Monday, 30 April 2012

Secessionist States

My recent blog about the secession of Azawad of course had no relevance to collectors of Commonwealth stamps but the story of the new country's secession from Mali brings to mind the thought that a number of Commonwealth members or non-Commonwealth countries which were once part of the British Empire started off as secessionist states - some were successful in surviving and others are mere footnotes in the pages of history. The earliest territory to break away from being part of a larger state actually comprised 13 territories and these were of course the British settlements in North America which combined together to declare themselves to be independent of Great Britain and called themselves The United States Of America. They famously proclaimed their independence on 4 July 1776 and it would take a war with Britain which would last until 1783 and, more importantly, the military intervention of Britain's arch-enemy, France, for the Americans to finally succeed with their secession. The stamp below shows the first flag of The United States, the Continental Colours or the Grand Union Flag, which curiously initially retained the Union Jack in the canton and was first raised by the rebel Americans at Prospect Hill in Somerville on 1 January 1776 but ceased to be used after the declaration of independence.
Ireland had been under at least partial English rule from the reign of King Henry II (see blog of 4 July 2010) when he declared himself to be Lord Of Ireland in 1171. On 1 January 1801 an Act Of Union established the single state of The United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Ireland. Resistance to the Union grew gradually among the Irish and this culminated in an armed uprising in 1916 and the establishment of The Provisional Government in Ireland on 16 January 1922. The new state used British stamps overprinted in Gaelic text in various formats which said, in translation, "Provisional Government of Ireland 1922". The Irish Free State was established on 6 December 1922 although the British king, George V, remained Head of State. The stamps depicted below are the single commemorative issued on 27 October 1941 to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1916 uprising (with Dublin Post Office depicted in the background) and 4 values of one of the sets of surcharged definitives issued in 1922.
The British first acquired Singapore from the Sultan of Johore in 1819 and after various forms of administration and a period of occupation by the Japanese during World War 2, Singapore was granted independence from Britain on 31 August 1963 when it became part of The Federation Of Malaysia. However Singapore seceded from Malaysia on 9 August 1965.
The above stamps depict the national flag of Singapore and had been issued on 3 June 1960 to commemorate Singapore's national day. One of the most surprising secessions in The Commonwealth in the 1960's was that of the small Caribbean island of Anguilla which was part of the British Associated State of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. The Anguillans felt themselves to be the neglected part of this state and agitated for separation from St. Kitts-Nevis and the administration withdrew from the island on 30 May 1967. The Anguillans flew their own "Three Dolphins" flag (shown on one of a set of four stamps issued on 5 November 1990) and issued St.Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla definitive stamps overprinted "Independent Anguilla" on 4 September 1967, the high values of that set, in particular, being rare and valuable. Anguilla was returned to direct British rule on 27 July 1971.
On 30 March 1967, the oil-rich former eastern region of Nigeria seceded from Nigeria and proclaimed its independence as The Republic Of Biafra. The central Nigerian government resisted the secession by military means and a terrible period of civil war ensued. Unlike more recent secessionist states, Biafra received some amount of international recognition, some of it opportunist like that of France which supported the Biafrans against the Nigerians. Terrible suffering ensued in the local population and thousands, especially small children, died of starvation. Biafra became a bye-word for hunger. It is ironic that the Biafra Post Office commemorated independence with the three stamps shown below, one of which depicted a mother and child who probably would have been starving to death before the Biafran state collapsed and Federal troops overran the country leading to its surrender on 15 January 1970.
More human suffering resulted from the secession of the eastern province of Pakistan when the territory declared itself independent of the western province as The Republic Of Bangladesh on 26 March 1971. A civil war followed as Pakistan resisted the secession but India intervened on Bangladesh's behalf and the new country successfully established itself. The illustrated stamp below is one of a set of 8 stamps designed in Britain by B. Mullick which saw use as the country's first definitive set being issued on 29 July 1971. This particular value shows the first national flag which was used until 25 January 1972 when the map was removed from the red disc to simplify the design. Prior to the issue of these stamps, numerous Pakistani stamps had been used on mail with overprints applied by various means.
On 15 July 1974, part of the Cyprus national Guard led by Greek officers overthrew the President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III, and installed Nikos Sampsom in his place. Sampson was fanatically anti-Turkish and in response to the potential danger to the Turkish Cypriot community, Turkish armed forces were ordered to invade Cyprus on 20 July 1974. From that date, Turkish Cypriot post offices in the north-eastern portion of the island used stamps on mail which had only previously been used on local mail between Turkish Cypriot areas. An Autonomous Turkish Cypriot Administration was established and on 13 February 1975 The Turkish Federated State Of Cyprus was proclaimed although it has only been recognised as an independent state by Turkey itself. The stamp shown below is one of a pair issued on 20 July 1984 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and depicts the national flag of Turkish Cyprus.
Another notable but short-lived secession in a Commonwealth country was that which occurred on 13 March 1959 when three of the southernmost atolls of The Maldive Islands (see the map to the left of the stamp shown below) proclaimed their independence as The United Suvadive Islands. The Maldivian government rapidly put down the rebellion and the state had ceased to exist by September 1963. No special postage stamps were issued by the government of The Suvadives during its period of existence.
Finally we may mention one more secession in The Commonwealth which again appears to have had no postal consequences and thus no stamps for collectors to chase after. Firstly in 1975 and then in May 1990 there was a rebellion in the North Solomons province of Papua New Guinea which resulted in the proclamation of the independent Republic Of Bourgainville. Peace talks brokered by New Zealand were held in 1997 and Bourgainville was recognised as an Autonomous Province of Papua New Guinea.

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