The “Middle East”: An Invented Term from the 20th Century

The Persian Heritage journal recently published an article by Kaveh Farrokh and Sheda Vasseghi (click the link below in Academia.edu for downloading the entire article):

Farrokh, K., & Vasseghi, Sh. (2017). The “Middle East”: An Invented Term from the 20th Century. Persian Heritage, 88, pp.12-14.

Note that Sheda Vasseghi obtained her PhD recently from the University of new England (click the link below in Academia.edu for downloading her Dissertation):

Sheda Vasseghi (2017). Positioning Of Iran And Iranians In Origins Of Western Civilization. PhD Dissertation, University of New England, Academic advising Team: Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi, Kaveh Farrokh.

As averred to in the initial parts of the Farrokh-Vasseghi article (page 12):

Among one of the 20th century’s most enduring legacies is the invention of the term “The Middle East”. A brief examination of the origins of the “Middle East” term will reveal it to be a contrived geopolitical expression of Anglo-British origin. Despite this the “Middle East” term is often used by scholars, the media and laypersons, as if it were a valid, logical and scientific concept. More specifically the terms “Middle East” and “Middle Eastern” are often assumed to portray a cultural, anthropological and historical unity like the terms “Europe” and “European” for example. In practice the “Middle East” terminology has served to create profound misconceptions with respect to the greater West Asia region. As a simplistic term, the “Middle East” invention has done little to ease growing geopolitical issues at the international level.

The term “Middle East” was first invented by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914). Mahan’s invention first appeared in the September 1902 issue of London’s monthly “National review” in an article entitled “The Persian Gulf and International Relations”. Specifically, Mahan wrote: “The Middle East, if I may adopt the term which I have not seen…”.  The term – Middle East – when examined in cultural, anthropological and cultural terms makes very little sense. Iran and Turkey for example are not Arab countries and in fact share a long-standing Turco-Iranian or Persianate civilization distinct from the Arabo-Islamic dynamic. Instead, the Turks and Iranians have strong ties to the Caucasus and Central Asia (Image: Encyclopedia Brittanica).

The article discusses the history of how (and why) the “Middle East” term (or myth?) was invented. As noted in the above quote of the article the term [Middle East] is often used by scholars, the media and laypersons, as if it were a valid, logical and scientific concept.

Mahan’s invented term “Middle East” was popularized by Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852-1929), a journalist designated as “a special correspondent from Tehran” by The Times newspaper. Chirol’s seminal article “The Middle Eastern Question” expanded Mahon’s version of the “Middle East” to now include “Persia, Iraq, the east coast of Arabia, Afghanistan, and Tibet”. Surprised? Yes, you read correctly -Tibet! The term Middle East was (and is) a colonial construct used to delineate British (and now West European and US) geopolitical and economic interests. These same interests help promote the usage of terminology such as “Islamic arts and architecture”  (Image: Ria Press).

As expostulated in the article, the term “Middle East” is a geopolitical term. Western media outlets, political platforms and entertainment venues have been using the “Middle East” term since the early 20th century, however the term itself is neither scientific nor historical.

Mahon and Chirol’s invention (Middle East) provided the geopolitical terminology required to rationally organize the expansion of British political, military and economic interests into the Persian Gulf region. After the First World War, Winston Churchill (above –  1874-1965) became the head of the newly established “Middle East Department”.  Churchill’s department redefined mahon’s original “The Middle East” invention to now include the Suez Canal, the Sinai, the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the newly created states of Iraq, Palestine, and Trans-Jordan. Tibet and Afghanistan were now excluded from London’s Middle East grouping. The decision to include non-Arab Iran as a member of the “Middle East” in 1942 was to rationalize the role of British political and Petroleum interests in the country (Image: Wikipedia).

