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Persian Gulf naming dispute

The name of the body of water separating the Iranian plateau, historically and internationally known as the Persian Gulf, after the land of Persia (Iran), has been disputed by some Arab countries since the 1960s.[1] Rivalry between Iran and some Arab states, along with the emergence of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism, has seen the term Arabian Gulf used in Arab countries.[2][3]


File:Karte Pomponius Mela rotated.jpg
an Early world map by Pomponius Mela 43 AD. Red sea named Arabian sea and Persian gulf and Oman sea named Persian sea.
File:Mercator 1595.jpg
Gerard Mercator's map of 1595 showing Persian Gulf terminology (Mare di Mesendin olim Persicus sinus), and Sinus Arabicus (Red Sea).
File:Saudi map of Persian gulf 1952.jpg
A Saudi ARAMCO map from 1952 using the term "Persian Gulf" (الخليج الفارسي).


  1. REDIRECT Template:Citation needed span, and in
  2. REDIRECT Template:Citation needed span this body of water is known by the name "Persian Gulf". This
  3. REDIRECT Template:Citation needed span 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 by the Arabic Christian writer Agapius, writing in the 10th century.[4]

According to Mahan Abedin of Jamestown Foundation, the first proposal to change the name to the "Arabian" Gulf goes back to the 1930s by Sir Charles Belgrave, then the British adviser to the ruler of Bahrain. Arab countries used the term "Persian Gulf" until the 1960s,[5][6][7][8] but with the rise of Arab nationalism during that decade, some Arab countries, including the ones bordering the Persian Gulf, adopted widespread use of the term "الخليج العربي" (al-Ḫalīj al-ʻArabiyy; Arab Gulf or Arabian Gulf) to refer to this waterway. A senior presenter for Al Jazeera English said "ironically, among the major drivers of the movement for change were Arab perceptions that Iran, driven by Washington, had supported Israel during the Arab-Israeli war of 1973".[9] This, coupled with the decreasing influence of Iran on the political and economic priorities of the English-speaking Western World, led to increasing acceptance, both in regional politics and the mostly petroleum-related business, of the new alternative naming convention "Arabian Gulf" in Arab countries.

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.

  1. REDIRECT Template:Citation needed span Later,
  2. REDIRECT Template:Citation needed span 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,
  3. REDIRECT Template:Citation needed span

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").[10] 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),[11] 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 gulfTemplate:Spaced ndash the present-day Strait of HormuzTemplate:Spaced ndash as Basora Fretum (Strait of Basra).[12] Among all this confusion, the old name gradually reasserted itself in the 17th century, but Turkey still uses the name "Gulf of Basra"[13] in Turkish today.

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.[14]

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". Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 some people in Islamic groups suggested the use of "Islamic Gulf" or "Muslim Gulf".[15] 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. Khalkhali in his May 1979 visit to the UAE suggested the term "Muslim Gulf".[15] The idea was quickly abandoned after Iran was invaded by its predominantly 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 "Arabian Gulf" or just the "Gulf". Iran does not consider the latter an impartial usage, and views it as an active contribution to abandonment of the historical name.[16] In February 2010 Iran threatened to ban from its airspace foreign airlines, especially those from the Gulf region, who did not use the term "Persian Gulf".[17][18][19][20]

National Persian Gulf Day

National Persian Gulf Day was celebrated on 30 April 2010, and was marked with various ceremonies throughout Iran, especially in the Persian Gulf coastal cities.[21]

The Islamic Republic of Iran designated 30 April 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 in the Capture of Ormuz (1622). 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 in 2009 by certain Arab states to rename Persian Gulf as the drive behind the decision.[22][23]

Post Company of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has issued a series of stamps commemorating "the national day of Persian Gulf".[21][24]

Viewpoint of Arabs

It's this name [Persian Gulf] that has been retained by history books and Arab historians, like Ibn Khaldoun and Ibn al-Athir. It's also in treaties signed between the governors of the gulf and the British who dominated the region from the beginning of the 20th century.

