The Currency of Land
Annexed Regions and Forced Secessions
-Gathering in Balochistan.
Maps have a way of deceiving the viewer not simply because of the scale of various countries, but their importance. Maps highlight specific destinations with bolder and bigger typefaces, while smaller ones are shown in smaller faces, giving the impression of a hierarchy of importance. Regions and states are lost within a single color to almost convey the unity within their boundaries, a homogeny. In contrast, smaller countries are reduced to simple words and an arrow, which indirectly states that these countries are forgettable and of little consequence.
I am fully aware of why this happens. Like history and politics, the complexity of the world has to be made simple and digestible for the viewer. How can anyone truly understand the constant changes that are happening at various borders unless they dive deeply into the culture of a country?
Land is one of the most precious resources in the world. Owning it says something about the owner, that they are someone of importance no matter how the land was acquired. Land gave birth to kings and queens in feudal states. Land turned separate colonies into the United States. Land gives voice to those that own enough of it. Land also turns swathes of people into the disregarded. Land can make dictators out of once promising leaders. Land can take away one’s culture and past. The loss of land turns proud people into angry ones and neighbors into rivals.
On September 30, 2022, Russian President Putin annexed the Russian majority Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. Until mid November 2022 those areas had an issued mandate towards all ethnic Ukrainians to depart from these regions.
As unfortunate as the forcible annexation of regions are, whether through seemingly democratic means, coercion, or forcible actions, these actions are not new.
As recently as the tail end of the 20th century to today, there are regions that have, or continue to fight for, their own freedoms. Unfortunately, in many cases, this fighting is kept out of the media for fear of bringing national attention to the complex question of land rights and people’s rights.
I want to focus on three specific regions/countries. Hopefully knowing more about them will change how you look at a map. Because as much as the world looks at what is transpiring in major parts of the world, other parts that are suffering in silence or still dealing with the repercussions of annexation.
Republic of Sonora (1853 –1854)
As the United States fell into a civil war, various Southern landowners and individuals referred to as filibusters began looking at options to expand their sphere of influence, lust for adventure, and culture of slave holding to other countries.
The closest option was Mexico.
The end of the Mexican–American War (1846–1848) by way of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo or Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits, and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic (effective May 30, 1848) left a large swath of open land that could not be governed properly by the Mexican government, which then ceded 525,000 square miles to the United States. As part of this agreement, outposts along the border, such as Fort Yuma (Imperial Country, CA) on the Gila River, were constructed to bring order to open regions on the Mexican side. At that time, the Mexican government was moving towards ending a dictatorship and resolving other political issues and was therefore unable to properly police and secure the area.
This large swath of lawless, open, land attracted vagabonds, including various émigrés who were looking for land, riches, and opportunity.
One of them was William Walker. Born in Nashville, Tennessee May 8, 1824, Walker had a life that included multiple careers, from physician, lawyer, journalist, and mercenary and to short-term president.
By 1853, Walker was living in San Francisco and working as an editor and a writer for the Herald newspapers. He had previously held a similar position with another publication while living in New Orleans.
An unassuming man of light build and stature, he was described by future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephan J. Field as “a brilliant speaker [who] possessed a sharp but not a very profound intellect.” His presence would never have indicated his trajectory. Intrigued by the stories of men traveling back and forth to the regions of Northern Mexico and claiming land, he envisioned his own plans.
By 1853, Walker and a small group of like-minded men met in Auburn, California to discuss requesting permission from the Mexican government to establish a settlement in Northern Sonora. Their agreement in exchange for this land would be to protect Mexicans living in the hinterlands from Apache and Comanche raiders, as well as various outlaws from both sides of the border.
Multiple attempts to visit Guaymas and meet with Governor Manuel Maria Gandara to discuss terms went nowhere. By this time, the Mexican authorities in this region had grown tired and defensive of the various groups asking for land. Walker and his group, tired of being dissuaded, decided to take a ship from the port of San Francisco to Guaymas and hopefully win over the local government.
Finding himself detained for months, Walker used an Apache attack in a nearby town that resulted in the deaths of various people as a foothold into the region. Returning to San Francisco, he gathered a militia, funds, and a plan to organize an invasion to clear the area of the Apache.
Rumors of his plan spread throughout San Francisco, and united like-minded individuals. As more people became involved, Walker’s plans of forging a republic came to light. He sold bonds and tracts of land to interested parties, including former military men who fought in the Mexican/American War and pro-slavery backers of Southern expansion who looked at Mexico as an extension of the Manifest Destiny.
