Land, History and Separatist Conflict: The Origins of National Rebellion in the Post-Colonial World

32 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 12 Sep 2010

Date Written: 2010


Current research on self-determination conflicts -- whether they manifest in separatist, secessionist, or autonomy demands -- tends to grant causal supremacy heavily to the last couple of decades. I argue that this tight historical focus misses much of the explanation for why it is that such movements as the Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Aceh Independence Movement, and others have persisted from the early independence period to the present and extracted substantial concessions from their central governments. Drawing on analysis of group-level aggregate data covering the post-colonial world from 1946 to 2005, and on a natural experiment in greater Kurdistan, I argue that today's successful self-determination movements largely owe that success to an earlier generation of rural elites. Where hierarchical social structures dominated the countryside in minority regions, they provided the elite leadership and mobilizing resources to challenge new states. Ironically, where these states conquered the countryside by commercializing agriculture, they often set the stage for later, urban-based rebellions. The quantitative analysis shows a powerful relationship between early resistance and later rebellions, and I employ a comparative analysis of Kurdish movements in Iran and Iraq to illustrate the centrality of this cross-generational change to the success of self-determination struggles in the post-colonial world more broadly.

Suggested Citation

Smith, Ben, Land, History and Separatist Conflict: The Origins of National Rebellion in the Post-Colonial World (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Ben Smith (Contact Author)

University of Florida ( email )

PO Box 117165, 201 Stuzin Hall
Gainesville, FL 32610-0496
United States
3522732345 (Phone)

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