The broad ethnic diversity of North Africa, Southwest Asia, and Central Asia stems from several early civilizations and three major world religions that evolved in the region. Later control by outside powers and the nationalistic movements that followed have strengthened this diversity. As a result, the region experiences cultural and political challenges today.
Population Patterns This region has been a crossroads for three continents, and the movement and interaction among peoples created great ethnic diversity. Most of the region's people are Arabs who follow Islam. They form the majority of the populations of North Africa, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. The majority Jewish population of Israel and their Arab neighbors have experienced much conflict over land, especially related to Palestinian refugees. Numerous ethnic groups make up the populations of the Caucasus and the Central Asian republics. Conflicts over water, rapid population growth, and urbanization all create pressures for governments in the region.
History and Government Early peoples in the region were among the first to domesticate plants and animals. The Sumerian civilization arose in Mesopotamia, and the Egyptian civilization arose along the Nile Valley. Later empires made important inventions and developed trade routes. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each originated in the region. After various empires, invasions, and rule by western European powers, independent states arose in the region during the 1900s. Most countries are Arab, but Israel is one of the exceptions. There has been much conflict between Israel and Arab countries, dominated today by the disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Other nationalistic and border conflicts create challenges for the region's governments, and Afganistan has become the target of an international fight against terrorism.
Cultures and Lifestyles Religion has both united and divided the region's peoples. Islam and the Arabic language unite the majority, but other religions and languages occur throughout the region. Art, architecture, and literature reveal the influences of religion as well as nationalism. In their daily life, people maintain important cultural traditions, but travel, trade, and the Internet are changing lifestyles. Standards of living, including educational opportunities and health care, vary depending on a country's economy. Religious holidays and leisure time activities are generally enjoyed with families.