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The Name of the Caspian Sea

By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD international Law of the Sea

Recently the Center for Researches of the Majles in Iran has proposed to form a commission and find a Farsi name for the Caspian Sea. This reminded me that almost ten years ago, I proposed to the Iranian officials, through several articles and also speech in the Caspian Sea Conference in Babolsar of Iran 2000, to use the name of Mazandaran Sea as the Farsi equivalent of the Caspian Sea. Here is an excerpt from those materials:

One of the interesting characteristics of the Caspian Sea is the variety of names it has been given in the course of history. It can be said that the body of water in north of Iran has had as many names as the cities and centers of civilizations around it. It is called by various names in the present littoral countries.

The oldest name in Iran was 'Hyrcana' and some of the others are: the Sea of Mazandaran, the Sea of Abescoon, the Sea of Tabarestan, the sea of Khorasan, the Sea of Argania, the Sea of Ghazvin, the Sea of Deelam, the Sea of Gorgan, the Sea of Sarri, and the Sea of Khazar. Presently the most famous name of it in Iran is 'the sea of Mazandaran,' but 'Khazar' is also widely used.

Caspian which is the name widely used in Latin languages is traced back to the 'Caspies' who were one of the indigenous natives living around the concerned sea, just as 'Khazars.' The Azaris call the Caspian Sea as " Khazar deniz" which is the same as Khazar Sea. At the same time, you can find historical maps, which have referred to the Sea of Baku. Contrary to some speculations, Caspian has nothing to do with Ghazvin and its linguistic variations, although some Arab sources refer to the Caspian Sea as the Sea of Ghazvin.  (in other words, Caspian is not Ghazvin with a little twisting of the Persian-Arabic pronunciation).

History of Khazars is interesting too. Arthur Koestler has written about them in his informative and scholarly book (KOESTLER, ARTHUR, THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE, THE KHAZAR EMPIRE AND ITS HERITAGE, HUTCHINSON OF LONDON, LONDON 1976). It is noteworthy to mention a few lines of this interesting work about the rise and fall of the Khazars.

He has mentioned on pages 13-20 of this book: "About the time when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the West, the eastern confines of Europe between the Caucasus and the Volga were ruled by a Jewish state, known as Khazar Empire. At the peak of its power, from the seventh to the tenth centuries AD, it played a significant part in shaping the destinies of mediaeval, and consequently of modern Europe. ...The country of the Khazars, occupied a strategic key position at the vital gateway between the Black Sea and the Caspian, where the great eastern powers of the period confronted each other. It acted as a buffer ... the Khazar armies effectively blocked the Arab avalanche in its most devastating early stages, and thus prevented the Muslim conquest of Eastern Europe. ...It is perhaps not surprising, given these circumstances that in 732 - after a resounding Khazar victory over the Arabs - the future Emperor Constantine V married a Khazar princess. In due time, their son became the Emperor Leo IV, known as Leo the Khazar.... A few years later, probably AD 740, the King, his court and the military ruling class embraced the Jewish faith, and Judaism became the state religion of the Khazars."

The writer adds that the Khazars later were disintegrated and they spread all over the area, including the European countries. He believes that many Jewish people are from Khazar origins.

Iranians and other peoples around the Caspian Sea have been dependent on this body of water since the time immemorial. The most prosperous and thriving cities of these peoples were situated along the coasts of the Caspian Sea. Ibn-Issac Abrahim Ibn Mohammad Farsi, the author of the book, Masalek-ol-Mamalik, has reported that in the tenth century '...Moslem merchants sailed with their ships through this sea (the Caspian sea) to the lands of Khazars and Arams and Gile and Tabarestan.'

I think it is better for Iranians to call the Caspian Sea as "Mazandaran" or "Gilan and Mazandaran Sea." This has nothing to do with other names that locally or nationally it is called by others, including " Caspian Sea" which is a customary name for this body of water in the Latin languages. At the same time, I have to add that Khazars did not have anything to do with the people of Azerbaijan, whether in Iran or the present Republic of Azerbaijan, because they used to live further in the northeast of the Caspian Sea.

... Payvand News - 11/17/10 ... --

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