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Arts and Culture

Zaqistan, Country Surrounded By Utah Desert, Celebrates Tenth Year

Photo: Mikey Kettinger
Mike Abu signing a new Zaqistani certificate of citizenship

The Republic of Zaqistan celebrated its tenth year of independence this November with a bar party at Twilite Lounge in Salt Lake City.  Festivities included $1 “Champagne of Beers”, and pop-up immigration and passport booths, where all in attendance were welcomed to apply for Zaqistani citizenship.

Zaqistani citizen Rick Aaron attended the event for work, where he reported live on television.

“It’s not every day that you have an independent sovereign nation pop up in the west desert of our state.  So for them to be celebrating their tenth anniversary. (It’s) kind of a big deal,”  Aaron said.

In 2005, Brooklyn based artist Zaq Landsberg won an auction for some land in the Utah desert with a bid around $600.  His plan for the land? To create his own country.

“It’s where land was cheap, so I think it’s no accident that land artists and Mormons and military dudes and…desert weirdos have all been drawn to the weird alien landscape out there,” Landsberg said.

Ten years later, Zaqistan has hundreds of citizens from all around the world, most of whom have never stepped on the sand of Zaqistan, and none of whom live in Zaqistan.  The landscape is barren and currently uninhabitable to humans.

“There’s some Zaqistani citizens in Europe, and then there’s a couple Tibetan exiles who are Zaqistani citizens, so I think it’d be this interesting poetic move to bring everybody together in the desert to…talk about what the deal is,” Landsberg said.

Some of Zaq’s inspiration for creating his own country came from his frustration with political leadership, especially after Hurricane Katrina.  He wondered if he could run a country, and then he made it happen.

“I try not to think of myself not as a crazy-out-there weirdo or Libertarian survivalist.  I’m just a guy…asking some questions," Landsberg said.

Credit Photo: Mikey Kettinger
Mike Abu at Zaqistan's Ten Year Independence celebration in Salt Lake City

As part of the republic's ten year celebration, parties were held in multiple cities around the world.  Utah's celebration drew dozens of excited, enthusiastic people, many of whom waited in long lines to apply for official citizenship and passports.

Rick Aaron was one of those enthusiastic gentlemen.

“I have applied for Zaqistani citizenship and I am happy to say that has been approved.  So I now hold dual citizenship from the United States of America, and from the Republic of Zaqistan,” Aaron said.

Scott Wasilewski is one of the few individuals who has traveled to Zaqistan, and he spent the evening taking photographs for new Zaqistani citizens applying for passports.

“It goes back to that idea (that) everybody wants to carve out a space for themselves, to have a space that they can call their own, whether it’s a ten year old building a tree fort, or an adult buying a home.  I mean, not adults from my generation, because we can’t afford to do that," Wasileski said.

Rob Packer is a Zaqistani chef who enjoys the comradery of traveling to the desert to construct sculptures with his friends.

“You have to look at what point of the mountain you’re going to, and once you get closer, you have to pinpoint the tree that you’re going to, and once you get to that tree, you have to look over and pinpoint the next tree.  It’s kind of by Stansbury Island” Packer said. 

Due to its legitimate appearance with hand-crafted passports, a website, state letterhead, and a flag, Zaqistan has indirectly generated some confusion about its legitimacy. 

Landsberg says that hundreds of would-be refugees have contacted him to see if they may be able to flee their war torn countries with citizenship in Zaqistan. 

“Maybe I built it a little too well.  And they want passports and they want to immigrate to Zaqistan…The end goal is to make it a real country, to be legitimately recognized by other states.  That’s a long shot.  That’s not going to happen anytime soon, but the conceptual framework kind of revolves around that…I’m not building an art project.  I’m building a country.  I’m just building the monuments first," Landsberg said.

A Conversation About Zaqistan: UPR's Art Reporter Mikey Kettinger and Artist Zaq Landsberg