Rival government and "Islamic State" (ISIS) control in Libya, August 2015 (click for free full-size map and article)
Inside this Review of 2015:
- New countries, breakaway states, and micronations
- Country name, capital, and flag changes
- Border changes and disputed territories
- Countries joining international organizations
- Recognition of disputed countries
- Rebel control in conflict zones
- Sea borders and seabed claims
- New states and provinces
- Currency changes
- World time zone changes
(For extra coverage of political geography events in 2016, follow us on Twitter!)
Declarations of Independence: New Countries in 2015?The past year came and went without any major, credible claims of new countries. This was a big contrast to 2014, which saw declarations of independence coupled with real territorial control for Crimea, Donetsk, and Lugansk, all undisputed parts of Ukraine until then, plus the so-called "Islamic State" (formerly ISIS/ISIL) carved out of Iraq and Syria. While the Republic of Crimea ceased to exist after controversially merging into Russia shortly after declaring independence, the "Islamic State", Donetsk, and Lugansk are still holding out today. The two Ukraine breakaways are settling into place under a long-term ceasefire, though in 2015 they gave up their aspirations of forming a united country called Novorossiya ("New Russia").
|Actual territorial control of the proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics (formerly "Novorossiya")|
And as usual, the big dreamers of the world were not to be discouraged. In April, a small-time politician from the Czech Republic declared a new tax-free, bitcoin-trading libertarian country called "Liberland". His would-be territory? A patch of technically-unclaimed land along the disputed border of Serbia and Croatia. As so-called "micronations" go, Liberland is having a pretty good run, prompting (critical) comments from established countries, accumulating tens of thousands of "citizenship applications", and reportedly gaining recognition from 2014's celebrity micronation - the "Kingdom of North Sudan" as claimed by an American seeking to make his daughter into a real princess.
|The "Islamic State" (in purple) controls much of former Syria|
Regardless, Liberland has served as an inspiration for other would-be micronationalists: A group of Polish tourists soon after declared the state of "Enclava" in what they thought was neutral ground between Slovenia and Croatia, before being shut down by the Slovenian government and re-declaring their nation on a patch of ground near Liberland's. Meanwhile, in June a Bulgarian businessman declared the "Principality of New Atlantis" on behalf of a floating raft of lava rock in international waters near New Zealand (which he has presumably not visited), after never hearing back from the Bulgarian government on his suggestions to annex it to Bulgaria.
See all previous and future articles on newly declared countries
Country Name, Capital & Flag ChangesJust as in 2014, no official changes to country names, capitals, or flags came to our attention in 2015. However, each of those things almost happened:
In December, the idiosyncratic dictator of the Gambia declared his country an "Islamic republic", with some sources saying the country's official name would be changed from Republic of the Gambia to Islamic Republic of the Gambia. However, as far as we can tell no name change has been registered formally, either with the UN or through legislation. Meanwhile, while not usually considered a "country", the Boko Haram rebel group that controls territory in Nigeria has taken to calling itself the "Islamic State West Africa Province" (ISWAP) after purportedly joining the Syria- and Iraq-based "Islamic State" (ISIS) organization in March.
Earlier in the year, Yemen's internationally-recognized president declared that his capital had moved from Sana'a (currently occupied by the Houthi rebels) to the southern port city of Aden. However, this hasn't formally come to pass either, and he may have been speaking figuratively anyway - certainly his government, if it's currently based in Yemen at all, would for practical purposes be located in Aden for now.
PolGeoNow maps of territorial control in Yemen
|New Zealand voted on five proposed designs for a new flag|
We also reported in 2015 on a small change to Paraguay's flag made two years earlier - one of the many quiet flag changes that didn't come to our attention until well after the fact.
Everything you need to know about New Zealand's 2015 flag referendum
See all flag change articles on PolGeoNow
Border Changes and Disputed TerritoriesSummer 2015 saw a long-awaited major change to the border between India and Bangladesh, when the two countries traded over 100 enclaves (pieces of territory surrounded entirely by territory of the other country). Known as the Cooch Behar Enclaves or "chitmahals", these "islands" of Indian territory in Bangladesh and Bengladeshi territory in India formed the majority of all the world's national-level enclaves, but have now been mostly erased in an effort to simplify the border. Stay tuned to PolGeoNow in the near future for a full report on the border change, with a before-and-after map of the differences!
Meanwhile, December 2015 saw the resolution of a small border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. A ruling from the UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) sided mostly with Costa Rica in the disagreement over administration of a small island near the mouth of the San Juan River. Niger and Burkina Faso also concluded arrangements to implement their own border deal based on another ICJ ruling from 2013 (map of the the Niger-Burkina Faso border dispute and resolution).
Why are the Falkland Islands so important? Map of the Falklands' disputed seas
Map of the uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, disputed between China and Japan
Just how small are the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands? Aerial photos of each island
See all articles on disputed territories
|The newly founded "Eurasian Union" (free map)|
- Lithuania became part of the Eurozone (joined the community of countries officially using the euro as their currency)
- The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU/EAU/"Eurasian Union") was officially launched by founding members Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Kazakhstan.
