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Is the South Caucasus region a part of the Middle East?".


In 1967, Alec Nove and J.A. Newth published a noteworthy assessment of the economic and social development in the South Caucasus (known at the time as Transcaucasia) and Central Asia entitled The Soviet Middle East: A Model for Development?, which was reprinted in 2012. The authors contend that "the areas with which this study is concerned lie at the very margin of what is often loosely defined as the Middle East." (1) Indeed, that geographic term is both arbitrary and elastic and--although used in the region today (e.g. al-Sharq al-Awsat or Orta Dogu) alongside more descriptive subregions such as al-Maghreb (Arab West), al-Mashreq (Arab East) and al Khaleej (Gulf area) (2)--was invented by Westerners. One might ask regarding the "Middle East": In the west, does the region include North Africa outside of Egypt and, if so, which countries in particular--Mauritania, Sudan, the Horn of Africa, etc.? Or in the east, is Afghanistan or even Pakistan part of that region? Or, in the north, given Nove and Newth's usage of the term or more importantly the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, should the "Middle East" include the South Caucasus or even Central Asia? There seems to be no dispute on core areas such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Arabian peninsula, while Egypt is most often accepted as being part of that region. (Interestingly, Cyprus, which is now a member of the European Union and closer to Syria and Turkey than the Greek island of Rhodes, is sometimes included.) However, Turkey and Israel are more problematic.

Following the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, Middle Eastemists and Eastern Europeanists/Soviet specialists engaged in what seemed to be a turf war over the study of the Caucasus and Central Asia. While these regions have Slavic inhabitants as a result of the historic expansion of Russia, their histories until the respective Russian conquests were connected with the Middle East especially Armenians inhabit areas outside that region and within the Middle East as defined during the 20,h century. While ethnic Azeris are overwhelmingly Muslim and predominantly Shi'a and a small minority of ethnic Georgians are their Sunni co-religionists, both the great majority of Armenians and Georgians are members of either the Armenian Apostolic Church or the Georgian Orthodox Church, respectively, among the earliest eastern Christian sects. Notwithstanding the fact that the population of the Middle East is today overwhelmingly Muslim, that religious connection should not be the determining factor in defining the Middle East as all three monotheistic faiths originated in that region even by its narrowest definition.

It is my contention given past history and present-day political, economic and cultural ties that despite the fact all three countries--Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan--wish to be connected with the West and Europe in particular, just like Turkey, they are also inextricably a part of the Middle East. No attempt, however, will be made to address that argument regarding the region of Central Asia, which is not as well defined as the South Caucasus. (3) It is necessary to discuss first the origins and evolution of the terms "Middle East" and "Near East" and afterwards the historical, political, economic and cultural connections of the countries of the South Caucasus and their people with the Middle East.


In 2004, Brian Whitaker, Middle East Editor for the British newspaper The Guardian stated:
   I have been writing about it ... for almost four years and I'm
   fairly sure that I have been there, but I have to confess that
   I don't know for certain where the Middle East is. The only
   consolation--for me, if not for those on the receiving end of
   US Middle East policy--is that the state department, the
   Pentagon and the military are as confused as I am (4)

While the terms "Near East" and "Middle East" have never been clearly defined since their respective inceptions and often used interchangeably, in the post-Cold War world, and especially after 9/11, a new term "Greater Middle East" has come into usage adding confusion.

The U.S. Department of State includes Turkey (and the countries in the South Caucasus) in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, while North Africa, but not Sudan, and the core area of the Middle East including Israel are under the purview of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (5) and journals like the Economist of London places Turkey in Europe. The U.S. Department of Defense's Central Command has responsibility for core area of the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and all of Central Asia, while Turkey, Israel and the countries in the South Caucasus are under the European Command and all the countries on the African continent, except for Egypt, are the responsibility of the Africa Command (6) However, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's authoritative publication The WorldFactbook, which is updated on an annual basis, defines the "Middle East" as the generally accepted core area (without Egypt) and the South Caucasus republics. (7) (At the same time, FIFA [the International Federation of Association Football] includes the soccer teams of Turkey, Israel, the countries in the South Caucasus and Kazakhstan in the Union of European Football Associations. (8) Turkey is also a member of the Council of Europe--as are the countries of the South Caucasus--while Israel is an observer, along with the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Japan.) (9)

Thus, Whitaker in the article cited above concludes: "It [i.e. the Middle East] is not a region in its own right but a concept devised to suit the policies of outsiders, and it changes shape according to their strategic interests." (10) This has always been the case as pointed out in a classic 1960 article in Foreign Affairs by historian Roderic H. Davison entitled "Where is the Middle East?"

