Thursday, March 14, 2013

These Middle Easterners: A Conundrum of People

Nadene Goldfoot
Egyptians, Lebanese, Turks and Iranians are Caucasians of the same general type as the Greeks, Italians, Spanish, Irish and Jews.  Negroids are among the area, especially in the Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf areas.  There are some Mongoloid people, such as the Turkmans of NE Iran and central Iraq.  Jews in Israel come from all corners of the earth and might be making up all of the above.  The Middle East has been in the crossroads of humanity for ages, so that racial mixing can only be traced through dna programs such as is found in 23&Me or familytreedna companies today.

How these people differ mostly is in their religion which makes up their ethics, but first, communication is stunted by language.  Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Kurdish and Hebrew are spoken in this part of the world.  In Israel, students study Hebrew, either Arabic or French and everyone studies English.   Signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Those who speak Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew are most at odds with each other.  Hebrew speakers are of the nation of Israel while Arabic speakers are scattered in the Middle East. Israelis also speak Arabic or French.  Linguistic and cultural ties bind the Arab countries.  They range to the Sudan and North Africa and as far west as the Atlantic Ocean.    Another Semitic group are the Assyrians, also called the Chaldeans, who speak Syriac.  They are Christians and live mostly in Iran and Iraq with small numbers in Syria and Lebanon and much larger numbers in the USA. The largest Assyrian settlements are in Iran and Iraq.  They can be called "the Nestorians".  This  group, before 632 were the main propagators of Christianity throughout Asia.

The Turks have linguistic ties with the Turkmans and Uzbeks in the east and Hungarians and Finns in the west.  Turks are relative newcomers to the Middle East.  Iranians are the Indo-Europeans who have linguistic and cultural ties with people of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and parts of Turkmanistan,  Uzbekistan and Pakistan.   Linguistically, there is a connection between Persians (Iran) and most of the languages of India and Europe.  Armenians and Kurds are related linguistically to the Persians, but by dna, Kurds are the closest to the Jews.  Religiously, they are both from the Persians and from each other.  “Farsi” means Persian language and is a word that became popular in the USA in the 50's.

Armenians are scattered in most of the countries of the Middle East and the world.  Mainly they exist in the Soviet Republic of Armenia.  Kurds are predominantly a rural people and most live in parts of Turkey, Iran and Iraq.  Armenians and Kurds are minority groups with nationalistic aspirations.

An important difference is religion in the Middle East.  The majority are Muslims who are divided between Sunni and Shi’i.  The largest group are the Sunnis.  They feel they are the direct line from Muhammad and feel they are orthodox Muslims.  This is in question by Wahhabism, which is the state religion of Saudi Arabia.

Shi’s are divided into 4 groups; Ja’fari or Twelvers is the state religion of Iran and they are scattered in other countries of the Middle East as well.  Ismaili or Seveners, Zaydis which is the state religion of Yemen and Alawis who live in N. Syria, Yemen and Morocco.  Sufis are a part of the Islamic community who practice mysticism and is suspect by the clergy of Islam.
The largest minority is the Christians, divided into 4 groups; Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental churches, Roman Catholics and Anglican and other Protestant Churches.  One has only to look at Egypt and see that they are being attacked and persecuted today.
Judaism is the 2nd non-Islamic religion of the Middle East and the reason why Israel was established.  Sephardim Jews never left the area but after 70 CE, when Jerusalem fell to the Romans, moved into nearby Arab communities and were 2nd class citizens (dhminnis) and as far away as Spain (forced to leave in 1492) and then Portugal (also forced to leave or convert).  .  Ashkenazsim were taken to Rome, then traveled to Germany and on up into Eastern Europe.  Jews from both groups moved back when possible to Eretz Yisrael, their old home. Most all synagogues in Israel are Orthodox, but there are Conservative and Reform there as well.   A 3rd non-Islamic religion was Zoroastrianism from Iran up to 632.  There are also The Druze found in Lebanon, Syria and Israel, an offshoot of Shi'a;  Yazidis, Sabians and Bahais.

A little less than 5% in the Middle East are nomads.  However, though none are in Lebanon, between 25-30% are in Saudi Arabia.  They herd sheep, goats or camels.  Some are in Iran and Turkey who live in higher levels.  Their leader is either a shaykh or khan.  They sell sheep, milk, butter, cheese and wool to towns.  Their way of life is in danger of disappearing.

Expect for Jews in Israel, sexes have been traditionally segregated and women have been subordinate to men.  The veil covers women’s faces and is the symbol of Muslim conservatism.  Whereas Egypt had become very secular and women were not veiled, it has returned with the Muslim Brotherhood.  Many women of the Middle East now cover themselves completely with the Burka, usually black in color.  The only thing to be seen are the eyes.  Orthodox Jewish women are covering their hair, thought to be sexually attractive.  They also keep their arms covered to just below the elbow, and the word is to modest in dress.  Otherwise, women are a part of the armed forces and dress accordingly.  They make wonderful sergeants.  Women have always been leaders in their communities, starting with Deborah of the Bible days.

Resource: Textbook: Middle East Past &I Present by Yahya Armajani, and Thomas M. Ricks


  1. Sephardim speak ladino. Its like yiddish to Ashkenazsim

  2. You're right, but I don't think they speak it in Israel, only Hebrew. Ashkenazim don't speak Yiddish there, either, only Hebrew. In fact, Yiddish is frowned on as being the language of the Galut, and Hebrew if the original language we all used to speak. But I bet the old folks still speak Yiddish and Ladino if they are living in Israel, anyway. It's just too hard to change languages when you're older. For instance, my grandmother never did learn English. She only spoke Yiddish, and she lived in the states from at least 18 years old on. One thing I can tell you, women who aren't out in the world making a living do not pick up a new language. The older they get, the harder it is for them to learn.
    Israel has ulpans set up to learn Hebrew and everyone is expected to attend when they first arrive. I, as a teacher, had to attend for 10 months, 6 days a week for the whole day every day. Other people had to attend for 3 months. After my 10 month period I was still expected to keep attending wherever I was living at least twice a week for as long as possible or needed. I did, and certainly needed it. I was one of those old folks.