Not just a name
The Persian Gulf & issues confronting Iranians in
preserving their heritage
November 30, 2004
Morale issue confronts Iranians in preserving their heritage.
The Persian Gulf Organization -- persiangulfonline.org --
has received several thousand e-mails in the past week because
of the action taken by the National Geographic Society (NGS) to
include under "Persian Gulf" an incorrect name in the recently
published World Map (8th Edition 2005 Almanac.) The e-mails have
come from over thirty cities in Iran, e.g., Tehran, Mashad, Kerman,
Ahwaz, and Tabriz. E-mails from outside of Iran represent forty
countries, such as Canada, the USA, Japan, France, Australia, the
UAE, Kuwait, and many more.
In the past, many Iranians have stood back and watched others
humiliate and attempt to destroy their heritage. The misrepresentation
of the name of the Persian Gulf has caused considerable distress
in our communities, both inside of Iran and outside of Iran. In
other countries old buildings are protected as a part of their
history, but in Iran many sites are being destroyed or their artifacts
are being stolen and smuggled to be displayed in foreign museums.
Iranians wonder who is behind these actions. The Persian Gulf and
Persian artifacts are part of world history; although other countries
can enjoy them, they belong to Iran.
"Persian Gulf" is not just a name; it is a part of world
history. No one can change it by documenting it incorrectly. To
do so is also contrary both to the UN's recognition of the name
and to respect for international values.
The National Geographic Society does not have the legal authority
to change the name of a country, region, or a gulf. The United
Nations with its 22 Arab member countries has on two occasions
officially declared the name of the water between Iran and its
Arab neighbors as the Persian Gulf. The first announcement was
made pursuant to the document UNAD, 311/Gen on March 5, 1971, and
the second was pursuant to UNLA 45.8.2 ( C ) on August 10, 1984.
A review of petitions and internet sites reveals that the number
of individuals who have written to express their dismay has surpassed
one hundred thousand. Among these individuals, there are many university
professors and scholars who are insisting that only "Persian
Gulf" be used.
The reputation of NGS has come under question. One individual
asked, "Why would NGS make such a blatantly political statement?
In the past it was the most reliable and apolitical magazine. It
seems that the current wave of conservatism sweeping America has
encouraged some organizations and individuals to compromise accuracy
and respect for international law". Is this part of the agenda
of the new roadmap for peace in the Middle East?
An American Scholar wrote, "I could have never envisioned
the cheap selling of the seemingly reputable NGS to the Oils Sheiks
of the Persian Gulf region, for the shear collection of a few dollars"
Damaged done though, I still have a glimpse of hope that there
are still a few professionals left at the NGS to immediately acknowledge
damage has been done and correct it back to the established name,
There is a belief among those who have corresponded that the
NGS has received financial incentives for using another name in
addition to Persian Gulf. The NGS needs to know that the Persian
Gulf is not a primary name, but the only name, and any other name
is a complete misnomer and a betrayal of our heritage.
The NGS should investigate and publish the rules for changing
names of geographic entities. If Americans decided to change the
Gulf of Mexico to the American Gulf would this be possible? What
about changing the of Sea of Japan to the Korean Sea or the Arabian
Sea to the Persian Sea, and the Indian Ocean to the Pakistan Ocean?
The question should not be why the NGS is mistaken but rather
how gullible its readers are. Conflicts and wars have started with
small mistakes. The NGS's justification has no rational basis,
unless it plans to begin using multiple names for various parts
of the world. For example, would it use "Malvinas" in addition
to the Falkland Islands or use "Occupied Palestine" for
the state of Israel? Why it is that NGS has re-labeled three islands
which belonged to Iran before the British colonel takeover as "Occupied
by Iran?" The U.A.E, which did not even exist a century ago claims
these islands. Yet in an analogues situation involving the controversial
Golan Heights, occupation by Israel, the Atlas does not state, "Occupied,
Historical facts cannot be changed. Attempts to do so result
in injustice. People make history, but they cannot change history.
