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International Seminar on The UAE and the Iranian Islands of Tunbs and Abu Musa

By Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh Ph.D. (London; 31st May 2006)
Chairman of Urosevic Research Foundation - London and Professor of Political geography and geopolitics - Tarbiat Modarres University - Tehran

A Look at Some of the more recently propagated UAE arguments



Territorial claims for nation-building exercise

In my previous works I introduced masses of documents and evidence about Iran's legal and legitimate ownership of the 3 islands and about their legal return to Iran in 1971. Today I would like to talk about the ways in which the UAE tries to make something out of nothing by confusing public opinion.


The United Arab Emirates has been experiencing difficulties in creating real and true national cohesion in that federation of the seven political entities of Arab tribal identity (Arab Emirates). Lack of any real challenge of political geography nature to this identity seems to have deprived the notion of nation-building process of the necessary stimulant that would bear the fruit of national cohesion. Abu Dhabi's vociferous claims on the Islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa, seems to have worked inadvertently to strengthen the Iranian national unity instead of its intended results for the UAE. This was to act as a hot subject of the UAE's territorial dispute with the only non-Arab state (Iran) of the region, but it seems to have failed to play the magical role of a cause celebre at the Middle Eastern regional level as a symbol of Arab nationalist resistance to the spread of Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf (1). Domestically, it was expected to become the symbol of a foreign territorial challenge that would stimulate growth of the sense of a 'nationhood' that would be particular to the UAE.


Failing to achieve any real results from the above strategy seems to have lead Abu Dhabi to adopt a more fundamental undertaking of a massive cultural project aimed at creating a new historical identity for the region by trying to re-write regional history. The ultimate aim in this cultural venture seems to be complete denial of all aspects of the history of the region that would one way or another relate to Iran and her traditional sovereignty of the southern coasts of the Persian Gulf. Supported by more radical nationalists (pan-Arabist) quarters in places like Qatar, Kuwait, and to some extent Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi has benefited from many obliging regional and British academics. In addition to declaring in the title of his book the three islands of Tunbs and Abu Musa in the persian Gulf as being owned by the United Arab Emirates, Thomas R. Mattair (2), for instance has argued that these islands belonged to the emirates of Sharjah and Ras-al-Khaimah for many centuries, without being able to address the fundamental issue of these emirates' existence prior to the 20th century as independent territorial states with spatial dimension that could enable them to claim any territory as representing their legal dominion. In fact when the idea of determining territorial dimension for the tribal entities of Eastern Arabia and defining boundary lines among them was expressed by the authorities of Indo-European telegraph line in 1864, British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Colonel Lewis Pelly, opposed it on the basis that implementation of these European concepts in Eastern Arabia was 'inexpedient' at the time (3). 


The concept of territorial sovereignty in the Western sense did not exist in Eastern Arabia, A ruler exercised jurisdiction over a territory by virtue of his jurisdiction over the tribes inhabiting it. They in turn, owed loyalty to him... (4).


These words were echoes of what many Western scholars and diplomats like Professor John Wilkinson of Oxford University and Sir Rupert Hay, a former British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, had stated earlier. John Wilkinson described the British attempts of 1960s for introducing the concept of territoriality to the local tribes and boundary making amongst them in Eastern Arabia as:


This ludicrous partitioning of territory is of recent origin and stems in large measure from the imposing of European notion of territorialism on a society to which they were foreign......Britain sought to develop an exclusive influence in the Gulf and, later still, to favour the claims of particular companies to act as concessionaries for oil exploration, she was forced first into defending the protégé coastal rulers from attack from the hinterland and then of proclaiming their authority over the population and resources of greater Oman.... (5).


Sir Rupert Hay states:


Before the advent of oil the desert was in many ways similar to the high seas. Nomads and their camels roamed across it at will... (6).


In its endeavor to establish a new historical identity for the UAE in addition to their pan-Arabist tendencies, the UAE Government seems to have opted for the adoption of the same strategy of political ideology devised in 1950s and 1960s, and implemented by the former Baath Party of Iraq in 1970s to 1990s. 


Since its emergence in 1968 the second Baath regime in Iraq launched a massive and long-lasting anti-Iranian propaganda campaign, which became the central theme of its promotion of Baath philosophy. This was an expected geopolitical strategy contrasting the demographical features of Iraq. Almost 80% of the population of what has become the state of Iraq in early 20th century is made up of peoples of Kurdish and Shiite origin with strong cultural and ethnic ties with Iran. Moreover, like the emirates of southern shores of the Persian Gulf, Mesopotamia was part of what was the Iranian federative system (Persian Empire) for the greater part of the past three thousand years. These historical and geographical factors did not offer a comfortable prospect to the former Baath ideologues to work out a completely Arabic identity for Iraq that would enable it to play the role of a leading Pan-Arab power in the region. Hence, the Baath Party had to shed all layers of Iraq's cultural image that in any way represented Iran or its Persian civilization. A massive anti-Iranian campaign that had begun by the first Baath party of Iraq in 1959 was boosted by the re-emergence of that party in 1968. 


A major feature of this endeavor was attempts to change the name of the Persian Gulf to Arabian Gulf, changing the ancient name of Iran's Khuzestan province into "Arabistan" and trying to sever that province from Iran by creating a terrorist group of a few elements related to the Iranian Arab tribes living in Khuzestan who occupied Iranian Embassy in London in 1980 in a terrorist action and even now is heavily involved in terrorist activities in Khuzestan and Tehran (7). Other features of this anti-Iranian racially inclined ideology include changing the name of the islands of Kish and Lavan off the Iranian coasts near the straits of Hormuz, hundreds of miles away from any where near Iraqi.


The Baath party and its political philosophy, which symbolized their peculiar way of shaping a national identity, had aimed at proving the argument that not only is Iraq an Arab state, but a leading one. But this whole argument was to materialize on the strength of the geographical fact that Baath party and Iraq's ruling class were from the Sunni Arab population of that country which has always been in minority there, and it was because of this weak geographical foundation of the argument that drove the Baath regime to dictatorship of most severe kind vis-à-vis the people of Iraq and a belligerent approach in their relations with Iran.


The Baath policy of nation-Building was not to follow the path of a normal process of settling the crisis of identity. All philosophers and thinkers of political, geographical and social sciences, including famous Arab thinker Edward Said, in his famous book Orientalism (8) concede that one normally constructs one's identity by comparing the notion of 'us' with the notion of 'them'. But in the case of the Baath party of Iraq, this mechanism worked differently. In their theory Baath party was to construct an extreme form of Pan-Arab identity for Iraq by destroying the identity of 'them', which in this case was represented by Persia (Iran). This was because what constitutes Iraq now had been a part of the Iranian federal system known in the West as Persian Empire for centuries both before and after Islam. To the Baath party thinkers, Cyrus the Great's conquer of Babylonia in the mid six century BC was not to be forgiven because, no matter how emphatically the holy books in Islam, Christianity and Judaism condemned Babylonian tyranny and its inhumanity, to them Babylonia was an Arab state that represented Iraq's glorious past upon which Iraq's new Pan-Arab identity had to be constructed.       


It was on the basis of this peculiar way of reading history that a mind-boggling anti-Iranian (anti-Persian) campaign began which lasted for 35 years, causing the eight-year war of attrition with more than one million people dead, and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of destruction to both countries.


The cultural aspects of this incessant campaign involved a furiously anti-Iranian propaganda throughout the Arab world. Even in their school books Persia (Iran) was presented as a pure evil. In a research work entitled Sourat al-Iranian fi al-kotob al-madresiyat al-Arabiyat (the image of Iranians in Arab school books), Talal Adrisi, an Arab scholar points out that the image of Iran (al- Faresi - the Persians) presented in the Iraqi school books is quite clear. He then quotes an Iraqi history book of the time of the former regime as saying (9):


Verily the Iranians are always the same low-down racist Persians who have, since the time of Rashedin Caliphate until the glorious Qadesiyah (the last of the wars of Islamic Caliphate against Iran) of noble Saddam Hussein been against the Arab nation and its unity, against its Arabic-Islamic civilization and against its language.... All problems of the Arabs and the Muslims, and all conflicts and agitations, and ethnic wars, and all efforts for the destruction of its (Arab's) civilization are the result of Persian conspiracies.


After the fall of Iraq's Baathist regime in 2003, there are many indications that its brand of ideology for nation-building by re-writing the history and revising the geography of the region is being questioned in the Arab world. Yet, this process appears to have started in a reverse direction in some Arab parts of the lower Persian Gulf. In addition to rejecting many calls by Arab scholars and Arab newspapers asking Arabs to abandon the campaign of changing the name of the Persian Gulf (10) for instance, the UAE Government has increased its ant-Iranian campaign. They have started to return sea-going vessels from their shores if happened to produce their cargo-bill bearing the name 'Persian Gulf'; they hugely increased financial support for any journalist, academic, or politician in the West that would adopt the term Arabian Gulf instead of the historical name of the Persian Gulf, the 2005 case of geographical controversy by National Geographic was an example; they began to support any activity that aimed at hurting Iran, the case of financial support for the creation of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and its anti-Iranian activities in late 1990s and early years of the 2000s is one example and its critical stance, encouraged by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, against Iran's nuclear energy program and attempts to formulate a pan-Arab opposition to it on the argument that close proximity of Iran's nuclear sites would pose a danger to the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf in the events of accidents, is another example. The UAE in putting forward this argument ignores the fact that they have never criticized Israel's nuclear arms program and the danger of Israeli nuclear sites proximity to the "brother" Arab nations of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt.


Writing and broadcasting undocumented allegations against Iran as Persian Empire and its founder, Cyrus the Great increased once again both locally and in the West. Appearance of an amazing piece of slur against Iran and its history of civilization, particularly against Iranian federative state (the so-called Persian Empire) of the pre-Islamic era, calling it 'The evil empire' in one of the most unlikely forums, "the Guardian" daily of London perhaps is a good example of the revival of Baath-style campaign of nation-building in an Arab state through expression of hatred for Iran, which had for over 35 years brought the Arabs and Iranians nothing but wars and devastation.


It might, however, be understandable that these newly formed states would concern themselves with the task of nation-building within the framework of their desired Arab identity, but construction of one's identity cannot always be achieved through destruction of the identity of the others. In their identity seeking efforts when some of these emirates face the reality that the lands on which they are building their new nations formed the southern flanks of the Iranian federative system (the so-called Persian Empire) for thousands of year and, therefore, like the former Baathist regime in Iraq, they too see their options limited to destroying the Persian (Iranian) identity. While, denying in many of their texts in history and geography the existence of such a political entity as Iran or Persia, in many other of their texts they try to reshape the history in a manner that would justify their anti-Iranian arguments. In a friendly exchange with an academic colleague in the United Kingdom, who, in reply to my invitation to an academic debate, wrote on Thursday 5 January 2006; relations and interests are entirely tied up with the Arab side of the Gulf, he stated:


Archaeological evidence (notably by Walid al-Takriti in Buraimi area) is showing that the Dawudi qanat go back well before the Achaemanid period and that on the contrary, there is no firm evidence of an Achaemanid occupation of Oman. Indeed the argument is that Oman was the original site of the qanat development and was taken by the Persians and spread by them..... Some of the major qanat of Oman on the western side of the mountains predate the Achaemanid period (11).


