Autonomous area

An autonomous area is an area of a country that has a degree of autonomy, or freedom from an external authority. Typically it is either geographically distinct from the country or is populated by a national minority. Countries that include autonomous areas are often federacies. Autonomous areas can be divided into territorial autonomies, subregional territorial autonomies and local autonomies.

The Meaning of Autonomy

Autonomy is independence or freedom, as of the will or one's actions: the autonomy of the individual.

For a list of autonomous areas, see List of autonomous areas by country and List of territorial autonomies.


Many autonomous areas lie within two of the world's largest countries, People's Republic of China and Russia.


Iraqi Kurdistan is the only region which has gained official recognition internationally as an autonomous federal entity.


China (PRC) has five types of autonomous area.

Autonomous banner

Found only as divisions of Inner Mongolia. In effect, these are autonomous counties (see below).

Autonomous county

The most numerous type of autonomous area in China, found both within and outside the larger autonomous prefectures and regions.

Autonomous prefecture

China has 30 prefectures that are autonomous, mostly in the periphery of the country.

Autonomous region

A first-level administrative subdivision of China. There are five ARs in China. They are Inner Mongolia AR, Tibet AR, Ningxia Hui AR, Xinjiang Uyghur AR, and Guangxi Zhuang AR. Regardless of the names, these regions are in fact less autonomous than a "standard" region of China.

Special administrative region

Although not autonomous in name, in practice China's special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau) enjoy a high degree of autonomy.


Apart from its republics, which by definition have a degree of autonomy, Russia has two types of autonomies:

Autonomous okrug

Okrug is a transliterated Slavic loanword usually translated as "district". The sizes of okrugs, however, vary more widely than other areas commonly identified as "districts", from large first-level divisions to third-level divisions within cities. As of 2008, Russia has four autonomous okrugs.

Autonomous oblast

Oblast is a transliterated Slavic loanword usually understood to mean "province". As of, one autonomous oblast exists: the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.

Other countries

The other types of autonomous area to be found in the world are:

Autonomous city

Four cities are formally designated by their countries as autonomous: the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent;the capital of Belgium Brussels; the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla; and the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires. Another Argentinian city that has been pressing for autonomous status is Rosario, a city of around one million inhabitants that receives less subsidy than the smaller provincial capital Santa Fe.

Autonomous commune

Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, is described as an autonomous commune (commune autonome).

Autonomous community

The region-like areas into which Spain's provinces are grouped are known as autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas), as are the three atolls constituting the New Zealand territory of Tokelau.

Autonomous province

Six countries formally designate areas of their territory as autonomous provinces:

Autonomous region

In addition to the autonomous regions of China mentioned above, various other areas of the world are formally described as autonomous regions:

Autonomous republic

In addition to the Russian republics mentioned above, areas known as "autonomous republics" exist within some of the countries established following the end of the Soviet Union:

Autonomous sector

The Bissau Region, in which Guinea-Bissau's capital Bissau is found, is described as an "autonomous sector" (sector autónomo).



Other areas that are autonomous in nature but not in name are areas designated for indigenous peoples, such as those of the Americas:

If elected, the Action démocratique du Québec party, now the official opposition in the Canadian province of Quebec, promises to work to make Quebec an autonomous region within the Canadian confederation.


See also


  • M. Weller and S. Wolff (eds), Autonomy, Self-governance and Conflict Resolution: Innovative Approaches to Institutional Design in Divided Societies. Abingdon, Routledge, 2005
  • From Conflict to Autonomy in Nicaragua: Lessons Learnt, report by Minority Rights Group International
  • P.M. Olausson, Autonomy and Islands, A Global Study of the Factors that determine Island Autonomy. Åbo: Åbo Akademi University Press, 2007.

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