Pique oil: Gulf names

What’s in a name? When it comes to the Persian Gulf, aka the Arabian Gulf to Arabs or just the Gulf, you’ll upset someone no matter what combination of names you use. Iran bans goods that have “Arabian Gulf” stamped on them, and the UAE bans textbooks that label it as “Persian Gulf”. (Source: Wikipedia)

“The Gulf” won’t do either, the Economist has found out when Iran banned the publication for calling it just that, nor does “Arabian Gulf” in parentheses behind “Persian Gulf” cut it, as National Geographic found out.

Sure, historically the Gulf has been known as the Persian Gulf, and that’s what I call it too, mainly because it is good for everyone to agree on calling it something. But the entire Southern half of the Persian Gulf lies in Arab waters (there are no international waters there), so if the Arabs want to call it the Arabian Gulf, I don’t have a problem with that. Arabian, Persian — it’s not like anyone is trying to call it Qatari Gulf, Sunni Gulf or Iranian Gulf, now is it?

persabia.jpg

Google’s solution for Google Earth — to label it both as Persian and Arabian, with a usage note — is sensible. If you search for Arabian Gulf in Google Earth, say because you are an Qatari schoolboy and don’t know any better, you’ll find it, together with that usage note. That’s a feature, not a bug. Those who feel strongly about the matter have also made good use of Google Earth Community to “add more speech” to the speech they don’t agree with:

gulfgulf.jpg

That works for me too — Google Earth as a neutral canvas onto which anyone can publish their toponymic opinions, whether they be popular or controversial, clever or dumb. Just like the web.

Nevertheless, Google’s editorial policy earned it the displeasure of the National Iranian American Council two weeks ago, which wrote to Google CEO Eric Schmidt to tell him that showing both names is just not good enough. Now comes another volley by irate Iranian toponymicists, in the form of a petition that begins:

We, the undersigned, through this letter, protest your irresponsible, unscientific actions, and demand an immediate and unconditional deletion of “Arabian Gulf” from Google Earth.

Arbitrarily designating the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf is an irresponsible violation of all historical and International standards and would undermine the integrity of Google Earth.

The petition, now signed by 12,792 people and counting, fails to mention that Google gives preference to “Persian Gulf”, though nuance is not usually a strong point of petitions. It then spends several paragraphs unhelpfully explaining that the term ‘Persia’ “has always been used to describe the nation of Iran, its people, and its ancient empires since 600 BC.” That, if anything, backs the Arab argument for naming the Gulf “Arabian” lest the Iranians get any ideas about further territorial claims on it; it is a place where the settling of maritime boundaries has been a long and difficult process, and where the sovereignty of some islands is still very much in dispute.

Let’s not kid ourselves, this dispute is not about “accuracy” or “science”, it is about not giving an inch when there’s oil involved, and it is a game being played by all sides. The problem is that it’s impossible not to play — no position is considered neutral by all the parties. Even acknowledging that dissent exists on the name (without making a judgment on the issue) is seen as bias by some, and that is just silly. (Via Global Voices)

PS: My suggestion for a solution: Stop calling it the Gulf and start calling it the Puddle — the thing’s so shallow anyway. Then whoever wants to name it after themselves is welcome to it.

6 thoughts on “Pique oil: Gulf names”

  1. I completely disagree with your blog entry. That’s like saying if Canadians decided to call the Gulf of Alaska “Gulf of British Columbia” it would be OK. Since Canadians share that gulf with Alaska, and maybe a few generations into the future a Canadian boy might not know any better, we are only providing a neutral “feature”, right? That would be ridiculous nonsense!

    The Persian Gulf has been known by its correct name for centuries. There is no evidence or history of any so-called “Arabian Gulf”. The UN has clearly stated that Persian Gulf is the correct name:

    http://unstats.un.org/unsd/geoinfo/gegn23wp61.pdf

    If people think it is OK to change the names of prominent bodies of water all the time, I wouldn’t mind renaming the Atlantic Ocean into the Canadian Ocean… sounds awesome and maybe when we get bored of it in a few years we can change it all up again, just to confuse future generations.

  2. I think Its not suitable to change the name of a gulf in an other name.It is well-known arround the world with the name of PERSIAN GULF.

  3. Im persian and live in Iran. after revolution in iran some islamian would to call it Islam gulf but iranian people and youngers take apart walking in street and get down it. and that not iranian get back their project and ashamed from it. the IR (islamic republic) government dont like iranian history and Persian empire. becuese the main and great history of iran refer to before coming islam to iran so they dont like iranian calture and history. they like history of atfer islam that people of iran dont like it becues it was no great and it was anti iranian calture. now we are in this century that iranian are alone in the world and Arabs steal iranian calture (for example Iranian classic building design name of Persian gulf iranian girls and…) but iran government dont say anything to Emirats. Now emirates (UAE) say 3 island that now is in Iran control is ours. The Bahrain that is a country in 1961 was in iran Lan (persian lans) but england take it out of control of ours.

    We (persian people) want your help. we are not terrorist. we love peac. we haved the first peace army in the world and the firs human rights in the world that we dont both them now so we need your help to persian people and dont agree the lies. be with Persian. WE PEOPLE OF IRAN ARE NOT TERORIST.

  4. NOW THAT PETITION IS 1/029/231 PEOPLE SIGNATED.

    PERSIAN GULF FOR EVER.

    IM SORRY FOE LAST COMMENT THAT HAVE VERY INCORECT DICTATION. I CAN LITTLE SPEAK AND WRITE ENGLISH. I THAT IM PERSIAN ADVISE TO ANOTHER PEOPLE OF AROUND THE WORLD BE KNOWING ABOUT IRAN AND PERSIAN HISTORY BUT FROM YOURSELF WEBSITE SAME (LIKE) WIKIPEDIA ONLINE DICTONOARY. AND SEARCH THE PERSIAN GULF AND Cyrus THE GREAT AND PERSIAN EMPIRE AND … SO IF ANY BODY HAVE QUESTION PLEAZE CONTACT WITH ME WITH [email protected]

  5. Hurray for Revisionism!

    Just because American politicians favor Rich arabs doesn’t mean they have the right to change everything to there liking.

    What is it with you westerners hating the name PERSIAN? could it be that the mighty Romans could not defeat this under rated empire known as the Persian Empire? You dont mention it in your history books, censor, censor , censor and now you want to delete any trace of it by backing some arabs. Grow up and respect history.

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