As discussed towards the concluding sections of the Farrokh-Vasseghi article (page 14):

The first and foremost impact of the “Middle East” concept is in how Iranians continue to be classified by the majority of North Americans as an Arab country. Jack Shaheen for example had discovered as far back as the 1980s that over 80 percent of North Americans believe Iranians to be Arabs and Arabic-speaking. Again the term “Muslim” (pronounced /Moozlem/ in North American outlets) appears to be the catalyst for these misconceptions – the notion that if a region is Islamic in religion (regardless of sect or denomination, etc.) then all persons associated with that region must somehow be automatically Arabs and/or share the same language, culture and civilization. However not all Arabs are Islamic in faith as there are also Christian Arabs whose roots go back for centuries before the arrival of the Islamic religion. Thus even the Western conception of Arabs is simplistic and misleading.

Words and terminologies can have a significant impact, especially when these are applied erroneously with respect to the understanding of identity and culture. Put simply, politically invented terminologies such as “Middle East” and “Muslim World” often represent a colonialist-economic power viewpoint. “

The “Middle East” myth has in turn led to the rise of yet more politically-based terminologies. These in turn have entered the domains of scholarship, popular media outlets and political discourse. One such example is noted by Souren Malekian (see full article here …):

“Political bias often leads to absurd categorization. Even so, few among the arbitrary constructs adopted by the West as a result of 19th-century colonial attitudes can beat the meaningless concept of “Islamic art.” Its corrosive effect on academic thinking is matched by its counterproductive effect in the art market. By lumping together works of art that are not remotely related aesthetically or conceptually, it leads to a visual confusion that is unhelpful, to put it mildly. … Orientalism has barely changed its colors…”

The landmark textbook “Orientalism” by the late Edward Said (1935-2003) originally published in 1979 (for more information on this text see – Amazon.com). As noted in the Amazon.com link: This entrenched view [of the “Orient”] continues to dominate western ideas and, because it does not allow the East to represent itself, prevents true understanding.”

Professor Jalal Matini has been addressing concerns with respect to (politically motivated) terminology such as “Islamic Science” and “Islamic Arts” since the early 1980s. Matini was the chief editor of the peer-reviewed Iranshenasi journal which examined and published a review of Kaveh Farrokh’s second text Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا- (click the link below in Academia.edu for downloading a copy of the review of Farrokh’s text by Farhad mafie in the peer-reviewed Iranshenasi journal):

Mafie, Farhad (2010). Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, by Dr. Kaveh Farrokh. Iranshenasi, Volume XXII, No.1, Spring 2010, pp.1-5.

Professor Jalal Matini (standing at podium), the Chief Editor of the Iranshenasi journal  flanked by the late Iranian poet and thinker, Nader Naderpour (seated at left) at UCLA.

The Farrokh-Vasseqhi article endeavors to provide an educational and dispassionate examination of the challenges posed by the invention and application of simplistic terminologies aimed at rationalizing geopolitical interests.

Article on Shapur II 359 CE Campaign published in Spanish Military Journal

The prestigious Spanish military journal “Historia de la Guerra” has published an article on Shapur II’s 359 CE campaign against Rome by Javier Sánchez-Gracia and Kaveh Farrokh (click the link below in Academia.edu for downloading the entire article):

Sánchez-Gracia, J., & Farrokh, K. (2017), Fuego en Oriente: La campaña Persa del 359 contra Roma [Fire in the East: the Persian campaign of 359 against Rome], Historia de la Guerra, 6, pp. 7 -13.

Cover page of the 6th edition of the Spanish military history journal “Historia de la Guerra” published in the late fall of 2017.

The article provides an examination of the Sassanian military machine especially with respect to infantry, cavalry, elephant corps, auxiliary units (i.e. slingers, javeliners) and allied contingents.

Cover page of the article “Fuego en Oriente: La campaña Persa del 359 contra Roma” [Fire in the East: the Persian campaign of 359 against Rome] in the Spanish military journal “Historia de la Guerra”.

Sánchez-Gracia and Farrokh also examine the motivations and strategies of Shapur II during his 359 CE campaign against Rome.

