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The traditional Middle East and the G8's Greater Middle East.
The traditional Middle East and the G8's Greater Middle East.
The Middle East is a historical and cultural subregion of Africa-Eurasia traditionally held to be countries or regions in Southwest Asia together with Egypt. In other contexts, the region can include other parts of North Africa and/or Central Asia. Pakistan and the Caucasus are generally not included in the region.

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Contents

Characteristics
History
Borders
Eurocentrism
Indirect translations
Similar terms
Middle Easterner
Regions of the Middle East



Characteristics - Contents

The Middle East is generally thought of as a predominantly Islamic Arabic community. However the area encompasses many distinct cultural and ethnic groups, including the Arabs, Assyrians, Berbers, Greeks, Jews, Iranians, Maronites, Kurds, Druze and Turks. The main language groups include: Arabic, Assyrian (also known as Aramaic and Syriac), Hebrew, Persian, Kurdish and Turkish. The corresponding adjective is Middle-Eastern and the derived noun is Middle-Easterner.Most Western definitions of the "Middle East" -- in both established reference books and common usage -- define the region as 'nations in Southwest Asia, from Iran (Persia) to Egypt'. Consequently, Egypt, with its Sinai Peninsula in Asia, is usually considered part of the 'Middle East', although most of the country lies geographically in North Africa. North African nations without Asian links, such as Libya, Tunisia and Morocco, are increasingly being called North African -- as opposed to Middle Eastern (Iran to Egypt - Asia) -- by international media outlets.One widely used definition of "Middle East" is that of the airline industry, maintained by the IATA standards organization. This definition—as of early 2006—includes Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestinian Territory, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. [1] This definition is used in world-wide airfare and tax calculations for passengers and cargo.


History - Contents

A map showing countries commonly considered to be part of the Middle East
A map showing countries commonly considered to be part of the Middle East
The Middle East is the birthplace and spiritual center of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The region saw both periods of relative tolerance and violence. In the 20th century, it has been at the center of world affairs, and has been strategically, economically, politically, culturally, and religiously sensitive area. It possesses significant stocks of crude oil. See also List of conflicts in the Middle East.


Borders - Contents

Middle East defines a cultural area, so it does not have precise borders. The most common and highly arbitrary definition includes: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey, Iran (Persia), Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.Iran is often the eastern border, but Afghanistan and western Pakistan are often included due to their close relationship (ethnically and religiously) to the larger group of Iranian peoples as well as historical connections to the Middle East including being part of the various empires that have spanned the region such as those of the Persians and Arabs among others. Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and western Pakistan ( Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province) share close cultural, linguistic, and historical ties with Iran and are also part of the Iranian plateau, whereas Iran's relationship with Arab states is based more upon religion and geographic proximity. Also the Kurds, another group of Iranic linguistic extraction, are the largest ethnic group in the Middle East without their own state.North Africa or the Maghreb, although often placed outside the Middle East proper, does have strong cultural and linguistic links to the region, and historically has shared many of the events that have shaped the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions including those prompted by Phoenician-colonized Carthage and Greco-Roman civilization as well as Muslim Arab- Berber and Ottoman empires. The Maghrib is sometimes included, sometimes excluded from the Middle East by the media and in informal usage, while most academics continue to identify North Africa as geographically a part of Africa, but being closely related to southwestern Asia in terms of politics, culture, religion, language, history, and genetics. This can be compared with other similar instances in which, for example, Tasmania and Newfoundland, geographically non-European, share many such traits with northwestern western Europe while Madagascar is in some of these respects more like southeast Asia than southeast Africa.The Caucasus region, Cyprus, and Turkey, although often grouped into Southwest Asia based upon geographic proximity and continuity, are generally considered culturally and politically European due to their various historic and recent political ties to that region. For example, Armenia and Cyprus, although both exist in close geographic proximity to the Middle East, possess two important criteria that links them more to Europe than to the Middle East: their national identity that combines an Indo-European linguistic background and majority populations that adhere to Christianity, which are both factors that do not correspond with most typically Middle Eastern countries some of whom possess one trait (Indo-European languages dominate Iran and Afghanistan for example) or the other (Lebanon is the only country that may have a Christian majority but this remains speculative as well). Turkey possesses neither of these European traits, but has deep historic (and according to genetic research DNA) connections with Europe since it was the site of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire that overlapped into Europe. As a prospective candidate of the European Union and a long-time member of NATO, Turkey has adopted the secular traits that dominate Europe and has severed many of its ties to the Middle East with the notable exception of the religion of Islam. Both Georgia and Azerbaijan were radically altered by the dominion of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union and are seen as more 'European' than Middle Eastern and generally viewed as a regional bloc in the Caucasus region. Central Asian countries from the former Soviet Bloc also show varying degrees of affinity and historical ties to the Middle East, but not in any uniform fashion. While the southern states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan display many cultural, historical, and socio-political similarities to the Middle East, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are examples of more remote and mixed cultures. As a result, these states are often viewed as Eurasian (in ways similar to the Caucasus) and their Russian/Soviet past has set them apart in various ways from the Middle East, while there has been a movement to re-establish ties to the region in Tajikistan, for example, based upon their ethno-linguistic affinities with Iran and Afghanistan. Like the Caucasus and Turkey, Central Asia has strong secular and 'western' affinities that are both Soviet legacies, although this may change with some recent shifts towards a historical-cultural renaissance and resurgence of Islamic identity that were suppressed for decades by Soviet authorities.The State of Israel also represents a unique fusion of European and Middle Eastern traits, but due to geographic continuity with the Levant and a majority population that is predominantly Middle Eastern (including Sephardic Jews, Sabras, Israeli Arabs, etc.), it perhaps shares more similarities with its neighbors then is readily apparent from media coverage.