On October 16, 1853, Walker gave himself the rank of Colonel, his men were the First Independent Battalion, and he arranged for a cache of weapons to be sent on the ship Caroline en route to La Paz in Baja California. Throughout that month, the new army gathered strength, experience, and moral fortitude by annexing defenseless territories along the region before making its way to Sonora.
Now showcasing his new flag of the Republic, the Battalion now ambitious and feeling invincible moved on. Walker now proclaimed that the regions they had taken were now renounced lands from Mexico.
Before his arrival in Sonora, Walker established a government with his closest allies and abolished tariffs and imposed civil codes to stand in for laws.
Initally facing small skirmishes with minimal obstacles, Walker soon encountered Mexican militias, quickly formed defenses of small towns, and Mexican military dispatched from Guaymas. Using the press, Walker sent back romantic stories to American publications in California about claiming land and saving the locals from Apache. Fanning those masses’ love for adventure, they would soon make their own plans to head south and follow Walker.
As the Battalion made its way further into the interior of Mexico, more land was claimed based on the false assumption that they had been abandoned by the Mexican government and were free for the taking. Now facing battles and resistance, it was only through luck and the non-interference of the U.S. government that they annexed more territory.
By early December, Mexican forces conceded, due to their fatigue in dealing with Walker and his men. At the same time, Walker’s men began to take advantage of their situation by stealing and doing whatever they pleased for their own personal aspirations. Inner turmoil began to set in as hunger and in-fighting started. The republic’s bonds and currency that was sold and paid to the soldiers had almost no value. They were no closer to forming the new republic. All the while, Walker continued to proclaim that the goal was to save the people and land from criminals and the Apache.
Desertions began and increased as the campaign continued. More men came in from California. Either they would be turned back around by Mexican nationals or slowly realized their folly in this foray. Anger boiled when Walker tried to discipline and discourage theft. Diseases such as dysentery also began to claim lives, leading to desertions of posts.
Sensing the need to stem the hemorrhage, Walker gave a speech to try and inspire and to give the opportunity to those who were no longer interested in his goal the opportunity to leave.
About 25% of his force left, while the others took a renewed oath to continue on. Near the end, he had only 140 men.
Still using the press to spur excitement back in California with his predictions that by spring there would be a new republic established “with the energy of the Anglo-Saxon race.”
The actual situation, however, was very different. Now desperate, Walker’s soldiers began repeatedly looting farmers and nationals, leading to armed resistance.
By January 1854, the Mexican government finally killed enough of his Battalion to discourage further forays into the country. Low on food, morale, and men, they returned to California as new recruits came to join the fight only to be told to turn back as the Mexican government gave chase until they crossed the border.
Arrested upon his return to San Francisco for violating U.S. neutrality laws, Walker was acquitted of charges and returned to his career as a lawyer. Unfortunately, it would not be the end of his aspirations to become president of a foreign land. It would only be a few months later, that Walker would lead another invasion force. This time he succeeding in becoming the President of Nicaragua with aspirations to reinstate slavery in a country that had already abolished it, while establishing a class system that excluded everyone except “pure” white men.
Katanga (1960 – 1963)
Throughout the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, various world powers cut and dissected the African nations by ignoring the borders created by various tribes. These religious, cultural, and adversarial boundaries were ignored, resulting in the forging of new countries under foreign, paternal rule.
By the late 19th century, the Congo’s southern province had been an autonomous empire ruled by Mwenda Msiri Ngelegwa Shitambi, a Bayeke trader from Tanzania. By supplying the local chief with weapons to use against rivals he found inroads that allowed him to execute the heirs to the throne and take possession of it.
Now known as Msiri, his enemies were buried up to their necks and eaten by dogs. Their skulls were used to decorate the walls outside the capital of Bunkeya. Human hearts were rumored to be placed in pombe (beer) and enjoyed by the court. Hung and still-living people were given pieces of their own faces as nourishment.
London and Brussels showed interest in this empire by sending gifts that were turned away. By 1891, Msiri was senile. A bullet from a Belgian named Omer Bodson, who was part of an expedition funded by King Leopold II, marked his end. The last words Msiri heard were, “I have killed a tiger!” followed by “Vive le Roi!”
