Persian Gulf naming dispute

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Map of the Persian Gulf

The name of the body of water separating the Arabian Peninsula from the Iranian plateau, historically and most commonly known as the Persian Gulf after the land of Persia (now called Iran), has been disputed by some Arab countries since the 1960s.[1] Rivalry between Persians and Arabs, however, along with the emergence of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism, has seen the name Arabian Gulf become predominant in most Arab countries.[2][3] Names beyond these two have also been applied to or proposed for this body of water.


In this map of 1717 ,the cartographer Herman Moll used Gulph of Bassora for Persian Gulf , but in other maps [4] , he used Persian Gulf for this body of water and the Sinus Arabicus for the Red sea.

An 1808 British map depicting the "Persian Gulf".

ARAMCO map from 1952 using the term Persian Gulf.

Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, Dubai, UAE. A historic map is manipulated and altered to erase the word "Persian" from the Persian Gulf.[citation needed]

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. It was referred to as the Persian gulf in the Arabic Christian writer Agapius, writing in the 10th century [5].
But by the 1960s and with the rise of Arab nationalism, some Arab countries, including the ones bordering the Persian Gulf, adopted widespread use of the term "الخلیج العربی" (al-Ḫalīǧ al-ʻArabiyy; Arab Gulf or Arabian Gulf) to refer to this waterway. This coupled with the decreasing influence of Iran on the political and economic priorities of the English speaking Western World led to increasing acceptance, in regional politics and the mostly petroleum-related business, of the new alternative naming convention "Arabian Gulf".
The term "Arabian Gulf" (Sinus Arabicus) was formerly used to refer to what is now known as the Red Sea (as illustrated in the map examples with this article). This usage was adopted into European maps from, among others, Strabo and Ptolemy, who called the Red Sea Sinus Arabicus (Arabian Gulf). Both of these ancient geographers also used the name Sinus Persicus to refer to the body of water between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. In the early Islamic era, Muslim geographers did the same, calling the body بحر فارس (Baḥr Fāris; Persian Sea) or "خلیج فارس" (Ḫalīǧ Fāris; Persian Gulf). Later, most European maps from the early Modern Times onwards used similar terms (Sinus Persicus, Persischer Golf, Golfo di Persia and the like, in different languages) when referring to the Persian Gulf, possibly taking the name from the Islamic sources.
The capture of Baghdad by the Ottoman Empire in 1534 gave Turkey access to the Indian Ocean via the port of Basra at the head of the gulf. This coincided with the early mapmaking efforts of Gerard Mercator, whose 1541 terrestrial globe attempts to give the most up-to-date information, naming the gulf Sinus Persicus, nunc Mare de Balsera ("Persian Gulf, now Sea of Basra").[6] However, on his world map of 1569, the name is changed to Mare di Mesendin (after the peninsula Ra's Musandam, in modern-day Oman),[7] while his rival Abraham Ortelius, for the world atlas of 1570, opted for Mare El Catif, olim Sinus Persicus (after the Arabian port of Al Qatif), but labelled the entrance to the gulf- the present Strait of Hormuz- as Basora Fretum (Strait of Basra).[8] Among all this confusion, the old name gradually reasserted itself in the 17th century, but Turkey still uses the name "Gulf of Basra" today.[9]
Following British attempts to control the seaway in the late 1830s, the Times Journal, published in London in 1840, referred to the Persian Gulf as the "Britain Sea," but this name was never used in any other context.[10]
Proposed alternative names

The matter remains very contentious as the competing naming conventions are supported by certain governments in internal literature, but also in dealings with other states and international organizations. Some parties use terms like "The Gulf" or the "Arabo-Persian Gulf". After the Iranian Revolution of 1979 some people in Islamic groups suggested the use of "Islamic Gulf." The originator of the term Islamic Gulf is not known, while some people suggest that prominent figures of the early years of the Islamic republic including Ruhollah Khomeini, Mehdi Bazargan, and Sadegh Khalkhali may have supported the idea. The idea was quickly abandoned after Iran was invaded by its predominantly Arab and Muslim neighbor, Iraq.
Viewpoint of Iran

Iran only uses the term "Persian Gulf" and does not recognize the naming when it is referred to as just "Gulf", or "Arabian Gulf."[11]
National Persian Gulf Day

Iranian stamps, showing Persian Gulf.

