Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Mapping the Persian Gulf Naming Dispute

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Mapping the Persian Gulf Naming Dispute

Article excerpt

How we label or categorize depends upon our purpose, our projections, A Aand our evaluations; yet the thing labeled does not change just because we change the label or category. (1)

Words do not have "one true meaning." Words mean different things to different people; words mean different things at different times; words mean different things in different contexts. (2)

Mapping the Persian Gulf Naming Dispute

On nearly all maps published before 1960, and in most modern-day international treaties, proceedings, and maps, the roughly 600-mile-long body of water located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula is identified by the name Persian Gulf. This mirrors conventional practice dating back to first-century ancient Greek geographers. But with the rise of Arab nationalism in the 1960s, a number of Arab countries adopted widespread use of the term Arab Gulf or Arabian Gulf to refer to this inland sea. Other entities have followed this usage, some of them coming up with additional names, and the result has been a highly contentious dispute over nomenclature involving individuals, nations, global agencies, corporations, universities, and mapmakers.

Some Historical Background on the Persian Gulf Naming Dispute

The phrase "Arabian Gulf" (Sinus Arabicus) was once used to refer to what is now called the Red Sea. European mapmakers, following the ancient Greek geographers Strabo and Ptolemy among others, went along this usage. Strabo and Ptolemy also utilized the expression Sinus Persicus to specify the body of water between the Arabian Peninsula and the Iranian Plateaus. Early Roman historians, in keeping with the traditions of the ancient Greeks, called the waterway "Aquarius Persico."

Persian Muslim geographers, in the early Islamic era and employing Arabic, likewise used the term Persian Sea or Persian Gulf. Most European cartographers, utilizing languages spoken in European countries, have also made use of the name Persian Gulf on their maps.

In 1534, Baghdad was seized by the Ottoman Empire, which gave Turkey access to the port of Basra at the head of the gulf. This event overlapped the early mapmaking efforts of Gerardus Mercator, whose 1541 world globe named the gulf Sinus Persicus, nunc Mare de Balsera ("Persian Gulf, now Sea of Basra"). (3) On his terrestrial map of 1569, the name was changed to Mare di Mesendin (after the Ra's Musandam "the mountaintops," in modern-day Oman) (4)

Mercator's counterpart, the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, chose the label Mare El Catif, olim Sinus Persicus (after the Arabian port of Al Qatif) for his world atlas of 1570. (5) Ortelius also designated the entrance to the gulf Basora Fretum (Strait of Basra). Turkey continues to use the term "Gulf of Basra" today.

In 1840, the London-based Times Journal, responding to Iranian objections that England was meddling into Iranian affairs in the Persian Gulf, renamed that body of water the "Britain Sea." The moniker never caught on.

In the 1950s, following the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, the expulsion of English companies from Iran, and the severing of relations between Iran and England, Roderic Owen, an employee of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and an M16 British government officer, published a book titled The Golden Bubble: Arabian Gulf Documentary. This book constituted the first literary work of any significance to popularize the term "Arabian Gulf." The tag had originally, and unsuccessfully, been proposed in the 1930s to the British government by Sir Charles Belgrave, a British citizen and an advisor to the government of Bahrain. (6)

The Iranian View

Iran employs the term "Persian Gulf" exclusively and does not recognize alternate forms such as the "Arabian Gulf" or "The Gulf." It does not consider the latter term a neutral designation, but sees it as a rebuff to the historical name. Foreign airlines that do not use the phrase "Persian Gulf" on their in-flight monitors are banned from Iran's airspace. …

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