for irredentism claiming for Spain the French Navarre, French Basque Country and Roussillon (French Catalonia) as well. Moroccomarker makes similar claims against Spain over the North African enclaves of Ceutamarker and Melillamarker.

Portugalmarker does not recognize as Spanish the territory of Olivenzamarker conquered by Spain during the Napoleonic Wars.

Some of the most violent irredentist conflicts of recent times in Europe flared up as a consequence of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The wars in Croatiamarker and Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker were largely about creating a new political framework of states, each of which would be ethnically and politically homogeneous. The conflict erupted further south with the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovomarker seeking to switch allegiance to the adjoining state of Albaniamarker. (See Chazan, 1991, Irredentism and international politics.) Greecemarker claims that the use of the name Republic of Macedoniamarker by its northern neighbor signifies an irredentist claim on the northern province of Macedoniamarker in Greece. Other pacifist movements claims a pacific reunification of Yugoslavia.

Southeast Asia too is another region in which armed irredentist movements have been active for almost a century, due to the Balkanization of North-East India, Burma and Bangladeshmarker under British colonialism. Most prominent amongst them are the Naga fight for Greater Nagaland, the Chin struggle for a unified Chinland and other self-determinist movements by the ethnic indigenous peoples of the erstwhile Assammarker both under the British and post-British Assam under India.

Some have alleged irredentism by Armenia in its support of the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh to gain independence from Azerbaijan. However, Armeniamarker denies direct involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. In the view of Nadia Milanova, Nagorno-Karabakh represents a combination of separatism and irredentism.

The Syrian Social Nationalist Party, which operates in Lebanonmarker and Syriamarker, works for the unification of most modern states of the Levant and beyond in a single state referred to as Greater Syria. The proposed pan-Arab "Syrian" country includes Israelmarker, Jordanmarker, Iraqmarker, Kuwaitmarker; and southern Turkeymarker, northern Egyptmarker, and southwestern Iranmarker.

Japan claims the South Koreanmarker-administered Liancourt Rocksmarker and the Russian-administered Kuril Islandsmarker, the four southernmost isles of the island chain north of Hokkaidomarker, annexed by the Soviet Unionmarker following World War II.

China claims to be the legitimate ruler of Taiwan, separated from the Qing Empiremarker in 1895 and briefly united with China from 1945 to 1949. China's influence in international organizations prevents Taiwan from participating in many such organizations. In some organizations Taiwan is able to participate as Chinese Taipei. China has an extensive missile build up near Taiwan and passed an Anti-Secession Law in 2005 threatening to use force.

In Indiamarker, the goal of the Khalistan movement is to create a Sikh homeland, often called Khālistān (Punjabi: ਖ਼ਾਲਿਸਤਾਨ "The Land of the Pure"), in the Punjab region. Harking back to the 18th century Sikh Empire, the envisioned Sikh state would include all Punjabi-speaking areas, viz. Indian Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and some other Punjabi speaking parts of states like Gujarat and Rajasthan. People have also claimed that Khalistan will include parts of the Pakistan Punjab as well because it is home to many holy Sikh shrines.

Irredentism is commonplace in Africa due to the artificially declared political boundaries of former European colonial nation-states passing through tribal boundaries. The Ethiopianmarker Great Imperium of Eastern Africa in some Ethiopian nationalist circles: To extend the ancient Ethiopian empire into the former Ethiopian province of Eritreamarker, the Sudanmarker including Christian Southern Sudanmarker, Fachodamarker and the Darfurmarker region, neighboring Djiboutimarker, Somaliamarker, parts of Egypt, Uganda, Kenyamarker, Tanzania, Mozambiquemarker and even into Yemenmarker.

Irredentism is also found in the United Statesmarker by some Chicano nationalists and Mexican-American activists in the controversial Aztlan movement. They call for the return of formerly Mexican-dominated lands in the Southwestern United States back to Mexicomarker after the USmarker annexed lands in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to become the present-day states of Californiamarker, Texasmarker, Arizonamarker, New Mexicomarker; and parts of Coloradomarker, Nevadamarker and Utahmarker.

Venezuelamarker keeps its claim over the Guayana Esequiba territory in nearby Guyanamarker.

See also


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