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.
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 Transnistria – in fact, YPT founder Gareth Johnson even lived there once.
Nagorno-Karabakh is in a very similar situation: it’s recognized by South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and even genuine country of Armenia secretly recognize them a bit. Also known as the Republic of Artsakh, Nagorno-Karabakh can be visited on our Unrecognized Countries tour.
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. Again we can debate their legitimacy and how much support they receive from Russia, but as things currently stand, they hit every criteria set in the Montevideo convention on what defines a country. So, whilst we would consider both of them unrecognized countries the fact that they recognize each other and have recognition from Transnsitria means they fall under the same umbrella as the PMR and Nagorno-Karabach. Donetsk and Luhansk are recognized by an unrecognized country that is recognized by a state that is recognized by a UN state! It’s truly less complicated than it sounds.
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.