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The world is our atlas

By Melissa Hekkers

I happened to stumble upon an intriguing atlas this week. 
Its title is pretty much self-explanatory: An Atlas of Countries That Don’t Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognised and Largely Unnoticed States.
It seems to have made its way to me at a defining time, considering that, as I write this column, we are in the process of negotiations with an unrecognised state – hence the first thought I had when i picked up the book.

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“I wonder if northern Cyprus is mentioned in here?” I mused, and indeed it was – as were many other islands and states that I had never heard of. One of the islands referred to, or one of the countries should I say, claimed just two inhabitants to its name. The contents ranged from an array of real nations that have ceased to exist, to secessionist movements, to smaller states that are more on the high comedy end than real countries.
Written by Nick Middleton, who I found out to be an acclaimed travel writer and Oxford Geography don, the magical tour he tactfully takes readers on, through countries that lack diplomatic recognition or/and UN membership, inhabits a world of shifting borders, visionary leaders and forgotten peoples, reminding us of how little we know about the world we live in, yet also impertinently pointing out the flaws that we stumble upon and retain throughout our history.
“Most of us think we know what a country is, but, in truth, the concept is rather slippery. From Catalonia to the Crimea, and from Africa’s last colony to the European republic that enjoyed just a solitary day of independence, the places in this book may lie on the margins of legitimacy, but all can be visited in the real world,” says the back page of the atlas.
A brilliant coffee table book to be had as our history becomes more and more obscure.

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