The January Islands (Ylla Ssykwi in Mahhal, Tuymamu Islands in Neo Delta) are an archipelago in the Southern Asperic Ocean formed by four major islands and several other islets. The islands are a de facto disputed territory colonized by populations from both Neo Delta and Mahhal. There is still much controversy over the discovery of the islands; however, scientists agree that the first inhabitants of the region came from Antarephia and are genetically related to the Movinians, one of the main ethnic groups of Neo Delta.
The human history of the January islands can be traced back to the 1200s, with several medieval settlements. Centuries later, in the 1600s, Ingerish colonizers arrived on the shores of the islands but did not build any settlement. Only in the 1700s both Neo Delta colony and Mahhalian settlers developed colonies and whaling stations in the archipelago and later claimed sovereignty over the islands. Although a peaceful relation between the settlers of both nations was possible during a considerable amount of time, two major armed conflicts took place in the region. After the First January War, in the 1800s, Neo Deltan and Mahhalian settlers started living in a state of tension, resulting in small local conflicts. In the late 1800s, Neo Delta and Mahhal set up a shared sovereignty with the help of Ingerland, which was not universally accepted by the population of the islands, leading to the Second January War in the mid-1900s. A ceasefire was reached with mediation from the Assembly of Nations, which drew a new system of sovereignty by areas in the archipelago.
Native peoples from the Mahhalian Archipelago (in Antarephia) clearly settled the January Islands in the pre-colonial era, but the archipelago was uninhabited at the time of the establishment of now long-standing settlements in the 1700s. The Movinian (Neo Delta) mythology mentions the Waganui Island as the land between the old and the new, a place created by nature as a point of balance between older and younger generations, the past and the future. Anthropologists claim that the Waganui Island may be the a metaphor for the January Islands, as they served as a stopover between long boat voyages between the southern tips of Antarephia, which represented the old, and Archanta, which represented the new land.
The first human settlements in the January Islands can be traced back to the early 1200s, when mariners from Mahhal (probably fishermen or traditional whalers in the Jessitim-style longboats) established first an outpost, and then a full-fledged settlement at Rahhomep, on the western side of the Big Island. The name Rahhomep is a modern one, however - it is not known what the original settlers called their settlement. Although there evidence is not completely unambiguious, those settlements are believed to have been created by groups of ethnic Mwinny, a minority group in Mahhal clearly related in language and culture to the Proto-Movinians.
Remains of later settlements Mahhalian or Mwinny have been found on the other large islands as well, though their extent is uncertain.
Regardless, for unclear reasons these settlements were all abandoned by the middle of the 16th century at the latest.
The first well-documented visit to the archipelago happened in January of 1631, by Ingerish navigator Russell Lawrence, who named the islands after the month of his visit. Although no settlements were built by the Ingerish, Lawrence claimed the islands as part of the Ingerland realm, although this claim would be later forgotten and dismissed by the international community.
By the mid 1700s, whale hunting was a common practice in the South Asperic Ocean and both Mahhalians and Neo Deltans of Movinian heritage began using the January Islands as whaling stations. Long-lasting settlements, however, were quite small. Nevertheless, both groups shared the archipelago peacefully by that time.
In the early 1800s, foreign countries from outside the South Asperic region began visiting the islands with more frequency, including more Ingerish, Østermarkish, and Castellanese navigators. In an attempt of repealing those incursions, both Mahhal and the newly formed state of Neo Delta laid claims of sovereignty over the entire archipelago. In 1817 Neo Delta founded its first village, Umpoko, on the east cost of the Big Island. In 1819 Mahhal did the same in the west cost of the same island, repopulating the abandoned medieval settlement at Rahhomep. The Mahhalian Alliance also encouraged Castellanese traders and merchants, who were allowed to develop a small settlement on the northern Lovelace Island (which the Castellanese named Isla San Caspio), much to Neo Deltan dismay.
First January War
The tense relationship between the different settlements in the islands led to the First January War, when, in 1874, arguing that the entire archipelago rightfully belonged to Neo Delta (claiming the Movinians as its first inhabitants), naval forces from Ussaria arrived at Lovelace Island and demanded the Castellanese to leave, under the threat of an attack. All the Castellanese citizens fled the January Islands in the next days.