Neither the author of the above nor the source he refers to seem to have paused and asked the question; considering that defining the existence of a real and actual civilization is the pre-requisite condition for any academic claim of the discovery of constructed infrastructure in any given area of the world, how could qanat (underground water channel system) have been constructed in Eastern Arabia and Oman before the Achaeminid period? They do not seem to be concerned that before making that claim, they have to establish existence of a civilization in that part before the advent of the Achaeminid Iranian civilization. This is an old practice, and attempts to attribute some of better known and well-established features and samples of ancient Iranian civilization to modern countries like Turkey, Iraq and other Arab states of the region, is not new. There are always those in countries of more recent emergence who endeavor to work out an old historical identity for the new nations through re-writing the history. There are claims that qanat was first constructed by ancient Turks who did not even live in southwest Asia before 12th century AD. Some others who are more concerned about purifying their Western identity of any eastern cultural feature, have attributed to Rome almost all of the well known ancient Iranian invention such as the qanat underground water channel system, coinage (gold Daric and silver Ziglus), road system (the Royal Road) etc.


A closer look at the terminologies used in the above quoted letter is more revealing. In another part the author refers to the lack of "firm evidence of an Achaemanid occupation of Oman". This sentence represent lack of care in the use of the term "occupation" in reference to the presence of Achaeminid Iran in southern coasts of the persian Gulf and what is now Oman and Emirates. The term occupation is normally used in reference to the legal or illegal act of taking a piece of land from the hands of a previous owner. But in the case of Oman and southern coasts of the Persian Gulf the authors do not bother to identify an owner-occupier of those areas prior to the advent of the Achaeminid state. The existence of the qanats in those areas is the evidence of Achaemanid presence there. On the other hand, they seem to have difficulty in contemplating that no much evidence of the Achaeminid presence are to be found in many areas of the interior of Iran, but that does not suggest that a civilization and a political system (federative state) that had ruled and administered over the largest part of the civilized world of 6th to 3rd centuries BC, did not exist in its core areas (lands between and around the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf).    


All local historical evidence, all Arab texts of history like Tabari, Masudi, Yaqubi, Maqdasi, Ibn Huqal etc. confirm what Sir Arnold T. Wilson has asserted in his highly acclaimed publication in 1928 on the Persian Gulf that:


There are myths dating the origin of the people of the Persian Gulf to the meeting of three branches of mankind on the shores of the Gulf in about 10,000 BC: the Drividian of the Makran coasts (Iran) absorbed by their Baluchi conquerors (Iran); the Semites of the Arabian highlands who displaced or absorbed the original Hamitic Euro-African aborigines; and the proto-Elamites of southwestern Iran (12).


The political geography of Eastern Arabia (southern coasts of the Persian Gulf) followed the same pattern of political development in that entire region since the dawn of history. This region first experienced the existence of 'state' in the modern sense of the word, in the mid-sixth century BC when the Achaeminid (559 to 330 BC) consolidated their federative system, which included most of the civilized world of the time. Iranian settlement and political domination of these areas were consolidated under the Sassanids (224-651 AD) (13). All Arab and Islamic sources of history of human movements in that Part of the lower Persian Gulf indicate that the first of any migratory movements of Arab tribes to those parts began in a few decades before the advent of Islam according to the all Arab sources of ancient history and to firm local evidence used by Dr. John Wilkinson of Oxford University who discloses that:


The main Shanu'a groupings of Arab immigrants from the interior of Arabia were established in the mountain of Musandam and Oman proper in the early sixth century AD, when the Kawadh (Qobads) ruled the region. It was probably in association with this migration into Oman that elements of the Kinda also came to settle in the mountain areas of jabal Kinda near Buraimi Oasis. Other Arab migration who settled in the desert and border areas of Oman formed the Azd Federation. Faced with this massive new tribal union of migant Arabs, the Iranian rulers of the region had no alternative but to accord the newcomers a degree of autonomy under their own tribal leadership (14).


Re-Writing history to formulate national identity

In addition to the necessity of being familiar with the evolution of legally inclined concept of territoriality and territorial ownership in South East Arabia and southern shores of the Persian Gulf, and before speaking of "centuries of Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah's history of ownership of territories in and around the Persian Gulf, Thomas R. Mattairs of our time aught to establish first; what is the history of statehood in that part of the world; second, how long these emirates have been in existence as political entities of legal and territorial dimension, and third; what was the role of the British in 19th and 20th century in allocating lands to various emirates at will. In this context, in order to avoid repetition of issues and instances of historical and legal arguments, I would refer these authors to carefully study chapters XVII, XVIII, IXX and XX in this book for matters related to history of statehood in The Persian Gulf, history of the existence of the Arab Emirates of the Persian Gulf, and the role the British played in allocating territories to various state or tribal entities at will in 19th and 20th century. The agents of British colonial rule in the region in 19th and early 20th century, who were the instruments of colonial interference in the political geography of the Persian Gulf and allocated various territories to different entities in the region, conveniently denied all aspects of Iran's traditional dominion and her sovereignty connections with the southern coasts of the Persian Gulf, but several British scholars and academics like Sir Arnold T. Wilson, Dr. John C. Wilkinson, Sir Rupert hay, Donald Hawley, J. B. Kelly etc have made reasonable references to these traditional realities of the region in their scholarly works.


