Is Georgia in the Middle East?

Is Georgia in the Middle East? I’ve found that most people give one of three anwers:

  • The general familiar-with-Georgia public usually says “no”, the reasoning being that Georgia is part of Europe / Russia / whatever, and the Middle East is a whole other thing.
  • Nerds and people who are boring at parties will tell you that the question is meaningless because the so-called “Middle East” is a eurocentric ideological construct designed to bolster Britain’s interests in the blah blah blah…
  • Georgians themselves, as far as I can tell, don’t consider their country to be part of the Middle East mainly because of their religion.
    • Related to this, some non-Georgians say that the only thing to do look at is how Georgians self-identify, and that anyone who disagrees with that self-identification is an asshole.

Now to be fair, the nerds are basically right. The “Middle East” is ultimately a bullshit concept, and any purportedly definitive claim about its would-be borders is bullshit too. The problem with this kind of approach is how unsatisfying it is. It’s one thing to be told an answer that you don’t want to hear, but it’s another thing to be told that your question is no good from the beginning. And besides, is the term “Middle East” really completely meaningless? Does it literally have no meaning at all? I think it does have some kind of meaning, even if it is used in wildly varying and even contradictory ways, and I think there is some value in considering whether Georgia (or any other country) belongs to it.

So assuming that the Middle East is a thing, how can we tell if Georgia is a part of it? Clearly we can’t refer to any definitive borders for the Middle East, so what is there to do? In this post, I would like to look at various properties — geographical, cultural, linguistic, etc — that the Middle East presumably has, and see whether Georgia has them too. If it turns out to have enough of them, then maybe Georgia is in the Middle East. (Spoiler alert: it does, and it is.)

georgia middle east

First, let’s look at the physical geography of the region. The Arabian Peninsula is its own tectonic plate, so maybe we can just say that the Middle East is whatever is on the Arabian plate up until natural borders. This gives us the Arabian countries, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and the Levant (Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and possibly Sinai). This is a restrictive description of the Middle East. Notably missing are Turkey and Iran, both of which are mostly set on mountains (the Taurus and Zagros mountains, respectively) created from the Arabian plate colliding into other plates. We might expand the geological definition of the Middle East to be the Arabian plate plus whatever is caused by its tectonic interactions. This gives us Iran and Turkey, but it also gives us Georgia (and Armenia, Chechnya, etc.), since the Caucasus Mountains are caused by the Arabian plate as well.

We can conclude that in terms of physical geography, Georgia is at least as much a part of the Middle East as Turkey and Iran.

middle east topo map

Islam is obviously a hugely important part of the Middle East, so maybe we can say that the Middle East consists of those countries and regions where Islam is widespread. I imagine this is how most Americans think of the Middle East. This ignorant belief severely underestimates the geographical scope of Islam. There are hundreds of millions of Muslims in India and Southeast Asia, more than 100 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, and even around 20 million in China. Clearly this definition is overbroad, i.e. it includes too much.

That said, would Georgia qualify as a country where “Islam is prevalent”? Currently, around 10% of people in Georgia are Muslims. Most of these are Adjarans, who converted to Islam after being conquered by the Ottomans in the seventeenth century, and Azeris, who have lived in Borchali (Kvemo Kartli) for centuries. Prior to 1944, there were also Muslim Turks living in Meskheti. Besides these, there is a fairly small number of Muslim Kists living in the Pankisi Gorge near the Chechen border. The Kists have recently come under scrutiny for producing a high rate of ISIS recruits, including Omar al-Shishani, a.k.a. Tarkhan Batirashvili.

Historically, Georgia (along with Armenia) was basically an isolated enclave of Christianity in Muslim lands, enduring Muslim attacks from all directions (mostly Turkish and Persian invasions from the south and east, but also Dagestani raids from the north). Georgian kings like David XI (a.k.a. Daud Khan) would occasionally convert to Islam in order to gain favor with shahs and sultans. Conversely, Muslim converts to Christianity occasionally rose to prominence as well, like St. Abo Tbileli.

So does Georgia qualify as part of the Middle East under this criterion? Maybe. While Islam may not be widespread throughout the whole country, it remains the case that Islam is an important presence in Georgia today and especially historically.

islam distribution map

Next, let’s look at criteria relating the major ethnic groups of the Middle East: Arabs, Persians, and Turks.

