The Persian Gulf Organization (http://www.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.
Image Courtesy NASA
Image Courtesy NASA Visible Earth
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, Persian Gulf."
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 colonial 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, Syrian land."
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?
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.
About the author:
Professor Mohammad Ala teaches Production and Operations Management both in Iran and the United States of America. Dr. Ala is Co-founder and Board member of Persian Gulf Organization (http://www.persiangulfonline.org) and founder and Board Member of Iran Heritage (http://www.iran-heritage.org) and Iran Alliance (http://www.iranalliance.org)
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