Here, it suffice to briefly state that even the name Ras al-Kheimah is reminder of Iran's age old sovereignty presence in southern coasts of the Persian Gulf. Iran's pre-Islamic dominion and sovereignty over these areas were well defined and well documented. The term Ras al-Kheimah is an Arabic construction of two parts: Ras is head (the tip of) in Arabic, and Kheimah means tent in both Arabic and Persian. Ras al-Kheimah therefore, means the 'tip of tends', and that is in reference to the tip of the tented headquarter of Iran's military camp in that vicinity during the time of nadir Shah Afshar (first half of the 18th century). Iran's post-Islamic sovereignty and presence were defined in terms of Islamic territorial description, and continued albeit vaguely until the arrival in the Persian Gulf of British colonialism and start of their interference in the political geography of the region as from 1820 when they signed their first treaty of peace with the tribal entities therein. They continued this task and by 1899 signed many similar treaties that brought all major tribal entities under British protection and sovereignty. The Iranian Government protested against this process of colonization of Iranian dependent entities in the south of the Persian Gulf and Prime Minister in mid-1840s, Haji Mirza Aghasi issued a warning reminding the British that all ports and islands in and around the Persian Gulf belonged to Iran, but they preferred to ignore his warnings (15). Here, it might be worthwhile to bring to the attention of the authors at the service of the UAE government claim to the three islands in question one of many historical documents verifying acknowledgement by rulers of tribal entities of southern coasts of the Persian Gulf of historical tradition of Iranian sovereignty over those areas. The following is the text of articles I, II, and III of a formal letter from Sheikh Sultan Bin Saqar of Ras al-Kheimah to the Iranian authorities most relevant to the status of Ras al-Kheimah as a dependency of Iran like other tribal entities of southern coasts of the Persian Gulf which had enjoyed the same status vaguely throughout the post-Islamic history of the region. In this letter, which is dated 17 of Sha'ban 1272 H.Q. (23 April 1865), the ruler of Ras al-Kheimah principally requests from the authorities in Tehran to grant him the lease of Bandar Abbas on the northern coasts of the Persian Gulf; for that he argues that as Ras al-Kheimah was an Iranian dominion, its leasing of Bandar Abbas would benefit Iran without even encountering any legal problem:


Articles 1, 2 and 4 of the statement of His Highness the Sheikh of all Sheikhs, His Excellency Sheikh Sultan Bin Saqar (16)


Article 1; The first issue is that I am grateful to you, and like my ancestors from the oldest time, we have been your   servant, companion, and subject, and today also I am your servant, companion and subject, and I am ready for your command and instructions so that whatever command you might have to be carry out with our lives, by myself, my children, my clan and my tribe, we are all your subjects and citizens and servants and abide by your instructions. And Ras al-Kheimah has been your (territorial) dominion since the oldest time and is now an Iranian territory.


Article 2; The second issue is that if I were to have a person in Bandar Abbas, I will see to all affairs of Bandar Abbas perfectly and completely as might be asked of me. But if the forced of Sayyed Saeed (Sultan of Oman) come and position themselves before Bandar Abbas, I could not see it and keep silent, it would be inevitable that I challenged him and chase him out of that place. If I were to challenge him at sea the England will be the obstacle, and would say I am the lord of the sea. On whose permission and on whose authority are you quarrelling in the sea? You get a letter from the English or issue an order to the English not to challenge me at all in the sea so that not only I could see to the service of your maritime affairs to the best of my ability, but also I could add all coasts and islands in Oman to your dominion.


Article 4; the fourth issue is that as I stayed in Bandar Abbas, the province of Ras al-Kheimah is a vast province. Some of the time there are disturbances and your support is essential. As I have become in your charge, your subject, and have accepted citizenship of the Iranian Government and my children, my tribe and clan request to send 4 divisions of soldiers with a commander and ten canons and a sufficient amount of Qur-Khaneh (a 19th century Persian word for armory, arsenal, shot guns, or ammunition) and all expenses to Ras al-Kheimah where they could be stationed permanently.... (17).           

Even as late as 1969 Arab scholars verified that the issue of territorial sovereignty in the southern coasts of the Persian Gulf was of an Arab-Iranian mixture. In an interview with the Iranian press, Dr. Sayyed Mohammad Nufel of Egypt, visiting Tehran in his capacity as Deputy Secretary General of the Arab League, stated:

I redecul the efforts for changing the name of the Persian Gulf and condemn these futile efforts... I have made some studies about the region of the Persian Gulf and published a book in 1952 in which I used the term Persian Gulf, only saying that the Sheikhdoms were neither Arab nor Iranian, but a mixture of both.... (18).

The Iranian Government had as from the year 1950 imposed visa requirement for the inhabitants of the lower Persian Gulf traveling into Iran. Before that date, they carried an Iranian identity document that allowed them to travel freely between the opposite coasts.


