This, to me strange, topic has come up a few times lately, usually about Iran not being a middle eastern country. In fact it just came up in the chat room but pretty regularly when chatting to people travelling here in Georgia too.
Here's the example from the chat room as stated by HaLaBi a couple of hours ago:
unlike Iran, where public execution is so famous and on daily basis, Iran is not an arab country and not considered from middle east. persians are totally different than arabs. So do not mix up.
So I always thought that Turkey was the "near east" (not sure about all or part of the Balkans though), China and Japan were the "far east" (probably south-east Asia too), and the area in the middle around the holy lands and most Arab and Islamic countries were the "middle east" because they're in the middle (not sure about the Caucasus countries though).
But then I'm pretty regularly coming across people saying Iran is not the middle east. There's a good few Iranian travellers in my part of the world right now. There's not too many Israelis but I wonder if the same people would also tell me Israel isn't the middle east for similar reasons.
So my question was:
Are all countries between the "near east" and the "far east" then "middle eastern" countries?
Or is "middle eastern" supposed to be a synonym for "Arabic"?
I've assumed that "Semitic", "Middle Eastern", "Arabic", and "Muslim/Moslem" are all terms which cover overlapping groups of people and/or the places they are from - but do most people think otherwise?
But now my question is:
Is "middle east" a contentious term that should be avoided by people travelling in the area either to avoid upsetting people or simply to avoid being misunderstood?