Before providing a history of the "concept," Davison notes:
   Scholars and governments have produced reasoned
   definitions that are in hopeless disagreement. There is no
   accepted formula, and serious efforts to define the area vary
   as much as three to four thousand miles east and west....
   Involved in the terminological chaos is of course the
   corollary question of how the Middle East relates to the
   Near East--or indeed, whether the Near East still exists at
   all. (11)

Davison begins with the ancient Greeks who divided the world into the "cultured south" and "barbarian north," but surprisingly does not mention their division of the continents of Europe and Asia and later Africa using physical features such as bodies of water. Today, Europe is still divided from Asia by the Aegean Sea, Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus and Dardanelle straits, but the crest of the Caucasus Mountains is also used thus placing the countries of the South Caucasus in Asia. It was the Romans who developed a West-East division of the world and many centuries later by the time of "Age of Exploration" the terms "Far or Farther East" came into existence.

For the Europeans, the "East" began at the borders of the Ottoman Empire and by the 1890s, the terms "Near or Nearer East" became commonly used. The British archaeologist D.G. Hogarth defined that region in 1902 as including Albania, the Orthodox Christian-populated Balkans, except Romania, Egypt, Ottoman lands in Asia, the Arabian peninsula and the western two-thirds of Iran. (12) That same year, the American naval historian Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan is credited with coining the term "Middle East' to refer to Persia and the Persian Gulf region, an area of contention between Russia and British India, even though the British General Sir Thomas Edward Gordon used the term two years earlier in another article. (13) British journalist Valentine Chirol popularized the term in a series of articles in the Times of London during 1902 and 1903 subsequently published in a book entitled The Middle Eastern Question which expanded Mahan's concept to include all land and sea approaches to India including Afghanistan and Tibet. Thus, during the early years of the 20th century, the "Near East centered on Turkey, the Middle East on India, the Far East on China." (14) However, these terms would change meaning just after the First World War.

In 1921, Winston Churchill, in his capacity as Secretary of State for the Colonies, established the Middle Eastern Department in the Colonial Office to handle the affairs of Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq, while a year earlier the Royal Geographical Society denoted the "Near East" as the Balkans and "the lands from the Bosphorus to the eastern frontiers of India" as the "Middle East." (15) In the United States, people generally continued to refer to that region as the "Near East," even though American delegates to the Paris Peace Conference following the First World War used to the term "West Asia" for the former Ottoman lands. (16) By the Second World War, British and American concepts began to converge when the former established a Middle East Command based in Cairo and the United States participated in the Middle East Supply Center designed to coordinate the distribution of war materiel and to regulate commerce and trade within the region. During the Cold War, "Middle East" came into common usage among governmental officials and the press in the United States as it became the predominant Western power in the region. (However, the term "Near East" has lingered on in academia alongside "Middle East" for the names of departments at universities engaged in the study of the region.) Interest in the Middle East focused on support for pro-Western governments, the protection of the supply of oil, and counteracting Soviet influence as well as that of the Islamic Republic of Iran after 1979.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, historian Bernard Lewis published an article in Foreign Affairs in 1992 entitled "Rethinking the Middle East," in which he stated:
   While the geographical definition of the region ... has
   varied considerably at its eastern, western and southern
   edges, there has hitherto been no doubt at all about the
   northern limit of the Middle East, which was, of course, the
   Soviet frontier.... It has always been artificial, alien and
   misleading, a frontier established by the expanding power of
   imperial Russia, which in the early and mid-nineteenth
   century conquered and annexed vast territories in
   Transcaucasia and Central Asia that culturally, ethnically,
   linguistically and religiously formed part of the historical
   Middle East (17)

