What Persian Gulf?!

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Apart from the heated sectarian divide across the Middle East, there seems to be another more subtle conflict going on, over nothing more than what to name the sea that divides Arab Gulf States, and Iran. Arabs insist it is the Arab Gulf, while Iran, and many other cultures, call it the Persian Gulf.

Personally, I have been in the eye of the tornado in this divide across the water, when I worked as a news reporter for Iranian TV in Kuwait.

Here’s how it went: I am a stateless person, and a journalist, and in Kuwait, where I work, it is illegal to call the Gulf “Persian Gulf”, and in Iran, where my reports are sent, it is illegal to call it the Arabian Gulf.

You might think the problem will be solved if I would just call it “The Gulf” wouldn’t you? The fact is, Iran doesn’t even allow that. They told me that either I say “Persian Gulf”, or I don’t say “Gulf” at all!

I had to avoid mentioning the word “Gulf” while covering one side of that sea, to the other side!

Now if you are neither an Arab nor a Persian, you would say, as I would, what kind of a shallow thing these two are fighting about! Who cares what you call this water? Why can’t every nation call it whatever it wants to call it? Why is there a conflict to begin with? Let’s say I want to call it the Chocolate Gulf, so what now, have I committed a crime on both sides of that Gulf?!

As trivial as the question is, Iran is investing so much effort to try to establish the concept of “Persian Gulf”, they even seem to have a Persian Gulf Day, and they have an entity in Iran that is responsible for promoting this concept. If someone insists on something so badly, they kind of force you to pause and take a look at that thing, and what does this obsession say about them.

Before we get into that, let’s settle the issue of the name of the Gulf.

Sceintific evidence suggests that the earliest areas inhabited with intelligent humans on earth are east Africa, followed by the Arabian Peninsula.

Map of Human Migration

Map of Human Migration

This suggests that intelligent man lived in East Africa, and soon after that migrated, across Aden straight, or through Sinai to the Arabian Peninsula. Either way, this means that human beings lived in the Arabian peninsula long before modern day Iran.

In other words, the ancestors of all the human beings who live in Iran, and beyond Iran, must have, at certain point in the past lived in the Arabian peninsula, or crossed through the Arabian peninsula from Africa, when the peninsula was already inhabited by people.

Now what does this all mean is that the western side of the Gulf was inhabited before the eastern side. It means that intelligent humans lived on this side of the Gulf, and they must have had a name for this Gulf, even before there were human being living in Iran, or anywhere beyond Iran.

Now granted, at a certain point in the relatively recent past the East bank of the Gulf developed a civilization at a time when civilizations were able to easily transfer knowledge, and the name “Persian Gulf” became common in Greec, or in other places, some 5,000 years ago, like Iranians would argue.

One could also argue that this mass of water might have not been called Arabian Gulf before it was called Persian Gulf. It might have been called something else, other than Arabic, before it was called Persian, and the name “Persian” just happens to be the oldest one that we have for it. Which is fine, but the problem is, there is neither a proof for or against that argument. Because you can’t say for sure that the word “Arab Gulf” was only used after the word “Persian Gulf”, to describe this sea, that we all know for sure Arabs lived on its western side before any human foot stepped on modern day Iran.

In other words, the argument that we should be calling the Gulf “Persian” is equivalent to calling Native North Americans “Indians”, just because, at a certain point in the past, this was the most “accurate” description that the west thought they knew about these people, and it became commonplace before humanity learned enough to know it was inaccurate.

At the same time, it is well established that Arabs existed long before 5,000 years ago, and they had civilizations in Yemen, and in other parts of the Peninsula, that are older than that. Ismael, the son of Ibrahim, peace be upon them, learned Arabic in modern day Mecca. His brother, Isaac, is a distant grandfather of Moses, peace be upon them, who lived at least 5,000 years ago, and between Isaac and Moses there’s at least a few thousand years.

We know for fact that the western side of the Gulf was inhabited by humans long before Eastern side, and that Arabs as people, and Arabic language, existed, at least 8,000 years ago. It would be unfair, and unfounded, to assume they never had a name for that sea before Persians, as people, existed.

Logically speaking, a people who live on the bank of a sea would have a name for that sea, before those, who would need to cross the sea, and then live on the other side, and then branch out an ethnicity, a language, a culture, and a civilization for themselves, before calling that same mass of water with their own name from the other side.

Therefore, when we want to look back in time to try to find the oldest name for this body of water, we need to look on the western side of the water, because people on this side were living there first, and they lived there the longest, and they had a continuous presence, and a unique uninterrupted lineage of language, ethnicity, and culture.

