Indigenous Nations and Modern States: The Political Emergence of Nations Challenging State Power

By Rudolph C. Rÿser | Go to book overview

1
EMERGING MODERN NATIONS

Before the modern state came into being in the 17th century, human societies were mainly nations: cultural and social communities of people who share a common language, identity, territory, heritage and/or origin. Though various legal or social constructs such as empires, sultanates, or kingdoms claimed to rule the nations’ territories and peoples, the cultural and social communities remained distinct and separately identifiable. Over the last 6,000 years, many empires rose and fell, each extending military, economic or social power over diverse populations.

The Indus Valley Empire (3000–1500 BCE) covering what is now Pakistan, Afghanistan and northwestern India included many different and distinct peoples such as the Punjabi, Pashto and the Balochis and numerous others. The Asyrian Empire (1900–600 BCE) embraced major parts of what is now called Turkey, Armenia and Iraq along the Tigris river valley and all of the diverse nations in that region. Empires have a lifespan—they can be as short as a few years and or as long as several hundred years. During the Aztec (Méxica (pronounced me-SHE-kau)) Empire’s 147-year reign (1375–1521) it built on top of the Toltec Empire’s established control over (vassal states) diverse peoples far to the south, east and west. With the help of opponent nations, the invading Spaniards forced the Aztec collapse led by an advance of diseases, and then a small force combined with the help of warriors from vassal states like Tlaxcala (located southeast of the central city). Many of the former vassal nations filled the political vacuum left by the collapsed Méxica. Yet they too were destined to fall as invasive European diseases such as malaria, measles and influenza ravaged every quarter of the former empire. The Spanish began to flood the territory and with new settlements the European invaders established yet another imperial regime. What is certain: each empire comes to an end, either being replaced by another imperial structure or being replaced by all of the nations originally enclosed within the empire’s temporary embrace. The Russian Empire (1721–1991) was in every sense an imperial system—it maintained rigid military control over more than 100 different nations. But this did not last long, as the empire broke up in 1991 after only 270 years. (The Russian

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