Lewis refers to the "emergence of this new Middle East," which is synonymous to the term "Greater Middle East," popularized by the Administration of George W. Bush following 9/11, in which Turkey should act as a role model for the rest of the region. The only difference was that Lewis emphasized Turkey's secularism as a prerequisite for democracy, while the Bush Administration stressed the theme of "moderate Islam" and its coexistence with democracy. (18) While the AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power in Turkey in 2002, its leader Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not interested in becoming "a poster child for moderate Islam," though he was interested in increasing Turkish influence in the region even if Turkish policy differed from that of the U.S. On the other hand, the Bush Administration was concerned with its "War of Terror," which it felt could be assisted by the contradictory approach of promoting democratic reform in the Middle East at the same time maintaining close ties with the autocratic governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. (19) Supplies for the war in Afghanistan transited Central Asia, while Turkey and the countries in the South Caucasus supplied manpower for that effort. Meanwhile, the term "West Asia" has been "growing in popularity as a neutral, non-Eurocentric synonym for the Middle East," according to National Geographic magazine; and it can be inclusive of the countries in South Caucasus. (20) While that might be the case, such a regional grouping only addresses most of the core of the Middle East and excludes North Africa and Central Asia. Indeed, the Middle East in its expanded form is like no other region in that it is not associated with a physical feature such as the Balkans, a mountain chain, and it straddles continents that do not have similar names unlike Latin America. Nevertheless, given the tradition of flexibility with regard to that geographical or conceptual term, let us pursue the argument of the South Caucasus' inclusion in the Middle East based on historical connections and those political, economic and cultural ties with that region that have been revived since the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Armenia claims to be the world's oldest Christian nation having been converted by Gregory the Illuminator in 301 C.E., while Georgia followed some thirty years later through the efforts of Nino from Cappadocia. The Armenian Apostolic Church developed independently and formally severed ties two centuries later, while the Georgian Orthodox Church was able to gain autonomy during the fifth century. As for Azerbaijan, Zoroastrianism of the Persian Sassanid Empire and Christianity of the local rulers were the prevalent faiths until the Arab conquest of the seventh century helped spread Islam. The Arabs also gained possession of Armenia and were in a struggle over Georgia with the Byzantines, but were subsequently supplanted by the Seljuk Turks and later the Mongols. Meanwhile, branches of the Bagrationi (or Bagratuni) (21) dynasty ruled Armenia from the late 8th or early 9th through the mid-11th centuries and with varying degrees of autonomy in Georgia beginning in early 9th century. (22) They claimed to have descended from David and Solomon of Israel, but were really from eastern Anatolia near Erzurum. (23)

During the early sixteenth century, the Caucasus was a battleground between two Islamic states, the Sunni Ottoman Empire and the Shi'a Safavid Dynasty (1502-1736) of Persia. In 1555 by the Treaty of Amasya, the two empires agreed to partition the area; the western part of present-day Georgia was ceded to the Ottomans, while the eastern part of present-day Georgia and the rest of the South Caucasus remained under Persian control or influence. By 1639, under the Treaty of Zuhab, the Ottoman-Persian border south of the region divided what Armenians refer to as "Western" and "Eastern Armenia." (24) From 1723-1735, Russia occupied parts of present-day Azerbaijan, but it was not until a half-century later that Russian interest in the South Caucasus was revived. In 1783, Catherine the Great promised the Georgian ruler Irakli II protection from the Persians, but did nothing in 1795 when the leader of new Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925) Agha Muhammad sacked Tbilisi. Six years later, Tsar Alexander I annexed the eastern part of present-day Georgia, deposing the Bagrationi royal house. In 1803, Prince Pavel Tsitsinov, the new Russian governor and commander of Caucasus military forces and someone of Georgian ancestry, arrived in Tbilisi. He immediately sent the royal family into exile in Russia and began preparations to invade present-day Azerbaijan. (25) In 1806, two years into the war with Persia, the khan of Baku killed T sitsinov.

In 1813, under the Treaty of Gulistan, Persia ceded all of present-day Azerbaijan except for the exclave of Nakhichevan, which along with present-day Armenia was annexed under the Treaty of Turkmanchai in 1828. The latter treaty followed a brief fifteen-month war in which the Persians attempted to regain lost territory in the South Caucasus believing that Russia would be weakened by the Decembrist revolt. (26) The division of northern and southern Azerbaijan was established along the Araxes (Aras) River in the Treaty of Turkmanchai. Meanwhile, from 1806 to 1812, Russia fought the Ottoman Empire, but faced with threat of Napoleon's subsequent invasion, had to return territories occupied in western Georgia that same year under the Treaty of Bucharest; in 1829, after a war lasting a year and a half, under the Treaty of Adrianople (Edime), Russia annexed those aforementioned lands and possessed almost all of present-day Georgia. Finally, in Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-1878, the Russians acquired Batumi, along with the provinces of Kars and Ardahan; in 1921, the Soviet governments in the South Caucasus under the Treaty of Kars ceded the last two territories to the nationalist Turkish government in Ankara and placed Mount Ararat, symbol of Armenian nationhood, just inside Turkey and within sight of the city of Yerevan, Armenia's capital.

While connections with the Middle East were severed for the most part during the Soviet era, following the Second World War, Soviet troops remained in the Azerbaijani region of Iran in support of the Democratic Party's movement for autonomy in the area, but withdrew in May 1946 rather than risk a conflict with the United States. Having a buffer along the Soviet Union's frontier was of importance not the possible unification of Azerbaijan. (27) The Republic of Turkey for its part shunned pan-Turkism (or Turanism), while emphasizing European style nationalism based on language and land, thus severing connections with Azerbaijan (and Turkic Central Asia); however, with the Soviet takeover of Azerbaijan, Azeri exiles either chose to stay in Turkey or fled there as had Caucasian Muslims previously done so with the Russian conquest of the region.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the international recognition of the independence of the South Caucasus republics over the next several months, links between that region and the Middle East were renewed due to political and economic imperatives and cultural affinity. Meanwhile, indigenous nationalism which had been growing since the rule of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1953-1964), encouraged this development as well as ethnic conflict in the region. In the case of Armenia, the Armenian diaspora would also play a role in focusing on past history as an influencing factor in shaping foreign policy.

