9 Countries That Have Split In Two (And We Explain Why)

Look at a map of the world and you’ll see some countries with the same name. North and South Korea, Sudan and South Sudan, the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. These were once single nations that have been split in two.

Did you know that actually there are several countries that have been divided? We take a look at some of the most, and least, well known ones and explain why these nations could not remain united…

1. Korea: Republic of Korea and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Probably the most famous country that has been split in two is Korea.

The Korean peninsula was long ruled as one united nation. Although both China and Japan have vied for influence over Korea, for many centuries the country was ruled independently by the Koreans.

In 1910, Japan annexed Korea. The Japanese occupied the peninsula until 1945, when they were defeated at the end of the Second World War. Following the end of World War Two, Korea was divided between a Soviet controlled north and American controlled south. The two sides agreed to divide their occupation zones along the 38th parallel.

In the North, the Soviets established the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) under the ruler Kim-Il Sung. In the South, the American’s installed Syngman Rhee as a dictator, creating the Republic of Korea.

Korea has remained split into two countries since 1945. In 1950, the North invaded the South in an attempt to unify the whole peninsula under Communist rule. Following a US-led intervention, the Korean War ended in a stalemate with both North and South Korea remaining divided.

The DPRK has remained one of the most repressive and poorest countries in the world. It is marred by extreme poverty, famine, and human rights abuses. The Republic of Korea began an extraordinary economic rise from the 1960s onwards and is now the twelfth largest economy in the world. It became a democracy in 1987. 

The split between the DPRK and Republic of Korea is perhaps the best-known example of a country that has split in two.

2. Sudan: South Sudan and Sudan

The most recent example of a country that has split in two is Sudan.

In 2011, South Sudan became one of the newest countries in the world when it gained its independence from Sudan.

Sudan was a British colony from the 1890s until it gained its independence in 1956. Upon independence, the country was seriously divided. Perhaps the most prominent divide was between the Arab Muslim north and African Christian south. The capital of Sudan – Khartoum, was located in the north of the country and the Arab Muslim population controlled the government, military and economy.

From the 1983 onwards, Sudan saw extensive civil conflict in the south. Many armed groups formed to fight for better representation, improved autonomy and eventually for independence. Up to 2.5 million people were killed during the two decades of what is called the Second Sudanese Civil War.

By 2005, it become clear that the government in Khartoum was unable to quell the rebels in the south. With added pressure from outside, especially from the United States and African Union, the Sudanese government agreed to a referendum on independence in the south. In January 2011, 98.83% of South Sudanese voted for independence and South Sudan officially split from Sudan to become an independent state on 9th July 2011.

After gaining independence, South Sudan quickly fell into civil war and the country is racked with conflict to this day. The government of Omar Bashir, in power in Sudan throughout most of the Second Sudanese Civil War and during the dividing of the country, was toppled by mass protests in 2019. Following a short-lived attempt as civilian rule, the military in Sudan seized power in 2021.

Sudan dividing into two to become Sudan and South Sudan is a recent example of country that split.

3. Cyprus: Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

The island of Cyprus has been split in two since 1974.

Cyprus is an island in the eastern Mediterranean. It was a British colony from 1878 and gained independence in 1959. The population of Cyprus has been divided for centuries between Christian Greek and Muslim Turkish Cypriots. For much of the island’s history these communities lived together and were fully integrated.

Following Cyprus’s independence from Britain, tensions began to rise between the Greek and Turkish communities on the islands. In 1974, a coup was led by Greek Cypriot nationalists and forces loyal to the Greek military Junta in Athens. This coup aimed to incorporate Cyprus into Greece. In a response to this, Turkey launched an invasion of Cypris in July 1974.

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus saw extensive fighting between Turkish and Greek Cypriot forces. Turkey succeeded in occupying much of the north and east of the island.

In 1983, Turkey proclaimed the independent state of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, formally dividing the island into two. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is only recognised by one state – Turkey. It is one of the least recognised nations in the world.

