Yougoslavia. Torn apart when several regions declared independence from the central government. Ethnic tensions exploded when Serbia tried to seize Bosnia. Ethnic cleansing and slaughter was carried on.
Kosovo: Ethnic tensions between the Albanian population in Kosovo, which is the majority, and the Serbians. When Kosovo declares itself independent, Serbia goes for slaughter and ethnic cleansing.
Greece: Although peaceful after WW2, extremist right-wing parties still have a great influence, which they built up on the dissatisfaction with national economy and immigration.
Romania and Moldova: Romania is now peaceful, but we should not forget that in neighbouring Moldova, the region of Transnistria acts like a de facto State, with its own rulers, currency, passports, etc. It is considered the European centre for illegal import of weapons.
Turkey. While trying to become a worthy member of Europe, Turkey is divided. Its bigger part, the Anatolia region, apart from some luxury seaside resorts, is still a place where it is required to be careful (especially women). Turkey has still problematic relations with its neighbours (Syria), and contributes to the occupation of Kurdistan, whose inhabitants live in a permanent guerrilla state. In addition, Turkey was responsible for Armenians’ genocide.
Introducing the Mediterranean Middle-East is difficult, because one could write either too much or not enough about the topic. Let us just remember that this region has always been a necessary transit for merchants going eastwards, which made it the most important market in Europe. It was already important in ancient times, when the wheather and geography of the area favoured some among the earliest urban settlements in human history. Now the distribution of resources is different, as well as the commercial routes. However, mutatis mutandis, it remains a key-region for cultural (and religious) reasons, and as a borderland which control the Saudi Arabia countries’ access to the Mediterranean Sea.
Syria. Nowadays, Syria is screwed up by a civil war in which liberation army faces the dictator’s troops. Moreover, the county has become the battle field among different islamic parties that compete for the control of the territory after the conflict. Integralism has a relevant role in the picture, while official Western intervention is limited by Russian and Chinese veto. However, Western underground involvement cannot be excluded — as well as Israel’s.
Lebanon. Lebanon is the centre of ethnic tensions between different islamic groups, as well as the Maronite Christians. It is the place where refugee from Syria gathers. Golan hills are still a place of conflict with Israel (probably because of the water supplies).
Cyprus. offshore from Syria an Lebanon, Cyprus is divided in two parts. The Western is recognized by UN and has a working economy. The Eastern one is supported by Turkey only and appears to be poor and badly managed.
Israel. it is a country of contradictions, born when the Sionist movement got support by Western countries (especially Britain and the U.S.) for the creation of a Jewish State. While it is true that Palestine was poorly developed at the time, the wealthy but demographically unsettling immigration of the new Israeli people broke the regional balances (as foresought by the supporting countries). A sequel of civil wars started, in which Palestinian faced Israeli for the control of resources and of the land itself. However, Palestinians did not completely align with the will of other Eastern Islamic countries (which were not looking after direct intervention) so it was left to fight alone over a certain period. This ultimately led to its defeat. Israel itself, as previously said, is contradictory: powerful army, widespread conscription, wealthy companies. However, it still preaches itself as the defender of the Jewish religion, while at the same time ambiguity is maintained whether or not it is looking after Western interests, global Jewish interests, or his citizens’ ones (since not all of the Israeli are Jew).
Palestine. After wars with Israel, Palestine shrinked to one fifth of its side. Its inhabitants live in a permanent state of siege, both in the West Bank and Gaza Stripe. Israel tries to end the siege by seizing all the resources and blocking as much humanitarian aids as possible. High demographics, illiteracy, and despair lead Palestinians both to unfruitful protests against the Israeli army and internal struggle for power. The only thing that kept Palestine alive is the diverse interests of Western countries, which officially support Israel, but do not wish to delude the Islamic oil countries.
The Heart of the Middle-East
Iraq, Iran, and the Arabian Paeninsula. Although the latter might deserve different consideration, it could be considered as part of that area that we regard as the cradle of civilization. They are dry lands, but settlements were developed along the abundant rivers that fertilized the fields allowing for richer harvests. Aboundant food resources led to the development of new working classes, among the finest artisans of their era. Moreover, the management of water streams and supply (irrigation, etc.) led to the rise of a class of beaurocrats that identified the social order they represented with the divine order advertised by the educated priests.
Later in the centuries, after the rise and fall of Sumers, Hittites, and Babylonians, Persia still proved to be a country of wonders and administrative solidity, as proven by the fierce resistance that was opposed to Alexander’s invasion. The latter could be regarded as a brief parenthesis, that eventually led to the dissolution of central power which was substituted by local kingdoms whose political history, since then, was linked to different waves of immigration on behalf of the people from the Caucasian mountains and the plains beyond them — starting from the Scythians until the later conquer by the Gengis Kahn’s followers.
Meanwhile, the whole region was characterized by a distinct Islamic culture, imported from the Arabian nomad tribes of the South. Under the rule of different dinasties, the area knew different periods of renaissance, in which fine arts, culture, and commerce flourished. Eventually, Islamic tribes from Arabia focussed on westward expansion. Firstly, they sought control of the Mediterranean region (as mentioned before), which led to the Crusades when their interests clashed with the Byzantine Empire’s ones (and the latter advertised the thing by directing European interests towards those lands). At the same time, North Africa was occupied.
It is worth mentioning that Persia, since Islam was spread, has always been characterized by Shia believers, which abide to a more structured religious system.
When industrial revolution was spread in Europe, this region remained underdeveloped and was eventually subject to dominance by the British Empire or, laterly, by the Russian interests for the area. Finally, things got complicated by the heavy influence of Soviet Russia and, after WW2, these “borderlands” became the theatre of Cold War conflicts, which led to the actual situation.
Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, women are still segregate and equality is not guaranteed.
Yemen. this country is very poor and poorly ruled. The lower classes live on the cultivation of some herb drugs, which help them forget starvation but at the same time stuns them with day-long feelings of dizziness. During the “Arab Spring”, Yemenites tried to rebel to the power, but the situation got to a stall, especially because Yemen’s fate did not raise much interest among other countries.
Iraq. this country was led by a dictatorship supported by Americans, which were funding Sunni Minority: the aim was that of creating a Sunni power in a region traditionally controlled by Shia Muslims (being the latter better disposed towards Iran). When Saddam Hussein did not align with Americans and tried to grasp control of the Middle East region on his own, two wars were fought on the country’s territory which ultimately led to the defeat of the dictator but did not solve the ethnic tensions between religious groups. Under Saddam, Iraq was responsible for war against Iran, Kurdistan ethnic cleansing, occupation of Kuwait, etc…
Iran. Iran was a fairly developed country in the Seventies. As Marianne Satrapi shows, they could listen to Western rock music and the wages were overall raising as a result of industrial (and cultural) development. However, the middle class in the big cities grew dissatisfied with the ruling Shà (king). This led to a revolution that tried to create a communist republic. However, the vast majority of the population in the countryside did not support socialsim — also because of some badly managed reforms. So they supported the rise of an Islamic Shia party (the whole region is more Shia than Sunni) which led to the rule of the Ayatollahs. Now it is a disguised dictatorship in which power is balanced between the religious order and the new laicist ruling class (represented by President Ahmadinejad). Sometimes they differ, but most of the times they pursue common goals. One of them is that of becoming a nuclear power, in spite of UNs restrictions. They are not far from accomplishing such endeavour, given the infrastructure they developed.
While Balkans constitute the most important transit between Europe and the Middle-East, Caucasus links Persia with the northern Russian flatlands. Far from being dry, this region is placed between two main inner seas: the Black Sea (East) and the Caspian Sea (West).
When Romans started spreading their power in Europe, the Southern Russian flatlands where already inhabited by horse-riding nomads. Some of them, centuries later, moved and reached the border of the Roman Empire (Alans, Sarmatians…), while part of these people went southwards, thus mixing with the Caucasians or crossing the mountains to reach Persia (and Parthia).
The main autonomous political entity of Caucasus has been Armenia. It gained its administrative definition as a Hellenistic kingdom after the dissolution of the Persian Empire. Then it became a Roman Province — not without issues with the local Parthian Kingdom. Roman efforts to support a local monarchy opposed to Parthian interests failed, but at least Parthia accepted peace with the Romans.
Eventually, Armenia became subject to many foreign rulers. Its story is the story of a region that, because of its strategic importance, was contended by all of the surrounding countries The last of them were the Caliphs. Even if a great part of their kingdom seemed lost to Islamic rule, Armenians held relevant power among the Byzantine ruling class. Their influence lasted until the end of that Empire, which almost coincides with Armenia falling under the control of the Ottomans, mostly unvaried untill the start of the Twentieth Century.
Armenia. After decades of fights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, Armenians were granted the right to build their own nation… which is surrounded by unfriendly countries that did not like the outcome of this nation-making project.
Georgia. on the border with Russia, Georgia has an ambiguous relationship with the former motherland which led to military fights and even various attempts for invasions. Georgia and Russia share two problematic regions, which from time to time try to officially accomplish their independence: Abkhazia (North-East) and South Ossetia (North). The two of them are de facto independent and supported by Russia, as an attempt to reduce Georgian control over its borders. This situation led to terrorism in all of the involved countries.
Azerbaijan. after Gorbachev’s glasnost policy, Azerbaijan declared independency. The Armenian population of its Western Nagorno-Karabakh mountain region, however, tried to secede from Azerbaijan, which was obstaculating contacts with Armenia — and in doing so they were backed up by Armenian government. This led to a war at the end of which Armenians controlled 16% of Azerbaijan terriotry.
Eastwards: when Middle-East becomes India
Finally, we come to the Eastern border of what we call the Middle-East. While the Islamic influence remains strong, we find different traditions from our stereotype of Islamic countries as desert places. The harsh and cold mountains of Afghanistan become fertile hills and eventually wetlands when they join Indus river.
Afghanistan. it has a story similar to Iranian one. The shift between Communist and Taliban rule went through different alliances by various political leaders which tried to work for both sides (or none at all). Soviets ultimately decided to invade the country in order to support one of the leaders who befriended them offering benefits in exchange for victory. Conversely, this triggered American intervention, which led to the Russian-Afghan war in which the Russian army was defeated by Talibans supported by the US. Later, Talibans extended extermist islamic law to the whole country. After their alleged participation as contributors to the Al-Qaeda movement, they were invaded by America, which was supported by NATO forces.
Pakistan. (as far as I know) it represents the “Islamic” part of India. Its land extends on both the banks of Indus river. Its population is huge, but small if compared with India. There are always tensions between Pakistan and India and relations are not always friendly. Pakistan got nuclear weapons during its economic boom in the Seventies. Civilian rule was substituted by (US supported?) military dictatorship in the late Seventies. As a result, nuclearization and islamization were boosted. In that period, Pakistan became the US support-base for Afghan combatants. Pakistan thus became the cradle of Jihadist movements which had built upon the Mujahideen guerrilla against Russia. Finally, tension with India exploded in a war for the control of Kashmir region (1999 war followed 1947 and 1965 ones).