During the nineteenth century, wars in the Caucasus (and Balkans) resulted in the transfer of populations with many Sunni Muslims forced to flee to the Ottoman Empire. Caucasian Muslim refugees moved into areas of eastern Anatolia already inhabited by Armenians and Kurds. (28) Armenian nationalism coalesced around two organizations, the Hunchaks, who called for independence, and the Dashnaks, who emphasized political freedom though not specifically mentioning the word "independence" in their 1892 program; (29) these groups, established in Geneva and Tbilisi, respectively, engaged in assassinations of officials and other terrorist actions against Ottoman authority. During 1894-1896, the government of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) used Kurdish forces to crush revolts in eastern Anatolia, where Armenians complained of excessive taxation; also, during the latter year, the Armenian quarter of Istanbul was attacked following the takeover of the Ottoman Bank.

Later, during 1915, in the midst of the First World War, the Ottomans arrested Armenian leaders and began a program of relocating Armenians from eastern Anatolia. In the process, many died from forced marches or were killed, while survivors ended up in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Others took up arms with the invading Russian army and/or later in the First World War and during the Turkish War of Independence (1918-1923) sought refuge in the Caucasus and Iran. Estimates of Armenians killed during the First World War and its aftermath range from 600,000 to one and half million and even the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal AtatUrk referred to the event as a "shameful act." (30) Turkish governments have continued to reject the term "genocide" to refer to these actions.

While Armenia has cultivated excellent relations with many countries in the Middle East due in part to its diaspora communities, the issue of interpretation of past history has stymied the development of mutually beneficial ties with Turkey, while the impulse to readjust Soviet-imposed borders considered unjust as in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh has poisoned relations with Azerbaijan. At the same time, both Georgia and Azerbaijan have placed great emphasis on the development of ties with the countries of the Middle East. Let us examine those political, economic and cultural relations.


Azerbaijan has been a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) since May 2011, while Armenia has observer status in that organization, which includes all the members of the Arab League and a large number of countries in the Islamic world 31 Azerbaijan is also a member of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which includes many countries in Asia and Africa as well as Albania and Suriname, (32) as well as Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) which includes Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and all the Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union. (33) Azerbaijan also receives financing from the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB), created by the IOC in 1973. All three South Caucasus republics are members of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), which includes all countries bordering that body of water plus a few others (34) as well as of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) Partnership for Peace, along with other former Soviet republics, but of those countries in the South Caucasus only Armenia is a member of the Russian-inspired Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Georgia, on the other hand, which has sought a close political and military connection with the West, was rejected for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) along with Ukraine in April 2007, but continues to aspire to join NATO, which includes Turkey, and like its Middle Eastern neighbor also seeks membership in the European Union (EU). Indeed, in its National Security Concept document, the Georgian government notes that Turkey is its "leading partner in the region," especially in trade and energy and transportation projects and "attaches great importance to further developing its partnership ... in the areas of defense and security." (Besides Turkey, Georgia regards its relationship with the United States and Azerbaijan as "strategic partnerships." These countries have taken on even greater importance since the Russo-Georgia War in August 2008, during which Russia facilitated the secession from Georgia of both Abkhazia, located on the Black Sea, and South Ossetia, about 50 miles northwest of Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. Also, Georgia wants to expand cultural relations with Turkey, which now includes cooperation on cultural heritage monuments. As for the rest of the Middle East, it seeks to further develop "political dialogue" and economic relations with Israel and the Persian Gulf states, which one assumes includes Iran;35 that country's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki visited Georgia in November 2010 to sign a visa-free travel agreement--something which Georgia already had with Turkey since February 2006--as well as to open a consular office in the port of Batumi (in the Adjara region on the Black Sea)--a city whose airport, renovated by the Turkish consortium TAV-Urban, serves domestic passengers of Turkish Airlines traveling to Hopa and other points in Artvin province in northeastern Turkey. (36) (Visa-free travel for Iranians was revoked by Georgia in July 2013, probably under pressure from the U.S. and Israel, as there was the suspicion that Iran's Revolutionary Guard front companies were investing in that South Caucasus country to circumvent sanctions.) (37)