The Anglo-Iranian territorial contention, which began in 1840s with Haji Mirza Aghasi's declaration of opposition to the British annexation of ports and islands of lower Persian Gulf, the most prominent of which in the twentieth century were the issues of Iran's claim on Bahrain and Britain's claim on Tunbs and Abu Musa on behalf of its client emirates, continued throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries until in 1965 when negotiations began between the two for a north-south maritime divide in the Persian Gulf. Though these negotiations did not produce conclusive agreements on the subject, it established in 1966 the median line of the sea as a principle upon which the continental shelf between Iran and her Arab neighbours was to be divided. It was on the basis of this principle that the subsequent maritime delimitation agreements were achieved. This was a decision on an ad hoc basis that the median line of the Persian Gulf would become the term of reference on which the maritime areas of the sea would be delimited and delineated between Iran to the north, and Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to the south (19). This was a general understanding on the basis of which the Iranians accepted that the southern limits of their sovereignty rights retreated to the median line of the Persian Gulf and therefore, relinquished claims on Bahrain archipelago in 1970. The British also decided, after intensive negotiations throughout the 1970 and 1971 to return the three islands of Tunb and Abu Musa, situated in the northern half of the Persian Gulf and on the median line respectively to Iran.


Doubting validity of official British Government documents

Another issue of significance to be noted by all observers is the fact that in addition to hundreds of British government documents verifying Iran's ownership of the Islands of Tunb and Abu Musa, there are numerous official British maps also confirming Iran's sovereignty rights to these islands (20). In a round table discussion between Iranian and Arab academics in London in November 1992 this author produced 24 maps, mostly compiled officially by the British government in the 18th and 19th centuries that proved Iranian possession of the islands in question. Prior to the said meeting it was widely believed in Iran, the Arab World and In the West that only a single official British map, produced in 1886, clearly recognized Iranian sovereignty over the islands. Even that single map became the subject of controversy in that meeting as Mr. Richard Schofield, a British academic at London Kings College of no apparent connection to the UAE conspiratorial attempts to re-write the history of the region, responded positively to a question put to him by the Ambassador of the Arab League in London, that the 1886 official British map was compiled by mistake. Reacting to this allegation, this author (Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh) explained that the map in question is a huge drawing in several sheets, the sheet containing the vicinity of the three islands in the Persian Gulf is as big as 2 by 1 square meters, each of the three islands of Tunb and Abu Musa appearing on it in a size larger than a dinner plate with the term 'IRAN' printed inside each of them from side to side. He then questioned how a map as big as this and as simple as this could be compiled by mistake by the War Office of Great Britain, a very knowledgeable colonial office whose success in helping to establishing world's greatest empire was the result of its thoroughness. Nevertheless, Mr. Schofield repeated this allegation in another meeting of academics discussing the 'international boundaries of Iran' (London School of Oriental and African Studies, 9-10 October 2002) (21) without being able to present any evidence that could in any way substantiate the allegation.


The Map of the Persian Gulf as the 1886 map is called, was compiled by the Intelligence Division of the War Office of the United Kingdom. A copy of this map was presented to Nasr ad-Din Shah Qajar of Iran in 1888 on the instruction of Lord Salisbury, British Foreign Secretary at the time. Seeing the map, the Shah rightly concluded that the map barred any other argument on Anglo-Sharjah sovereignty over these islands. When Sir Drummond Wolf, British Minister plenipotentiary in Tehran, expressed regrets that the map had been presented to the Iranian monarch precisely because it confirmed Iran's territorial possessions in the Persian Gulf, including the islands of Tunbs and Abu Musa, Lord Salisbury remarked: take note that maps shall never be presented in future (22). Yet, as it was already too late, the map was published again in 1891 in colour, showing the three islands in the colour of Iran. Mr. Schofield alleges that embarrassment over showing 'by mistake' the three islands as Iranian owned, was the reason for Lord Salisbury's remarks on the margin of British Ambassador's report, instructing the banning of presentation of official maps to foreign heads of states. This is clearly to overlook the simple and straight forward situation, and that was that the British government's embarrassment was over the discovery by the Shah of Iran of their double dealing on the issue of sovereignty on these islands. On the one hand they had been corresponding with the Shah's government claiming Sharjah's ownership of these islands while, on the other hand, they officially and in their official documents acknowledge the truth about authenticity of Iranian sovereignty over the same islands.


Other British academic or diplomats of note who have discussed the issue of the three islands of Tunbs and Abu Musa and have made references to this map, have not even hinted to any possibility of it being compiled by mistake. Sir Denis Wright, a veteran British diplomat who studied the issue of Anglo-Iranian relations in details in two volumes has made references to the 1886 War Office map and its presentation to Naser ad-Din Shah without even making any suggestion or hinting any question about the validity of the map being doubted. Rather he implies that presentation of this map to the Shah strengthened Iran's case. He states:


A War Office map, presented by the British Minister [in Tehran} to the Shah in 1888, showed all the islands [the two Tunbs, Abu Musa and Sirri] in Persian colour: the Persian case was further strengthened with the publication in 1992 of Curzon's two-volume Persia and Persian Question in which the map, prepared by the Royal geographical Society under Curzon's own supervision, also showed the islands as Persian territory (23).  


When in the symposium on Iranian boundaries (9-10 October 2002) Mr. Schofield was reminded of the fact that the 1886 Map of the Persian Gulf was reprinted in 1891 by the British Government which is an official verification of the authenticity of the map, he argued that as it was too late to do anything about it being compiled by mistake, the British authority decided to compile all subsequent publication with the mistake. Certainly this cannot be but an unnecessary admission of wrong doing on the part of the British Government. Moreover, this could also cause doubt also about validity of other official maps of British Government, published subsequent to the publication in 1886 and 1891 of the Map of the Persian Gulf, including the Official Map of Persia (in six sheets): compiled in 1897 in the Simla Drawing office, Survey of India, Administration of topography of the Indian Foreign Office, in which the islands of Tunb and Abu Musa are shown in the colour of the Iranian mainland.


