For nearly 2500 years, the body of water that has been lapping the coasts of Iran, Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, has been known to the world as “The Persian Gulf (U.S. Department of State, 1969, pp, 18-27) In spite of this historical name, the latter part of the 20th century has heard several fervid expressions from the Arab side to change the name of the Gulf to the Arabian Gulf, or something more palatable to the Arab’s taste. (Albahama, H. M., 1969, pp 518-519). For example, the Middle East Research & Information Project (MERIP), refers to the Persian Gulf as “The Arab/Persian Gulf.” (Asi, A. 1971, pp 1-8). This mixing of the name may have had a logic to it. But clearly, such suggestions are at best arbitrary, and at worst, subjective and irresponsible. “The author, D. T. Potts (Potts, D. T., 1990, v.1 pp 1-4) indicates that from prehistory to the Fall of the Achaemenid Empire the world has known the Persian Gulf’s has remained the same. However, because Potts did his work from the Arabian side, he indicated that he found himself under the necessity to choose the name “The Arabian Gulf” (Potts, D. T., 1990, v.1 pp 1- 4). Given this framework, if the author were to study the Gulf of Mexico from the United States’ side, he would also find himself “under the necessity” to give the Gulf of Mexico five different names from Texas to Florida. However, this paper’s purpose involves history, not jurisprudence. As such, it is not impossible to imagine that a country might decide to go to war to protect its geographical possession and integrity. The word “integrity” as used here arises from, and is connected with the word “sovereignty,” which defines the legitimate boundaries among neighboring nations. By contrast, it seems logical and highly probable that today’s civilized world that tastes and lives on the fruits of some trillions of dollars that flow across the Persian Gulf annually would insist on the status quo. This article, therefore, holds that history has spoken and maintained a verdict that the name of that body of water has been Persian Gulf, and no logic has been presented to render invalid that verdict. To that end, I shall discuss the geography of the Persian Gulf in Section II, its history in Section III; Section IV presents an argument favoring the name change and section V an argument for keeping the name, which is the Persian Gulf.
What the world has known for more than two and a half millennia as the Persian Gulf is a body of water 93,000 square miles: Its length measures 615 miles, but its width varies from 210 miles to 35 miles at the Strait of Hormuz — a 20.75-mile vena contracta of the waterway, with an “average” width of about 151 miles. The countries bordering this body of waters include Iran, with the largest coastline, the Arabian Peninsula, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Iraq with the smallest shoreline of about ten miles. (Mirfakhrai, M. H., 1990, pp159– 161) The coastlines constitute about 97% of the Persian Gulf’s circumference. The remaining 3% connects to the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Hormuz, a 20.75-mile vena contracta of the waterways through which flows the lifeblood of international business and commerce. (Ansi, A) For that blood to flow, the Strait must remain open and healthy and free for navigation. The modern map in Figures 1 & 2 delineates the Gulf region and the Strait of Hormuz;
III. Persian Gulf: The History of the Name
The inquisitive reader may want to know when, how and why that body of water came to be known as the Persian Gulf. To begin with a series of maps have been produced and included in Appendixes A,B, and C. These maps, in effect, show history of the Persian Gulf in pictures. As to the name itself- Persian Gulf, I believe `the inhabitants of that region who were Persians named it after their own identity 2,500 year ago. Thereafter, the map makers and the book writers and the general public of the time used the nomenclature in use at the time, which has remained so until the recent challenge. One cannot find any reason, but the force of nationalism, in the desire to change the name. It would seem to this author that the debate over the name change will continue, but the appellation “Persian Gulf” will remain – will remain because in the last analysis no dire necessity can be shown for the name change. This last assertion is not intended to imply that the passage of time, the time that erodes mighty mountains, could not erode the old name of an old place. Experience has shown that rather it can and it has. But, can that logic – the erosion of a mountain under the forces of nature, be extended to include a change in a geographically established name? It seems unlikely. What the foregoing passage intends to communicate is, a fortiori, that one would choose a new name for an old and honorable one either under the force of an unjust war or under the force of some clear and inexorable logic. It must never be undertaken to satisfy the demands of an inexplicable dream, however sweet.
IV. A New Name? The “yes” Argument
In spite of the inevitability forces of history, as some have maintained, human wisdom and common sense often negate these forces, or at least mitigate their adverse effects on human affairs. History, after all, is the people affairs, and people of keen minds and sharp foresight can and do affect the forces of history; they can dam and reroute the undesirable floods of events. Such forces are often strong enough to divide and unite countries and impose a new name on the same point of the compass by obliterating its old name.