As for Armenia, in its National Security Strategy document, besides Georgia, Iran is its most important neighbor. This is due not only to "historical and cultural ties," but also to "mutual economic interests" and the fact that Azerbaijan and Turkey have imposed blockades against Armenia over that country's occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. While Armenia regards its relations with Russia as a "strategic partnership," it realizes the importance of the Middle East in general and Iran in particular as providing its only overland access to the region as well as the "balanced position which, ... as a major actor both in region and within the Islamic world, has adopted regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict." Armenia also understands the effect of developments in the Middle East on international politics, especially given the fact that Armenian communities are spread throughout the region, and it would like to expand trade with the Arab world. (38) Indeed, there are approximately 160.000 Armenians in Lebanon--the only country in the Middle East to recognize officially the Armenian Genocide of the First World War. (39) representing about 4% of that countty's population, (40) and about 120,000 and 6.000 in Syria and Egypt, respectively. In addition, there are approximately 1.000 Armenians in Jordan and before the 2003 Iraq war some 10,000 in that country. (41) Even in Turkey ethnic Armenians number about 70,000. (42) (During the late 1940s, about 100,000 Armenians mostly from the Middle East including the parents of independent Armenia's first president Levon Ter-Petrosian, who brought their year-old child from Aleppo, Syria--immigrated to Soviet Armenia "more to do with nationalist sentiments than with commitment to Soviet-style socialism.'") (43) On the other hand, today there are only about 900 Jews in Armenia and an equal amount of Armenians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza (44) compared to more sizable populations of Jews in Georgia and Azerbaijan (about 13,000 and 12,000, respectively) as well as ethnic Georgians and Azeris in Israel (about 100,000 and 50,000, respectively). (45) Therefore, unlike Georgia's National Security Concept document there is no mention made of Israel in Armenia's National Security Strategy document, even though all three South Caucasus republics have diplomatic and economic relations with the Jewish state.

Azerbaijan which has been somewhat secretive about its relations with Israel also makes no specific mention of the Jewish state in its National Security Concept document, though military and intelligence connections have been developed in recent years hindering that country's ability to gain support over the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Islamic world and sometimes straining relations with Turkey. On the other hand, the document does acknowledge the benefits of its "strategic partnership" with Turkey and Georgia and describes its relations with both the United States and Russia in similar terms; in addition, Azerbaijan "attaches great importance to its relations with Iran ... [with which it] share[s] a common rich historical and cultural heritage." Furthermore, there are at least twice as many Azeris in Iran as in Azerbaijan itself, accounting for 18% of Iran's population. (46) As for ties with other Middle Eastern countries, there is one sentence simply asserting they "have big potential." (47) While Azerbaijan can take advantage of its population's Turkic and Muslim cultural backgrounds in promoting ties with the countries of the Middle East and Islamic world, given its modern tradition of secularism the government is opposed to overt expressions of religiosity in politics and in society. While according to official statistics more than 90% of Azerbaijan's population is Muslim, the connections are more cultural and ethnic than religious. An educated estimate is that 65 to 70% are Shi'a, residing largely in southern and central Azerbaijan, while the remaining Sunni Muslims are predominantly found in the north of the country. Iran actively proselytized in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons, set up as a result of war over Nagorno-Karabakh, in addition to Nakhichevan and towns on the Apsheron peninsula in the Baku area; it was also reported to have financed operations of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, whose registration was revoked by the government in the mid-1990s, as well as other organizations, but according to Svante E. Cornell under the rule of Ilham Aliyev this activity has decreased. In the late 1990s, Azerbaijan expelled Iranian mullahs preaching in mosques and the Ministry of National Security continues to closely monitor activities of Islamic groups (48) Georgia's Ministry of Internal Security also accused Iranian mullahs of engaging in activities with ethnic Azeris--who comprise the largest single group of Muslims in Georgia, where followers of that religion constitute roughly 10% of that country's population--during the 1990s. (49) However, as mentioned earlier, Georgian-Iranian relations have wanned up in recent years and the remaining Muslims in Georgia are mostly Sunni ethnic Georgians residing in Adjara and much smaller communities of ethnic Chechens and Avars in the northeast and east. (50)

Despite Azerbaijan harboring lingering suspicions regarding Iran's intentions, just like its predominantly Christian neighbors it continues give emphasis to the expansion of trade relations and communications with Iran and the rest of the Middle East due to geographical location and political and economic realities. Azerbaijan has the best economic situation of the South Caucasus republics due to the fact that 90% of its exports are in oil and gas (and both Georgia and Turkey benefit from the transport of such through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline--the

second longest in the world--and the South Caucasus Pipeline for natural gas which terminates in Erzurum, Turkey). In 2012, Israel was the sixth largest market for Azerbaijan's exports (5.1%). Turkey was the largest supplier of imports for both Azerbaijan and Georgia (18.6% and 13.9%, respectively), while Russia was second (14.3%) and fourth (7.4%), respectively. Azerbaijan was the fifth largest supplier of Georgia's imports (7.1%) and the largest market for Georgia's exports (13.8%) with Turkey being sixth (6.4%) and Lebanon eighth (5.7%). Russia was both the largest market for Armenia's exports (19.9%), while Iran was fifth (7.1%); it was also the largest supplier of imports for Armenia (24.6%), while Iran was fourth (5.4%) and surprisingly Turkey was sixth (4.7%), probably as a result of land shipment through Georgia. (51)