With all due respect to Arab nations, "Persian Gulf" reflects
Persian contributions to the whole world and the sacrifices Persians
made to keep the gulf open so that other nations could benefit
from it. These nations have no right, morally or legally, to destroy
it or to rename it. When King Dariush of Persia after ten years
of intense labor inaugurated the first Suez Canal in 498 B.C.,
the world became connected through maritime transportation. Documentation
shows that many delegations came to Persia to celebrate Nowruz
every March 21st by sailing through the Persian Gulf. Persians
never changed the name of the cities they ruled and did not impose
their religion upon other nations. They supported free trade and
promoted human rights for all religious groups.
There are lessons to be learned from NGS, because there have
been other organizations such as the BBC and the Guardian which
have taken advantage of problems in the region and have used incorrect
names instead of Persian Gulf. It is disappointing to observe that
the political climate of the day in the U.S. overshadows so much
discourse, with a direct impact on the NGS's research and publication.
Using "A. Gulf" or "Gulf" instead of "Persian
Gulf" may appeal humorous similar to the renaming of French fries
to Freedom fries after France failed to support the American invasion
of Iraq. Unfortunately, the NGS has lost its scientific orientation
and has jeopardized its creditability as a publishing institute.
Here are several more quotes:
- I grew up in Canada and everybody here calls it the Persian
Gulf. There is no Atlantis any more, but we are not changing the
name of the Atlantic Ocean to the Greenland Ocean!
- I am an Arab from UAE, my Dad as well as my Grandfather still
call it Khalij Alfarsi which means Persian Gulf" why do some
people want us and Iranians to be enemies forever?
- An American wrote, "this gulf belongs to Persia, and serves
as reminder of the great Persian empire; just changing the name
will not change that fact". The Arabs are probably doing this
to claim in the future that the Persian Gulf is theirs. How would
we feel if Germans tried to rename the Rocky Mountains the German
Mountains because Germans settled there?"
- Another person wrote: I am against the changing of common names.
Most of the time this happens for political reasons. Which are
common sources of bad relations among countries. I would like to
be at peace with all countries. Let the common names of places
remain so unless the UN and the people of that region can agree
on a new name.
- I am an Arab from Kuwait. I agree that the Persian Gulf should
remain Persian (Parsi).
Several Iranians who have Ph.D.'s in Geography or Juris Doctorate
have offered to represent this case in court against NGS. Persian
Gulf has also been the only label sanctioned for U.S. government
use since the State Department's Board of Geographical Names settled
the issue in 1917. Violation of this can result in litigation ordering
government agencies to comply which may lead to depositions being
taken of NGS employees to ascertain why the name change occurred
and whether there are any consequences of financial aspect to the
change (for example, access to Arab markets, direct subsidies from
Arab sources, etc.)
What can be done now?
* Write to the NGS's complaint department and protest its action.
* Name your children to represent our culture and proud history.
* Boycott the NGS's products and shows until the problem is corrected.
* Follow up on the issue until it is clear that the Persian Gulf
belongs to Iran and peace loving people.
* Remain united and protest abuses wherever they might arise.
* Write to the U.S. government to state on the record to whether
an internal defense communiqué requires GIs serving in the
Persian Gulf region to use the wrong term in order to appease the
* Cease traveling to theU.A.E and spending money there.
* Write articles about the Persian Gulf and promote Persian traditions
such as Nowruz.
We are confident that the management of the NGS will maintain
its reputation and that it will print publications which are unbiased,
apolitical, and fair. Regardless of the reason for this mistake,
we firmly believe it is in the best interest of the international
community to correct it. Scientific organizations must be committed
to objectivity and honesty.
Iranians have lived for thousands of years in Iran. We have faced
many enemies and difficulties, yet we have kept our identity. Attacks
from Greeks, Arabs, Mongols, among others, have hurt us, but we
have always survived and have produced some of the best artists,
poets, and scientists in the world. Iranians will continue to contribute
positively wherever they may choose to live; however, they will
not accept destruction of their country or their heritage.
Professor Mohammad Ala teaches Production and Operations Management
both in Iran and the United States of America. Dr. Ala is Board
member of Persian Gulf Organization (persiangulfonline.org)
and founder and Board Member of Iran Heritage (iran-heritage.org)
and Iran Alliance (iranalliance.org).
See features in iranian.com.