The world is full of occupied territories

Henry Srebrnik
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What do most people think of when someone talks about “the Occupied Territories?” They assume the speaker means the West Bank of the Jordan, of course, which has been under Israeli control following a defensive war in 1967, though much of it is now internally governed by the Palestinian Authority.

It shows us the power of the long-term attempt to de-legitimize Israel — because, in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, there are huge amounts of land occupied by various states or ethno-religious groups.

Next door to Israel, a civil war has been raging for the last three years in Syria, as the Sunni Arab majority is trying to wrest control of much of the country from the Alawite Shia minority, only 12 per cent of the population and centred in the country’s northwest. They have “occupied” the rest of Syria since the 1970s.

In next-door Iraq, the Shia-dominated regime of Nouri al-Maliki now “occupies” the “Sunni Triangle” in the mid-third of the country. Here too an insurgency in underway. The Kurdish entity in the north is now self-governing, but Kurds in southeastern Turkey, across the border, remain “occupied” by the Ankara-based Turkish state founded by Kemal Ataturk.

Kurds also live under occupation in Syria and Iran. Persians constitute just 61 per cent of the population in the Islamic Republic, followed by Azeris at 16 per cent and Kurds at 10 per cent. In 1945, Azeris in Iran’s northwest, where they form a majority, were defeated in their attempt to set up their own state.

India is effectively an occupying power in Muslim-majority Kashmir, while to its north, China occupies Tibet and Xinjiang, with its large Uyghur and other Muslim populations. In Myanmar, the Burman-majority state occupies large swaths of the country inhabited by various ethnic groups, including the Shan, Kayin, Mon and Kachin. They have been fighting for independence for decades.

Most African states are artificial entities, often dominated by one group to the exclusion of others. Ethiopia, for example, occupies the Ogaden region in its southeast, populated by Somalis. Until South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, it was occupied by Arab-majority Sudan. East Timor freed itself from Indonesian occupation in 2002. The Ibo of southeastern Nigeria failed to gain an independent state of Biafra in the 1960s.

The Russian Federation is a colonial occupier in the north Caucasus region, where Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia are populated by Muslim peoples.

As far as many people in Ireland are concerned, Great Britain’s control of Northern Ireland is also little more than an occupation, following the partition of the island in 1922. In Spain, many Basques and Catalans feel

the same way about rule from Madrid.

And, of course, the settler states in the western hemisphere, in particular Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay in South America, and Canada and the United States in North America, were all wrested away from indigenous populations. The same holds true for Australia and New Zealand.

So the next time someone refers, without further elaboration, to “the occupied territories,” you might wish to respond, “which ones?”


Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Organizations: West Bank of the Jordan, Russian Federation, University of Prince Edward Island

Geographic location: Syria, Israel, Palestinian Authority Iran Middle East Iraq Southeastern Turkey Islamic Republic India Kashmir China Tibet Xinjiang Myanmar Kachin Ethiopia South Sudan Sudan East Timor Southeastern Nigeria Caucasus Chechnya Ingushetia Ireland Great Britain Northern Ireland Spain Madrid Argentina Chile Uruguay South America Canada United States North America Australia and New Zealand

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Recent comments

  • Waqas Ali Goraya
    February 14, 2015 - 01:15

    I am confused because of the current peace and war situation round the world. i am trying to find some answers of questions in my mind ! for example , whats the reason whole world is focusing only on Palestinian and Israeli dispute because i see many of my Christian, Muslim and Atheist friends strongly support Is real. And nobody is paying attention to the Chechnya , Kashmir , Caucasus etc and also u some disputes u have mentioned above in ur artical . i am finding answers about like Whats the standard of this world to label some groups of people as Freedom Fighters or Terrorists ? massacres or operation clean up ! etc I am thankful to you for writing such a nice artical , it gave me some right path to develop my ideas about the world

  • james chen
    July 08, 2014 - 00:06

    It's hard for anybody to comprehend why the Northern Cyprus occupied by Turkey since 1974 was not mentioned in this article.

  • WSPMIke
    February 14, 2014 - 14:29

    It is very right what you wrote about kurdish people and Kurdistan.Unfurtunately Kurdish land has witnessed atrocities,suppression and cultural assimilation since times began.They had to deal not only with one dictator or brutal rejime.They had to deal with Turkish ,Iranian,Iraqi and Syrian Brutal rejime.