, by DR. SHAHID JAMAL ANSARI
The Persian Gulf is a semi-enclosed sea situated between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. It is approximately 70,000 square nautical miles in size, and has 97 per cent of its periphery occupied by land. The Persian Gulf is joined to the Gulf of Oman, the northernmost arm of the Indian Ocean, by the Strait of Hormuz. The Persian Gulf has seven littoral states – Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates, and Oman. There is one island state in the gulf: Bahrain. The strait is bordered on the north and northwest by Iran. The Persian Gulf has been important for its geographic location. Historically, the Gulf was noted for its pearls. Currently, the Gulf is valued for its vast oil resources, upon which the industrial nations of the West depend for energy. Less significant, but growing in importance, is the Gulf’s fishing potential.
Aside from the interest in Persian Gulf resources there are political strategic interests deriving from the Gulf’s geographic location. Throughout history the Gulf has been viewed as an important crossroads of trade and communication, but in the 19th century it also became strategically crucial in the defence of India and the British Eastern Empire prior to the World War II. After the World War II, the Gulf was still seen as a British sphere of influence. The political-strategic interests in the Gulf have come to merge with the growing economic interest in its oil reserves in the last few decades. The so-called energy crises of the 1970s have made it apparent that the Persian Gulf has again become the subject of strategic concerns.
The evidence of cartography indicates that the Gulf was primarily known and referred to as the Persian Gulf throughout the medieval and modern history. From the period of Ptolemy’s world map to the present, the Gulf was known to the rest of the world exclusively as the Persian Gulf. In modern history almost every general encyclopaedia refers to the Gulf as the Persian Gulf not the Arabian Gulf. For example, the Encyclopaedia on Dictionnaire Raisonne des Sciences,which is the first world encyclopaedia published in French, in 1751, refers to the Gulf as “Persicus Sinus”.
In the course of history, the Gulf has rarely been known as the “Arabian Gulf”, though it has been periodically referred to by other names (such as the Gulf of Barah). In the past, the term “Arabian Gulf” has been used only to designate the Red Sea. The ancient Greek geographers referred to the Mediterranean Sea as the Roman Gulf, to the Red Sea as the Arabian Gulf, and to the Persian Gulf as Persian Gulf. Muslim geographers, including all Arab geographers, until recently have not referred to the Gulf as the Arabian Gulf. Some early Arab geographers, like Ibn Battuta and Ibn Hauqal, used the term “Sea of Fars” and “Bahr Fars” while some other Muslim geographers referred to the “Persian Sea” which included not only the Persian Gulf but also the Arabian Sea and even sometimes the Indian Ocean. No Persian or Arab author, from early times until 1958, has ever accorded the title “Arabian Gulf” to the Persian Gulf.
The first use of the term “Arabian Gulf,” with reference to the Persian Gulf was by a Baghdad (Iraq) radio in its propaganda against Iran in 1958. The Gulf, previously known only as the Persian Gulf, is now frequently referred to as the “Arab Gulf” or “Arabian Gulf” by all Arab States, including the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. The question of naming the Gulf with the adjective Persian or Arabian is therefore of recent origin. It is with the rise of Arab nationalism in the 1960s and especially with the rise of Iran as a West Asian power that the conflict arises.
The use of the name Persian Gulf, as we have seen, goes back to ancient times when the Persian Empire was the predominant power in the region. Since the Arabian side of the Gulf was devoid of any large or powerful political entity until after the World War II, the Gulf was always called the Persian Gulf by those people within and outside the region.