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Distorting the Name of the "Persian Gulf" Continues


By Pejman Akbarzadeh*


Until about a year ago a Google search for the term "Arabian Gulf"‌ in the news, would generate almost 900 results. But this number has now gone down to less than 400 thank to the efforts made by an independent and small group of Persians (Iranians).


The websites which use a fake term for the Persian Gulf are divided into two main groups -- Those that are managed directly by the government of some Arab countries, especially UAE, Jordan, Qatar, and Bahrain; and the second, foundations and companies with economic benefits in the oil-rich Arab states of southern shores of the Persian Gulf.


Considering the ever-expanding commercial relations between the United Arab Emirates and other international corporations as well as the media all around the world which publicize their advertisements such as 'AME Info' in the UAE, 'WebIndia123' in India, 'Seoul Times' in South Korea, 'ANBA' in Brazil, etc., many of these corporations use the term "Arabian Gulf"‌ in their media announcements in western languages, seeking more financial benefits, ignoring the objections posed by Persians. Policies used by most British media such as Guardian and BBC are yet more interesting.


From the early 1970s when BBC adopted use of the confusing term "The Gulf"‌ in lieu of "Persian Gulf"‌ as a fundamental policy, other media within the UK gradually started using this new term. However the fabricated term "A... Gulf"‌ still appears in many of their writings and once challenged, they do not make any changes in the wordings as long as it is on the main page of their website. However, after a news item is archived and no longer read by the people, they respond to protesters by often stating: "We have chosen the use of the term 'The Gulf' and are surprised why such error has taken place. We will correct it ..."‌ Of course their "correction"‌ means using another silly and nonsensical term or at times no changes at all. This practice is not exclusive to the British media and extends to the Defense Ministry where use of the fake term "A... Gulf"‌ has apparently become official policy. Bari Shaw, Chief Editor of the website's news section, responded to the objections posed by saying: "The terms 'Persian Gulf' and 'Arabian Gulf' are both common."‌


It is not clear why Iranian authorities have only reacted to the case which occurred in the National Geographic World Atlas, albeit insignificantly and under pressure by public opinion, and are indifferent to other organizations and the media that should be held even more responsible than the National Geographic, and continue to insist on abusing the historical identity of the Persian Gulf. Do they not see them or are deliberately ignoring them? Or prefer to pretend they are sensitive about this case by holding a few exhibitions and conferences inside the country that are received by few audiences but not so effective?


Contacting well-known geographic atlases of the world and international news agencies is one of the simplest and most effective ways of responding to such false claims; yet no action is seen to take place in this regard.


In addition to the Arab countries, distorting the name of the Persian Gulf continues in other European countries as well. Mani Parsa who teaches the Persian language at one of the affiliated foundations to the Netherlands' Leiden University speaks of the existing situation in this country by saying: "We could say that the television networks of the Netherlands hardly have a particular policy for calling this body of water. Mostly they use the historic and real term which is "Perzische Golf" in Dutch, but at times have used the fake terms 'The Gulf' or 'Arabian Gulf' to imitate the news sources. However, the use of such bogus terms has been on the rise in the past few months. Up until few months ago, almost 1500 Dutch were working in the United Arab Emirates, especially in Dubai; however, this number has now risen to more than 4000. The expansion of trade relations between companies of the two countries as well as new policies in the Netherlands to suit Arabs do not seem irrelevant to the use of such erroneous terms for the Persian Gulf in their media. On top of that, lack of attention of the majority of Iranians who reside in the Netherlands in the use of the vague word 'Farsi' would eventually replace the word 'Perzisch' (the historic name of the Persian language in Dutch). I have repeatedly tried to seek help from the Iranian Embassy in the Netherlands for such cases but the phone always goes on the answering machine; and if I want to meet them in person, that would require standing in a long line to speak with someone from behind a window".


A number of Arab countries are also seeking to propagate the use of the term "A... Gulf" by renaming universities, or sport teams, etc. Examples include "Arabian Gulf University" in Manama, Bahrain, and "Arabian Gulf Rugby Team" in Dubai which is in fact an imported team among which few players of the Arab origin can be found! Hatred toward Persians (Iranians) in some communities and websites of the Arab countries is so evident that even in providing geographic information, the use of the name "Persia" or "Iran" is refrained. What is written in  is only one example of such attitudes: "Arabian Gulf is located between the Arabian Peninsula and Southwest Asia!"


