These Maps Help Explain the Middle East

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If asked to point out the Middle East and its borders on a map, could you do it? Geographically, it stretches from North Africa to Iran, but it’s a tricky question because what we know as the “Middle East” has changed so much over time. Whether through demographic shifts or political revolutions, the lines have constantly been redrawn. Thankfully, maps from over the years illustrate how it came to exist as it does now. 

(Le Monde Diplomatique)

This is an outline of the Middle East in 1914. What’s evident here is that many countries were controlled by European powers, namely the British and French, while others were still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.


The Kurdish ethnic minority has been oppressed by the governments of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran for more than a hundred years. This map shows where Kurds live in those areas and the proposed borders from signed agreements throughout the century. 


The founding of Israel in 1947 and the ensuing war the following year are well-explained by the illustrations above. It shows the Arab armies’ invasion of the newly established country, as well as the counterattacks by the Israeli forces. 


By the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the controlling powers of the Middle East looked very different. This map from The Economist describes the nature of the various revolutions and uprisings in the region at the time, including which nations had no involvement. 

The Middle East is a region as complex as it is beautiful, and while these maps help demystify one of the most incredible and historic areas on the planet, there is plenty left to learn. Head over to Vox for dozens of more maps to learn more about the region.