Book Chapter on Parthian and Sassanian Helmets

A book chapter has been published in the academic textbook “Crowns, Hats Turbans and Helmets” by Kaveh Farrokh, Reza Karamian, Adam Kubic and M. Oshterinani (click the link below in Academia.edu for downloading the entire chapter):

Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., Kubic, A., & Oshterinani, M.T. (2017). An Examination of Parthian and Sasanian Military Helmets. In “Crowns, hats, turbans and helmets: Headgear in Iranian history volume I” (K. Maksymiuk & Gh. Karamian, Eds.), Siedlce University & Tehran Azad University, pp.121-163.

A glance at the Table of Contents section of the book reveals book chapters by world-class international expert military historians which include:

  • David Nicolle (Nottingham University, United Kingdom)
  • Ilkka Syvanne (University of Haida, Israel)
  • Mariusz Mielczarek (Polish Academy of Sciences, Łódź, Poland)
  • Svyatoslav V. Smirnov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia)
  • Dan-Tudor Ionescu (Metropolitan Library of Bucharest, Romania)
  • Sergei Yu. Kainov (State Historical Museum, Moscow, Russia)

The above list is only a sample of the academic experts contributing to the recent book, as the table of contents will reveal. The book chapter by Farrokh, Karamian, Kubic and Oshterinani provides an in-depth analysis into the study of Parthian and Sassanian helmets. As noted in the Abstract (page 121):

This paper examines Iranian helmets from the 2nd century BCE Parthian era into the Sasanian era in the 3rd to 7th century CE. Analyses involve excavated helmets, and depictions of helmets on plaques, coins, bullae, metalworks and stone reliefs housed in museums, private collections and auction houses. Clay sculptures and wall paintings in Central Asia, depictions on Roman victory columns and the line drawings of Dura Europos as well as the reliefs in Iran provide additional information on Iranian headgear and helmets. Sasanian helmets appear to have utilized a rank and/or heraldry system with the possibility that helmets varied between the different regions of the Sasanian Empire (especially between the western and northeast regions). Limitations to research due to limited (especially Parthian) helmet samples are discussed with suggestions for further research”.

Sassanian Spangenhelm Helmet recovered from Nineveh in modern-day Iraq which would have been a part of Sassanian Enpire (224-651 AD) at the time. The Spangenhelm helmet was constructed by fastening metal plates together by rivets (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, Osprey Publishing, pp.223).

As averred to in the article (page 122):

The most recent discovery of a depiction of late Parthian or early Sasanian headgear was made by the 2015 archaeological expedition of Gholamreza Karamian and Meysam Delfan at Koohdasht in Lorestan, Western Iran. The team discovered a 27 x 27 cm relief panel (known to locals as Panj-e Ali or Claw of Ali) displaying a mounted cavalryman charging with a lance …”

Fig. 8. Left panel of Fīrūzābād battle of 224 CE, (photo: Iran Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1971); Drawings and slide design: K. Farrokh, 2016, [A] Early Sassanian helmet or felt cover (?), [B] Late Parthian helmet; [C] Helmet identified as Dacian from the Trajan relief, (photo courtesy Ch. Miks; NOTE: above photo was originally shown in the conference: “Farrokh, K., Karamian, Gh., & Kubic, A. (2016). An Examination of Parthian and Sassanian Military Helmets 2nd century BCE – 7th century CE (2016). THE THIRD COLLOQUIA BALTICA-IRANICA, Nov 25-26, Siedlce University)“.

As acknowledged by the editors of the textbook Katarzya Maksymiuk & Gholamreza Karamian:

First of all, we would like to thank all contributors to this book whose insightful work we had the honour to edit. We would like to express our gratitude to everyone whose worked helped to bring this volume to press, above all our sincere thank you goes to the reviewers of the manuscript, Leonardo Gregoratti (University of Durham, United Kingdom) and parviz Talaee (Shaid Bahonar University of Kerman, Iran).

Last but not least, this undertaking would not have been possible without the abiding support of Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis (the British Museum, London, United Kingdom), Michael Richard Jackson Bonner (Toronto, Canada), Touraj Daryaee (University
of California, Irvine, USA), Erich Kettenhofen (University Trier, Germany), Eduard Khurshidian (National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, Yerevan, Armenia), Aliy Kolesnikov (Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia), Jerzy Linderski (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA), Ciro Lo Muzio (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy), Christian MIKS (the Romano-Germanic Central Museum, Mainz, Germany), Valery Nikonorov (Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia), Nicholas Sekunda (University of Gdańsk, Poland)”.