Azerbaijan Airlines flies to a number of cities in the Middle East: Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Antalya in Turkey; Tehran and Tabriz in Iran; Tel Aviv, Doha and Dubai, as well as Tbilisi, while Georgia Airways flies to Tel Aviv from Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi, to Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) from Tbilisi and Batumi and to Antalya and Sulaymaniyah (Iraqi Kurdistan) from Tbilisi. Azerbaijan Airlines also serves a number of cities in Russia and Ukraine as well as Minsk, Tbilisi and Aktau in Kazakhstan, while Georgia Airways connects Moscow with Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi. Armavia of Armenia ceased operations in April 2013, but Georgian Airways connects Yerevan with Tbilisi twice weekly and Syrianair operates flights from Damascus to Yerevan via Latakia (52) Turkish Airlines flies to Tbilisi, Batumi, Baku, Ganja (Azerbaijan), and Nakhichevan (Azerbaijan), while both Pegasus Airlines of Turkey and Qatar Airways serve Tbilisi, Batumi and Baku and Arkia Airlines of Israel flies to Tbilisi. (53) In addition, Turkey is connected to Georgia and Azerbaijan (the Nakhichevan exclave) by roads and a railroad from Kars in Turkey with Baku via Tbilisi is under construction and should be completed in 2014. (54) Iran is linked to Armenia and Azerbaijan by roads and there are separate projects planned to connect with those South Caucasus countries, respectively, by rail. (55) It should be noted that Georgia's rail connections with Russia have been severed due to Abkhazia's secession and that Russia's sole line to the South Caucasus passes through Azerbaijan and will eventually link with Iran.


Over the last century, the term "Middle East" has replaced or at least become far more employed than the term "Near East." However, academics, journalists, policy-makers and the general public are still unsure of that region's (or concept's) boundaries. It is best for the sake of academics to accept inclusivity if arguments presented are based on thoughtful consideration and the use of research methods adopted by the various disciplines. It is true that the countries of the South Caucasus still are connected economically with Russia to varying degrees as almost three-quarters of a century of Soviet rule mostly under a command economy were responsible for developing those ties and that Russia currently employs political leverage in a region that it still regards as the "Near Abroad," that is to say, its own backyard. Nevertheless, the South Caucasus countries, and especially Georgia and Azerbaijan Armenia is the poorest of the three and still depends greatly on Russia for military and economic security--have been assertive in expanding economic connections with the Middle East (and the West). Historical and cultural ties --though interrupted under Russian and especially Soviet rule--are undeniable, while political connections have been restored. In conclusion, the South Caucasus is an important region for U.S. interests and one which should be viewed as an extension of the Middle East given the expanded connections mentioned in this essay.


(1.) Alec Nove and J. A. Newth, The Soviet Middle East: A Model for Development? (Routledge: Abingdon, U.K., 2012) pp. 10-11; the book was originally published by George Allen & Unwin of London.

(2.) Osman Nuri Ozalp, "Where is the Middle East? The Definition and Classification Problem of the Middle East as a Regional Subsystem in International Relations," Turkish Journal of Politics, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Winter 2011), p. 9-11.

(3.) In addition to the countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan of the former Soviet Union some scholars have included Azerbaijan; also, while part of the People's Republic of China, one might include Xinjiang province, known as Eastern Turkestan to the Turkic Uighur people.

(4.) Brian Whitaker, "From Turkey to Tibet," TheGuardian, February 3, 2004. Available at: feb/23/worldispatch. brianwhitaker. (Accessed on August 5, 2013). Whitaker was the Middle East Editor until 2007.

(5.) See the website of the U.S. Department of State at: http://www.state.gOv/p/eur/ci/index.htm and http://www.state.gOv/p/ nea/ci/ index.htm. (Both accessed on August 6,2013).

(6.) See the website of the U.S. Department of State at:; httP;//www.; and httP;// news/UCP_2011_Map4.pdf http;// UCPJ2011_Map4.pdf. (All accessed on August 6, 2013).

(7.) U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, "Middle East," The World Factbook, 2013. Available at: publications/the-world-factbook/wfbExt/region_mde.html. (Accessed on September 11,2013).

(8.) Seethe website for FIFA: confererations/confederation=27275/inded.html (Accessed on August 6, 2013).

(9.) See the website of the Council of Europe: (Accessed on August 6, 2013).

(10.) Ibid.

(11.) Roderic H. Davison, "Where is the Middle East?" Foreign Affairs, Vol. 38, No. 4 (July 1960), p. 665.

(12.) Ibid. p. 667.