The Republic of Cyprus retains control the remainder of the island. In 2004, the Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union. The United Nations peace keeping mission UNFICYP monitors the divide between the two Cypriot nations. Since 2015, talks have been held intermittently aimed at trying to reunite the island. So far these have failed.

4. Ireland: Republic of Ireland and United Kingdom

Ireland is another example of a country that has been split into two.

The island of Ireland has a long history of being control by the British. However, many independent Irish states have existed during different periods. In 1801, Ireland was formally incorporated into the United Kingdom, bringing the island under the direct control of the British state.

The majority of the population of Ireland is Catholic. This differs from the UK where the majority of the population is Protestant. However, the northern part of the island of Ireland is also majority Protestant. This is due to mixture of long-standing protestant communities in the north and immigration from the Great Britain to the region.

Many in Ireland resented being part of the United Kingdom, feeling that they were being occupied by the British. By the early 20th Century, rebel groups began to fight against the British state for the creation of an independent Ireland. In 1922, the Irish Free State was created, which gave Ireland significant autonomy but kept it as part of the British Empire. At the same time, the island was partitioned with six counties in the north forming North Ireland and remaining part of the United Kingdom.

The rationale for dividing Ireland was to protect the rights of the Protestant minority in the north, whilst also retaining the major industrial city of Belfast within the United Kingdom.

In 1949, the Irish Free State gained full independence and became the Republic of Ireland. This fully cemented the split of Ireland into two distinct countries – the Republic and the UK.

5. China: People’s Republic of China and Republic of China

Many people don’t realize but China is actually split into two countries – the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of China – more commonly referred to as Taiwan.

In 1912, the nationalist Kuomintang seized power and removed the infant Emperor Pu Yi from the throne, ending the 267-year rule of the Qing Dynasty. Sun Yet-sen, the Kuomintang leader, proclaimed the formation of a republic. However, the next decades saw China enter a warlord period where competing regional leaders took control of their surroundings and fought each other for dominance. The central state remained weak.

In 1921 the Chinese Communist Party was founded. In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria in northern China. Initially the Communists worked partly with the Kuomintang to fight against the Japanese and defeat the regional warlords. However, this alliance mostly broke down by 1927 and the Chinese Civil War began. The Civil War was briefly paused in 1937 when Japan launched a larger invasion into China from Manchuria.

Following the Japanese defeat at the end of World War Two, the Kuomintang and Communists renewed the Civil War. By 1949, the nationalists, now under control of Chiang Kai-shek, a successor of Sun Yet-sen, were almost entirely defeated in mainland China and retreated to the island of Taiwan. 

As a successor of Sun Yet-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, saw himself as the ruler of the Republic of China and claimed sovereignty over all of the country. However, the Kuomintang only controlled the island of Taiwan from the end of the civil war. In 1949, Mao Zedong declared the formation of the People’s Republic of China, which also claimed sovereignty over the entire nation, including the island of Taiwan. 

Since 1949, China has been split into two countries – both of which officially claim control over the whole country. The People’s Republic of China govern the mainland, and the Republic of China govern Taiwan.

6. Czechoslovakia: Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czechoslovakia is one of the best examples of a nation that has split in two peacefully.

At the end of the First World War, a new map of Europe was drawn. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, that had ruled much of central and south-eastern Europe was carved up and new nation states were created. Czechoslovakia became an independent country in 1918. It was a multi-ethnic state made up of the Czech population majority in the west of the country and Slovak majority in the east.

The nation of Czechoslovakia saw Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945 and had a Communist regime installed by the Soviets at the end of World War Two. Czechoslovakia was held firmly in the Soviet-bloc throughout the Cold War. Following the Prague Spring in 1968, when pro-democracy protests rose up against the Soviet-backed government, the USSR sent troops to occupy Czechoslovakia.

As part of the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, the Velvet Revolution restored democracy in Czechoslovakia.