Sassanian knight at the time of Shapur II (309–379) engaging Roman troops invading Iran in 333 AD. Note the Spangenhelm helmet and suit of mail covering arms and torso. This knight resembles early Sassanian warriors in which he sports a decorative vest and a medallion strap on his chest; he also dons a Spangenhelm helmet. He has lost his lance in an earlier assault and is now thrusting his heavy broadsword using the Sassanian grip (known in the west as the ‘Italian’ grip) in the forward position for maximum penetration effect. The sword handle is based on that depicted for one of Shapur I’s swords (British Museum B.M.124091); the sheath is based on the Bishapur depictions. His sword tactic is meant for shock and short engagements; he will then retire and discharge missiles. The bow and missiles in the left hand will be deployed as the knight redeploys at least 20 meters away. The quiver is modelled on that of King Pirooz (New York Metropolitan Museum Inv.34.33) (Picture Source: Farrokh, K., Elite Sassanian Cavalry-اسواران ساسانی-, Osprey Publishing, 2005, Plate D, pp.61).

The concluding section of this Book Chapter begins as follows (page 138):

This study leads us to the conclusion that the Sasanian military constructed several types of helmets from the known early 3rd century CE ridge helmet (2-piece) to the later multi-segment systems of the 5th to 7th centuries CE housed in European and US museums and auction houses. Examination of the iconography of Sasanian sites leads to questions as to whether other types of helmets, such as the earlier Parthian-Seleucid types, had been built as well. Another complicating factor is the restraint required when interpreting the function of helmets as displayed in iconography, as it cannot be ascertained if these were ceremonial or functional (for battle).”

UNESCO: Recognition of Polo (Chogan) as a Sport Originating In Iran

The report “UNESCO lists polo as Iran’s intangible cultural heritage” was announced in the Mehr News Agency (December, 7, 2017) and has been also reported on Iranian.com (December 7, 2017) and PressTV (December 11, 2017).

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As noted on December 7, 2017 in Mehr News: UNESCO has recognized the team sport of polo, played on horseback, as Iran’s intangible cultural heritage during a session held in South Korea on December 7.

After three years of extensive efforts, international negotiations, and close cooperation between Iran’s sports ministry and Cultural Heritage Organization, the team sport of polo (known as ‘chogan’ in Persian) has been added as Iran’s intangible cultural heritage to UNESCO list during the 12th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, taking place from December 4 to December 8 in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Iran submitted a proposal for the inclusion of polo in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage to UNESCO on 30 March 2016. The dossier was reviewed and shortlisted for inclusion under the 2003 Convention on Nov. 7, 2017.

The polo dossier is the second of thirteen documented Iranian intangible cultural heritages that is related to the country’s traditional sports and ritual games.

The dossier was recognized as a masterpiece of heritage of humanity and inscribed in UNESCO’s list without any objections or provisions.

A Persian miniature made in 1546, during the reign of the Safavid dynasty of Iran (1501-1722). This artwork is of the Persian poem Guy-o Chawgân (“Ball and Polo-mallet”) depicting Iranian nobles engaged in the game of polo, which has been played in Iran for thousands of years (Picture Source: Public Domain).

The first recorded game of polo, in which players on horseback score by driving a small ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled wooden mallet, reportedly took place in 600 BC in ancient Persia.

As noted further in Iranian.com (December 7, 2017):

Farhad Nazari who is the head of the Iranian Office for Registration of Historical Monuments confirmed the approval, which will officially be registered next month at the 12th meeting of the UNESCO committee in South Korea. Nazari added that the case titled “The art of making and playing the kamancheh” will also be reviewed and registered by UNESCO at next month’s meeting. Four days after the Mehr News report on December 11, 2017, PressTV announced the following:

“The Kamancheh and Polo and have been officially registered as an Iranian sport and a traditional Persian musical instrument on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.”