(13.) Karen Culcasi, "Constructing and Naturalizing the Middle East," Geographical Review, Vol. 100, No. 4 (October 2010), p. 585. Culcasi believes that the term "Middle East" may have been in common usage at the time in British India. Today, Indian government officials and scholars use the more neutral term "West Asia" to refer to the core area of the Middle East. Also see Clayton R. Koppes, "Captain Mahan, General Gordon and the Origins of the Term Middle East,'" Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1 (January 1976), pp. 95-98.

(14.) Davison, "Where is the Middle East?" p. 668.

(15.) Ibid.

(16.) Culcasi, "Constructing and Naturalizing the Middle East," p. 586.

(17.) Bernard Lewis, "Rethinking the Middle East," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Fall 1992), pp. 103-104.

(18.) Ibid. pp. 118-119; and Dona J. Stewart, "The Greater Middle East and Reform in the Bush Administration's Ideological Imagination," Geographical Review, Vol. 95, No. 3 (July 2005), pp. 403-404.

(19.) Stewart, "The Greater Middle East," pp. 400-401, 404-405 and 415.

(20.) National Geographic, Style Manual. Available at: (Accessed on August 6, 2013). According to this journal, Cyprus, Afghanistan and Pakistan can be included as well.

(21.) The former name is how it was referred to in Georgia, while the latter is the Armenian variation.

(22.) Nina Garsol'an, "The Arab Invasions and the Rise of the Bagratuni (640-884)," in Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, vol. 1, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian (N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 2004), p. 136.

(23.) David Marshall Lang, A Modern History of Soviet Georgia (N.Y.: Grove Press, 1962), p. 28.

(24.) George Boumoutian, "Eastern Armenia from the Sixteenth Century to the Russian Annexation," in Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, vol. 2, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian (N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 2004), p. 81.

(25.) Charles King, The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 30-31.

(26.) Muriel Atkin, Russia and Iran, 1780-1828 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), p. 157.

(27.) Louise L'Estrange Fawcett, Iran and the Cold War: The Azerbaijan Crisis of 1946 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 178. Iranian forces retook Azerbaijan in December 1946.

(28.) Anne Goldenberg, Pride of Small Nations: The Caucasus and Post-Soviet Disorder (London: Zed Books, 1994), p. 26.

(29.) Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 169.

(30.) Taner Akfam, A Shameful Act: the Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility (N.Y.: Metropolitan Books, 2006), pp. 12-13 and 183.

(31.) See the website of the NAM News Network for a list of member states available at:; and website for the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, Tehran, Iran, August 26-31,2012 for a list of both member states and observers available at: Default.aspx?\CategoryID=27f3fbb6-8a39-444e-b557-6c74aaw7f75f. (Both accessed on September 9, 2013).

(32.) Bosnia, the "Turkish Cypriot State," and Russia are official observers in that organization. See the website for the OIC for a list of member states and observers, respectively, available at: httP:// and id= 179&p ref=60&Ian=en. (Both accessed on September 9, 2013).

(33.) See the website of the ECO for a list of member states available at: (Accessed on September 9,2013).

(34.) Besides Armenia and Azerbaijan, the countries not bordering the Black Sea include Albania, Greece, Moldova, and Serbia. See the website of the BSEC for a list of member states available at: member/Pages/member.aspx. (Accessed on September 9, 2013).

(35.) National Security Concept of Georgia, no date given (but obviously revised sometime after November 17, 2011), pp. 20-21 in HTML format. Available at: ENG&sec_id=T2. (Accessed on September 9, 2013).

(36.) Iranian FM on "Historic" Visit to Georgia,", November 3, 2010. Available at:; and "Georgia: Adjara, tourism, and foreign investment," Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology, and Policy, Boston University, April 24, 2008. Available at: 49436. (Both accesed on September 9, 2013).

(37.) Vasili Rukhadze, "Georgia Government Revokes Visa-Free Travel Rules for Iran," Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 10, No. 126, July 10, 2013. Available at: http://www/ ldfc0524.html. (Accessed on September 16, 2013).

(38.) Republic of Armenia, National Security Strategy (approved by the National Security Council of the President's Office on January 26, 2007) available in Pdf format with no page numbers at: (Accessed on September 9, 2013).

(39.) Other countries that recognize officially the Armenian Genocide include France, Canada, Russia, Cyprus and a number of countries in Europe and South America. See the Armenian National Institute of Washington, D.C. website available at: countries.html. (Accessed on September 11,2013).

(40.) This figure comes from C.I.A., "Lebanon," The World Factbook, 2013. Available at (Accessed September 11,2013). It also should be noted that the mother and wife of former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud (1998-2007) was or is of Armenian descent. See Turkey-Lebanon Relations, Report No. 5 (Ankara, Turkey: Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies [ORSAM], August 2009), p. 14.