From 1848 to 1960, the Congo was a possession of Belgium and served as a source of plundering of the mineral wealth that propped up the country. Swept up in a wave of independence that was transpiring throughout the continent, The Congo finally gained its independence.
Arriving in the capital of Kinshasa on Thursday, June 30, 1960, the then-King of Belgium, Baudouin , came to formally say goodbye to the Congolese people. Crowds gathered to see and witness the event.
Whereas years earlier, they applauded his arrival, now they heckled and sneered. Newly elected President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and serving as both Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, Patrice Lumumba, met with the king as they all rode to the Palais de la Nation where Baudouin was scheduled to give a speech.
Shortly after their arrival, Lumumba made a speech and did not restrain his anger. “We have seen our lands seized in the name of allegedly legal laws, which, in fact, recognized only that might is right. We have seen that the law was not the same for a white and for a black, accommodating for the first, cruel, and inhuman for the other”
As the Congolese hung on every word, the Europeans stood tight-lipped, waiting patiently for the end of the event. As the day continued, each group said goodbye to the former possession of Belgium. Belgians packed what was left of their possessions for transport to Europe.
Tribes paid tribute to their ancestors who lived and died under Belgium’s rule. Individuals who were able to make careers disregarded their Carte du Merite Civique (Civil Merit Card) that gave them the distinction of being smarter than the other sale macaque (dirty monkey ), a derogatory term often given to the Congolese. Others simply used the opportunity to show their disdain for the Belgium crown by making gestures of slit throats in the direction of whites. It was under this environment that the Republic of Congo began its democracy.
On the evening of July 11, 1960, Moise Tshombe, the son of a wealthy businessman, came on Radio Katanga as the newly minted President of Katanga. Supported by both his tribe, Lunda, the Confederation des Associations Tribales du Katanga, and Belgian mining group Union Miniere du Haut Katanga, which already controlled the region’s copper mines. He declared the independence of the region by utilizing a mutiny of the local militia (Force Publique) as a smoke screen. What followed was a long period of political strife and bloodshed that brought in United Nation intervention, the Belgian government, Soldiers of Fortune, and the Congoleses.
Forming as the backbone of the Katanga government. Godefroid Munongo (department head of Pensions Service, part of the Bayeke tribe, and founder of Conakat Political Party), and President Tshombe were able to forge a short-lived peace that the remainder of the country was not experiencing. It took about a week before that ended.
Tshombe’s goal had been to return to the autonomous state that had existed prior to Belgian intervention. Now under the Republic of Congo, Lumumba wanted them to remain. This led to political and tribal violence.
Now attracting the attention of the UN due to receiving international press coverage and requests for assistance from Lumumba, it was not too long after that they made their way to Congo, choosing to mediate instead of entering Katanga. Lumumba moved on to court the Soviet Union for assistance on both strategy, weapons, and military operations.
Internal fighting within the Congolese government moved President Kasa-Vubu to strip Lumumba from his position. This would lead to the house arrest of PM Lumumba.
What happens next still serves as controversial and contested to this day.
Along with some of his advisors, Lumumba was kidnapped and beaten. On January 17, 1961, Lumumba was executed. His teeth were pulled out, buried, and later liquidated after being captured by Congolese Colonial Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko) and finding himself in Katanga. A month later, a cover story was sent to the press that brought more attention to what was happening in the Congo. The story was never accepted. Lumumba’s teeth were found in the possession of Tshombe years later.
Tales of cannibalism befalling unsanctioned fighters entering Katanga reached readers throughout the world. Tshombe allowed the slaughter of the U.N. noncombatant forces on September 1961 in Jodotville. Many were Irish or British living in South Africa who were looking for excitement or really had no idea what they were getting involved in.
Tshombe failed to gain diplomatic recognition for Katanga. By January 1963, the U.N. passed Resolution 161 that authorized their forces to take measures to prevent civil war and take the offensive in dealing with the matter.
Military forces under then United States President Kennedy assisted in overwhelming the Katangan military and forcing Moise Tshombe to step down and flee to Espana (Spain) under exile. Tshombe was courted to return by President Kasa Vubu in 1964 to help end a rebellion in Eastern Congo, but he later returned to Spain due to an attempt to oust the president
In 1967, under rumors he was returning to the Congo, he was kidnapped and taken to Algeria where he died of a heart attack in 1969.
Balochistan (1947– )
“What concerns me most is a word. It is a simple word that is not heard on the lips of people in most parts of the world, but for me it is a word that desperately needs to be heard more often. Whenever I do hear this word, or say it myself, it stirs emotions that I cannot explain. I cannot do justice to the memories it evokes.