Polo was invented and reportedly first played in 600 BC in ancient Persia. The original name of polo is “Chogan” and in Iran the game is still referred to as “Chogan”. Throughout history, the game has been popular among warriors, generals, princes, and kings as a means of training cavalry for warfare. As noted by Hossein Jafari, head of Isfahan’s Chogan Office:

Chogan is our national sport and has its roots in ancient Iranian traditions…”

Sportsmen in Iran engage in a game of polo (Source: Iranian.com).

 

Book by Adel Bashqawi on Circassia

Adel Bashqawi, himself of Circassian descent has written a seminal book on Circassia entitled:

“Circassia: Born to Be Free”

This book is available for order from Xlibris, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Booktopia/Australia. The book is already receiving positive attention from readers in Amazon:One of the few pieces of literature on the Circassians’ history that does not stray from the Truth. Well researched and steeped in passion, Adel Bashqawi’s “Circassia, Born To Be Free” is a must read for anyone interested in the Circassians.

This book provides the history of Circassia, a small European nation in the northwestern Caucasus. It explains the Tsarist Russian invasion of this nation and the ensuing genocide which forced a mass migration. As a result of this history, most Circassians today live in the diaspora. Adel Bashqawi, himself a descendant of Circassian immigrants forcibly deported from their homeland into the Ottoman Empire, felt obligated to highlight an virtually forgotten period in the history of the Circassian nation.

Map of Circassia as drafted by James Stanislaus Bell in 1840 (Source: Adel Bashqawi “Circassia: Born to be Free”).

This book will attract the interest of readers wanting to be informed about the many challenges facing the Circassian issue. This book elaborates on a variety of affairs of concern to Circassians and non-Circassians alike, notably those of academic interest and human rights issues.

Circassians in traditional Kabardino attire (Source: Pinterest).

The Circassian tragedy is analyzed in detail by Bashqawi. While this has received little attention in Western historiography, up to 90 percent of Circassians are reported by Bashqawi as having been deported from their homeland. They are today scattered in scores of countries around the world, with the rest dispersed in their motherland, living in several Russian administrative enclaves. Today, the integral elements of the entire Circassian nation are at stake, not just in territorial terms, but their language and culture.

A Circassian man dressed in ancient Scythian warrior attire (Source: Topsy.one). The Scythians were an Iranian-speaking people closely kin to the Persians, Medes, etc. of ancient Iran. The territory of Circassia in antiquity was part of greater ancient Scythia in Eastern Europe.

The book describes how a nation has struggled to defend its very existence, identity, freedom and the very future of its generations who have endured a tremendous amount over the decades as a result of the already cited the Tsarist invasion. The Circassians have had to adapt to the conditions imposed by their displacement into the lands of diaspora, concomitant with a constant struggle against alienation.

A distinguishing feature of this book is that it deals with the issue of the Circassian identity and proposes possible legal methods with which the Circassians can utilize in order to re-attain their cultural rights. This book also examines political issues not discussed in several books discussing Circassia and Circassians. By linking the past to the present, Bashqawi arrives at a vision for the future. he also cogently argues that simply ignoring the issues is no longer an adaptive option.  It is also argued that optimism and solidarity are required to preserve the culture, heritage, language, and the entire nation of the Circassians.

Circassian girls in the Northern Caucasus (Source: Pinterest).

The book demonstrates how the Circassians have the potential of linking and uniting over the internet. The use of traditional print media, modern and advanced communications, and social media have provided solid foundations for helping the Circassians connect across the globe. Thus far, the internet has aided with the following: teaching the Circassian Adigha language, preserving culture, acquiring eBooks, addressing children’s concerns, establishing communications, connecting activists, disseminating information about the Circassian issue, learning Circassian history, sharing petitions, finding research centers, reaching libraries, accessing archives, bookstores, and other important matters.

A traditional Circassian flag featuring twelve club symbols which represent twelve of Circassia’s provinces, alongside a Circassian unity symbol (Source: Topsy.one).