This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

The Demographic Mess in the Middle East

I have often blogged about the mess in the Middle East, and I discuss this in some detail in the first chapter of my text. Abu Daoud linked me to a story that also tries to put many of these demographic pieces together, and with some historical context. 
As Islamic State (IS) and Shi’a militias backed by Iraq and Iran continue their missions to create “pure” sectarian enclaves, changing demographics throughout the region could be a harbinger of more conflict to come. Large flows of refugees and disparate birth rates not only have the propensity to prolong violence in Iraq and Syria, but could drastically reconfigure the make-up of strong states like Turkey and Israel. Lebanon’s perennially fragile sectarian balance is also at risk.
It seems possible that one of the major outcomes of all this could be the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq that would have ties to the Kurdish population in Turkey. There, the battle for independence from Turkey seems to be evolving into a realization that demographic trends are leading to Kurds being an ever larger share of the Turkish population:
The affluent Turks in the west of the country have similar birth rates to Western Europe, whereas rates in the poorer and underdeveloped Kurdish areas of the south-east are much higher. President Tayyip Erdogan responded to this news by admonishing Turkish women for committing the “treason of birth control … seeking to dry up our bloodline”.
But there are signs that the Kurds may be willing to adopt a new strategy of cooperation and integration with the rest of Turkey might be a better route than independence. The Kurdish state in northern Iraq almost certainly depends, of course, on their ability to battle ISIS. Success against ISIS would augur well for establishing independence.

Israel, in the meantime, is facing the fact that the right-wing Orthodox population is growing at a much faster rate than the rest of the Israeli population. All the while, the continued creation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has created a demographic mess there that will not admit of an easy solution. We may know more about the future direction of that country after next week's elections.


  1. Some quick thoughts ...

    I have a hard time predicting the outcome for ISIS within the Middle East itself. ISIS became extremely radical and brutal - I think they have alienated many moderate Muslims within the ME. However, I believe there is a real risk that ISIS may grow rapidly in North Africa. Islamic fundamentalism has very strong roots there, geographic distances are vast, many countries like Libya are highly porous, and these factors help ISIS in a major way. Therefore, I do think there is a real threat for a major growth of ISIS in North Africa and West Africa. We will see.

    As far as Isareli settlements goes - it is an item that gets tons of press attention. But ironically, most people who make commentary about the settlements cannot accurately sketch a map of Israel, or Jerusalem, or the settlement areas. I am not taking a "shot at you" with this comment ... it is a comment that is relevant to 99% of the world's politicians. Everyone has an opinion about Israel and settlements, but few people know the geography. The issue gets "kicked around". The Israeli government is also skilled at using his issue as a "political taser gun" when it is unhappy about other things. Primarily, Israel is concerned about its security, should be ME become nuclearized. This is a very legitimate concern, and there are no easy answers. So everything gets kicked around in the media. But the Israelis are practical, and they manage the threats to their safety on a priority scale. They do not see the settlements as a key driver, but a nuclear-armed Iran is a real threat for them.

    Back to ISIS. It is demographics and economics. How many young people under 30 years old? How many without jobs? How many without education? These are the breeding grounds for ISIS.

    Pete, Redondo Beach

    1. I agree with your thoughts, especially about the breeding grounds for ISIS in Africa. With respect to Israeli settlements, there was an excellent article in today's NYTimes, including a map and analysis: