Showing posts with label geography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label geography. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Bir Tawil Trapezoid--the Geographic, the Adorable, and the Imperialistic

On the border between Egypt and Sudan there are two small areas of land that remain in dispute--the Hala'ib Triangle, and the Bir Tawil Trapezoid. Hala'ib borders the Red Sea, and both countries have been laying claim to it since the 1950s. The Bir Tawil Trapezoid, on the other hand, is a mostly desolate wasteland, and both countries, well...they don't not claim it, but they certainly don't claim it either.

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A scenic stretch of Bir Tawil
Like many of the geographic struggles in Africa, this one dates back to colonial times when both Egypt and Sudan were a part of the British Empire. In 1899, while separating the areas into two distinct administrative districts the border between Sudan and Egypt was drawn at the 22nd parallel. Unfortunately, this border seperated two nomadic tribal groups--the Ababda and the Bisharin--from large sections of their traditional homelands. The Ababda, who's traditional grazing ground includes Bir Tawil, were deemed to have more in common culturally with the Egyptians, and the Bisharin, who sometimes occupy Hala'ib, were deemed to be more Sudanese. Consequently, in 1902 the border was redrawn, and Bir Tawil was incorporated into Egypt, while Hala'ib went to the Sudanese.

Flash forward to 1956, and Sudan has finally kicked their colonial overlords to the curb. Egypt, who had show the English the door in 1922, stood by the 1899 border--straight along the 22nd parallel. This hadn't been a point of friction until Sudan gained independence, and adopted the 1902 border--allotting Bir Tawil to Egypt, and granting themselves Hala'ib.

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Bir Tawil is circled in red.
What follows has been a relatively bloodless game of North African chicken. While neither country would say no to Bir Tawil, claiming Bir Tawil would mean giving up any claim to Hala'ib, which is a much more attractive plot of land. Hala'ib not only has access to the Red Sea, but it also is rich in resources, with substantial manganese deposits. Egypt was eager to start exporting manganese, and it was the Sudanese government allowing a Canadian oil company to do exploration in the triangle that kicked this whole dispute off.

There have been no armed conflicts over the triangle, though Egyptian troops were sent into the region in 1958 after Sudan attempted to hold elections, and remain there to this day. The Sudanese withdrew their troops in 2000, and the area has been under de facto Egyptian control ever since.

All of this leaves Bir Tawil mostly unadministered. It's easy to see why neither government wants to claim the trapezoid--there's little but rocks and desert. As mentioned, the Ababda graze their animals there part of the year, but there are no permanent residents. Bir Tawil has been largely regarded as a no man's land since the 1960s.

There are, however, several individuals who have claimed Bir Tawil, and attempted to create their own sovereign nation. Most famously was Jeremiah Heaton, an American farmer who wanted to make his daughter's dream of becoming a princess a reality. In 2014 he made the treacherous journey through the Egyptian desert to Bir Tawil, and planted a homemade flag in the grounded. He renamed the area North Sudan, and declared himself king, and his daughter a princess.

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Heaton, his daughter, Emily, and their flag.
Once he returned home to Virginia he didn't relinquish his claims. He set about trying to get his territory recognized officially as a country, with the goal of establishing experimental agricultural centers that would research the most effective farming methods for the food unstable region. However, as Sealand could attest, gaining recognition for a new country is no easy feat, no matter how noble the cause.

Not only is Heaton battling with Egypt and Sudan over the area, he's also fighting against an American journalist, an Indian, two Russians, and a whole host of other people who saw Bir Tawil on a map, and decided to make their own country. Every few years another claimant pops up, but none of the claimants actually live in the area.

Which brings us to the people who actually inhabit Bir Tawil--the Ababda people. The Ababda have inhabited southern Egypt, northern Sudan, and parts of Ethiopia since at least Ptolemaic times, possibly earlier. Though they don't live in Bir Tawil year round, the area is an important part of their yearly migration. Amusing and heartwarming as it might be for random foreigners to claim this no man's land, it must be conceded that the trapezoid isn't a no-man's-land, at least not entirely. This brings into the contentious age old question about land ownership between nomadic and settled societies, and how much land nomadic cultures can lay claim to.