Abdel Khaleq Al-Janabi, a Saudi history scholar[25]

In 2010, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council said using the name "Persian Gulf" is "mocked history", because "Arab presence in this region goes back 3,000 years, while Persian presence dates only to the Safavid empire (1501–1736 AD)". However, Abdel Khaleq Al-Janabi, a Saudi historian said "[f]rom a scientific and historical point of view, it has been called the Persian Gulf since Alexander the Great" and that it was "without foundation" to claim Romans named it "Arabian Gulf". "Things didn't change until Nasser came to power and the rise of Arab nationalism. The Arabs then began to use the name 'Arabian Gulf'," he added.[25]

In an interview with Al Wasat, Bahraini writer Hussain al-Baharna said one of the reasons for the dispute over naming the "Arabian Gulf as the Persian Gulf" is that Red Sea was named Arabian Gulf back then, which "prevented the Arabian Gulf from being named as Arabian Gulf, and instead the name Persian Gulf became common".[26]

Viewpoint of third parties

United Nations

The Secretariat

File:UN.Persian Gulf Res1971 note.jpg
UN.Persian Gulf Res1971 note

According to the book "Documents on the Persian Gulf's name"p.p 92-98 The United Nations Secretariat and its specialized agencies List of specialized agencies of the United Nations on many occasions has requested its staff to use only "Persian Gulf" as the standard geographical designation for that body of water. The UN Secretariat issued editorial directives in 1994 and 1999 stating that only the term "Persian Gulf" should be used in UN documents.[27][28][29]

Some editorial directive by the UN Secretariat:

  1. . 1971 AD311/1GEN 5 March 1971 B/C.UN Secretariat.
  2. · ST/CSSER/29 dated Jan. 10, 1990.
  3. · AD/311/1/GEN dated March 5, 1991.
  4. · ST/CS/SER.A/29/Add.1 dated Jan. 24, 1992.
  5. · ST/CS/SER.A/29/Add.2 dated Aug. 18, 1994.
  6. · ST/CS/SER.A/29/Rev.1 dated May 14, 1999.
  7. . UN.Department of Economic and Social Affairs(DESA)April, 2008
  8. · Circular No. CAB/1/87/63 dated 16.02.1987 of Managing Director of UNESCO.

[13] [14] [15]

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 23 April 1959 and has endorsed 'Persian Gulf' as the official name for this body of water.[30]

The group discussed the naming issue during its 23rd session, held in Vienna from 28 March to 4 April 2006. According to the report of the meeting, the Convenor "noted that countries could not be prohibited from using or creating exonyms."[31]

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.[32]

International Hydrographic Organization

File:UK Persian Gulf.jpg
A 2001 official letter from British Foreign Ministry noting their opinion of "Persian Gulf" as the correct name.

The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), 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.[33]

United Kingdom

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.[34][35] Sir Richard Dalton: "Undoubtedly, the correct geographical term in history is the Persian Gulf."[36]

United States

In the United States, Persian Gulf has been the label sanctioned for U.S. Government use[37] since a decision by the State Department's Board of Geographical Names in 1917:[38] 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.[39] 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".[40]

Since about 2009, 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.[41] For similar reasons branches of American universities in the region have dropped references to "Persian Gulf" in their teaching materials.[citation needed]

Atlas and other media

The 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 and the Iranology Academy,[42] which led to the Iranian government acting on the issue and banning the distribution of the society's publications in Iran. On 30 December 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."[43]

The 2000 AP Stylebook 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 2004, the Persian Gulf-naming dispute was the subject of a Google bomb by an Iranian blogger named Pendar Yousefi.[44][45][46] 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.[46]

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".[47] The magazine repeated this act in its 18 February 2010 article titled "Iraq, Iran and the Politics of Oil: Crude Diplomacy". It also used the name "Arabian Gulf" in the same article.

Google had previously put both Persian Gulf and Arabian Gulf on its Google Maps. After May 2012, it removed both names from the body of water stating that it does not name every place in the world and that it did not want to take a political stance. Iranians complained about the change and started a Twitter campaign asking "Where's the Persian Gulf?".[48] Google Earth continues to show both names, unless viewed through a server from a Gulf Coast Arab country, in which case it labels it simply "Arabian Gulf."