Moreover, in an unlikely situation should Mr. Schofield's far fetched insinuation be accepted that all official maps of Iran or Persia and/or the Persian Gulf, published by the British Government subsequent to the 1886 map, were compiled deliberately with mistake on the issue of verification in those maps of Iranian ownership of the three islands, then he will not be in any position to question authenticity and correctness of the official British Government maps compiled and published before publication of the 1886 map, which could not have been affected in any way by possible problems that might have occurred in the completion of the 1886 map. Here, at least six examples of such maps, compiled and published before 1886 can be introduced, and they are as follow:


1- Map of The Persian Empire; compiled in 1813 by John Macdonald Kinner, Political Adviser to Sir John Malcolm, British Envoy, in his mission to Iran, in black and white; printed in colour in 1832 by J. Arrowsmith, showing the islands in the colour of Iranian territories

2- Map of The Gulf of Persia; compiled in 1829 by Captain G. B. Brucks on the instructions of East India Company, in which the islands of Tunbs and Abu Musa are coloured as Iranian territories and named in the covering note as Iranian owned.

3- Map of Central Asia Comprising Cabool, Persia, the River Indus and countries eastward to it: compiled in 1834 by Lieutenant Alexander Burnes on the basis of 'Authentic Maps', printed by Arrowsmith in colour, showing the islands of Tunbs and Abu Musa in the colour of Iranian territories.

4- Map of Limits of the activities of the Tribes of Pearling Coasts, compiled in 1835 by Captain S. Hennell, showing the islands of Tunbs and Abu Musa within Iranian jurisdiction.

5- Map of Limits of the activities of the Tribes of Pearling Coasts, compiled in 1838 by Major Morrison, British Political resident in the Persian Gulf, showing the islands of Tunbs and Abu Musa within Iranian jurisdiction.

6- Map of The Persian Gulf, compiled by Captain C.B.S. St. John, under the auspices of the Indian Government, Bombay 1876, in which the Tunbs and Abu Musa are depicted in the same colour as the Iranian mainland.


Gun Battle at Greater Tunb

 There are those who describe the process of actual transfer of sovereignty control of the islands of Tunbs and Abu Musa to Iran by means of hoisting Iranian flags on them by an Iranian naval unit in the morning of November 30, 1971, as "Iran's military occupation" of these islands. What these individuals conveniently ignore is the fact that hoisting the flags of the recipient state over the territory, the sovereignty control of which is being transferred from one state to another, is a normal legal practice. For instance the district of Alaska was ceded to the United States by Russia on March 30, 1867, but it was the US Navy that started governing the territory by hoisting US flag there in 1879.


The Iranian flag was unfurled on the two Tunb islands and Abu Musa Island in the morning of November 30, 1971 in an official arrangement with the British authorities and the authorities of the emirates of Sharjah and Ras al-Kheimah. An Iranian Naval unit arrived in Abu Musa Island first and was officially welcomed by H. H. Sheikh Saqar Bin Mohammad al-Qassemi, brother of the ruler of Sharjah.


Unlike the peaceful transfer of sovereignty control of northern half of Abu Musa Island to Iran, an unexpected incident at Greater Tunb disturbed peaceful transition.    


On their arrival at Greater Tunb the Iranian naval representative noticed the absence of welcoming party but the small island seemed to them peaceful enough. On the approach to the island Iranian officials on board naval vessel Artmiss heard gun shots from the inside of Ras al-Kheimah's police station in the island. In an interview with this author on 21 June 2003, Iranian journalist Mr. Ali-Reza Taheri, who represented the daily Ettelaat of Tehran in the Iranian delegation on board Artmiss to the three islands, stated:


It had been arranged that like in Abu Musa, the Iranian delegation would be welcomed at Greater Tunb ceremonially..... The Iranian delegation would not even contemplate that peaceful process and their security would be threatened by the police force inside the police station (of Ras al-Kheimah at the Greater Tunb). Captain Suzanchi headed four navy personnel who attempted to investigate the source of disturbance, were so sure of their safety that none of them had a naked gun in their hands when they were killed. On his martyrdom Captain Suzanchi's gun was still in its case fastened on his vest. At the heat of the gun shots had only his walky-talky in his hand.


The Iranian delegation had no knowledge of the number of police officers in the station. The two individuals, who had come out of the station initially, had raised their guns over their heads indicating their intention to surrender. Thinking that these two were the only personnel there and that there would not be anyone else in the station Captain Suzanchi and his company approached the individuals surrendering themselves to the Iranian delegation. As soon as they reached the fire range of the station, they were showered with bullets coming from the inside of the station..... Captain Suzanchi and two of his fellow officers were killed on the spot the forth officer was wounded with only one of them survived unscathed.


Facing that unexpected situation which was later blamed on the British officer in command of Ras al-Kheimah's police station in Greater Tunb, the Iranian naval unit reacted in the defense of the lives of the rest of delegation and the safety of the local   residents by brought the police station under fire. Three of the rebelled Ras al-Kheimah officers inside the building were killed and the rest were arrested and transferred to Ras al-Kheimeh.....   


