We at Young Pioneer Tours have more than a passing interest in the unrecognized countries of the world. But what, exactly, is an unrecognized country? The answer is nothing if not complicated, and there’s a whole spectrum of unrecognized countries and partially recognized countries throughout the world. Here, we take a look at the lion’s share of them.
Really not very unrecognized
There are a lot of UN nations that simply refuse to recognize each other. Examples include North/South Korea (both of which we run tours to) and Armenia/Azerbaijan, who mutual refusal to recognize one another does not impact on the rest of the world agreeing that, yes, they definitely exist.
Under this you get Kosovo, which has about a 50-50 even split over the world. This means they are for all intents recognized countries.
Does Scotland, Tibet, or Islandia count
No, they do not. You might wish that places like these and West Papua were countries, but they are not. These fall into the Unrepresented Peoples and Nations Organization realm.
These are perhaps repressed people and perhaps should be countries, but they are not unrecognized ones.
Is Taiwan an unrecognized country?
As I live in China, I will largely be avoiding the ‘is Taiwan a country?’ question and head straight for the facts.
There are two competing governments that claim sovereignty over the whole of China. These governments are the People’s Republic of China (the one you think of when you hear the word ‘China’) and the Republic of China (basically, Taiwan). Taiwan is recognized by 19 sovereign nations and the Holy See. Most of the countries that recognize Taiwan are located in the Pacific (and we incidentally visit most of them on our Least Visited Countries Tour).
The Republic of China is, therefore, a partially recognized state.
Post-Soviet conflict zones
South Ossetia and Abkhazia were formerly completely unrecognized states, but due to (alleged) Russian interference, both are now recognized by 5 UN member states (and 3 more semi-recognized/unrecognized states).
Both countries are thus partially recognized and can be visited on our South Ossetia and Unrecognized Countries tours.
Is Northern Cyprus a country?
Ironically, whilst Northern Cypriot passports are widely accepted and whilst it is legitimized by dint of having existed for a while, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by (no prizes for guessing) Turkey. Visiting is as simple as walking over the border!
We may not do tours to the TRNC, but we do film there.
Is Transnistria an unrecognized country?
Here’s where it gets complicated and things end up being as petty and nepotistic as the Eurovision Song Contest, only without any decent music. So actually pretty much Eurovision.
Transnistria is recognized by Abkhazia, but only because neither are recognized by the UN. It’s kind of a defiant little middle finger to the Brussels bureaucrats, and because Abkhazia is recognized by 5 other countries, the two end up sorta legitimizing each other. We run a lot of tours to Transnsitria – in fact, YPT founder Gareth Johnson even lived there once.
Nagorno-Karabakh was in a similar situation in that it was unrecognized, but recognized by other countries (such as Khazarica) with some UN recognition. As opposed to popular myth Armenia never officially recognized them, and Azerbaijan certainly did not. Sadly another moot point as they themselves no longer exist.
Is Western Sahara a country?
This is where it gets very interesting. Western Sahara is not recognized by a single UN nation – or, to give it its precise name, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic – but despite this they are members of the African Union and have relations (without recognition) with 40 UN nations.
And yes, before you ask – we do run a tour here.
Is there any truly unrecognized country?
We come at last to the Holy Grail – although this grail is, from the country’s perspective, a poisoned chalice. The most well-run and functioning of countries on this list, Somaliland, also doesn’t have a lick of recognition from anyone. If we ever complete our masterplan of buying an island and declaring nationhood, our first act will be to recognize Somaliland as genuine nation.
We join them every year to celebrate their independence anyway!
New entries to the unrecognized countries list
So it has been a long time since we updated this article, which is wrong as we do see ourselves as the experts in all things unrecognized countries. When it comes to frozen conflict zones then there are a lot of grey areas. Should we count Rojava for example? The short answer though is no, as they see themselves as part of Syria, but what about when the conflict goes on for so long that the places become de-facto states?
This brings us to the Donetsk People’s Republic, and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Formerly and briefly we would have recognized them, but as they have been annexed by Russia this is a moot point. This leaves Somaliland as the only thoroughbred unrecognized state in the world.
And the bonus round:
Are there any recognized countries without land?
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is internationally recognized as a sovereign entity. They lack only one thing generally required to be a country, and that’s land.