Changes in the meaning over time
Until World War II, it was customary to refer to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean as the Near East. The Middle East then meant the area from Mesopotamia to Burma, namely the area between the Near East and the Far East. The sense described in this article evolved during the war, perhaps influenced by the ancient idea of the Mediterranean as the "sea in the middle".


Eurocentrism - Contents

Some have criticized the term Middle East for its perceived Eurocentrism. The region is only east from the perspective of western Europe. To an Indian, it lies to the west; to a Russian, it lies to the south. The description Middle has also led to some confusion over changing definitions. Before the First World War, Near East was used in English to refer to the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire, while Middle East referred to Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia, Turkistan and the Caucasus. In contrast, Far East refers to the countries of East Asia e.g. China, Japan, Koreas, Hong Kong, Taiwan etc.With the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Near East largely fell out of common use in English, while Middle East came to be applied to the re-emerging countries of the Islamic world. However, the usage of Near East was retained by a variety of academic disciplines, including archaeology and ancient history, where it describes an area identical to the term Middle East, which is not used by these disciplines (see Ancient Near East). So in shorter words, the term Middle East came about when the UK/French part of the world used the term. In German the Term Naher Osten (Near East) is still in common use and in Russian Ближний Восток (Near East) remains to be the only appropriate term for the region.The criticism of Eurocentrism is of course related to the fact that 'East' and 'West' are defined in relation to the lines of Longitude relative to the Prime Meridian or Greenwich Meridian and therefore inherently Eurocentric. This was a result of the British cartography standard being widely accepted in 1884 at the International Meridian Conference.


Indirect translations - Contents

There are terms similar to Near East and Middle East in other European languages, but, since it is a relative description, the meanings depend on the country and are different from the English terms generally. See fr:Proche-Orient, fr:Moyen-Orient, and de:Naher Osten for examples.


Similar terms - Contents

In some ways the lack of precise borders of the Middle East is an advantage, since it can be used to describe various cultural and political criteria. This vagueness in definition has led to the emergence of alternative neutral terms used by international organizations and movements, namely Southwest Asia and West Asia, which has become the preferred term of use in India, both by the government and by the media. Arab world is not a synonymous term for the Middle East, although it covers most of the same area. The Asian part of the Arab world (including Arabia proper) is called the Mashreq. "Middle East-North Africa" (MENA), which is sometimes used to encompass the zone from Morocco to Iran, also occasionally called the Greater Middle East; sometimes this term is used to mean the entire area of Africa from the Sahara to the Mediterranean and Asia west of China and India and south of Russia. It is used by some historians who deal with various empires and civilizations (including that of the Mediterreanean Greco-Romans and Persians as well as the vast Arab Caliphates and the regions where early Muslim Turks established their rule). It can encompass North Africa and Turkey in the west to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east. The term 'Greater Middle East' remains in use by the G8, the US State Department [2], and various academic institutions such as the Middle East Institute. [3]


Middle Easterner - Contents

Strictly speaking, A Middle Easterner is someone who lives in, or is from the area around the eastern Mediterranean, from Iran to northern Africa and eastward to Pakistan. The site of such ancient civilizations as Phoenicia and Persia and Babylon and Egypt is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam.


Regions of the Middle East - Contents

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