“For example, one such case in the twentieth century is the way that the state of Israel came into existence.” Earlier changes include the following: France used to be the domain of the Gaul. Italy is but a small portion of what was the vast Roman Empire. And it would not be to Troy that the Greeks would dispatch its army and navy. Another example is Persia itself, having changed its name to Iran. That name change was not done by the whims of an ambitious king but instead having arisen from history, which had cultivated it. Rather, reasons existed to give legitimacy to the change; those who had settled the area were the Persians. The assenters of the name change rely only on the latest events in history – most shaped and congealed by wars or revolutions, by blood.
Russia and China, for example, two age-old imperial dynasties, were overthrown by revolutions. In the same fashion, Africa broke its colonial ties and attempted to establish a democratic regime were possible, again by war and revolution; the October Revolution of 1917 led to a name change – the revolution brought not a renaissance, but only a name change, the Soviet Union.” It has been estimated that of some 709,000 populated places in the U.S.S.R. as many as half have had their names changed in some way since the revolution” (Peterson, Charles B, 1977, p 15-24). As a general policy, all religious, monarchical and ethnically undesirable names are out, although in some places a name derived from a church or monastery has survived, as Arkhangelsk (after the monastery of St. Michael the Archangel) and Blagoveshchensk (after the church of the Annunciation). For obvious political reasons St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad. (Peterson, Charles B, 1977, p 15-24). History has shown that many names have changed throughout history, nevertheless these changes have been logical in their alteration.
A review of the literature concerning the historical background of the Persian Gulf suggests that \”the earliest historical references to the Persian Gulf appear to have stemmed from the time of the Sumerian rulers of Mesopotamia in the third millennium B.C., when, for instance, the trade was Dilmun (on the western shores of the upper part of the Gulf) of Ur Nanse, King of Lagash (2494-2465 B.C.), is mentioned. The Gulf itself is specifically described in an historical text of Lugal Zagesi, King of Uruk (2340-2316 B.C.), where a reference is made to this body of water which \”then from the Lower Sea, by the Tigris and Euphrates, as far as the Upper Sea, [the god Enlil] provided him with clear routes\”(Cotrell Alvin J., 1980, p xviii.) . In an inscription of Sargon of Addad, it is said that Enlil gave him the Upper Sea and the Lower Seas. This contrasting in Sumerian of the Upper and the Lower Seas is carried over into Semitic Mesopotamia, for in Akkadian we have the term for the Lower Sea, tamtu saplitu, (Lower Sea in Sumerian) frequently juxtaposed with the Upper Sea, tamtu elenitu, referring respectively to the Gulf and the Mediterranean. The combination of the two terms indicated in contemporary usage the breadth of the intervening lands, all under Mesopotamian control. In the first millennium B.C., the Gulf is referred to not only as a source of tribute brought to the rulers of Mesopotamia but also as a route for naval expeditions by the kings. Thus, Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) mentions the campaigns across the Gulf to the land of Elam (i.e., southern Persia) referring to it as the Great Sea (tamtu rabitu sa sit samsi, literally “of the rising place of the sun”. (Cotrell Alvin J., 1980, p xvii)
Renaming of places has been a very common occurrence in all nations of the world. Such a practice has also been customary among the nations on both sides of the Gulf. It was the official policy of the Arabs to rename the places they captured. The city of Yathrib, for example, was named Medina after the Prophet Mohammad; soon after he and his adherents migrated there from Mecca in 622 A.D. When during the last century, the Caspian port of Enzeli was freed from Russian occupation and control, it was renamed Bandar Pahlavi. (Amin S. H. PP 31 – 42).
In the 1930s the campaign was initiated to convert the names of places located in Iran, since often these names were either non-Persian or antiquated. In 1935, for instance, an Iranian declaration stated that in all foreign relations, Persia should be known only as Iran, the native name of the country. Even the name of the \”Anglo-Persian Oil Company\” was changed to \”Anglo-Iranian Oil Company\” at Iran\’s request. Later, in 1943, the deposed monarch approved the use of both names, Persia and Iran, interchangeably and for all purposes.\” (Amin, S. H. pp 31 – 42) The extent of that declaration can be seen from the following quote:
“The Iranian policy of renaming places has been continuously followed not only under the Shahs, but also after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in February of 1979. A full list of renamed places in Iran, including villages, towns, cities, provinces, mountains, rivers and islands, must be a very long one. Under the Pahlavi regime, the most important examples of the renaming of the places were those aimed at \”Persianising\” their non-Persian (mostly Arabian or Turkish) character” (Amin, S. H., PP.31-42.)