That word is Balochistan.
We pleaded and knocked on every door there is in the name of justice. Yet, no one heard us. What have we received from the people of Pakistan, except neglect and torment?”
— Quote from Baloch, a student.
It took less than a week for most of the world to forget the mid-June 2022 flooding in the southern regions of Sindh and Balochistan. Most of the blame for the event was placed on global warming. None of it was placed on the stripping of the region of its natural resources by the Pakistani government.
When discussing the partition of British India (1947), into the individual countries of India and Pakistan, the forced annexation of Balochistan into Pakistan (1947) goes unmentioned.
That is by design.
Composed of the majority Baloch in the south and southwest regions of the province, the Brahvi ethnic group in the center of the region. Pashtuns is in the north. The region also hosts a variety of languages, including Balochi/Brahvi and Pashto as the majority languages. Urdu, Punjabi, Seraiki, and Sindhi take minority stakes.
A mostly barren territory, the history of the region goes back centuries. Its original consolidation of 45 tribes under Mir Jalal Khan in the 12th century can be marked as its birth. A confederacy (Kalat) was formed under tribally elected Mir Ahmad Khan (1666) and continued to be ruled by various Khans over the centuries. Divided into two parts by the Goldsmid Line in 1871 and the Durand Line in 1894, and twice more in 1896 and 1905 due to interference of both Tsarist Russia and the British Empire, resulting in the accession of land to neighboring countries. Its current regions stretch into current dat Kandahar, Afghanistan, Bandar Abbas, Iran as well as Pakistan.
By 1929, a nationalist movement developed. By 1947, the hope was that Balochistan become an independent region, but without much support, the goal proved to be unattainable.
Not obligated to join either India or Pakistan. On August 5, 1947, the then Khan of Klat entered into an agreement with British Lord Mountbatten and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan’s independence status. Over the next year and a half, various regions within Balochistan were absorbed into Pakistan until the entire region was breaking all agreements that had been made between the Khan and Jinnah.
Insurgencies took place in 1948, 1958, 1962, and 1973-77. Each added more people into the cause of independence, but they were unable to break from Pakistan control.
To give a clearer view of what life is like in the region, the restraints put on both the people and their culture must be understood.
Education in native languages are prohibited. Inclusion in politics is rare. Journalists, activists, and any interest in the region, including travel, are met with threats, coercion, and, in some cases, mysterious deaths. Crime is rampant and poverty rates are high (70% of the population). Yet the area has huge deposits of natural gas but this area lacks the rewards of having it
The area is underdeveloped, deprived, and fighting for constitutional rights that have been denied to them. To date, they are no closer to receiving independence.
In each of the above examples, the results were damaging to the instigator.
Regardless of the laws and people of Mexico and the nationals already living on those lands, William Walker wished to become the leader of his own republic. He eventually gained brief success by becoming the President of Nicaragua, which led to his death by a firing squad in Honduras by united Central American military forces (September 12, 1860).
Despite how he went about it, Moise Tshombe wished to return the region of Katanga to its pre-colony state. Through violence, intimidation, cannibalism, politics, and the backing of Union Miniere du Haut., Katanga held onto the region before being ousted and put into political exile. His legacy is more of a shadow of his father who was self-made and his son could not stand in his shadow.
Was the way he went about Independence the correct tactic?
Finally, Balochistan continues to fight despite setbacks. Each insurgency forges a stronger united front as Pakistan’s military-based government struggles to get their own political issues under control. The fear of another nation being born from their lands, i.e., Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), has added to the political battles between themselves in India, which assisted in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
On November 9th, 2022, Russian troops pulled out of the Kherson region in Ukraine. The reason given by Russian General Sergei Surovikin is that due to delays in supplying the city they would have to withdraw. A surprising response since it was a supposedly “democratic” decision made by the Russian majority of the region.
No matter the example, the end is always the same. In nations that take lands and then give or share them democratically, the end goal is never a successful transition but rather a protracted fight to hold on to said land or lose it in a variety of ways.
-Flag of The Republic of Sonora
-General (?) William S. Walker (1824 - 1860)
-State Flag of Katanga
-Moise Tshombe featured in TIME Magazine’s December 1961 publication
-Patrice Lumumba giving a speech in 1961
-Soldiers heading to Katanga