• Unit 7: North Africa and Southwest Asia

    The region of North Africa and Southwest Asia is incredibly wide and spans more than 100° degrees of longitude. Although its east-west extent is not as wide as Russia's, this vast area has connected Eastern Europe and Western Asia since 100 BCE. Consequently, this region has an extraordinary level of ethnolinguistic diversity.

    The region of North Africa and Southwest Asia includes countries in the sub-region of North Africa, with countries on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea: Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. It also borders the Atlantic Ocean, the Sahara Desert, and African Transition Zone (the Sahel). Egypt's Sinai Peninsula includes territory in Africa and Asia. Southwest Asia also includes sub-regions.

    Because there are so many variations within this region, we occasionally focus on one sub-region to highlight some key concepts. Depending on the map you are studying, different countries are often categorized into different sub-regions.

    Here is a list of countries that comprise these sub-regions. Note that geographers may include different countries in these lists.

    • Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan
    • Central Asia (also called Turkestan): Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan
    • Middle East: Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran
    • Arabian Peninsula: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Kuwait

    This region is also the hearth of the three largest monotheistic religions in the world and is home to sacred places for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. This proximity has caused centuries of conflict among religious and ethnic groups throughout a region that has its own history of conquest. Finally, we will apply the themes of urbanization and inequality, which we have studied throughout this course.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.

    • 7.1: Maps of North Africa and Southwest Asia

      Let's begin our examination of North Africa and Southwest Asia by studying a political map.

    • 7.2: Geographic Features and Cultural Adaptations of North Africa and Southwest Asia

      Let's begin by exploring the physical features of North Africa and Southwest Asia and then examining how the population has adapted to their physical environment. For example, natural resources have contributed to the region's economic wealth, but access to fresh water continues to pose a major challenge to many of its residents. Some adaptations date back to when humans first settled the Fertile Crescent. Although there are alpine climates in the region's highlands and temperate conditions along the coastal areas, the region's arid climate is its defining characteristic.

      The arid climate poses the most significant challenge to these sparsely-populated areas, including the Sahara Desert of North Africa and the Arabian Desert of Southwest Asia. These deserts are so hot because they mostly lie in the tropics. For example, the average temperature of the Arabian Desert ranges from approximately 38 to 42°C from May to September. The Rub' al-Khali (the Empty Quarter) is too hot and dry even for desert nomads. To the north, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan also have vast areas with arid conditions, but they are not as hot.

      Isolated highlands rise above these arid regions. The Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and the Iranian Plateau exhibit alpine climates because the conditions are so different from those at their bases.

      The countries of the Caucasus Mountains have highland climates with cool semi-arid and even humid subtropical climates at their base. There are narrow temperate swaths along the coasts of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in North Africa and Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey in Southwest Asia. These areas are more densely populated than the arid and highland areas of this region.

      Since arid climates pervade this region, water is a valuable resource to the populations that inhabit it. Fresh water on the Arabian Peninsula comes from nonrenewable groundwater and seawater desalination. Renewable aquifers and ephemeral streams collect runoff from rainfall in the mountains. However, this surface water is limited to areas west and southwest of the Arabian Peninsula.

    • 7.3: Urbanization in North Africa and Southwest Asia

      The population in this region tends to live near sources of fresh water. For example, 100 percent of the Egyptian population lives in Cairo, Alexandria, or elsewhere along the banks of the Nile River and Suez Canal. In 2011, the population of Cairo was 21,750,020, making it the sixth-largest city in the world and the largest city in the region of North Africa and Southwest Asia.

      Cairo is a primate city because Alexandria, the next largest city in Egypt, is only one-third its size (5,483,605 population). On the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul is the third largest city in the region, with a population of 15,636,243.

    • 7.4: The Arabian Peninsula's Oil Resources

      Arid conditions in North Africa and Southwest Asia have severely limited agricultural production as a source of wealth. However, the economic futures of many parts of this region began to brighten in 1908 when engineers discovered oil in what is now Iran. This precious resource was soon found in Iraq in 1927, Bahrain in 1932, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in 1938. Oil would eventually be discovered in Qatar, Oman, UAE (United Arab Emirates), Syria, and Yemen.

    • 7.5: Sub-Region of Central Asia

      The sub-region of Central Asia includes Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries are former Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs), except for Afghanistan. Many people are aware of Afghanistan due to its strategic location, but they tend to overlook the rest of Central Asia. This area was a critical historical crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia and an area of cultural diffusion.

    • 7.6: The Religious Hearths of North Africa and Southwest Asia

      Religion is a critical element of culture to human geographers who study the spatial distribution of religion, how communities practice their faith, and how a population's beliefs influence their culture and institutions. The origin of three of the world's primary religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – resides in the region of North Africa and Southwest Asia, the sub-region many call the Middle East or the Holy Land.

    • 7.7: Conquest in North Africa and Southwest Asia

      Like several areas we have explored, the region of North Africa and Southwest Asia has been conquered and ruled by outsiders throughout history. Its religious significance and strategic location as a crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia have made it an asset to anyone who controls it.

    • 7.8: The Impact of Conquest on the Caucasus Sub-Region

      The map in Figure 7.14 shows that Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia make up the Caucasus sub-region which is strategically located east of the Black Sea and west of the Caspian Sea. Foreign powers have long sought to control this heavily-traveled territory which has served as a geographic bridge between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The Romans, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Ottomans, and Russians have all conquered this territory since the fourth century BCE.

      The Soviet Union ruled the sub-regions of Central Asia and the Caucasus during much of the 20th century. All of these countries were SSRs except for Afghanistan. Note that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, sparking the Soviet-Afgan War, which lasted until 1989. Russia also tried to seize the country of Georgia in August 2008, a former SSR, after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

      The Caucasus has seen many conflicts due to its ethnolinguistic diversity. Figure 7.13 highlights four of these areas: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Azerbaijan exclave of Nakhichevan. As in Sub-Saharan Africa, borders have been imposed on the population without regard for the pre-existing human geography.

      For example, Georgia includes several ethnolinguistic regions that are not ethnically Georgian, such as South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Adjara, which have sought independence from Georgia. Adjara is not shown on the map but surrounds the city of Batumi in the south.

      South Ossetia is part of a larger region known as Ossetia, which straddles the Russian-Georgian border. The South Ossetians have sought independence from Georgia since Georgia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2008, Georgia tightened its control over the region by force, which prompted Russia to invade the region in support of Ossetian independence. Although South Ossetians are not ethnically Georgian or Russian, many believe Russian support will help them achieve independence from Georgia.

      The Abkhaz and Adjarian ethnic groups are also seeking independence from Georgia. Similar ethnic conflicts have arisen between Azerbaijan and Armenia, resulting in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijan exclave of Nakhichevan.

    • 7.9: Decolonization and Western Sahara

      In 1881, Spain claimed the region it called Spanish Sahara during the Berlin Conference. Spain was interested in this coastal area as a port for transporting slaves and for commercial fishing.

    • 7.10: The Modern Political Landscape of North Africa and Southwest Asia

      Let's look at how this region's history of conquest and colonization has influenced its current political landscape. Conflict in the form of war, terrorism, and even genocide still affects parts of this region. Inequality is particularly acute.

      Several countries have a theocratic government. In 2011, during the so-called Arab Spring, thousands of empowered citizens protested their governments' failure to recognize the needs of the people. However, any democratic progress that resulted was short-lived.

    • 7.11: Religious Conflict in North Africa and Southwest Asia

      Religion is an aspect of culture that defines the identity of many people. However, religion also has a geographic component because it diffuses the movement of people and their communication with one another. It leaves a mark on the landscape when people identify and build sacred places where they gather in search of community and moral guidance.

      However, people also use the cloak of religion to destroy their physical and human landscape. Globalization has exacerbated this conflict when people feel their identities are threatened by the pervasiveness of other cultures.

    • Unit 7 Assessment

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