Mahhal, meanwhile, sent ships to defend its villages and neutralize Neo Delta's claim. Neo Deltan forces attacked the Mahhalian ships on the west coast of the Big Island. The conflict lasted 54 days and at least 646 people died among military personnel and civilians from both sides. The war ended when Ingerland invited the leaders of both countries to a peaceful resolution. In 1880 the leaders of the two countries agreed on a provisional division of the islands drawn by Ingerland in which Neo Delta would receive 51% of the area and Mahhal the other 49%. A treaty was signed at San Caspio (the Castellanese settlement on Lovelace Island, which was, incidentally, divided down the middle by the new provisional line).
Although the Mahhalian government accepted the provisional division of the Islands, the Mahhalian population living in the archipelago was unhappy with the agreement. Ar least three Mahhalian Majority settlements had been incorporated into Neo Deltan territory, leading to small-scale conflicts in the following decades. Other complaints from Mahhalians concerned that the slightly smaller territory received by Mahhal was colder (being on the windward side) and more mountainous, making it difficult to implement or to expand settlements. Besides that, whale hunters complained about the much larger territorial waters received by Neo Delta. As a response, Neo Delta government prohibited whale hunting in Neo Deltan waters, thus arguing that the territorial waters should not be a question of conflict between the two countries. Already in the 1920s, none of the countries were respecting the boundaries suggested by the 1880 agreement.
Second January War
From the 1920s to the 1960s, the complete disregard for the peace agreement from the previous century led to several local conflicts. The population of the islands almost doubled since Neo Delta and Mahhal boosted the expansion of settlements and encouraged immigration programs to the archipelago. The beginning of a large-scale conflict, the Second January War, is believed to have started in November of 1966, on the Lone Rock, a distant uninhabited islet in the far south of the archipelago, when a boat with five Mahhalian citizens took off a Neo Deltan flag from the rock and placed a flag from Mahhal instead. The next day Neo Delta military replaced the country's flag on the islet and started banning Mahhalian citizens from the Neo Deltan territories (according to the 1880 borders). Mahhal declared war on Neo Delta and sent military personnel to those villages in the Neo Deltan territories which had a Mahhalian majority.
In contrast to the First January War, which had lasted less than two months, the Second January War developed over the course of more than a year. In November of 1967, the Assembly of Nations organized a commission to come up with an agreement and a new satisfactory division of the archipelago between Neo Delta and Mahhal. Due to the similar military power hold by the countries, none of them had considerable victories in the war and agreed to a ceasefire in order to discuss the new agreement. In December of 1967, the war was officially ended and the two countries agreed to respect the new peace agreement under the threat of sanctions from the Assembly of Nations.
The archipelago of the January Islands is constituted by a total of 24 islands and small islets. The four major islands are responsible for almost 95% of the territory of the archipelago. The four major islands have essentially unrelated names in the four "official" languages of the archielago. In Ingerish, they are known, in descending size, as Big Island, Boole Island, Lovelace Island, and Babbage Island (these last three names were members of Russell Lawrence's crew).
The islands are predominantly mountainous and hilly, with the highest point reaching 952 meters.
The January Islands are situated approximately at latitude 61° – 62° S, what makes their climate extremely cold. Maritime humidity makes both rain and snowfall common throughout the year.
Flora and Fauna
The extreme climate has a severe impact in the vegetation of the islands, composed mostly by tundra, grasslands, and shrublands. There are no native trees, although stands of trees grow in and around many of the human settlements, having been brought and planted by settlers. There are many native species of birds. Although the islands have no native mammals, many invasive species can now be found, having been introduced both accidentally and intentionally. These include populations of feral rats, rabbits, cats, and goats, including the unusual "wooly January goat," a native breed that has emerged over several centuries on the islands.
Because of their complicated history, the January Islands have five "official" languages as well as several additional ones in various communities.
The four main "native" languages, in descending order of native speakers, are Movinian (from Neo Delta), Mahhalian, Mwinny (a minority language from Mahhal, clearly related to Movinian), and Castellanese (especially on Saint Crispin Island). Ingerish has almost no native speakers, but has come to be widely used as a lingua franca among the many distinct populations.