Photo published on the Facebook group Arabian Gulf for ever.Should one call the strip of water separating Iran from the Arabian peninsula the "Persian Gulf" or the "Arabian Gulf"? 307,000 people have already voted in favour of the former on an Internet site. But this hasn't stopped a politically sensitive and highly contentious war of words.
The website started an online poll on the two names a few weeks ago and has already gathered more than 434,000 votes. The result right now is overwhelmingly in favour of "Persian Gulf" (more than 307,000 votes against approximately 127,000 for the Arabian Gulf).
Screengrab from www.persianorarabiangulf.com, the site organising the poll.
This tiff over terminology isn't new. In June 2004, National Geographic magazine provoked Iranian anger when, in the 8th edition of its prestigious world atlas it printed under "Persian Gulf" the second name "Arabian Gulf", in parentheses and in small letters. The Iranian authorities then banned the magazine and its journalists from the country.
In June 2006, it was The Economist's turn. The magazine was banned in Iran because it left out "Persian" labelling it just "The Gulf".
The other side is equally vindictive. In January 2010, The Riyadh-based Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation had to cancel a planned event in April in Iran because the medals to be distributed by the Iranian organisers would have carried the name "Persian Gulf".
The Iranians reacted rapidly to this affront. Last February, the Iranian authorities announced that all airlines not using the term "Persian Gulf" would not have the right to enter their airspace.
Then in the beginning of May they closed the Egyptian pavilion of the International book fair in Tehran because one of the books mentioned the "Arabian Gulf".
The dispute reached a crescendo when in the same month, the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council declared that calling this body of water "Persian Gulf" "mocked history", because "Arab presence in this region goes back 3,000 years, while Persian presence dates only to the Safavid empire (1501–1736 AD)".
The medal that caused the cancellation of the sport event in Iran. "Persian Gulf" circled in red. Photo published here.
Reza Amani Nassab is a businessman living in Iran.
This debate really irritates Iranians. For them, changing the name of this gulf is a crime against the nation. They're equally angry against their own government for failing to impose itself in this affair. Iranians think that the Arabs are profiting today from the weakness of the Iranian regime on the international scene to defy, with the West, Ahmadinejad's regime. It's also a way for them to support the UAE against Iran on the three Iranian islands [ED: the three disputed islands of Abu Musa and the Lesser and Greater Tunbs]".
Why should so many Arab countries bordering the gulf (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates) make concessions for one sole state? Iran's desire to change the name of the gulf is a flagrant violation of Arab sovereignty".
French map from 1667 with the term "Arabian bosom". Photo published on the Facebook page Arabian Gulf For Ever.
Things didn't change until Nasser came to power and the rise of Arab nationalism. The Arabs then began to use the name "Arabian Gulf" - even though in the beginning of Nasser's mandate, a popular slogan went: 'One sole nation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf'.
It's true that the name of this gulf still stirs a lively argument. But, as a history scholar, I can't support nationalistic slogans. To say, like some Arabs, that the Romans already called it the 'Arabian Gulf' is without foundation. Only the Greek historian Strabon, in the 1st century AD, had used the term 'Arabian Gulf' while talking about the strip of water that we today call the the Red Sea".
World map from 1565 mentioning "Persian Gulf". Photo published on persiangulfonline.