One of the advantages of being an island state is that one’s borders are easily defined, and there will be little dispute with one’s neighbours over what constitutes sovereign territory. A situation which is much more ambiguous where many countries occupy the same land mass. Given this, how is that in the 21st Century, in the heart of the Western world, as many of the old borders and historical peculiarities have broken down throughout the world, does the United Kingdom continue to cling to 15% of the island of Ireland as its own? And how is this relevant to Artsakh?
About 400 years ago the English crown started to confiscate property from the local Irish people within Ireland for the benefit of settlers from England and Scotland to create plantations. The number of Protestant settlers grew over the next 100 years, and focussed their population in the North, with the largely Catholic population in the southern counties. During the late 17th Century, two different kings, the Catholic King James and the Protestant King William III , made claims to the thrones of England, Ireland, and Scotland which, at the time were not united. This culminated in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 where William defeated James, and secured the crown and the domination of the Protestant monarchy. It also reinforced the right of occupation of the Protestant settlers, and to this day the Protestant community remember the victory on the 12th July each year. In 1801 Ireland finally passed the Act of the Union and joined the United Kingdom.
In 1921, the Irish nationalist movement sought independence from the UK, however the mainly Protestant north did not want this as the were staunchly loyal to the British Crown. Whilst Ireland achieved its wish it resulted in a partition of the island. As the populations were well mixed this resulted in many Irish nationalist Catholics remaining as part of the UK; they were considered to some extent, to be second-class citizens. The Republican movement, which is synonymous with the Catholics, still wanted a united Ireland and they considered the British to be occupiers, and for 70 years after the partition they maintained a struggle against the UK government with a very violent period from the late 1960’s to the mid 1990’s. Although a semblance of peace has been brokered at a political level with both communities sharing power, the divisions in the streets still remain very evident with a wall, similar to the old Berlin Wall, running through parts of the City.
After so many years there is still a deep seated resentment between the 2 groups, and the divisions are reinforced each year as the Protestants march thoughout the City to remind themselves, and their Catholic neighbours that it was a Protestant king that won at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The other reason for doing this is to continue to reaffirm their status as part of the United Kingdom. After the treaty in 1921 which resulted in the partition they have effectively been “stranded” across the Irish Sea locked in another country – or at least that’s how the southern Irish would see it. This unsatisfactory situation created in the 1920’s has some similarities with the dilemma created with Artsakh at that same time. It was seen as an unsatisfactory solution, and made no attempt to address the inevitable inter-community tension which resulted in terrible violence for such a long period of time.
Whilst the violence between the two communities has effectively ceased on a public level, the differences over nationality continue on a daily basis. The political peace has not dealt with the underlying conflict on the streets, and the way each group “demonises” the other. The war in Artsakh went one stage further resulting in the re-distribution of the ethnic groupings which whilst a policy that no one could advocate, has ensured that conflict within the state has been nullified.
Both Northern Ireland and Artskah are striving to develop and maintain an identity and status within the world community; in this respect both are expressing their vulnerability. A common theme with vulnerable nations is the importance of proving historical legitimacy to bolster their present day claims. This is to be expected, and both countries have attributes similar to being orphaned. Artsakh, by virtue of being universally unrecognised, and Northern Ireland by virtue of being a “troublesome” adjunct to the United Kingdom. The Northern Irish Protestants reinforce their link with King William III and his famous victory in 1690 which most people in the rest of the UK would never have head of, and will not see it being remotely relevant to the country today. For the Irish this is why they are part of the UK, and not part of Ireland. That insecurity continues all of the time. For example, the Catholic community are trying to have the UK flag removed from the Belfast Council buildings as they consider it to be offensive; they would wish it to be replaced by the Republic of Ireland flag.
In Northern Ireland, despite the continual covert conflict, and the overt wish of one group within the country to be re-united with the Republic of Ireland, there is one simple philosophy which will determine whether that is ever going to happen and this is the self-determination of the population. The UK Government has re-assured the people of Northern Ireland that it will stay part of the UK whilst ever that is the wish of the majority of the population. This is the internationally accepted position, and has supported the Peace process for 20 years, regardless of the rights and wrongs that each side perpetrated during the civil war period. This is the principle that should apply to Artsakh, and the similarities between the two far outweigh the dissimilarities; it is all about the future and the will of the people, and no longer about the past.
Categories: Self-Determination Cases