These days, the Middle East garners nonstop attention from the world. Conflict, struggles, and other hardships continue to plague the region.
Most of us understand vaguely what the constitutes the “Middle East,” but it’s important to understand more fully the nature of the crises and history of the region as we encourage peace.
Key to understanding the Middle East region is understanding the differences between terms used to describe the people, places, languages, and ethnic groups, similar to explaining differences such as Race vs Ethnicityor Spanish vs Latin American.
Middle East & Middle Eastern
First, we must tackle this set of terms, as we’ve used it already in the intro.
The countries that make up the Middle East vary slightly depending on the source. However, most agree that…
The Middle East countries are:
A Middle Easterner is a person from the Middle East.
One point often forgotten these days is that there are several countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, not included in the Middle East. These nations, as well as Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and even Djibouti and Somalia have been referred to in the past as part of the Greater Middle East.
Arab & Arabian
Arab is an umbrella term for a panethnic group of people, a people that comprise many different ethnicities within, sort of like saying “Southeast Asian” or such.
Generally, and even more-so presently, Arabs consist of the peoples of the member nations of the Arab League. The Arab League is a group of 22 nations and territories that formed in 1945. However, being an Arab is much more an ethnicity, so there are people who live in the Arab countries that do not consider themselves Arabs, such as the Kurds.
Arabs are not necessarily Arabians.
Arabians are people from the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian Peninsula is now home to Arabic peoples, so you could say that Arabians are Arabs, but not all Arabs are Arabians, since many live off of the peninsula. The Arab peoples are united by an identity of a shared culture and history.
Most Arabs speak Arabic, which is a language and not meant to refer to the people, though you could say “Arabic-speaking people.”
Persia & Persian
Who is considered Persian?
Persian can refer to people of Iran and a language. But, when referring to people, Persians are Iranians who speak the Persian language (Farsi).
And where are Persians from?
The term Persian people historically meant “from Persis,” which is around Pars, Iran, north of the Persian Gulf. With this definition, not all Iranians are Persians, but all Persians are Iranians, nationally.
So, Persian vs Iranian…
However, some now designate Persian people as a panethnic group (like the Arab people above) and use it as a demonym to define all people of Iran. If you’re unclear, it’s probably safer to call someone from Iran as Iranian.
To confuse you more, one final thing:
Since we stated that the origin of the term “Persian people” originally meant someone from Persis, many Iranians often use “Persian” to make a locational distinction, rather than an ethnic one. Thus, there may be non-Persian people (who don’t speak Farsi) whom Iranians deem Persian, based on them being from the Persian region.
Again, maybe just use “Iranian.”
Good luck! 😉
This is part of our ongoing series, “Versus: ‘What’s the Difference?’” For more like this, check out these articles:
So, what did you think? Do you understand the difference between Arab and Persian, Arabic vs Arab, and Persian vs Middle Eastern? Got anything more to add? Let us know in the comments below!