I just spent the last two months studying Tajik in Samarqand, Uzbekistan, and I can fully agree that Iran should be categorized into CEA (Central Eurasia). Currently, northern Iran is considered part of CEA geographically, but I think academics, et all, should start collaborating to categorize the whole of Iran culturally as part of CEA.
Samarqand was not too different from Esfehan, from the blue domes to the notorious, mercantile, bozori population (a mercantilism that not even Communism could not affect much). Ferghana felt like Qom or Mashad, although Mashhad and Qom are not as poor. Tashkent felt a whole lot like Tehran, minus the Islamic propaganda (although instead you had Uzbek propaganda), and minus the black dress. Bukhara … Bukhara's old town was just empty and very touristy.
Living in a traditional Mahala in Samarqand was pretty much like living in a very traditional part of Iran. The same basic cultural norms exist – I was called 'sabok' for having plucked my eyebrows before marriage, if a guy and girl are talking the old ladies will assume they are dating, bread is holy, dress is conservative (i.e. no cleavage and skirts above knees), you burn 'esfand' to ward off the evil eye, and hospitality rituals are also very similar.
The main difference is religion. In CEA, people are culturally Muslim but spiritually atheists– outside of Ferghana (and with the exception of growing Wahabism) they don't live the lives of real Muslims. In Iran, well we all know Iran… maybe they aren't so different religiously?
Samarqand felt a lot like Iran. The Zarafshon river, Sogdiana, the Registan, the flowers along the boulevard, and the wide eyed Tajik children playing in the fountains (along side cheshm tang Uzbek ones of course, Tatars, and Russians). Culturally it's similar, as is linguistically of course.
To be labeled as Middle East is an improper definition, and it is in our benefit to lobby for the correct definition, Central Eurasia or Central Asia.
We would, however, be misguided if we believe that we'd be escaping all our problems. Terrorism is on the rise in this part of the world, as are dictatorships. While in the Ferghana Valley, the US and Israeli embassies in Tashkent were targeted by suicide bombers. Noruz 2004 in Tashkent experienced a string of terrorist attacks (see eurasianet.org).
Human rights is one of the worst in the world. The Soviets left a world of problems, such as the Aral Sea, draining the land with cotton production, as well as dividing up the area without much regard to resources or ethnic composition. So you can want to be included in CEA because you want to be politically correct, but if you think you are going to avoid problems associated with the Middle East, nota bene, that Central Asia is a ticking time bomb.
About Maryam Iman: School of Foreign Service, 2006, Georgetown University.