First, we have the Arabs. Many people simply identify the Middle East with the Arab world, i.e. they think that the Middle East consists of those places where Arabic is spoken. Since Arabs don’t live any farther north than southern Turkey, clearly Georgia is not part of the Middle East according to this criterion (and Turkey and Iran aren’t either).

arabic language map

Or is it clear? What if we say that the Middle East is any place that was conquered by Arabs? It turns out that parts of Georgia, including Tbilisi, were conquered by Arabs during the initial spread of Islam. In fact, this conquest occurred early in the campaign, during the reign of the Rashidun Caliphs. The Arabs established the so-called Emirate of Tbilisi, which lasted for several centuries. Let me emphasize this: for several centuries, the capital of Georgia was under Arab rule. Does this qualify to make Georgia part of the Arab world? Probably not, but it is certainly a striking fact. Note that while the Arabs also conquered Iran, they did not conquer Anatolia, meaning that by this criterion, Georgia is more Middle Eastern than Turkey.

arab conquest

Further, Arabic has had a nontrivial lexical influence on Georgian. This could perhaps be used as an argument for Georgia’s inclusion in the Middle East. Consider the map below, which shows the word for “hour” in European countries. If you had to draw a line to demarcate the Middle East based on this map, where would you draw it?

hour etymology map

What about Persians? What if we say that the Middle East is wherever Persian is spoken? This is a very odd definition, since it excludes all Arab lands and Turkey, but includes areas as far northeast as Uzbekistan (since Tajik is just a dialect of Persian). Still, despite its massive lexical influence on Georgian, Persian is not spoken in Georgia. However, if we broaden the criterion to include all Iranian languages, rather than just Persian, then we get something. Besides Kurdish, which has several thousand speakers around Tbilisi, there is Ossetian. Ossetian is an Iranian language descended ultimately from the language of the Scythians. Even in ancient times the Scythians were rather distantly related to the Persians, so this may be a stretch, but the fact remains that an Iranian language is spoken in a nontrivial part of Georgia.

iranian language map

What if we say that the Middle East consists of the areas conquered by Persians? In this case, the answer is yes, at least for eastern Georgia. Kakheti and Kartli were constantly being invaded from Iran, to devastating effect. The last Persian invasion, during which Tbilisi was razed, was in 1795. 1795! Let’s put that into an American perspective: the capital of Georgia was conquered by Persians during George Washington’s second term as president. And that wasn’t the first time. So certainly we should consider eastern Georgian as being part of the Iranian sphere up until about the nineteenth century. Does that make it part of the Middle East? Maybe.

qajar map

Last we have the Turks. What if we say the Middle East is those places where Turkish is spoken? Unlike with Persian and the Iranian languages, we don’t even have to expand the criterion to include the whole Turkic language family: plain old Turkish is spoken in Georgia. Specifically, Azeri Turkish is spoken in Kvemo Kartli. As mentioned above, Turkish was also fairly recently spoke in Meskheti. Recall also that the Georgian-Armenian poet Sayat-Nova wrote many of his songs in Turkish. Is Georgia part of the Middle East under this criterion? Maybe.

turkic language map

What if we say that the Middle East is any place conquered by Turks? Actually, if we restrict this to the Ottoman Turks, then this is nearly a viable definition. So, is Georgia part of the Middle East by this definition? Yes, at least for western Georgia. Adjara was under Ottoman control for several centuries, including a few years during the twentieth century. So by that criterion, Adjara would certainly be part of the Middle East. If more fleeting conquests are counted, then almost all of Georgia would be counted, since much of the country was taken during Lala Mustafa Pasha’s campaign against the Persians. During this campaign, Tbilisi was captured by the Ottomans. Perhaps all of Georgia should be counted as Middle Eastern by this criterion.

ottoman empire map

You may have noticed that I’ve mentioned Tbilisi several times as an object of conquest. This is because Tbilisi has an interesting property shared by only a few other places, and that’s this. We have these three major peoples of the Middle East, Arabs, Persians, and Turks. Suppose we say that the Middle East consists of the union of the lands conquered by these three peoples, i.e. the places conquered by the Arabs OR the Persians OR the Turks. This is an immense territory, stretching from Spain to India and Uzbekistan to Somalia, and it clearly includes too much.

But what if instead we say that the Middle East is the intersection of those territories, i.e. the places conquered by the Arabs AND the Persians AND the Turks? I’ve never heard anyone talk about this, so I don’t know how accurate my conclusions are here, but as far as I can tell, this region is pretty small. It includes Baghdad, which to my mind is the most Middle East-y place there is. It covers most of Kurdistan, including Diyarbakir and Erbil. It covers most of Azerbaijan (Iranian and otherwise) and all of modern-day Armenia (as well as many areas previously inhabited by Armenians, like Van). Most importantly, it includes Tbilisi and a few other part of Georgia.

Excluded are Syria, Egypt and everything west of that, most of Anatolia, and most of Iran, so clearly this property is not a necessary condition for Middle East-hood. Is it a sufficient condition? Maybe. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about this property, so I can’t say for sure that the details are right (the map below, for example, is obviously crude). But supposing they are, why wouldn’t we conclude that Tbilisi, if not the rest of Georgia, is part of the Middle East?

middle east empire intersection map

The region conquered by Arabs AND Persians AND Turks

Okay, so what can we conclude from all this? Is Georgia in the Middle East or not? I think it’s clear at the very least that Georgia has significant connections to the Middle East. Since the borders of that region are ill-defined almost to the point of being meaningless, I think those significant connections suffice for inclusion. So I would say yes, Georgia is in the Middle East.

Let’s finish off with some discussion questions.

  1. Do you think Georgia is in the Middle East? Why or why not?
  2. What are some other criteria that could be used to see if Georgia belongs to the Middle East? For example, economic ties, cultural similarities, etc.
  3. Many of the characteristics discussed here have a strong historical dimension. Is it possible that Georgia used to be a part of the Middle East but no longer is? If so, when and why did things change?
  4. True or false: Most non-Georgians come to be interested in Georgia because of its connection to Russia, not because of its connection to the Middle East.
  5. If you kidnapped an average American and dropped them off in the outskirts of Tbilisi without telling them anything, would they think they were in the Middle East?
  6. To what extent is the claim about the “intersection of conquest” accurate?
    1. Extra credit: A shitty MS-Paint-drawn map was exhibited to illustrate that claim. Produce a better map and share it.
  7. If the nerds are right and the “Middle East” is meaningless, what value, if any, is there in thinking about whether Georgia is in the Middle East?
  8. Look through this collection of maps showing different characterizations of the Middle East. Why is Georgia absent from most of them?
  9. What can be concluded about Georgia’s relation to the Middle East based on these maps?

29 thoughts on “Is Georgia in the Middle East?

  1. Georgia does tend to resist categorization, doesn’t it? One reason, I think, is that Georgia has never been at the core of any influential region or bloc – it has basically always been at the outskirts of some empire or another, likely because of geography. Just think about trying to establish an empire that straddles the Caucasus mountains. In fact when you read up on Georgian conquests and reconquests it’s often the case that the Georgian state gets itself up and running only when two or more of its major power neighbors are experiencing large shifts in their power dynamics, leaving a vacuum in the Caucasus that never really seems to last for very long.

    Being on the periphery means that our idea of where Georgia is depends largely on timing – in other words, the question is which geo-political region is Georgia currently on the periphery of? I think that if the Persian conquest in 1795 had been the last relevant one, and if therefore Georgians had spent a good long time under recent Persian rule and spoke Persian as a second language, and if Iran were still occupying some segment of contested land, then we would be more likely to think of Georgia as Middle Eastern. However, it’s hard to think of a post-Soviet, Russian influenced state as Middle Eastern – perhaps because America has transitioned from regarding Russia as our primary antagonist to regarding Middle Eastern Islam as our primary antagonist. They’re just different categories for us.

    So politically it doesn’t really make sense to regard Georgia as Middle Eastern at this time.

    Culturally, the Middle East gives us a good lens through which to view Georgia. I suspect that a lot of the aspects of Georgian culture that I find the most foreign are a reflection of Middle Eastern influences, and I often find myself resorting to terminology usually associated with the Middle East (or with Asia in general) to describe these aspects. I’m talking about grand concepts like honor and face and differing notions of hospitality, but there are also tons of little obvious things in Georgian culture – like bazaars and haggling, Turkish coffee and shawarma, all those Arabic and Persian and Turkish loanwords – that point to Georgia’s Middle Eastern connections.