- Kyrgyzstan joined the Eurasian Economic Union as the organization's fifth member country
- Seychelles and Kazakhstan joined the World Trade Organization (WTO)
- South Sudan was approved to join the Olympics by the International Olympic Committee
- Burkina Faso was suspended from the African Union (AU), then quickly reinstated again
- Disputed Palestine was accepted as a party to the International Criminal Court (ICC)
- Semi-independent Cook Islands (sort of a territory of New Zealand) joined the UN's International Labor Organization
- French island Martinique became an associate member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States
- Indonesia became an associate member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, to the dismay of Papuan independence activists
|Lithuania joined the Eurozone amid threats of Greece leaving (free map)|
Diplomatic RecognitionAs usual, 2015 saw several small changes in diplomatic recognition for the world's disputed, partially recognized countries.
|Map of which countries recognize Kosovo at the end of 2015 (free map)|
Palestine also was only recognized by one more UN member country in 2015, the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. However, a bigger win for Palestine came from the non-UN side, when the Holy See (administration of the Catholic Church and Vatican City) clarified its own recognition of Palestine for the first time. By the numbers, this year was a slight improvement for Palestine over 2014, when it also received one UN-member recognition but nothing else. In a trend continuing from 2014, at least three more European countries' legislatures - those of Belgium, Italy, and Greece - passed symbolic votes supporting the recognition of Palestine; however, their governments stopped short of actually extending recognition.
|Map of which countries recognize Palestine as independent |
In related news, the US and Cuba reestablished full diplomatic relations for the first time in half a century (though they technically already recognized each other as countries), and Palestine successfully argued that UN Observer States (currently just Palestine and the Holy See/Vatican City) should have their flags flown alongside those of UN member countries at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
See all articles about diplomatic recognition
See all articles about unrecognized or partially-recognized countries
|Islamic State and Kurdish control in Iraq|
Long awaited map coverage of Libya's new civil war also came to PolGeoNow in 2015, with our first map of control by rival governments and the "Islamic State" published for free in August. Meanwhile, fighting between Ukraine's government and Russia-backed separatists came nearly to a halt early in the year, with the signing of a ceasefire deal that has more or less held until today. Separatist rebels in Mali saw scattered challenges to their partial control of the country's far north, but fighting there also largely ended after a peace deal.
|Nigeria, Chad, and Niger took back much of Boko Haram's territory in 2015|
Much of South Sudan remained contested between the government and rebels in 2015, while the country moved slowly toward a more stable peace deal, and nearby Central African Republic also saw some small changes to territorial control for its Seleka rebel group. To the east, Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabaab rebels continued to contest territory in Somalia and even Kenya, even as factions of their own group splintered off to join the "Islamic State" (and reportedly captured at least one town).
In Southeast Asia's Myanmar (Burma), decades-long fighting continued between the government and rebel groups, notably including the major territory-holding Kachin Independence Army, while a long-dormant conflict reignited with another rebel group in the Kokang region. Meanwhile, increasing organized crime in Central America's El Salvador resulted in some describing much of the country as "under the control" of gangs, though it was unclear exactly what kind of "control" this was.
See all articles on countries with divided territorial control
See all FREE territorial control maps on PolGeoNow
Sea Borders and ClaimsJurisdiction over much of the world's oceans is still unresolved, with neighboring countries often disagreeing on where the lines fall between their respective waters, which include both territorial seas (a thin strip along the coast) and exclusive economic zones (EEZ; a much wider band where they have economic control but not full sovereignty). Though considerably less active than 2014, the past year continued to see its share of changes to these maritime claims.
|International treaty defines how much of the sea countries can claim for their own.|
(author and license information)
See all articles on maritime borders and jurisdiction
Provinces and StatesThough creating a new U.S. state is a major legislative ordeal, many countries' provinces and other divisions are created, redrawn, or abolished at will. The many changes to the world's administrative subdivisions can be hard to keep track of, but luckily we have the wonderful Statoids website to help with that.
|The newly created provinces of Nepal|
Map by Aotearoa (source; CC BY-SA)
Additionally, the Negros Island Region became the Philippines' 18th region (a division above the province level), and Rumonge became the 18th province of Burundi. Just before the beginning of the year, Taiwan's Taoyuan County was upgraded to become the disputed country's sixth province-level "special municipality", and renamed Taoyuan City (previously the name of one of its subdistricts).
|The new Negros Island Region of the Philippines. Map by Roel Balingit (source) CC BY-SA|
Meanwhile, in the US, the state of South Dakota's Shannon County changed its name to Oglala Lakota County to better represent its indigenous population, and Alaska's Wade Hampton Census Area (a statistical unit equivalent in scale to a county) had its name changed to Kusilvak Census Area. Wade Hampton was a pro-slavery politician in the US South who only had the region named after him because his son-in-law served as a judge in a nearby Alaska town.
Though not technically an administrative subdivision, we'd be remiss not to mention the Kooki Chieftanship's secession from the Buganda Kingdom - the two being semi-official traditional monarchies within Uganda, exercising limited local powers.
|The Zimbabwe dollar was retired after losing most of its value|
Then, North Korea added a whole new time zone to the world map, setting its clocks back 30 minutes from South Korea and Japan, to become the only place where standard time is 8 1/2 hours ahead of UTC (formerly Greenwich Mean Time). Meanwhile, Australia deleted a world time zone when it approved a time change for the tiny territory of Norfolk Island, once the only place in the world at +11 1/2 hours, which is now at +11 along with much of the Melanesia region. It also aligns with southeastern Australia part of the year, when some provinces go forward an hour for Daylight Savings Time while Norfolk keeps its clocks the same.
|Updated map of the time zones of the world by TimeZonesBoy (click for full map and license information)|
Meanwhile, Uruguay is also now permanently at -3 after abolishing DST, which used to move it ahead to -2 in the summer. Mongolia, for its part, reintroduced DST after a history of switching back and forth, while the British Caribbean territory of the Cayman Islands introduced DST for the first time.
In other time zone changes, the US town of Metlakatla switched from Pacific Time (-8) to Alaska Time (-9), while the Canadian town of Fort Nelson switched from Pacific Time (-8) to Mountain Time (-7). Turkey and Palestine changed the dates that Daylight Savings Time was in effect, and Egypt planned to observe DST in 2015, but changed its mind in the face of public opposition.