December 13, 2010
Emotions always run high among Iranians when it comes to Iran’s territorial integrity, history, culture and civilization. Iranians revere their Persian heritage and culture. Their culture has outlasted Alexander the Great, the Muslims, the Mongols, the ever scheming British and Russians and has prevailed still. All invaders have been eventually expelled or assimilated by the greater Persian culture – a thread that has carried through unbroken since Zoroaster. Strong reaction and active participation in various petitions and letters of protest are testimony to veracity of this claim. Once again, Iranians are reacting angrily and protesting vigorously over the use of politically-motivated and culturally-insensitive and ignominious term “Arabian Gulf” when referring to historically-rooted and internationally-accepted name the “Persian Gulf” by the State Department and the United States Department of the Navy.
There are plenty of documents, maps, historical books and professional research organizations that clearly show the legitimacy and validity of the name “Persian Gulf” for the body of water between the Iranian plateau and the Arabian Peninsula. For those unfamiliar with the history a summary of credible sources is provided in the second part of this paper.
The intention, however, for writing this article is to discuss the probable motivations and ensuing undesirable consequences by countries and prominent businesses and entities such as the State Department, the US Navy, Google, National Geographic, and oil companies who carelessly engage in such disingenuous and deplorable conduct.
Iranians are much troubled by oil corporations such as Saudi Aramco and Chevron for using the erroneous term (Arabian Gulf). Their unethical behavior and misuse of the name is due to shear economics as they continue to pump oil, careful not to antagonize their Arab masters and touching their Pan-Arabism nerves at the expense of dishonoring Iranians.
It is equally disspapaointing when a respected publisher such as the National Geographic which has contributed so much to our understanding of the world misuses the term. Iranians have always viewed National Geographic as a reputable magazine and its informative articles and breathtaking pictures, be it on Persepolis, a stone village in Iran, Persian carpets or the Afghan girl taken during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Such stories are eagerly read and such pictures are permanently etched in our minds and adorn our homes and offices. National Geographic should have known better to commit such fraudulence.
The motivation or short-sightedness by the US Navy is obviously due to large Navy presence and economic cooperation with Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The United States armed forces should not engage in politics and must have a consistent policy when it comes to historic names. The United States Army has rightfully refrained from using inflammatory words such as the Arabain Gulf and should be commended.
Most troubling however, is the State’s Departments “intentional’ use of Arabian Gulf as the latest round of childish interchange between Islamic government of Iran and the United States. The State Department knows well that this is a hot-button item for Iranians.
The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro’s numerous intentional utterance of the “Arabian Gulf” simply to provoke the Islamic government has already had negative repercussions. Even though it was intended to get a rise out of the ruling mullahs, it was a careless remark and a gratuitous slap in the face of the ordinary Iranian people. Iranian-Americans consider the State Department’s decision as lack of respect for their heritage and disregard for historical and international standards by the United States. Mrs. Clinton cannot afford such personal and professional embarrassment as she tries to re-earn the lost trust and bring various parties in the Middle East to the negotiations table. Such miscalculations have worsened the already heightened tensions in the region.
Just who the Obama administration gets advice when making its decisions to use the term Arabian Gulf is perplexing. His thundering silence during Neda’s assassination by the regime’s Basij, extension of an open arm to Islamic regime during the occasion of Nourooz, Navy and State Departments’ deliberate use of “Arabian” Gulf, have done much harm to the United State’s credibility in general and the Democratic Party in particular among Iranians.
Iranian-Americans who guilelessly supported President Obama are extremely disappointed. President Obama showed his lack of experience, when he addressed the rapist regime of the mullahs on the historic occasion of the Persian new year holiday of Nowruz, a non-Islamic celebration which predates Islam and a celebration which Islamic government officials have been aggressively trying to suppress because of their dislke and hatred for Iranian nationalism and pre-Islamic culture and civilization.
Likewise with Mrs. Clinton, Iranians are very disappointed most notably because she has not shown the leadership and has not issued clear directives to her staff for “intentionally” or “arrogantly” inciting old rivalries and fuelling the fire of known but unspoken “dislike” Persians and Arabs have for each other ever since the 7th century Arab invasion of Iran.
Iran’s integral territory and historical sites and names are their source of pride. As powerful and untouchable Khomeini was during his early years of revolution, and in his zeal to turn Iran to an Islamic state, Iranians shunned him when he, along with Mehdi Bazargan and Khalkhali attempted to entertain the idea of the use of the name “Islamic Gulf.” The then “untouchable” Khomeini was reminded that he should not mess with Persian Gulf and the stubborn Khomeini was compelled to relent. Khomeini was made to understand that when it came to a choice between Iranian national pride and Islam, it was not a battle even he could win.
Though disappointed with the US foreign policy, Iranian-Americans passionately love both countries and believe in the saying that “Americans will ultimately do the right thing, once they have exhausted all the wrong things.” It is our sincere hope and desire that the American government will refrain from child play when it comes to Iranian national and cultural pride and act maturely and wisely be it when referring to Persian Gulf or its broader Iran foreign policy. One can only hope!
It is Persian Gulf, Stupid!
In order to understand why such powerful emotions are evoked among the Iranians, a brief exposition of the history of the "Persian Gulf” is provided below:
“The Persian Gulf, in Southwest Asia, is an extension of the Indian Ocean located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. It is historically and internationally known as the Persian Gulf. The Arab sheikhdoms that have a coastline on the Persian Gulf are referred to as the Persian Gulf States.”
In 550 B.C., the Achaemenid Empire established the first Persian Empire in Pars (Persis, or modern Fars) in the southwestern region of the Iranian plateau. Consequently in the Greek sources, the body of water that bordered this province came to be known as the Persian Gulf.