    But even with culture, often the similarities outweigh the differences, and I wouldn’t say Georgia is culturally Middle Eastern – I think it’s more Eastern European.

    Geographically, I’m ambivalent. The southern Caucasus mountains weren’t enough to keep out constant invasions from the south, so I think you could argue they don’t constitute any kind of conceptual border. The northern Caucasus mountains do, in my mind – I wouldn’t call Chechnya or Dagestan Middle Eastern, even despite the religious, cultural, and linguistic connections. So that’s an argument for inclusion.

    On the other hand, I would say that Iran and Turkey are on the periphery of the Middle East (the core being Mesopotamia and the Arabian peninsula) – they’re regional powers in the Middle East but perhaps not entirely of the Middle East (and Turkey’s largest city is half in Europe!). We might think of Iran as Middle Eastern because the Republicans want to bomb it, but I would guess many Americans probably don’t really think of Turkey as in the Middle East (if they think of Turkey at all). On many of the maps, and according to many of your criteria, Iran and Turkey are edge cases. But if they are edge cases, then Georgia is doubly an edge case, being farther removed from the core than either Iran or Turkey. If Georgia is associated with or influenced by the Middle East it’s only because Georgia is on the periphery of a regional power which is itself on the periphery of the Middle East. It’s paraperipheral. Or something.

    But of course in my last paragraph we can see the primary criterion for inclusion in the Middle East in the hearts and minds of the American people: Do Republicans want to murder the locals? In Georgia, the answer is a resounding no, as evidenced by the picture of Dubya’s smiling face we locals are graced with on every trip to the airport. So on that count, I can say with some certainty that Georgia is not in the Middle East.

    • From my experience of telling average Americans that I lived in Istanbul, I would say that most (maybe all) of those people considered Turkey (even “European” Istanbul!) to be in the Middle East. I would bet money that most of them would also consider Iran to be Middle Eastern. So part of my thinking for this post was to show that if you want to give definite criteria of which countries are in the Middle East and which aren’t, then you have to include Georgia if you also want to include Turkey and Iran.

      Regarding geography, you say that Georgia is “farther removed from the core than either Iran or Turkey”. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that. If you look at distance as the crow flies, Baghdad is closer to Tbilisi than it is to Istanbul, Ankara, Cairo, and Riyadh. Is Baghdad the “core”? Maybe. Or maybe you think Damascus is the core. But Damascus is closer to Tbilisi than it is to either Riyadh or Tehran. Or maybe you look at it from an Ottoman perspective and think Istanbul is the core? But Istanbul is closer to Tbilisi than it is to Baghdad, and way closer than it is to Tehran. My point is that Georgia not all that far removed from any candidate central Middle Eastern city.

      Related to that, did you know that Tbilisi is almost exactly due north of Baghdad? So is Yerevan. Are those facts of geographical interest? Maybe.

      It’s true that Russian conquest drastically changed the culture and historical trajectory of Georgia. When did was this change finalized? Immediately? During imperial times? During Soviet times? Post-independence? I can’t find it now, but I recall reading some travelogue from the early 20th century remarking about how even then Tbilisi looked in many ways like a Muslim city. When did that change?

      Btw, congrats on your recent thing.

      • Thanks!

        Well what I mean about Georgia being farther removed is that you could step from an unambiguously (core) Middle Eastern country onto Turkish or Iranian soil, but there is no such unambiguously Middle Eastern country bordering Georgia. Although Turkey was in my Comparative Politics of the Middle East course (as was Egypt). Maybe I’m unduly influenced by knowing Turks who strenuously object to being classified as Middle Eastern.

        I think if Tbilisi ever looked anything other than post-Soviet, the Kruschevkas buried that image. If I’m not mistaken, most of Vake and Saburtalo were built during and after the Soviet era.which I think was part of a general trend of urbanization that is continuing even today. But in general people remember things from their childhood as “traditional” or “the way things always were” and so I would argue it would take about one generation to completely overhaul how a city’s residents see the city, given a normal to rapid amount of building and rebuilding. For example, I see the Freedom Tower in NYC as scar tissue – ugly, twisted, and a constant reminder of an injury – whereas for kids my students’ age, that’s just what New York looks like.

  2. Well I would strongly disagree with your points.
    Geographically – If you read some historical references where they write about crossing/going through Georgian territories (both from conquerors as well as from traders), you can see how struggling and hard it has always been, and how different it really was from the rest of the surrounding countries/areas. Being located between the great and lesser Caucasus ranges it really is different and unique in some sense. It really is amazing how much more detailed the descriptions of crossing through Georgia are in those historical references, while other countries are summarizes in literally few sentences. Middle East? Do not think so.
    Religious aspect – being a Christian country from the 4th century onwards, it sure has been culturally different and detached from all the Muslim conquerors that it had to face throughout the centuries (you can check the estimated number of people as well as rulers/kings assassinated for not converting to Islam, just to have a rough feeling about the mindset of those people). Certainly all the conquerors – Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols have left their traces both culturally and linguistically, but then same can would have to said about Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and finally Russians. Does their temporary rule over parts of the country make it possible to say that Georgia is part of the Rome or Greece? or Maybe it is Russia, as many think till now?
    Languages – Well you are well aware of Georgian language and know how freaking different it is from every other language it had to ever come in contact with. Your argument about temporal usage of other languages (be it Persian, Arabic, French or today’s widespread usage of English terminology) is a bit weak as well, since none of those languages could substitute Georgian and are only traced by all the loan words that stayed in Georgian. (Same can be said about Greek, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Russian, French and English as for today)
    As for the Intersection of the Arab, Persian and Turkish rules, it really does not say much… We can easily add Urartians, Khazars, Romans, Mongols… practically everyone passed though these territories… does it then make it the intersection of all the cultures and thus the center of the planet? I doubt… Let us stick to maybe not the best but the most accurate description – It is Caucasus

    • Your point about adding the Mongols and Romans to the intersection is interesting. Obviously it doesn’t show that the Caucasus is at the center of the world, but it does emphasize the geographical fact that the Caucasus is at the center of the western half of Eurasia. It’s true! Look at a map! And as interesting or difficult to traverse as the Lesser Caucasus may have been for outsiders, the fact is that it didn’t stop them from invading.

      Of course I’m not saying that Georgia is a part of Russia. I’m also not saying that it’s a part of Iran, Turkey, etc. What I’m saying is that Georgia belongs to the general cultural sphere of the Middle East. Is Georgia also within the general cultural sphere of Russia? Yes, absolutely. Maybe of Greece and Rome too, if that means anything. These things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

  3. I liked how you broke down the vague conception of what may constitute the middle east; however, I dont think that is enough. Georgia itself, I would argue, is fairly vague concept, both culturally and historically. For example, I could simply refer to the fact that for most of its existence Tbilisi was, by large, not Georgian city, to weaken the point of how its history could somehow be representative of cultural sphere of influence that Georgian people are part of. Up until early 20th century, vast majority of Georgian population lived in countrysides and in mountains. The fact that Georgians to this day employ weird semi clan/tribe designations (Rachveli, Kakheli, Imereli, Meskhi, Lashkhi…) is itself a clear example for remnant of Georgian people’s rural past. So, in this sense, I think it is imperative to break down Georgia as a concept in itself to make any valid arguments about its people being part of any cultural sphere of influence.

    For starter, simple trip in different regions of Georgia (which does not even take too long) demonstrates how heterogeneous the country really is. Megrels, Svans, Rachvels, Khevsurs, they are all different in ways that they dress, view their culture, society, and talk (to the extent that they are often unintelligible). With that in mind, I would in no way, shape, or form, put either Svaneti, Racha, Samegrelo, or Imereti regions under the category of middle east. Neither Svans nor megrels even have a proper word for middle east, in the context that we are discussing right now. Racha up until past century, was just logic continuation of Svaneti, with its people often engaging in Lushnu nin (that is Svanuri Ena/Svan Language). Same goes for Imereti and Samegrelo (and I would tentatively put Guria and parts of Adjara in this same cluster, as well). Same could go for Georgians living in Sanigeti/Abkhazeti region. In the same regards, I would be very hesitant in putting any of Mtskheta Mtianeti Regions (that is historic Samachablo/South Ossetia, khevsureti, Tusheti, Khevi, Mtiuleti…) within the category of the Middle East. For one they have had huge impact on Vainakh world (most notably Ingush and Chechens,) and in turn Vainakhs had major impact on them too. In general, I would be very hesitant putting Mountaineer Georgians within the category of middle east.

