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The Tonbs
The Haute Couture connection

September 20, 2000
The Iranian

Ancient Greek historian Heredotus wrote that in Xerxes' army that invaded Asia Minor was a group of "islanders who came from the Erythraean sea [Persian Gulf], where they inhabited the islands to which the king sends those whom he banishes, [and they] wore a dress and arms almost exactly like the Median." (G. Rawlinson, The History of Herodotus (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1858), vol.2, p.150)

If the Tonbs contributed any men to Xerxes' army is not known, but either island would have been sufficiently desolate and unsuitable to be a place of exile. It is significant that the issues from these islands, with the emphasis being on the plural of island, were attired like the Median. The haute couture connection between the Iranian mainland and the offshore possessions of the empire is therefore established.

The connection of the northern islands of the Persian Gulf to the Iranian mainland is a fact of human geography, just as the existence of certain reptiles on the Great Tonb is evidence of the zoological connection of the Tonbs to the Iranian coast. Here are two statements by J.B. Kelly that tracks the veracity of that claim into the early and middle of the 18th century.

There is no doubt that J.B. Kelly is one of the most eminent scholars of the Persian Gulf. His many works attest both to the depth of his research and understanding of the history of this region and its peoples. His bias is profoundly british in temperament and everything being equal, he would lean toward the Arab point of view, as distinct from having any overt sympathy toward Iran, or the last Shah of Iran, during whose rule Iran established its sovereignty over the Tonb islands.

Why this introduction about Kelly? Because, I am about to cite him as the source of a statement that I would like to enter into evidence supporting the proposition that the Tonbs historically belonged to Iran. In order for the statement to be admissible as evidence, I must show that this source qualifies as an expert of sorts. Because he is not personally on the stand, I will be citing his work, which by all accounts, is a learned treatises; this will get me over the objection against the introduction of hearsay evidence.

Here it is: J.B. kelly, Britain and the Persian Gulf, 1795-1880 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). On page 184 of this opus, while describing the Persian state in the Persian Gulf in the early part of the 18th century, Kelly states "Qishm remained an Omani possession until some time between 1735 and 1743, when, together with the other islands of the Persian coast, it fell under the sway of Nadir Shah." The Tonbs lay closer to Qeshm and Lingeh on the Persian coast than any other territory and as such can be presumed safely to have be among the islands that fell under Nadir Shah's sway.

On page 40 of this work, where he is describing the extent of the Persian empire in the middle to late 18th century, Kelly states "All the islands off the Persian coast, from Kharqu and Kharaq in the north to Hormuz and Larak in the south, were rightly Persian, though many were in the hands of Arab tribes." The operative word here is all. By implication the term would include the Tonbs that lay closer to the Iranian coast and among the string of islands located between Khark and Larak.


Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and practices law in Massachusetts.

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