It seems that the American media and Academia are the only centers in the world currently using the proper and historical term "Persian Gulf" in almost all cases. Yet in the branches of these American universities that are located within the UAE, 'Persian Gulf' is omitted from books to prevent the Arab rulers' discontent. From the point of view of the UAE officials, everything in the region, be it gulf, island, or architecture and food must be called "Arab". It doesn't seem that with such extravagancy in policies and irrational attitudes, the economy of a country that imports even the soil for its gardens and the sand for its beaches from Persia (Iran), plunders the Persian architectural heritage in the design of its buildings, and whose majority of employees in the most specialized sectors are of foreign origin would remain dynamic and successful for long. Many of the professors of economics at those very same American universities believe that such fake and shallow prosperity will eventually burst like a bubble.


Putting Persia's southern neighbors aside and examining its northwestern neighbor: A country in which the Turkish name for the Persian Gulf (Fars Korfezi) has almost vanished and has been using the term "Basra Gulf" (Basra Korfezi) for years! This is something few people in Persia (Iran) are aware of. Seemingly, the use of this term goes back to the time of the Safavid rulers (1502-1736 AD) and the wars between the Persian and Ottoman empires; a period during which the Ottoman rulers deliberately started the use of this term due to their animosity with their eastern neighbor as well as lack of geographic knowledge. In a book recently published in the Netherlands entitled "General Maps of Persia", Cyrus Alai writes: "Ottoman cartographers showed little interest in mapping Persia and limited themselves to copying a few maps of Persia designed in Europe by changing the wordings in Turkish and making slight modifications as they wish."


Turkish maps of Persia (Iran) drawn by Ibrahim Motefaraqa in 1729 in Constantinople


One of the most famous Turkish maps of Persia (Iran) was drawn by Ibrahim Motefaraqa in 1729 in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) on which he wrote "Basra Körfezi" (Basra Gulf) for the northwestern parts of the Persian Gulf and "Bahr-e Fars" (Persian Sea) for the middle parts. However, the term "Basra Körfezi" is now widely being used in the Turkish media. More than three months ago, in a letter to the Turkish Embassy in Tehran I posed this question seeking to know "what the official policy of the Turkish Government is as regards to the name of this body of water in the Turkish language as three different names can be seen in Turkish texts for the Persian Gulf in the Turkish maps: Basra Körfezi, Fars Körfezi, and Iran Körfezi?" This letter was sent to the Turkish Embassy three times by fax and mail, but the Embassy refused any response. The situation was no better at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ankara. Every country's governmental organizations create an email address either on their own domain or at least on another governmental server; however, the Embassy's email address was created on Hotmail! I decided to ask for their opinion about this issue by sending an email to that address, but the email bounced back after a few seconds. Apparently, the Embassy's email had not been in use for a long time and was obviously closed down.


When searching the term "Basra Körfezi" in Google's search engine, about 35000 results come up while searching for "Fars Körfezi" leads into almost 500 results, and they are mostly from the Persian websites that exist in the Turkish language such as the Turkish section of IRNA and IRIB. Many of the news websites as well as those related to the Turkish government such as the Turkish History Association (Turk Tarih Kurumu or ttk), official website of the Turkish Prime Ministry, the Turkish section of Voice of America, Zaman Magazine, Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry, Hurriyet Newspaper, Turkish section of the National Geographic Magazine on the web, Turkish sections of CNN, BBC, etc. also widely use the term "Basra Körfezi".


Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, political science expert, looks at this issue from a different perspective: "Persian Gulf was always located inside the realm of Persia during the Ottoman-Safavid conflicts. After Karim Khan (founder of the Zand Dynasty) passed away, the Ottomans succeeded in reaching to Mesopotamia and could get their hands to the Persian Gulf for the first time through Basra. However, as political and strategic rivalry continued between the Persians and the Ottomans, this rivalry turned into a completely geopolitical one at this part of the Persian Empire and the Ottomans could, after a while, bring Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain under their influence. As a result of this expansion of their influence over these areas, they created the term "Basra Gulf" to demonstrate their rivalry with the Persians. Obviously, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, this rivalry was ended and the pretexts used before to change geographic names went away automatically. Therefore, bringing back those bogus names by the Turkish Government which is seen nowadays comes from an unprofessional and unethical attitude. Furthermore, existence of the present-day Turkey was based on the idea that this country was supposed to be one that enters into the realm of the world with a new and different identity from the Empire under the Ottoman rule, but it seems that the officials of this country forget this principal now and then."



About the author: Pejman Akbarzadeh is a member of "Artists Without Frontiers" and the "Persian Gulf Organization"'s Rep. in Amsterdan and Tehran. He can be reached at


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