    Now we get to the topic of Kartli and Kakheti, which in itself is fairly complicated. I think for Kartli, what makes this topic complicated, for the most part, is not the colonial history of its people, but rather the historical demographic aspect. Vast majority of people who self-identify as Kartvels in this region, can trace their origins from mountainous Georgia. I know this because I grew up in Kvemo Kartli. My grandfather settled there from Racha, so did most of my neighbors in my village. The village over is predominantly composed of settlers from Mtiuleti (Mta=mountain). Great deal of indigenous population of Kartli was wiped out due to constant invasions, and the local Georgian population continued to replenish its numbers from Mountaineers signing up to settle in the low lands in exchange of fighting for the lords. Even though, history might suggest the opposite, there has been less to non mixing of ancestors of current Georgian population of Kartli to that of Mongols or Arabs, based on Genographic project and determining haplogroups for populations. It is really exciting ongoing research, you should definitely check it out. From more than 250 Georgian last-names tested, we have yet to find single trace of haplogroup associated to Mongol invaders. This makes whole theme very intriguing. Region itself has long history of dominance from empires that span from the Middle East; nonetheless, the Georgian population that is currently living there is the product of combining local Georgian elements with major influx of mountaineers. There is also significant Azeri population living in Kvemo Kartli; however, I have to say that Georgian and Azeri communities are not even nearly integrated. Georgians who trace their ancestry to alpine Caucasus, find less in common with Azeri population, and vice versa. It pains me to say this, but there are traces of strong antagonism between these populations, and this creates dangerous process, which may at some point flare up into an ethnic conflict. I am undecided on how to treat Kvemo Kartlian population because of these reasons. I would love to write more about it but, I’m running out of time here. Sooo stay tuned for Part 2 🙂

    • Those are excellent points, about Tbilisi in particular and Georgia as a whole. I’m reminded of the book The Making of the Georgian Nation, some 80% of which is devoted to the 19th and 20th centuries. Another historian criticized the book for not focusing enough on older history, but the point was that the “Georgian nation”, as distinct from a mere agglomeration of tribes, didn’t come to exist until that time. I don’t know nearly enough to get into that aspect of the question!

      In any case, we can at least ask two finer-grained questions: 1) Is the modern territory of Georgia part of the Middle East? and 2) Are Georgians a Middle Eastern people? It would be consistent to answer yes to the first question and no to the second, which is perhaps suggested by your explanation.

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  5. 1. Methinks it is (or was, for the greater part of its existence) a part of The Greater Middle East, but personally for me the so called ‘Classic Middle East’ brings up the images of Israeli-Palestine conflict, deserts and bedouins and all that seems to me as exotic and foreign as, let’s say, Gothic Abbeys or Scandinavian fjords. Not sure Transcaucasia passes there
    2. Cultural ties are an important indicator. Even before the conquest of Constantinople by Turks and Georgia’s subsequent cultural isolation from Europe, secular literature and art of Georgia was more influenced by the Islamic sources then Byzantine or Western European (not talking about ecclesiastical art). The coins of Queen Tamara has inscriptions in Arabic and Georgian (as opposed of Greek). Nobles often took titles that were of Iranian or Turkic in origin etc.
    3. Yep. imho, before the Russian annexation Transcaucasia was very much part of the ‘Near East’, not only geographically, but politically and culturally. Within generations, newer cultural currents, the europeanism of the tsarist Russia and the militant atheism of the Soviets transformed Georgian (as well as Armenian and Azerbaijani) society in a way that it evolved somewhat differently from its southern neighbors. Transcaucasian cultures are still very high-context though.
    4. I’ve no idea. I want to believe it’s because it’s somewhere in-between
    5. Depends where do you drop that person. Most rural Georgia looks like Borat’s version of Kazakhstan (much more than actual Kazakhstan looks like) so that person could assume he or she is somewhere vaguely Eastern European or former Soviet, with all its glorious industrial decay and poverty.
    6. I don’t know. Never thought of that that way. The Arab-Persian-Turkish intersection conquest doesn’t make sense to me, as it leaves out some of the most key Middle Eastern locations (Arabian peninsula? the Levant?)
    7. For Georgians themselves there is no value other than self-identification.
    8. I think it’s mostly because broad terms like ‘The Middle East’ and its meaning are not static. ‘Near East’ once encompassed Greece and good part of the Balkans. Iran is sometimes excluded. Maghreb countries are sometimes included. Conventional definitions change.
    9. Not much.

