Some Toponyms of the Near and Mid Orient

Looking east from Europe, as we Eurocentrists are wont to do of course, we find a variety of baffling terms, most of which are not used much anymore, but which are still often useful for pinpointing an area.
The problem is if you go by official definitions, you get tremendous overlap, so let’s try to make some exclusive definitions if we can.
First of all, the Near East. I am not quite sure what this means, but I will hazard a guess that it means at least Turkey, Greece and Cyprus in the southeast Mediterranean. I suppose we can throw in Egypt too, since it always seems silly to call Egypt part of the Middle East while leaving out the rest of North Africa.
Wikipedia has it including the Arab lands of the East and Southeast Mediterranean too, but nowadays, that is usually referred to as the Middle East.
An excellent term you may come across from time to time is West Eurasia. I like it myself because it’s guaranteed that hardly anyone will know what I am talking about when I say that, and that way I get to sound really smart. West Eurasia redirects to Eurasia in Wikipedia, Eurasia being something like Europe and Asia combined. How is this helpful? So the Whites and the Yellows can gang up on the Blacks and the Reds? It’s useless.
West Eurasia, though, is pretty neat. It doesn’t seem to have much of a solid definition, but the best I could come up with mucking around was something like “the Caucasus and environs.” It’s debatable whether or not we should toss in something called “Anatolia”. Maybe the eastern part of it? Sounds good.
Another nice one is the Middle East. Everyone loves to utter this one these days. Wikipedia’s definition is way too expansive. It clearly includes all of Arabia, but it ought to exclude most of North Africa, although we often throw in Egypt. Greece, Turkey and the Caucasus should clearly be excluded. Iran often gets lumped in, but there are better ways to describe Iran.
The Middle East is pretty much Arabia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Israel and Egypt. It has a heavy connotation with the Arabic language and also Israel.
For the constituent parts of the Middle East, let us look first at Arabia. It’s nothing but the Arabian Peninsula, as Wikipedia points out. It includes Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE and Kuwait.
Whether you want to include Bedouin regions of neighboring states is a harder question. Culturally, sure, they are Arabia, but toponymically? Dubious. You can also use it in sort of a weird way to mean “the Arab-speaking world”, but that’s a little tricky.
Arabia is a fun term to toss around because people will look at you funny when you say it. Some smart people will ask, “You mean Saudi Arabia?” Then you put on your glasses and look down at them a bit and describe how actually it means the whole Gulf.
Egypt is in a class of its own in the Middle East. All the rest of the North African Arab states are not really part of the Middle East, as they are getting farther and farther west and are on the same longitude as much of Europe so Eurocentrically it’s absurd to say they are medially eastern to Europe proper.
They’re south of Europe, and in many ways, they are part European. Further, the culture, genes and even language is more Berber than Arab. Even the Egyptians are pretty Berberized. We must make a distinction between the true Arabs of the Middle East east of the Suez and Berberized North Africans.
The Levant is a cool term. Wikipedia’s version once again appears a bit expansive. It now includes Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. In Arabic it’s called Al-Sham. We can also use the adjective Levantine to describe this region. It really needs to be set off from Egypt, Arabia and Mesopotamia for a variety of reasons. The Levant is another cool term you can throw around so people can’t understand you and will think you are smart.
Next we come to Mesopotamia. For many reasons, it is not properly a part of the Levant or Arabia, though the Bedouin regions to the South, west and especially southwest are culturally part of Arabia. But hey, so are the Sinai, the Negev, eastern Jordan and even eastern Syria.
Mesopotamia, one of the world’s most ancient great cultures, is clearly in a class of its own. Further, it has substantial Persian influence. And as one of the world’s greatest and oldest cultures, every other moron ought to know what Mesopotamia means, but hardly anyone does. So this is one more cool way you can act smart and make people hate you.
Another cool term is Southwest Asia. No one will know what you mean when you say this either, but at least it will make them think. Your average American moron has a dim idea of where Asia is, and most of them know what southwest means (except for the directionally impaired females), but put the two together and it’s Baffle Hour.
Wikipedia says Arabia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, the Caucasus and Iran are part of Southwest Asia. Since we already have neat terms for those places, there is no need to get confusing. Truth is, Southwest Asia is a great way to describe…Iran. You can also fairly easily throw in the Caucasus too, especially the southern portions. Maybe even Kurdistan if you are feeling generous. All the rest is overlap and best explained by other terms.
Going east from Iran, we run into the mysterious South Asia. This means something like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives. Afghanistan is not included in most definitions, but we need to toss it somewhere, so here it goes. Other definitions include Tibet, Burma and Iran. I don’t know where to put Tibet. Burma is Southeast Asia. We already dealt with Iran. Iran is better seen as southwest Asia than South Asia.

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2 thoughts on “Some Toponyms of the Near and Mid Orient”

  1. I didn’t know anyone would call Malta the “near east”. i know their language is semitic but i thought they were kind of eye-talian or at least very “Western”. So i don’t care really about if they are in the EU but I have always considered the caucasian countries especially armenia to be european too.
    I argued with my tenth grade US history teacher for a week that turkey should be considered part of Europe but admitted defeat eventually. now i am thinking why not? their culture is different than most but they share as much in common with Greece as say Iran in my (unedumacated) opinion. A Fez of the Heart was an interesting book about the split opinion of east vs west of the turks themselves.

  2. You’re right, no way is Malta in the Near East.
    Armenia is definitely not in Europe!
    No way is Turkey in Europe. I think really, most properly, it is West Eurasia. West Turkey can be considered Europe. East Turkey, not really.
    Turkey is probably where European civilization started! Definitely it is where Indo-European really got going.

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