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There is no exact definition of the Middle East that is agreed upon by all people. Some core countries are always included as part of the region, but there is disagreement about how far the region extends, and this is complicated by cultural, linguistic, and political considerations.

The nations always included as being part of the region are Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and Iran. So it can be said that the Middle East is approximately equivalent to Western Asia.

But some countries outside of Western Asia, or that straddle Western Asia and another continent/region, are often included in regional classifications. Egypt is one of the most commonly included. Most of Egypt’s landmass is located in North Africa, but the Sinai Peninsula is in Western Asia, and geographically inseparable from Israel’s Negev desert. Not only that, but Egypt is the cultural capital of the Arab world and has therefore had a large influence on the Arab cultures of Western Asia.

Also sometimes included is Turkey, which borders Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It has a Kurdish region that extends beyond the country’s Eastern borders. And there is a minority of people speaking Turkic languages living in Iran. There is also an Arabic-speaking minority in southern Turkey. So Turkey has a lot of cultural connections to the Middle East. And 97% of the land mass of Turkey lies within Western Asia. However, most Turks themselves are likely to deny their connections to Asia. The people of Turkey tend to think of themselves as part of Europe, even though only 3% of the country lies in Europe. This is possibly because the main part of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, is located in Europe (though the city straddles the two continents). And similar to the cultural overlap with the Middle East in southern and southeastern Turkey, there is much cultural overlap with Europe in western Turkey, as well as crossover with former Soviet republics in northeastern Turkey. These days Turkey tends to be left out of classifications more often than it used to be.

Some people include the Arab countries of North Africa in their definitions of the region, because of the linguistic and cultural connections between the Arab countries of Africa and Asia. Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morrocco are the most commonly cited. More rarely included are Sudan, Somalia, Western Sahara, and Mauritania.

Sometimes included as part of the region but normally considered part of Central Asia, is Afganistan. Pakistan is also sometimes included , probably because many people confuse the Islamic World with the Arab World. Occasionally included are the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. There are linguistic connections between these Central Asian countries and the countries of Western Asia, with Turkic languages (related to Turkish language spoken in Turkey) and Iranian languages (related to the Persian language spoken in Iran). Most, however, believe that this definition of the Middle East is a great stretch, and that these countries are outside of its boundaries.

The basic classification of the Middle East comes down to Western Asia, with other peripheral countries sometimes included because of religious, cultural, or political ties with Western Asian countries.

To learn more about Middle Eastern wildlife, culture, and geography, visit Paul Jorgensen’s website Middle East Museum [http://www.middle-east-museum.com] at [http://www.middle-east-museum.com].

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