  6. Another great post.
    A game I used to play when I lived in the US was to go to bookstores and ask what section books on Armenia were located in. Not one book was located in the Middle East and I did this all over- the Strand in NYC, Powell’s in Portland, the Green Apple in San Francisco, Elliot Bay in Seattle and so on. I guess that there is a great bookstore in Denver, but I never made it out there.
    The placement is invariably in Eastern Europe.

    Similarly, although this may be a bit afield of this topic (sorry to keep dragging this blog south) but I have been reading about the 1920s court cases in the U.S. about the question of Armenians being considered white.
    For example:
    There were at least four such cases that I have found in my very unthrough search.

    There was quite a range of opinion and usually the court decided in favor of whiteness as advocated by expert witnesses such as Franz Boa due to culture/ Christianity but at least once the courts proclaimed Armenians “not white” due to geography and (I think) physiognomy. I even got sucked in to a dark hole on the white power site “storm front” which goes around and around on this topic. Not a recommend read.

    To bring matters up to Georgia, and perhaps out of the Middle East, the book
    “The History of White People” by Nell Painter , which explores the fiction of the idea of whiteness, thoroughly documents that Georgians (and Circassians) were considered the ideal white people by the early European profilers of such.

    Thanks again for your post.
    If you are listening to podcasts, may I recommend the Ottoman History podcast?
    Really good:

    Where are you now?

    • Related to bookstore sections are university departments. Based on Googling it right now, it looks like most Armenian Studies programs in the USA are associated with Near East Studies, but a few are associated with Slavic Studies. This can vary even within a single university system: compare UCLA and UC Berkeley.

      The questions of whiteness, “Caucasian”, and whether people from the Caucasus should be considered white are fascinating in a morbid kind of way. Every time I think about doing a post on the topic I get vertigo from the bottomless pit of bullshit.

      To support the claim that Armenians were also commonly known to be white, the defense team drew testimony from leaders of racially-restrictive fraternal organizations like the Loyal Order of the Moose and the Masonic Grand Lodge of Oregon all of who attested to the common interpretation of Armenians as racially white, using Armenian membership in their organizations as evidence.

      The Ottoman History Podcast is great, but I generally prefer more focused course recordings. See

      As for where I am,

      armenian spanish sign

      • This isn’t a question of “whiteness”; this is a question of “European vs. Middle Eastern.” Not the same thing. Georgia is in the Middle East. Middle Eastern people are white, just like Europeans.

        • If you believe “Middle Eastern people are white”, then yes, the question of whiteness is irrelevant here. The problem is that almost nobody in the world believes that. Often times “white” and “European” are used as if they were synonyms, even in the face of visibly different skin color.

  7. Hi Nick! It’s always a pleasure to come back and rediscover your wonderfully structured blog. Though I do not follow the blog or read your entries regularly, this is now the third time that I have binge-read (and re-read) pretty much all of your entries up until now in one sitting.

    Tempted though I am to foray into discussions on some of the polemical questions (“Is Georgia in the Middle East?”, Are Mingrelians Georgians?”, et al) that you raise, I will limit myself to commenting on the little (factual) details here and there.

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  9. Israel is not a Muslim state but is in the Middle East. Turkey modernised under Ataturk and introduced a European alphabet. Armenia, Georgia, Israel like the muslim countries of the region have non-European alphabets (not Greek, Latin or Cyrillic).

    • Those “European” alphabets come from middle east 🙂

      Egyptian hieroglyphs
      Cyrillic–Greek—– Latin

  10. Nope.

    No, no, no.

    You put way too much thought into this.

    Georgia borders Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan.

    Its people look Middle Eastern.

    They don’t speak an Indo-European language (which is uncommon, save Hungary and Finnland.)

    Dating sites (e.g., Adam4Adam, etc…) list it as “Middle Eastern.”

    Ask a lay person if they consider it Europe or the Middle East. He will say, “Middle East.”

    This is the same as saying North Indians are Caucasian. Technically speaking, they are. But, come on…

  11. Yes and No. Well, let’s say it’s Caucasus. The crossroad between East and West, had influence from both “cultures”, but also had own culture.

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