Islamic Solidarity Games

A planned second Islamic Solidarity Games in Iran, originally scheduled to take place in October 2009, and later re-scheduled for April 2010, was canceled when the Arab World and Iran could not agree over the use of the term 'Persian Gulf' in logos and medals for the Games.[49][50]


In football, the top tier of the Iranian football league system is named the Persian Gulf Cup to promote the Persian naming.[51] The Iranian team does not take part in the Gulf Cup of Nations for national teams surrounding the waters due to its name.[52]

The top football league in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was founded in 1973 as the UAE Football League. In 2007, the name was changed to UAE Pro League. Starting from the 2013–14 season the name was changed to UAE Arabian Gulf League.[53] The name change has been viewed as a revival of the Persian Gulf naming dispute[54] with Iran accusing the United Arab Emirates of racism,[55][56] and the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran barring the transfer of Javad Nekounam to a UAE club.[57]

See also

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  1. ^ Eilts, Hermann F. (Autumn 1980). "Security Considerations in the Persian Gulf". International Security. Vol. 5, No. 2. pp. 79–113.
  2. ^ Abedin, Mahan (4 December 2004). "All at Sea over 'the Gulf'". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
  3. ^ Bosworth, C. Edmund (1980). "The Nomenclature of the Persian Gulf". In Cottrell, Alvin J. (ed.). The Persian Gulf States: A General Survey. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. xvii–xxxvi. Not until the early 1960s does a major new development occur with the adoption by the Arab states bordering on the Gulf of the expression al-Khalij al-Arabi as a weapon in the psychological war with Iran for political influence in the Gulf; but the story of these events belongs to a subsequent chapter on modern political and diplomatic history of the Gulf. (p. xxxiii.) 
  4. ^ "Agapius on a Boat". Retrieved 24 February 2009.
  5. ^ Alai, Cyrus (originally published: 15 December 2000; last updated: 7 February 2012). "Geography iv. Cartography of Persia". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 1 February 2012. After World War II, some circles decided to change the name of the Persian Gulf to fake name Arabian Gulf. Although the government of Persia opposed the move vehemently, in some editions of a few maps and atlases the term Persian was omitted, leaving only 'The Gulf' (e.g., The Times Atlas, p. 39), while the historical term Persian Gulf mostly remained intact, as in the National Geographic Atlas. (p. 77; fig. 7.)  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ Milani, Mohsen M. (originally published: 15 December 2006; last updated: 30 March 2012). "Iraq vi. Pahlavi Period, 1921–79". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 1 February 2012. ...Iraqi troops began to engage their Iranian counterparts in border skirmishes. Iraq once again called for 'liberation' of the Khuzestan province from 'Persian occupiers,' and began to use the term 'Arabian Gulf,' rather than Persian Gulf....  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ "Picture of Gamal Abdel Nasser's Handwritten Letter, Using the Term Persian Gulf".
  8. ^ Picture of 1952 Saudi Arabian ARAMCO map using the name Persian Gulf
  9. ^ Teymoor Nabili (12 December 2010). "Persian Gulf or Arabian Gulf?". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  10. ^ Mercator, Gerard. "Terrestrial Globe, Arabian Section" (1541) via Harvard University.
  11. ^ Mercator, Gerard. "Mercator Projection World Map" (1569) via
  12. ^ Ortelius, Abraham. "Map of Turkish Empire" (1570) via
  13. ^ Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism history page.
  14. ^ United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names "Historical, Geographical and Legal Validity of the Name 'Persian Gulf'". (April 2006).
  15. ^ a b Jubin M. Goodarzi (2006). Syria and Iran: Diplomatic Alliance and Power Politics in the Middle East. I.B.Tauris. pp. 29, 297. ISBN 978-1-84511-127-4. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  16. ^ Staff (24 January 2008). "Name Game Stokes U.S.–Iranian Tensions". CNN. Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  17. ^ "No Operation". Retrieved 2013-12-06. 
  18. ^ Spencer, Richard (23 February 2010). "Iran Threatens Flight Ban over 'Persian' Gulf Name Row". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  19. ^ "Iran: Airlines Must Say 'Persian Gulf' Or Face Airspace Ban". 2010-02-22. Retrieved 2013-12-06. 
