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Persian Gulf or Arabian Gulf?

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Persian GulfBy Teymoor Nabili

There has been an enormous backlash against the US government's attempt to promote the term "Arabian Gulf" in preference to the historic norm of "Persian Gulf".

After an alert by the National Iranian American Council, the US navy's Facebook page was swamped by a tide of complaints demanding an explanation as to why the navy's official  "styleguide" has been amended to remove "Persian" and adopt "Arabian Gulf" as the official term.

The Navy has been forced to post an explanation, of sorts, insisting:

We certainly haven’t done anything out of malice or disrespect for your proud heritage that has existed long before we were even a navy.

Perhaps not, but the navy rather glaringly fails to offer any reason or logic for  renaming the waterway between the Iranian  Plateau and the Arabian Peninsula. It has instead blocked access to the webpage by people posting complaints, with the excuse:

Our intent is not to remove your voice so much as it is to allow others to have theirs.

The term "Arabian Gulf" has been in casual but inconsistent use by various members of the US navy and government, and by many Arab states, for a few decades now.

But the debate  appears to have gained new momentum with the publication of this new styleguide and by the recent specific use of the term by the US assistant secretary of political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro, when announcing the recent massive sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

For the record, the body of water in question has been known - in maps, literature and official usage - as the Persian Gulf for more than two millenia. Even after the emergence of Islam, the Arab world knew it as the "Bahr Fars", the Persian Sea.

The tide of  Arab opinion on the question shifted only in the 1960s; 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.

The name Persian Gulf is still recognised by most governments, even some arms of the US government. It is also recognised as the legal international standard  by the United Nations , which says:

any change, destruction, or alteration of the names registered in historical deeds and maps is like the destruction of ancient works  and is considered as an improper action. Therefore, the names of geographical features profiting from a unique historical identity, should not be utilised as political instruments in reaching a political, tribal, and racial objective, or in any clash with  national interests and other's values

Teymoor Nabili is an award-winning presenter and correspondent based in Doha.


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