However, as far as international land disputes go, Bir Tawil is undoubtedly the most light hearted. No blood has been spilled over the region, there's not even a real occupying force. Sure, there's some random flags scattered over the 2,060 square kilometers in the trapezoid, but that's an eyesore that can be dealt with. Besides, it made one seven year old girl a very happy princess.

Virginia Man's Claim on African Land is Unlikely to Pass Test
Welcome to the Land No Country Wants
Bir Tawil
A History of Bir Tawil
Bir Tawil: The Land No Country Wants
The Halayeb Triangle

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

How To Go To France Without Leaving North America

If you want to go to France, clap your hands.

Now, I'm sure that last sentence was followed by thunderous applause, because really, what lover of history doesn't want to travel? Especially to France--land of wine, magnificent churches, and endless disputes with the English, it's a history lover's dream, right? Most of my readers are American (except for the large minority of readers from Israel, which, shout out to you guys!), and you're probably thinking something along the lines of 'Yeah, I'd love to go to France, but it's  expensive! A plane ticket to Paris is several thousand dollars, and that's just the ticket!'. Well, I have some news for you, you can visit part of France without leaving North America.

Now, sure, North America France isn't quite the same as France France. There aren't large churches or sun kissed vineyards, though they've had their share of disputes with the English. There is, however, a rich history of fishing, bootlegging, and sticking it to the Nazis that you won't get in mainland France. Where am I talking about? St. Pierre and Miquelon.
St. Pierre and Miquelon is a group of eight small islands just off the coast of Newfoundland known for its plentiful fishing. It's a small area, the main island--St. Pierre--being home to only 6,000 people, but its a proud area that is, by all accounts, very French. French is the official language, and all residents speak it. There's dozens of bakeries, and the French flag flies over the island. The area has a rich and someone tumultuous history, starting from the very beginning.

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The St. Pierre and Miquelon flag.
St. Pierre and Miquelon was first discovered by Proto-Inuit people. Then the Beothuk. Probably. It's hard to tell that far back. First Nation people isn't really who you expect to 'discover' places, but I think it's important that we remember every so often that Europeans didn't discover shit. Well, they discovered Europe (probably). But that's about it.

St. Pierre and Miquelon was later 'discovered' by several European explorers, but it was the French who established the first settlement in 1536. Now, as you probably know, the pre-1777 North America was basically a tug-of-war between France and Britain, with occasional Spanish distractions. Consequentially, the  islands were annexed by the British several times, only to be re-annexed by the French later. A lot of the early settlers of St. Pierre and Miquelon ended up emigrating to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, but despite the danger French, Breton, and Basque fisherman continued to come to the islands because of their fertile fishing waters.

By 1816 the British decided to leave well enough alone, and the inhabitants of St. Pierre and Miquelon were able to return to their peaceful fishing. The island mostly did its thing interrupted until the 1920s, when America decided that prohibiting alcohol was a good idea.

Prohibition turned St. Pierre and Miquelon into an epicenter for bootlegging. Everything came in and out of the islands, and American gangsters used the area to store their illegal merchandise. St. Pierre even played host to the infamous Al Capone. The illicit activity brought great prosperity to the islands, and fishing was more or less abandoned. Until the Americans repealed the Prohibition laws, and the islanders realized that basing an economy on one product is a bad idea. The island recovered however, and fishing resumed.

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St. Pierre

World War Two was when things started to get interesting again. See, after the Germans took France the islands fell under the rule of the government of Vichy, which, while they weren't outright Nazis, they certainly had no inclination to oppose the Fuhrer. Both sides quickly realized that St. Pierre was an important tactical location for the invasion/protection of North America. Luckily, the Axis powers were unable to gain control of the islands, and St. Pierre became an important base for helping free France from Nazi rule.

Since then things have been fairly quiet in St. Pierre. It remains a small, isolated area that relies on its fishing industry, though the locals, along with oil companies, suspect that there is oil of its shores. Either way, St. Pierre and Miquelon remains a charming piece of France smack dab in the middle of Canada.

Lonely Planet
The Daily Beast
CIA World Factbook
St. Pierre and Miquelon Official Website
Grand Colombier