This incident that was not anticipated at all and was blamed on the lack of competence on the part of the British and Ras al-Kheimah authorities at Greater Tunb has apparently provided those opposed to the Anglo-Iranian settlement of the case of these islands to accuse Iran of having occupied the islands in question by force of arm. This accusation has been repeated many times in certain Arab and Western circles without the offer of any evidence or credible explanation to support the allegation and/or being aware of what had exactly happened in Abu Musa and in Greater Tunb on the day these islands were lawfully returned to Iran.


On the legality of Abu Dhabi's claims on Iranian islands the following arguments are worth noting (24):


1-   The islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa were returned to Iran on November 30th 1971 through legal process, including the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, before the state of the United Arab Emirates was created and the Aal Nahyan took its leadership. According to international regulations no state can defy the agreements that had come into being before its creation unless such agreements had been officially declared as null and void by the newly created state. Not only did not the United Arab Emirates declare the arrangements arrived at by Iran and Great Britain (acting as the government of emirates of Sharjah and Ras al- Kheimah at the time) on the return of the three islands, but also the Supreme Council of the Union decided in its meeting of 12 May 1992 that foreign obligations of the emirates prior to the formation of the United Arab Emirates will be the obligations of the Union itself. Moreover, in its circular of 27 October 1992, distributed among the representatives of member states of the United Nations, Abu Dhabi asked Iran to observe the terms of its November 1971 MoU with Sharjah. Hence, laying claims on islands returned to Iran before the formation of the United Arab Emirates through legal process is an illegal act by Abu Dhabi.

2-   The MoU of November 1971, signed between Iran and Sharjah, is a legal instrument which gives no right of interference to any third party. Also the return of the two Tunb islands to Iran by Great Britain took place on the basis of unwritten understanding between the two as Iran deemed that any written agreement would put her absolute sovereignty over these islands in doubt. Nonetheless, the permanent representative of the United Kingdom at the United Nations declared in the Security Council meeting of December 9, 1971 that the arrangement arrived at between his country and Iran on these islands constituted a model arrangement for the settlement of similar territorial issues elsewhere in the world. Hence, Abu Dhabi's lack of respect for these arrangements renders its claims on these islands illegal.

3-   In the meeting of 12 may 1992 of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates the Emir of Sharjah who is Iran's original partner in the 1971 MoU, refused to pass his Emirate's authority over the issue of Abu Musa island to the UAE leadership and left the meeting. Hence, Abu Dhabi's action in assuming authority for the case of Abu Musa Island in the absence of the ruler of Sharjah and without his consent renders any claim by Abu Dhabi on that island illegal.

4-  In an insincere manner Abu Dhabi is trying to present the practice of the return of Abu Musa and Tunb islands to Iran on November 30th 1971 as a military occupation. In its scenario the visit to Abu Musa island of an Iranian naval vessel that went there to hoist the Iranian flag on the island was enough a reason to manufacture the accusation of an Iranian military occupation of the island, disregarding the fact that in the island the Iranian naval representatives were welcomed officially by the brother of the Emir of Sharjah. Hoisting the flag of the recipient state on the territory changed hand between two states is a legal practice as US navy hoisted that country's flag at Alaska when that territory was transferred to US sovereignty from Russia.


At Greater Tunb a misunderstanding between the English commander of the police station and some Iraqi elements there resulted in shooting between them. In a swift response, the Iranian naval vessel that had just arrived to hoist Iranian flag there arrested those involved and sent them back to Ras al-Kheimah. Clearly the attempt by Abu Dhabi in portraying this local incident at Greater Tunb and the official welcome extended to the Iranian representatives at Abu Musa as Iran's military occupation of the three islands will demonstrate the falsehood nature of its claims on these islands.

5-   Finally, the European Union aught to know that no country is under obligation to refer to international judicial arbitration a territorial claim by another country which is based on lack of awareness of and respect for international laws and regulations.


Letter of Clarification from Sharjah

In a letter to this author, completely unrelated to Abu Dhabi's efforts in re-writing the history and geographical description of the region in order to give some kind of legitimacy to their illegitimate claims, dated 8 May 2006, the Dewan Al-Amiri, the Court of His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan Al-Qasemi the Ruler of Sharjah clarified that the Sheikh Yusof of Bandar Lengeh mentioned in pages 69 and 70 of my book "The Islands of Tunb and Abu Musa (SOAS, University of London Publication 1995) and on pages 184 and 185 of my book "Security and Territoriality in the Persian Gulf (Curzon Press publication - London 1999), who ruled Bandar Lengeh since 1878, did not belong to the ruling Qassemi families of the emirates of Sharjah and Ras Al Kheimah. The letter adds:


We would like to inform you that Sheikh Youssuf does not belong to the Ruling Family neither in Sharjah Emirate nor in Ras Al-Khaimah Emirate; rather, he was descending from a humble tribe and was a follower and servant of Sheikh Ali Bin Khalifa Al-Qassimi, who murdered the latter and became himself the ruler of Lingeh (25).


This author welcomes the above letter of clarification from the office of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah with due respect and implements it in its future research works, but finds it necessary to explain with humility that the nature of the said Sheikh Youssef's family connection with the Al-Qassemi families of Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah and/or the lack of it does not alter the facts described in the said pages of my above mentioned books.  



Notes and References

1-       Keith McLahlan, The boundaries of modern Iran, The SOAS/GRC Geopolitics Series 2, UCL Press, London 1994, p. 9.

