It's the Persian Gulf, gentlemen, not the Arabian Gulf

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By Dr. Assad Homayoun

The editorial page of the April 10 edition of the Washington Post published an excellent and thought-provoking article by former Secretaries of State Henry A. Kissinger and James A. Baker, entitled “The Grounds for U.S. Intervention”. That article, however, includes an inexcusable and egregious error, namely, a reference to the “Arabian/Persian Gulf”. Similarly, Mr. Baker used the same terminology in an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN on Sunday April 10. As discussed below, the correct title of the referenced geographic area is the “Persian Gulf” and any other term is historically inaccurate and smacks of an attempt to re-write geography based on short-term political preferences.

Ancient Greek geographers and historians called this geographic body of water, “Sinus Persicus.” Additionally, since before the time of Christ until as late as the 17th Century, the world’s greatest historians and cartographers, from Strabon and Ptolemy, to the famous Flemish geographer, Mercator, referred to the gulf to the south of Iran as either “Sinus Persicus” or ” Mare Persicus.” Indeed, for the last two millennia, historians, geographers, scholars, strategists, and statesmen have used the term the “Persian Gulf.” Even Arab historians and geographers from Ibn Al-Mujaver to Yusuf Kamal, the author of “Monumenta Cartographica,” referred to the gulf as “Al Khlij al-Fars” or the “Persian Gulf.” In fact, the late President Sadat of Egypt , in his book ” The Revolt on the Nile,” correctly identified the Gulf by its historical and original name of the Persian Gulf.

Anyone who has taken the trouble to look at antique maps, contemporary writings, research documents, historical accounts of the region and encyclopedias written by western or eastern observers and scholars would conclude that there is but one single name that is applicable to the Persian Gulf. It has been the practice of the White House, the State Department, the U.S. government agencies and also the United Nations Secretariat and National Geographic Society, to use in documents and maps the term “The Persian Gulf” to indicate the body of water between Iran to the north and east and a number of other states to the south and west. It is established usage that is followed by publishers of atlases and geographical dictionaries. 

As mentioned before, throughout history, educators, travelers and geographers always referred to this region as “the Persian Gulf,” not only because of vast Empire or the number of its Persian/Iranian inhabitants, but simply, and in their own words, to recognize the noble notion that, the Persians were the first to have developed and greatly improved this part of the earth.

 It is truly unfortunate that the two Secretaries of State and elder statesmen have unintentionally become party to the psychological warfare of some Arab quarters against the Iranian nation. Although the current despotic regime in Iran constantly antagonizes the United States and much of the Free World, referring to the “Persian Gulf” as the “Arabian Gulf” offends the national feelings of Iranians who have been friendly to the United States. It would be akin to calling the English Channel the “French Channel” because of a temporary spat with London.

I believe that sooner or later, the rule of reason and rationalism will triumph in Iran and liberty and secular democracy will replace theocratic regime in Tehran.

I strongly believe that Iran must reset its relationship with the United States and others with mutual respect and equality. The United States needs to take geostrategic factors of Iran seriously. U.S. and Iranian relations and Strategies in the region are dictated by geopolitical realities and interests of the two countries parallel each other. Iran because of its population, history, cultural identity, natural resources and command on Strait of Hormuz will remain a dominant power of the Persian Gulf and US also needs to pay attention to sensitivity and the rightful concern of the Iranian people.   

Dr Assad Homayoun is a former Iranian diplomat, a senior fellow of International Strategic Studies Association, President of Azadegan Foundation for Democratic Change in Iran, and a member of the Advisory Board.

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