(41.) Figures are from R. Hrair Dekmejian, "The Armenian Diaspora," in Richard G. Hovannisian, (ed.), Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, Vol. 2, pp. 421-428.

(42.) This figure comes from Tessa Hoffman, Armenians in Turkey Today (Brussels, Belgium: EU Office of Armenian Associations of Europe, 2002), p. 6.

(43.) Ronald G. Suny, "Soviet Armenia," in Hovannisian, (ed.), Armenian People, Vol. 2, pp. 367-368. It is interesting to note that Ter-Petrosian is married to a Jewish woman. See Ronald G. Suny, "Elite Transformation in Late-Soviet and Post-Soviet Transcaucasia, or What Happens When the Ruling Class Can't Rule? in Timothy J. Colton and Robert C. Tucker, (eds.), Patterns in Post-Soviet Leadership (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995), p. 146.

(44.) Figures are taken respectively from the following sources: 1) The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism, Tel Aviv University, "Report on Transcaucasia and Central Asia for 2005." Available at: 2) Arthur Hagopian, "Armenians in Israel," Jerusalem Letters of Lasting Interest (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs), 2 July 1986. Available at: (Both accessed on September 9,2013). Hagopian gives a figure of about 1500 that must be fewer today.

(45.) Figures are taken respectively from the following sources: 1) Gabriel Lemer, "Azeri Jews: Centuries of Coexistence in Azerbaijan," Jewish, 11 January 2008. Available at: coexistence_in_azerbaijan_20080111. (Accessed on September 9, 2013); and 2) Embassy of Georgia to the United States of America, Canada and Mexico, "Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia Irakil Menagarishvili Visits Israel." Found at: www.georgiaembassy. org/asp?id=236. (Accessed February 2,2008, but no longer available.

(46.) This figure comes from C.I.A., "Iran," The World Factbook, 2013. Available at: (Accessed on September 11,2013). Persians only constitute 61% of Iran's population, while Kurds make up 10%.

(47.) National Security Concept of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Approved by Instruction No. 2198 of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan on May 23,2007, pp. 12-14. Found at: ssi_eng/foreign_policy/inter_affairs/NSC.pdf. (Accessed February 16, 2008, but no longer available).

(48.) See Svante E. Cornell, The Politicization of Islam in Azerbaijan, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Silk Road Studies Program, Silk Road Paper, October 2006, pp. 21-23, 42-46, 54-61 and 66-67. Available at: Silkroadpapers/0610Azer.pdf; and Anar Valiyev, "Azerbaijan: Islam in a Post-Soviet Republic," Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 4 (December 2005). Available at: http://www. (Both accessed on September 11,2013).

(49.) Emil Souleimanov and Ondrej Ditrych, "Iran and Azerbaijan: A Contested Neighborhood," Middle East Policy, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Summer 2007), p. 109.

(50.) "Who are Georgia's Muslims," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 29, 2013. Available at: muslim-population/ 25090162.html. (Accessed on September 11, 2013). There are estimated to be almost 400 mosques in Georgia.

(51.) Trade figures come from CIA, "Azerbaijan," "Georgia," and "Armenia," The WorldFactbook, 2013. Available at: https://www.; p ublications/the-worldfactbook/geos/gg.html; and the-world-factbook/ Respectively. (All accessed on September 11,2013).

(52.) "Syrian Air to operate Yerevan-Latakia-Damascus flight instead of Yerevan-Aleppo,", January 21, 2013. Available at: http:/ eng/news/136741.html. The airline refers to itself as "Syrianair" on its website at: homepage.aspx. (Both accessed on September 13, 013).

(53.) See the websites for Georgian Airways (; Azerbaijan Airlines (; Turkish Airlines (; Qatar Airways ( Arkia Airlines ( and Pegasus Airlines (www.flypgs. com/en/default.aspx). Also see Polina Borodina," Armavia files for bankruptcy, to cease operations," Air Transport World, March 29, 2013. Available at: airlines/armavia-files: bankruptcy-cease-operations. (Accessed on September 12,2013).

(54.) Elena Ilie, "New Azerbaijan-Turkey rail line," Railway PRO, March 28, 2013. Available at: 1969. (Accessed on September 12,2013).

(55.) Keith Barrow, "Agreement signed on Armenia-Iran rail link," International Railway Journal, January 24, 2013. Available at: http://www.rail; and "RZD to build railway line from Iran to Azerbaijan,", October 29, 2012. Available at (Both accessed on September 12, 2013). A UAE investment firm is involved in the Armenia-Iran rail link along with RZD Russian Railways. The Azerbaijan-Iran rail link will connect Astara, Azerbaijan with Rasht, Iran.

By Michael B. Bishku, Professor of History, Georgia Regents University Augusta, GA 30904.
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