During the years, 550 to 330 B.C., coinciding with sovereignty of the first Persian Empire on the Middle East area, especially the whole part of Persian Gulf and some parts of the Arabian Peninsula, the name of "Pars Sea" has been widely written in the compiled texts.
In the fifth century B.C., Darius the Great of the Achaemenid dynasty called the Persian Gulf "draya; tya; haca; parsa: aitiy", meaning, "The sea which goes from Persia". In this era, some of the Greek writers also called it "Persikonkaitas", meaning the Persian Gulf. Claudius Ptolemaues, the celebrated Greco-Egyptian mathematician/astronomer in the second century called it "Persicus Sinus" or Persian Gulf. In the first century A.D., Quintus Curticus Rufus, the Roman historian, designated it "Aquarius Persico" – the Persian Sea. Flavius Arrianus, another Greek historian, called it "Persiconkaitas" (Persian Gulf).
During the Sassanian dynasty the name invariably used was the "Persian Sea." This was continued by the Ummayyads and Abbassids. Among historians, travelers and geographers of the Islamic era, many of them writing in Arabic from the 9th to the 17th century, Ibn Khordadbeh, Ibn al-Faqih, Ibn Rustah, Sohrab, Ramhormozi, Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Farisi al Istakhri, Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Ali al-Mas'udi, Al-Mutahhar ibn Tahir al-Maqdisi (d. 966), Ibn Hawqal, Al-Muqaddasi, Ibn Khaldun, Mohammad ibn Najub Bekiran, Abu Rayhan Biruni, Muhammad al-Idrisi, Yaqut al-Hamawi, Zakariya al-Qazwini, Abu'l-Fida, Al-Dimashqi, Hamdollah Mostowfi, Ibn al-Wardi, Al-Nuwayri, Ibn Batutta, Katip Çelebi and other sources have used the terms "Bahr-i-Fars", "Daryaye-i-Fars", "Khalij al-'Ajami" and "Khalij-i Fars" (all of which translate into "Persian Gulf" or "Persian Sea").
Portuguese expansion into the Indian Ocean in the early sixteenth century following Vasco da Gama's voyages of exploration saw them battle the Ottomans up the coast of the Persian Gulf. In 1521, a Portuguese force led by Commander Antonio Correia invaded Bahrain to take control of the wealth created by its pearl industry. On April 29 of 1602, Shāh Abbās, the Persian emperor of the Safavid Persian Empire expelled the Portuguese from Bahrain.
In the United States, Persian Gulf has been the label sanctioned for U.S. Government use since a decision by the State Department's Board of Geographical Names in 1917.
Considering the historical background of the name Persian Gulf, Sir Arnold Wilson mentions in a book, published in 1928 that: “No water channel has been so significant as Persian Gulf to the geologists, archaeologists, geographers, merchants, politicians, excursionists, and scholars whether in past or in present. This water channel which separates the Iran Plateau from the Arabia Plate, has enjoyed an Iranian Identity since at least 2200 years ago.
The International Hydrographic Organization, an international body for provision of hydrographic information for world-wide marine navigation and other purposes, uses the name "Gulf of Iran (Persian Gulf)" for this body of water. This is outlined in reference S-23 (Limits of Oceans and Seas), section 41.
The group of experts on Geographical Names was set up by the secretary-general of the United Nations in pursuance of economic and Social council resolution 715A(XXVII) on April 23, 1959 and has endorsed 'Persian Gulf' as the official name for this body of water.
On almost all maps printed before 1960, and in most modern international treaties, documents and maps, this body of water is known by the name "Persian Gulf". This reflects traditional usage since the Greek geographers Strabo and Ptolemy, and the geopolitical realities of the time with a powerful Persian Empire (Iran) comprising the whole northern coastline and a scattering of local emirates on the Arabian coast.
Until the 1960s Arab countries used the term "Persian Gulf" as well , however with the rise of Arab nationalism (Pan-Arabism) in the 1960s, most Arab states started adopting the term "Arabian Gulf" (in Arabic: al-kaiīj al-arabi) to refer to the waterway. However, this naming has not been recognized by the United Nations or any other international organizations.
The United Nations Secretariat on several occasions has requested that only "Persian Gulf" be used as the official and standard geographical designation for the body of water. Most recently, the UN Secretariat has issued two editorial directives in 1994 and 1999 mentioning that only the term "Persian Gulf" should be used in UN documents. The use of the name 'Arabian Gulf' was described to be 'faulty' by the Eighth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, Berlin, 27 August September 2002. At the Twenty-third session of the United Nations in March–April 2006, the name "Persian Gulf" was confirmed again as the legitimate and official term to be used by members of the United Nations. The group discussed the naming issue during its 23rd session, held in Vienna from March 28 to April 4, 2006. According to the report of the meeting, the Convenor "noted that countries could not be prohibited from using or creating exonyms."
Associated Press manual on usage elaborates: Persian Gulf is the “long-established name” and the best choice. “Some Arab nations call it the Arabian Gulf. Use Arabian Gulf only in direct quotations and explain in the text that the body of water is more commonly known as the Persian Gulf.
The United Kingdom government's Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use (PCGN) has endorsed the term 'The Persian Gulf' as the correct term for the body of water.
National Geographic Society uses the name Persian Gulf to refer to this body of water. In 2004, the society published a new edition of its National Geographic Atlas of the World using the term "Arabian Gulf" as an alternative name (in smaller type and in parentheses) for "Persian Gulf". This resulted in heavy protests by many Iranians, especially the Internet user community. On December 30, 2004, the society reversed its decision and published an Atlas Update, removing the parenthetical reference and adding a note: "Historically and most commonly known as the Persian Gulf, this body of water is referred to by some as the Arabian Gulf."