A lot of the positions I have applied for in academia are forjobs in the history of the Middle East. Due to recent events it is a hot topic and has a number of new openings each year. In contrast the number of new slots dealing with Russia has dwindled down to almost nothing. It is no longer considered a threat and hence there is no money allocated to study it. Once federal money to study countries deemed a threat to US interests dries up American universities quickly lose interest in researching the history those countries. My interests lay outside the Russian areas of the USSR. I am primarily interested in the Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union, particularly Kazakhstan and Central Asia.
According to the Library of Congress, Kazakhstan, Central Asia and the Caucasus are part of the Middle East. Given the authority of this source this should be enough. But, I will also note that the prestigious Middle East Institute in Washington DC also includes these regions as part of the Middle East. They after all have two of the most important criteria for being Middle Eastern, a predominantly Muslim population and oil.
Central Asia, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus certainly fit better into the Middle East than they do into Europe or Asia. This last term in the US almost always refer to the core countries of East Asia. That is China, Japan and Korea. Sometimes it will encompass some South East Asian countries such as Vietnam as well. It rarely refers to the Indian subcontinent and almost never to Central Asia. In the US for some reason the terms Orient and Asia are considered to be alternate spellings of China. In the UK in contrast Asia means South Asia. That is India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Oriental in Great Britian generally refers to the Middle East, particularly the Arab world. The problem of Americacentric terms that contradict the official US geographical definitions given by the Library of Congress is a real one.
It has occurred to me that alot of American Universities like alot of Americans have no conceptual space for Central Asia and the Caucasus except for their former membership in the USSR. Thinking of these regions as post-Soviet makes a certain amount of sense, but it also makes sense to think of Indochina, Algeria and West Africa as former French colonial space. These are not geographical divisions. If one is going to be consistent then America should be catagorized as part of the former British Empire.
The broad definition of the Middle East used by the Library of Congress and Middle East Institute is often replaced by narrower more parochial borders. Alot of these make no sense. The classic American grouping of Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and the Arabian penninsula as being the whole of the Middle East is particularly irrational. Why are only parts of the Arab, Turkic and Iranian worlds included? Surely, even taking into account the Berbers and other minorities, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya are just as Arab as Iraq with its large Kurdish minority or Egypt with its many Copts. It gets even stranger in the northern tier. Both Turkey and Iran are considered part of the Middle East, but Azerbaijan is not. Azerbaijani is linguistically close enough to Anatolian Turkish that they can easily communicate with each other and half of the world's Azerbaijanis live in Iran. But, because Azerbaijan was briefly under Tsarist then Soviet rule it is not included as part of the Middle East. Angola was under Portuguese rule for much longer than Azerbaijan was under Russian and Soviet rule. That does not, however, remove Angola from Africa. If one is going to define the Middle East it should be done on a cultural basis. That would include all those countries of Arab, Turkic and Iranian heritage. This area stretches from Mauritania in the west, Sudan in the south, Kazakhstan in the north and Eastern Turkestan in the east. The Library of Congress and Middle East Institute use this definition. Everybody else should get with the program.