The prime example is the renaming of the Shatt-al-Arab, the frontier river between Iran and Iraq.” After Iran abrogated the 1937 Iran-Iraq treaty on April 15, 1969, the Iranian Government announced that the correct name of the Sahatt-al Arab was Arvand Rud. During the Iran-Iraq war of 1980, Iran always referred to the Shatt-al-Arab as Arvand Rud. Other examples are Khuzistan for the province of Arabistan, Khorramshahr for the port of Mohammarah, Abadan for the port of Abbadan, Mah-Shahr for the port of Ma\’shur. Since 1971, when Iran militarily occupied the disputed island of Abu Musa, some Iranian authorities have suggested that the correct name of the island is \”Bu Musa\” – an unsuccessful attempt to “Persianise” the obvious Arabic name of \”Abu Musa.\” After the 1978/79 Islamic Revolution, the revolutionaries abolished almost all Persian place names which had any connection with the Iranian monarchy” (Amin, S. H., PP.31-42.)
It is not surprising that nations, in the name of Sovereignty or even religion, practice name changing. The logic that drives these practices is perhaps the convincing thought that once a
region has taken the name of the country’s language, it becomes a part of that country. As the above quote has illustrated, Shattol Arab became Arvaan Rud.
In fact, the name change may be considered an indirect form of annexation. To demonstrate the universality of this practice, Amin says that the Arabs have gone even further and changed the long-standing non-Arabic names into Arabic. Amin elaborates:
The Arab States, on the other hand, converted many non-Arabic names into Arabic, and then directed their attention to the renaming of the Persian Gulf to \”The Arabian Gulf,” involving all national and international bodies that maintain relations with Iran and Arab States.” Some Arabs even consider Khuzistan to be another Arab territory, similar to Palestine, occupied by foreign powers. However, since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iraq has once again been the most active supporter for the Arab movement in Iran.\” (Amin, S. H., PP.31-42.)
What are we to make of the long historical account just described? We ask: In which way should the geographer or the historiographers plan his work? We need not linger on the long chains of facts enunciated here or pose repeated questions. Here a striking consistency established throughout the years show that when nomads settle and occupy a piece of land, they give it a name. And protect that name, by words of logic if possible, by blood if necessary.
The first use of the term \’Arabian Gulf,\’ with reference to the Persian Gulf, was by a Baghdad (Iraq) radio in its propaganda against Iran in 1958. (Amin, S. H., PP.31-42) In July 1960, Pahlavi (the deposed Shah of Iran) confirmed that Iran had recognized Israel as a sovereign state. The Shah’s recognition of Israel angered Egypt and in retaliation “Egypt joined Iraq in renaming Gulf as the “Arabian Gulf.” The British-protected Arab Emirates stuck to the traditional name of \”The Gulf.\” (Amin, S. H., PP.31-42) The most important evidence in this case is the correspondence between the ruler of Kuwait and the British Political Resident in the Gulf, dated June 19, 1961, which served as the basis for Kuwait\’s independence. The said document is registered with the United Nations in which the ruler of Kuwait made reference to the Persian Gulf (Amin, S. H., pp. 31- 42).
V. A New Name? The “No” Argument
The maps produced by the geographer and historian, Hecataeus of Miletus (550 – 467 BC) identify the Persian Gulf. Persian Gulf naming dispute (n. d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 28, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_Gulf_naming_dispute . So, at least for twenty-five centuries people, books, and maps have been talking of the Persian Gulf. These maps produced by 485 BCE in the (Appendix A) are true history of the Persian Gulf in picture. They show
different nations with their unique languages have used “Persian Gulf in their books and maps. Yet, Herodotus (484 – 425 B.C.,) identified the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf as gulfs of the Indian Ocean or Arabian Sea. (Cotrell, Alvin J., p. xvii). This view is indeed surprising, and in need of exploration and clarification. Modern historians believe that Herodotus calls the Red Sea (ho Arabios Kolpos) \”the Arabian Gulf” and he does not refer to the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf. (Cotrell, 1988, p. xvii) This statement tends to be supported by referring to Herodotus’s world map in the English and German texts (see maps in appendix B).
Early Arab geographers such as Ibn Battuta, in his book The Travel of Ibn Battuta, and Ibn Hawqal in his book, Kitab Surat al-Ard, frequently refer to the Gulf as \”Sea of Fars\” (Ibn Battuta, 1962 p. 283) and \”Bahr Fars\” (Ibn Hawqal, 1964, pp 42 – 56). The limits of Fars to the borders of Sind or the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea; and the Indian Gulf or the Bay of Bengal (Ibn Hawqal, 1962, pp 42 – 56).
