• 25 May 2010
  • Posted By Sanaz Yarvali
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Persian Gulf

Last week, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah blasted Iran’s claims of ownership over three islands in the Persian Gulf, comparing the situation to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land:

Occupation of any Arab land is occupation … Israeli occupation of Golan Heights, southern Lebanon, West Bank or Gaza is called occupation and no Arab land is dearer than another.

The Persian Gulf Cooperation Council Ministers have supported the United Arab Emirates claim recently of Iran “occupying” three islands in the Persian Gulf: the Greater Tunb, the Lesser Tunb and Abu Moussa.  But Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast says the three islands “are inseparable parts of the Iranian territory.”

The dispute over these islands is nothing new, dating back more than a century to the era of British colonialism.  In 1888, the British Minister confirmed to the Shah of Iran that the islands belong to Iran. Later in 1903-04, when Iran was on the brink of civil war, the Sheikh of Sharjah took the opportunity to claim the islands for himself. The dispute continued throughout the 20th Century, when the islands were formally returned to Iran in November 1971 through a legal procedure that occurred before the creation of the UAE as a state.

Despite Iran and the UAE’s strong trade relations, the two have maintained no formal diplomatic relations since 2008, when Iran installed maritime offices on one of the disputed islands.

The GCC has urged Tehran to engage in direct talks or go to the International Court of Justice to resolve the issue.  The downside of going to the ICJ is that it has no way to enforce its decisions, so whatever the outcome turns out to be, the parties may decide not to abide by the result. Yet this is precisely the sort of international incident that the ICJ was created to resolve.  So one could be forgiven for just wishing the two countries would just grow up and settle their dispute like reasonable members of the international community.

It’s easy to understand why this issue is so vexing for Iran and the UAE: as with so much else it’s all about oil.  These islands more than likely have oil reserves that any country would want to claim for itself.

However, comparing the dispute over the Gulf islands to the Israeli occupation isn’t going to help anyone.  Instead, it will only cause the two parties to dig their heels in further, as their pride and egos get in the way of any real settlement.  But all of this only postpones the inevitable: some day, Iran and the UAE are going to have to act like adults and find a peaceful way to settle this argument.

Until then, they should knock this type of rhetoric off.

Posted By Sanaz Yarvali

    2 Responses to “Arab FM Blasts Iran’s “Occupation” of Gulf Islands”

  1. Pirouz says:

    Sanaz, the UAE FM made that comment last month, not last week.

    That 1971 diplomatic agreement ceded Iran’s legitimate claim over Mishmahig Island (Bahrain), its 14th province. One would think the three rocks in the Persian Gulf the UAE is crying about was worth the trade. But no. They’re still crying over those three rocks. And I don’t blame the Islamic Republic of Iran one bit for not utilizing the International Court of Justice, given the recent political manipulations of the “world arrogance”, when it comes to Iran’s rights.

    On another note, I’m surprised there isn’t a NIAC blog post related to this latest development now made public, concerning US military activities inside Iran. As usual, the Leverrets’ point out the risks of this active American belligerency toward Iran, and its adverse effect on Iranians and Iranian-Americans traveling to and from the country to America (as well as the three hikers). Another major disappointment from the Obama administration. As a person who voted for Obama, again I ask the question: where is my vote!

  2. Sanaz Yarvali says:

    Thanks for pointing my mistake Pirouz. I misread the date of when the comment was made.

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7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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