The National Persian Gulf Day is celebrated on April 29 of every year, and is marked with various ceremonies all over Iran, especially in the Persian Gulf coastal cities.[12]
The Islamic Republic of Iran designated April 29th as the "national day of Persian Gulf", since the date coincides with the anniversary of Shah Abbas' successful military campaign against the Portuguese navy in the Persian Gulf, driving the Portuguese colonial forces out of the Strait of Hormuz. The decision was taken by the High Council of Cultural Revolution, presided over by the former President Seyed Mohammad Khatami, the council mentioned the campaign launched recently by certain Arab states to re-name Persian Gulf as the drive behind the decision.[13]
Post Company of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has issued a series of stamps commemorating the “the national day of Persian Gulf”.[14]
Viewpoint of third parties

United Nations

The Secretariat

United Nations secretariat's decision on the naming dispute.

United Nations Secretariat clarifying the use of the terms "Persian Gulf", "Gulf", and "Shatt al-Arab".

The United Nations Secretariat on many occasions has requested its staff to use only "Persian Gulf" as the standard geographical designation for that 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.[15][16][17]
Group of Experts on Geographical Names

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.[18]
The United Nations 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. The group discussed the naming issue during its 23rd session, held in Vienna from March 28th to April 4th, 2006. According to the report of the meeting, the Convenor "noted that countries could not be prohibited from using or creating exonyms."[19]
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.[20]
International Hydrographic Organization

The International Hydrographic Organization[21] uses the name "Persian Gulf" for this body of water. This is outlined in reference S-23 (Limits of Oceans and Seas), section 41.[22] The IHO is an international organization for provision of hydrographic information for world-wide marine navigation and other purposes. The data provided by this organization is used as a main source for atlases, geographical information systems and scientific activities throughout the world.[23]
United States

In the United States, Persian Gulf has been the label sanctioned for U.S. government use [2] since a decision by the State Department's Board of Geographical Names in 1917[24]: As recognized by the United States Board on Geographic names, the name of the body of water that lies between Iran and the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council is the Persian Gulf. For political reasons, Arabs often refer to it as the Arab or Arabian Gulf. The NGA GEOnet Names Server (GNS), maintained by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, is the "official repository of standard spellings of all foreign place names" sanctioned by the Board of Geographical Names.[3] The GNS lists "Persian Gulf" as the only "conventional" name, along with fourteen unofficial "variants" in different languages, such as "Gulf of Iran", "Gulf of Ajam", "Gulf of Basra", "Arabian Gulf", "Persian-Arabian Gulf", "Gulf of Fars", and "Farsi Gulf".[4]
In recent years, due to increased cooperation with Arab states of the Persian Gulf, various branches of the U.S. armed forces have issued directives to their members to use the "Arabian Gulf" when operating in the area ("Persian Gulf" is still used in official publications and websites), partially to follow local conventions, or simply to follow local laws that ban the use of "Persian Gulf", e.g. in the United Arab Emirates. Also for similar reasons, branches of American universities in the region have also dropped references to "Persian Gulf" in their teaching materials.[citation needed]
Australia military refer to the area as 'The Gulf'. They refer to the northern part of this gulf as Northern Arabian Gulf (NAG) during operations. [5]
United Kingdom

View of the British Foreign Ministry expressed in this official letter.

The United Kingdom government's Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for Official British Use (PCGN) has endorsed the term 'The Persian Gulf' as the correct term for the body of water.[25]
Atlases and other media

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, which led to the Iranian government acting on the issue and banning the distribution of the society's publications in Iran. 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." [6]
The 2000 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.”
In the year 2004, the Persian Gulf naming dispute was the subject of a Google bomb by an Iranian blogger named Pendar Yousefi.[26][27][28] This was the combined efforts of hundreds of bloggers, webmasters and Persian forums who pointed links with the word Arabian Gulf to a spoof error page found at this link.[29]
Some atlases and media outlets have taken to referring to "The Gulf" without any adjectival qualification. This usage is followed by the BBC and The Times Atlas of the World. Iran does not consider this an impartial usage and views it as an active contribution to abandonment of the historical name. In June 2006 Iran banned the sale of The Economist for the above reason, after a map in the magazine labeled the Persian Gulf as 'The Gulf'.[30]
See also

Map gallery