Throughout the early 1990s, a wave of nationalism spread across the former Communist states of Europe. By 1992, nationalist tensions in Czechoslovakia were rising. In December of that year, the Czechoslovakia parliament voted to dissolve the nation and divided it into the independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Today, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are members of the European Union. Relations between the countries have remained peaceful and the splitting of Czechoslovakia into the two independent states is seen as one of the most amicable break-ups of any nation in history.

7. Indonesia: Indonesia and East Timor

In 2002, Indonesia officially split into two countries when East Timor gained independence.

Indonesia was colonised by the Dutch from the 1600s. During this time, it was named the Dutch East Indies. The eastern half of the island of Timor was colonised by the Portuguese in 1702. It was known as Portuguese Timor.

In November 1975, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor declared the territory independent from the Portuguese. Nine days later, Indonesia invaded and occupied East Timor. The country was officially incorporated into Indonesia as the nation’s 27th province.

The Indonesian occupation of East Timor was characterised by oppression, human rights abuses, and suppression of the Timorese identity. The territory saw a decades long conflict between East Timorese and Indonesian forces.

By 1999, the Indonesian hold on East Timor was becoming politically, economically, and militarily difficult. In that year, the United Nations supported a referendum in East Timor that resulted in the territory becoming independent. Indonesian forces left East Timor in 2002 and the country officially split from Indonesia.

8. Congo: Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo

The Congo is another example of a nation that has been split in two.

The large area of central Africa around the Congo River has long been referred to as the Congo. There have been many African kingdoms and nation states in this area stretching back centuries. From 1390 the Kingdom of Congo ruled much of area around the mouth of the Congo River and towards the interior of Africa.

In the 1880s, Europeans began to colonise the interior of Africa. Whereas before European territories on the continent had remained on the coast, advances in medicine, science, cartography, and military technology now allowed European countries to conquer the entire continent.

In 1884, the Conference of Berlin brought together European and Western countries to formally divide Africa between them. France was awarded the area north of the Congo River basin. This became French Congo.

Due to the immense mineral wealth in Africa’s interior, the territory was awarded to Belgium’s King Leopold under the condition that mining and trading rights would be open to other European countries. This territory was held personally by King Leopold until 1908, when following outcry at the treatment of the Congolese population, the territory was taken by the Belgium state becoming the Belgian Congo.

French Congo gained independence in 1958 and became the Republic of Congo. It is sometimes named after its capital – Congo Brazzaville.

Belgium Congo was granted independence in 1960. It was renamed Zaire under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko but took the name the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1997. It is sometimes called Congo Kinshasa, also after it’s capital and to distinguish it from the Republic of Congo.

Both the Republic of Congo and the DRC sit upon land that was once the Kingdom of Congo. Therefore, they can be seen as another example of a country that has been divided in two.

9. Ethiopia: Eritrea and Ethiopia

A final example of a country that has split in two is Ethiopia, which in 1993 split into Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Eritrea was colonised by the Italians in 1890. During World War Two, the British defeated the Italians in Eritrea and took control of the territory. In 1952, the United Nations General Assembly voted that Eritrea would be a self-governing state with its own parliament, but for defence and foreign relations it would enter into a federal state with Ethiopia for a ten year period.

In 1962, Ethiopia annulled the Eritrean parliament and officially annexed Eritrea into Ethiopia. Eritrea was occupied by Ethiopian forces for the next three decades.

Fighters in Eritrea began a long and bloody conflict against Ethiopia for an independent state. In 1991, Eritrea was awarded de facto independence by Ethiopia and in 1993 a referendum was held that officialised the nations split.

Ethiopia splitting into two countries – Eritrea and Ethiopia, is an example of one nation being divided into two independent states.

Global Affairs Explained

Global Affairs Explained is an ongoing project aiming to provide concise guides to world events. Focusing on international relations, history, and geo-politics, Global Affairs Explained uses original research and data to answer questions often not covered by traditional media.

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