  20. ^ "Iran To Arabs: It's "Persian Gulf" Not "Arabian Gulf" - If You Call It "Arabian Gulf," You're Toast". Business Insider. 2010-02-22. Retrieved 2013-12-06. 
  21. ^ a b [dead link] [1][dead link]. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
  22. ^ "Iran Names Persian Gulf National Day". Retrieved 26 February 2009.
  23. ^ "Iranians To Observe Persian Gulf Day". Tehran Times. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  24. ^ Persian Gulf stamps, Retrieved 26 February 2009.
  25. ^ a b "Web wrangle: Persian or Arabian Gulf?". France 24. 16 June 2010. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  26. ^ Invalid language code. Ali Najeeb (19 June 2008). "البحرين بين الاستقلال وتبعيتها لفارس". Al Wasat. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  27. ^ "UN Editorial Directive Regarding the Persian Gulf". 
  28. ^ "Use of the Term 'Persian Gulf'" (PDF). 
  29. ^ "Use of the Terms "Persian Gulf", "Gulf" and "Shatt al-Arab"" (PDF). 
  30. ^ [2]. [3]. [4]. [5].
  31. ^ Report of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names on the work of its twenty-third session. Document E/2006/57, Economic and Social Council, United Nations. New York, 2006.[6].
  32. ^ [7]. [8]. [9].
  33. ^ "Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd Edition" (PDF). International Hydrographic Organization. 1953. p. 21. Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  34. ^ "Letter from Ben Bradshaw to Lynda Clark" (GIF). 
  35. ^ "Iran’s fury over Google not using Persian Gulf on maps". The Scotsman. 2012-05-08. Retrieved 2014-02-05. 
  36. ^ [10]. "Undoubtedly, the correct geographical term in history is the Persian Gulf," Sir Richard Dalton, a British former ambassador to Iran and senior fellow at the Chatham House think tank, said.
  37. ^ United arab Emirates, U.S. Department of State (archived from the original on 2006-01-03). U.S. State Department.
  38. ^ The Persian Gulf at the Millennium: Essays in Politics, Economy, Security, and Religion edited by Gary G. Sick, Lawrence G. Potter, pg 8
  39. ^ "NGA: GNS Home". 2013-09-16. Retrieved 2014-02-05. 
  40. ^ [11].
  41. ^ "Navy Causes Controversy by Changing 'Persian Gulf' to 'Arabian Gulf'". 9 December 2010.
  42. ^ "Iranologists condemn deliberate distortion of Persian Gulf's name". Payvand. 24 December 2004. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  43. ^ [12]. National Geographic.
  44. ^ Petrossian, Fred (10 May 2007). "Interview with Pendar Yousefi: Blogger, Designer and Google Bomber". Global Voices Online. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
  45. ^ [dead link] Legofish :: Google Bomb.
  46. ^ a b [dead link] "The Persian GulfTemplate:Spaced ndash The Arabian Gulf Google Bomb".
  47. ^ "Louvre's 'Gulf' Move Draws Iranian Ire". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 2006. Retrieved 18 December 2008. 
  48. ^ Sebastian Usher (4 May 2012). "Google Map's missing Gulf angers Iranians". BBC. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  49. ^ Ap, Riyadh (17 January 2010). "Islamic Solidarity Games Cancelled after Gulf Row Divides Nations". Associated Press (via The Guardian). Retrieved 18 January 2010. 
  50. ^ Staff (18 January 2010). "Islamic Solidarity Games Cancelled over Gulf Dispute". BBC News. Retrieved 15 June 2012..
  51. ^ Montague, James (2008). When Friday Comes: Football in the War Zone. Mainstream Publishing. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-84596-369-9. 
  52. ^ Montague, James (2008). When Friday Comes: Football in the War Zone. Mainstream Publishing. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-84596-369-9. 
  53. ^ "New League name announced by H.E. Mohammed Thani Murshed Al Romaithi". Pro League Committee. 26 May 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  54. ^ James M. Dorsey (13 September 2011). "MIDEAST — Gulf rivalry between Iran, UAE transfered [sic] to the football pitch". Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  55. ^ Category: Asia (29 May 2013). "Iran accuses UAE of racism in renaming Pro League to the Arabian Gulf League". Inside World Football. Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  56. ^ "Persian Gulf Studies Center". Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  57. ^ "Iran bars captain's UAE transfer over Gulf name". Fox News. Retrieved 23 September 2013. 

External links