2-       Thomas R. Mattair, The Three Occupied UAE Islands: The Tunbs and Abu Musa, The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, in English and Arabic, Abu Dhabi 2005. This is a UAE Government publication and the UAE Government emblem appears on its cover page.

3-       J. G. Lorimer, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Vol. I, India 1908, p. 625.    

4-       J. B. Kelly, Eastern Arabian Frontiers, London 1964, p. 18.

5-       John C. Wilkinson, Water and Tribal Settlement in South-East Arabia, Oxford research Studies in Geography, Oxford 1977, p. 6.

6-       Rupert Hay, The Persian Gulf States, Washington 1959, pp. 3-4.

7-       This terrorist group (Al-Ahwaz) has, with the permission of British Government, placed its headquarters in London where they had in 1980 carried out their well known attack on the Iranian Embassy and were defeated by the British special anti-terrorist squad.

8-       Edward Saeed, Orientalism, Vintage Books, New York 1979).

9-       Talal Adrisi, Sourat al-Iranian fi al-kotob al-madresiyat al-Arabiyat (the image of Iranians in Arab school books), in Khair ed-Din Hasseeb ed., Arab-Iranian Relations, Beirut 1996, p. 304.

10-   See for example the following instances: 

Magdi Omar's interview in Al-Ahram of Egypt on 21/6/2001

Abdul Monim Saeed in Al-Ahram of 23 December 2002.

Al-Anba' daily of Kuwait wrote on 7 October 2003

Mohammad Abu Ali in Al-Sharq al-Owsat of London 16/12/2004

Abd or-Rahman Rashed in Al-Sharq al-Owsat  on 1/1/2005

Sad Ibn Taflah former Kuwaiti Minister of Culture and Information in Sharq al-Owsat of 1/1/2005 and in 15/1/2005

Dr. Hesham Al-Asmar in Al-Ahram of Egypt 18 January 2005

Dr. Yaseen Suwaid in An-Nahar of Lebanon and Morocco on 7/1/2005

Dr. Foad Haddad in The Qods al-Arabi of London on 26/1/2006

Sad Ibn Taflah former Kuwaiti Minister of Culture and Information in Sharq al-Awsat of 4/3/2006.

11-   J. W??????, 09 January 2006 20:03:42`+0100

12-    Sir Arnold T. Wilson, The Persian Gulf, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 2nd publication, 1954, p. 22.

13-   For details of evidence and references on these developments see; Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, Security and Territoriality in the Persian Gulf, Curzon/ Routledge, London 1999.

14-   John C. Wilkinson, The Julanda of Oman, in the Journal of Oman, Vol. 1, London 1975, p. 98.

15-    For a thorough account of the early developments of British colonial interference with the political geography of the Persian Gulf, see British references such as: Arnold T. Wilson, op. cit., Sir Rupert hay, op. cit., Donald Hawley, The Trucial States, George Allen & Unwin, London 1970, J. B. Kelly, Britain and the Persian Gulf, 1795-1880, classic and recent reprinted work, Oxford University Press 1968, etc.  

16-    Document 15 of Majmueh-e Asnad-e Farrokh Khan Amin ad-Doleh, The collection of the documents of Farrokh Khan Amin ad-Doleh, the documents of the year 1274 H. Q. (1867), edited by Karim Esfahanian, Tehran University Press, Tehran 1979, pp. 24-5.

17-   It is noteworthy that in a similar attempt for leasing Bandar Abbas from Iran's central authorities, Saiyid Saeed bin Ahmad, Sultan of Muscat (Oman) wrote on 20 Shaban 1272 (26 April 1856) to the Shah declaring himself as a subject of the Government of Iran. He renewed Oman's traditional sovereignty linkage to Iran in terminologies as obscure as it had been throughout the ages. For Persian and Arabic texts of this letter, see: Majmu'eh-e Asnad-eDolatiy-e Iran = A Collection of Iranian Government Documents, Vol. 6156.

18-    Dr. Sayyed Mohammad Nufel, deputy Secretary General of the Arab League and representative of the Egyptian Government in the Human Rights Conference of 1969 in Tehran, in interview with Kayhan Daily of Tehran, No. 7420, Wednesday 4, 2, 1347 H.S., corresponding with 22 April 1969.

19-   For details of these maps see; Appendix 1 of The Islands of Tunb and Abu Musa: An Iranian Argument for Peace and Co-operation in the Persian Gulf, by Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, SOAS University of London publication, London 1995, pp. 86-88. This list is reproduced in; Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, Security and territoriality in the Persian Gulf: A Maritime Political geography, Curzon Press, London 1999, New York 2002.

20- Confidential from National Iranian Oil Company to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated 21.7.1344 (13 October 1965): No. 7539/84, p.1.

21- Payvand Iran News, 10/015/02, Report of the International symposium on Modern Boundaries of Iran "Problems and practices of Iranian boundaries",

22- For more details see: Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, The Islands of Tunb and Abu Musa; An Iranian Argument in Search of Peace and Co-operation in The Persian Gulf, occasional paper No. 15, CNMES, SOAS, London University, London 1995, ch. III.

23- Denis Wright, The English Amongst the Persians, Heinemann, London 1977, p. 68.

24- Payvand News Network,, Report of the author's letter to Javier Solana of the European Union, 06/16/2004.

25- Official letter of clarification received electronically from Mr. Rashid Ahmed Al-Sheikh, Director General of Sharjah Ruler's Court, Al-Dean Al-Amir, Government of Sharjah, addressed to Professor Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, dated 8 May 2006.  


... Payvand News - 6/12/06 ... --

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