As an example, on rare occasion the author of the Persian geography, the Hudad al-alam or limits of the world, displays a particular interest in physical geography. He calls the Indian Ocean the Bahra al-Azam, \”the Great Sea,\” and this Great Sea has five gulfs: the Barbara Gulf or the Gulf of Aden; the Arabian Gulf, or Gulf of Ayla or Qulzum or the Red Sea; the Gulf of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf from its head to the Straits of Hormuz; the Gulf of Fars, extending from the narrows on. (Cottrell, 1980, xvii – xxxiii).
While events in nature occur naturally and often do not have a visible source that one may use as appoint of reference, history is different. For example, as the following quotation shows, the European powers meddled in shaping the geography and history of the Middle East.
\”The designation of the Persian Gulf proper as that of Iraq and the use of the term \”Gulf of Fars\” for the waters beyond Ra\’s Musan dam is unusual and alien to the Arab geographers, whose cultural focus was Baghdad and Iraq and who had a more direct knowledge of the topography and hydrography of the Gulf region. Ibn Majid in his book titled the Kitab al Fawaid refers to the Persian Gulf as \”Farsi Coast, Sea of Fars and Gulf of Fars,\” stretching from Hormuz to Basra. (Cottrell, Alvin J, pp xvii – xxxiii) It is noteworthy that Iran herself has refrained from proposing to change the name of Persian Gulf to “Iranian Gulf.” What else could be the cause than a respect for antiquity? Nation do everything within their power to maintain the continuity of its history.
\”Thomas Banister made the fifth overland journey from Russia to Persian in 1559 and wrote in 1574 of \”the Gulf of Persia called Sinus Persicus, between the main land of Persia and Arabia…. This Latin translation of \”Persian Gulf” was used in many maps of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (See Common Era Maps).
The terms Sinus Persicus and \”Gulf of Persia\” were used by the historian and theologian Peter Heylin in his cosmographic or \”Universal History\” written in the 1650s (Encyclopedia ou Dictionaire des science, 1751, p. 428)
The cartographic evidence indicates that the Gulf was primarily known and referred to as the Persian Gulf throughout the medieval and modern history. From the period of Ptolemy\’s world map to the present, the world has known the Gulf exclusively as the Persian Gulf (see figures in appendix C). John Speed, in his A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World that is, Asia, Africa, Europe, America (1628), marks the \”Persian Gulf\”, the Arabian and \”Indian Sea\” on his small-scale map of Asia. In modern history almost every general encyclopedia refers to the Gulf as the Persian Gulf not the Arabian Gulf. For example: Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire Raisonne des Sciences which is the first world encyclopedia published in French, in 1751, refers to the Gulf as \”Persicus Sinus\” (Encyclopedia, 1751, p 428). The Encyclopedia Americana describes the Persian Gulf as \”an almost landlocked arm of the Arabian Sea, known to the Arab State as the Arabian Gulf\”. (Encyclopedia Americana, 1989, v. 21, p 751) The Encyclopedia Britannica explains, \”The Persian Gulf (known to the Arabs as the Arabian Gulf) is the shallow marginal sea of the Indian Ocean that lies between the Arabian Peninsula and southeast Iran\” (The New Encyclopedia of Britannica, 1981, v. 14, p. 106). Even the Encyclopedia of Islam refers to the Gulf as \”Bahr Farris\” (The Encyclopedia of Islam, 1960, v.1 p. 927) (Sea of Fars). Here, I should like to emphasize that modern nations have developed the habit of setting aside for preservation of certain natural sites, certain buildings as monuments to protect them from the ravaging desire of people whose aim is to replace the old with the new for profit. A small building will remain monumental rather being turned in to a high rise. Antiquity must be preserved to prove that nations have history, a history of which they are pride.
Again, the forgoing discussion demonstrates – amply and unequivocally and in spite of Herodotus’ confusion, that what is now the Persian Gulf has almost forever been the Persian Gulf. But we have the modern UN and its collective voice as a matter of our concern. Representatives and observers from 55 countries and several international organizations attended the United Nations’ Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names that was held in Geneva, September 4-22, 1967. The Conference established four separate technical committees on national standardization, geographical terms, writing systems, and international co-operation. The Conference noted in its final resolution that some features common to, or extending across, the frontiers of two or more States, have more than one name applied to them. The Conference recommended that in such cases a common name or a common appellation should be established, wherever practical, in the interests of international standardization.\” (Amin S. H1981, pp 31 – 42) While granting that the passage of time and the rise of new nation states can and must have an effect on the status quo, I submit that time- honored names ought to remain and honored.
...(download the rest of the essay above)