In my opinion, a name of a body of water, that is used by a people who maintained constant presence beside it, for the last 100,000 years, is a better evidence for the most accurate name of that body of water, than any name found in any other document found in any other civilization.

Furthermore, nowadays, Arabs live on both sides of the Gulf. The eastern side of the Gulf, the Ahwaz, is inhibited by ethnically and culturally Arab people.

All of this, I believe, shifts the balance in favor of “Arabian Gulf”.

And even if no one is convinced by that, or people simply don’t want to change it to Arab Gulf, or it’s just inconvenient, or whatever the case might be, it’s fine. Everyone should call it whatever they want, it’s a free planet after-all. But everyone should know that Arabs will always have the right to call it whatever they want to call it too. Neither Iran, nor any other country or civilization should belittle or look down upon Arabs’ right to have their own name for a body of water, by the side of which they have lived for more than 100,000 years.

And this brings us back to the whole “Persian” thing. Since before Islam, Persians were looking down on Arabs, and calling them naked stupid Bedouins. More than 13 centuries have passed since Arab Muslims conquered Persia, and nationalist Persians are still angry about it, even though they were brought into some battles in chains, both because they were mainly slaves before Islam, and because they feared to go to war against Muslims.

Ethnicities in Iran.

Ethnicities in Iran.

The “Islamic Republic” is not purely Persian either, but a hardline nationalist Persian regime is imposing it’s own culture upon the mosaic of cultures living in modern day Iran. Arabs in particular are suffering under many practices that are aimed to “Persianize” them. This nationalist “Persian” worldview is behind many of Iran’s actions both inside Iran and outside.

Even the Shi’a sect, which offers a convenient frame for Persian Nationalism, is exploited, one way or another, to serve a grand Persian Empire revival dreams. The disagreements between Ayatollahs in Najaf and Qum after the US invasion of Iraq was an indication of such subtle conflict, before it was settled for Iran, through systematic elimination of Shia opponents in Iraq, through assassinations and bombings that were blamed on Sunnis, to further accumulate power and sympathy for the Ayatollahs in Tehran.

The “Taqiyah”, a religious duty to lie, and to hide your beliefs and intention from others, a concept that is found in Shia sect, is very convenient for Perisan Nationalism as well. Fatwas, Shiitism, and Islam as a whole, is nothing but a cover for the founders of the “Islamic Republic” to galvanize people in Iran, and in the Arab world, to rejuvenate the dream of a Persian Empire, that presides over it’s “rightly owned” territories, and that treats retarded Arabs with carrot and stick.

This is the role that the leaders of Iran want to impose upon everyone, upon the youth of Iran, who want to live in a free and democratic society, and are not interested in these imperial illusions, upon other ethnicities in Iran, who are marginalized, and even oppressed; upon poor Shia Arabs, who are dying in wars, thinking they are defending Islam, while they are merely being used for the expansion of the influence of those who view them with utter disdain; and ultimately Arabs and Sunnis living in the Arab world, that Iran’s government wants to “take back”.

If you understand all of this, you might be able to see why is it so important for Iran that the Gulf is called Persian. You will be able to see the roots of this expansionist approach to the region, that the leaders in Iran are undertaking. It’s a matter that is deeply rooted in the belief in the supremacy of Persian people, for no other reason other than  for being Persian, and regardless to their actions or behavior. Something that can only be compared to Hitler’s Nazism. This explains the militant and bloody methods of the leaders of Iran, that, since the revolution, sparked an unprecedented exodus of intellectuals from Iran, and that caused the region to suffer one war after another, with millions of casualties.

In fact, the current manner by which Iran is governed is a good indication to Iranians, to Arabs, and to the rest of the world, of why it is was both right, and important, that the first Persian Empire be conquered and destroyed. At the same time, this hardline Persian nationalist worldview, and the atrocities it brought to the region, are serving to accelerate the second crash of this sought after “Persian Empire”.

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One Response to “What Persian Gulf?!”

  1. Jahan says:


    Historical fact may be ascertained by simple searches these days.

    The name of the Persian Gulf was changed by Arabs, because as they had emerged as countries, they wanted to introduce as their identity, not caring that they are doing this at the price of the identity of others.

    As for the ethnic groups of Iran, it is nothing unusual. There are many multi-ethnic countries all over the world, and Iran is one of them. This is the legacy of many countries which used to be big empires, including Iran.

    Kindly avoid changing facts, whatever the reason may be.


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