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How Irredentism Influenced Various Countries of the World

Renuka Savant May 13, 2019
Irredentism is a political movement seen all over the world, throughout history. As a singular trigger behind most wars that have taken place, this is one movement which cannot be ignored. Learn about the definition of irredentism and its examples through this post.

Did You Know?

The word 'irredentism' comes from Italian irredento, meaning 'unredeemed'. The concept refers to a politically-motivated claim to reoccupy a region on the basis of ethnic, religious, or historical ties.
Most nations in the world were formed with a purpose to establish an area which could be inhabited by people with shared ethnicity. Thus, the largest ethnicity is what ultimately shapes the character of a particular nation.

Definition of Irredentism

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines irredentism as
a political principle or policy directed toward the incorporation of irredentas* within the boundaries of their historically or ethnically related political unit.

*Irredenta refers to a territory historically or ethnically related to one political unit but under the political control of another.
However, things in the real world are hardly as ideal as they seem in their definitions. The concept of irredentism isn't too different. The term itself was derived from the Italian "terra irredenta" or unredeemed land, and was first used to refer to the Italian-speaking regions under Austrian rule during the later half of the19th century.
Following the unification of Italy under Victor Emanuel II, the nation actively sought to annexe those territories from Austria, claiming ethic ties to the local populace.

Understanding Irredentism is Important

Irredentism as a concept does not seem to get as much coverage in the mainstream media as it merits. It's strange, considering how most region-based conflicts underway in the world at the moment can trace their origins to irredentist views.
This may be because the definition of irredentism does not tell too much about the upheavals it causes in real world. The definition implies that a nation attempts to absorb a territory claiming ethnic ties with its population, and everything and everyone is fine with it. But news headlines across the world have a completely different take on irredentism.

Implications of Irredentism

While the textbook definition only manages to convey rightful intentions, the actual act of irredentism results in several complications, both cultural and financial, which only leads us to question, why is this phenomenon still overlooked by social scientists?

'Annexation' of Crimea by Russia

The Putin-led Russian government objects to the term 'annexation' being applied to Crimean situation, as they only sought to reclaim a region, originally a part of erstwhile Russian Empire. Crimea was an autonomous region within Ukraine, until March 2014, when a shady referendum and members of the Russian militia took over.
Russia took over Crimea in a bloodless coup d'état, leaving United Nations, NATO, and G8 members red-faced. As Russian government billed it as ethnically-motivated, respecting the wishes of ethnic Russians who voted on referendum, political observes reminded the world of Crimea's strategic position in the Black Sea, and its potential benefits to Russia.
In the resultant mêlée, the Crimean Tatar community ended up getting a raw deal. Originally this tribe comprised a major part of Crimea's population, the former USSR banished the Tatars from the region after WWII. Today, the Crimean Tatar community amounts to 10.8% of Crimea's population, which is relegated to periphery for having opposed Russian takeover.
With the new "anti-extremist" amendment to the Criminal Code of Russia, coming into force in Crimea, it is a criminal offense to "violate" the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Thus, the ones opposing Russian rule have been effectively rendered voiceless, adding to Russia's long list of human rights violations.

Israel-Palestine Conflict

When the state of Israel was created in 1948 following the Second World War, it did not take into account the cause and the future of those already residing there―the Palestine Arabs. The state of Israel claims the Palestine region to be the original Jewish homeland, based on ancient ancestral inhabitance―a classic example of irredentism.
The Israeli efforts to reclaim the West Bank, and the Palestinian attempts to retain it have seen several wars, ceasefires, protests, and a constant state of upheaval in the region, not to mention the rampant human rights violations by both sides.

Other Examples of Irredentism

■ The Reconquista Movement in Southwestern United States calls for the reunification California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona with Mexico. These regions were annexed by the U.S. following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
■ Ogaden region in Ethiopia, East Africa is a disputed territory, with neighboring Somalia laying claims to the region on the basis of its predominantly ethnic-Somali population.
■ India and Pakistan have yet to come to consensus on the disputed Kashmir region, having fought three official wars and conducted numerous bilateral talks to resolve the issue. Currently, the region of Kashmir is controlled in part by India and Pakistan, and of course, China as well.
The concept of irredentism has never failed to spark conflicts in formerly peaceful regions. While its intentions may be a combination of sentiments related to shared history and ethnicity, its execution seems to be a foolproof way of kicking off a conflict.