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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Open Letter

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Al Habtoor Group

Dear Secretary-General,

I would like to remind you of a longstanding anomaly relating to the geographical name ‘Persian Gulf ’ used by the UN Secretariat and international bodies when referring to the 251,000 square kilometre-long body of water flowing between the Shatt Al-Arab and the Gulf of Oman that separates the Arabian Peninsula from the Islamic Republic of Iran. As most of your member countries would agree, ‘Persian Gulf ’ is obsolete.

In this respect, I would ask you to request the UN to task its Group of Experts on Geographical names to consider designating such a body of water the ‘Arabian Gulf ’. I would further propose that the Gulf Cooperation Council becomes the ‘Arabian Gulf Cooperation Council’ to set an example to the rest of the world. Indeed, when people all over the world hear ‘Gulf countries’ they automatically think of Arab states; never of Iran.

I would also call upon you to urge your American, British and European allies, as well as all international bodies, to cease prefixing the ‘Arabian Gulf ’ with ‘Persian’, reminding them that GCC states are cooperative with the international community as opposed to being a country with hostile, isolationist policies.

The following are factual arguments for bringing this case before the UN.

The Arab coastline is longer than the Iranian coastline

Aside from Iran which has a 2,440 km shoreline on the Arabian Gulf (including the 400-km coastline of the predominantly Arab province of Al Ahwaz, now Khuzestan), there are seven Arab states with coastlines bordering the Arabian Gulf.

These are: Saudi Arabia (840 km), the United Arab Emirates (1,318 km), Qatar (563 km), Kuwait (499 km), Bahrain (161 km), Oman (51 km) and Iraq (58 km).

The Arab coastline totaling 3,490 km is, therefore, considerably longer than that of Iran. This is without adding the coastline of Al Ahwaz, an Arab province that was annexed by the Shah of Persia in 1925.


The people who live around the Arabian Gulf on both sides are predominantly Arab. Therefore, by sheer weight of demographics the use of ‘Persian Gulf ‘ is inaccurate.

Persia no longer exists

‘Persia’ has existed only as a matter of historical record since 1935 when the Shah of Iran, Reza Shah Pahlevi, decreed that his country’s name should be changed to ‘Iran’. The fact that the ruler of Persia took this decision renders any contemporary reference to the ‘Persian Gulf ’null and void.

Admittedly, any attempt to give the Arabian Gulf its true name has been fiercely fought by Iran. To this day, Roderick Owen’s book The Golden Bubble (1957) is reviled by Iranian hardliners for its historically reasoned attempt to rename the ‘Persian Gulf ’ the ‘Arabian Gulf ’. However, such a name change does not affect the history of the Persian empire in the same way that ‘Iran’ does not negate the Persian heritage.

Strategic importance to Arab states

Along the Arab coastline are such major capital cities as Abu Dhabi, Kuwait City, Doha and Manama whereas Iran’s political and commercial heartland its capital Tehran is over 1,000 kilometres away from the cities and port towns bordering the Arabian Gulf. It could, therefore, be argued that the Gulf is of greater strategic and economic importance to the GCC states than Iran.

The GCC is a political and economic force

The region’s geopolitical landscape has altered dramatically over the last half century. Those Arab states surrounding the Arabian Gulf, in particular the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have emerged as political and economic powerhouses – jointly holding 41 per cent of the world’s oil reserves, in contrast to Iran’s 10 per cent – and they should be recognised as such.

Increased use of ‘Arabian Gulf’

Although the UN other world organisations are still under instructions to use ‘Persian Gulf ’ in their documentation, ‘Arabian Gulf ’ is favoured by most Arab countries.

Moreover, the US military, based in the region uses ‘Arabian Gulf ’. These days, a number of media outlets have replaced ‘Persian Gulf ’ with ‘Gulf ’.

Apart from the core arguments set out above, there are several other factors to be taken into consideration. The first argument is political. Most nationals of GCC countries object to using ‘Persian Gulf ’ when Iran occupies UAE islands, has made territorial claims on Bahrain and is expanding its influence throughout the region.

Iran’s insistence on retaining ‘Persian Gulf’ reinforces its expansionist plans. Attempts by Tehran to hold the world hostage, such as warning airlines against using ‘Arabian Gulf’ on their in-flight monitors by threatening to ban them from Iran’s airspace, should not be tolerated.

The second argument is historical, cultural and emotional. The vast bulk of the Iranian mainland is east of the Zagros mountain range and, therefore, cut off from the waters of the Gulf, but those waters, studded with Arab islands, have been a lifeline for the people of the Arabian Peninsula for hundreds of years.

Our ancestors were great sailors, explorers and traders who set-off on wooden dhows to sell their wares in Africa and the Sub-continent. They were pearl divers and fishermen.

Unlike most Persians, the sea is in our blood; we could not have existed without its fruits or the cooling sea breezes that gave us respite in the days before fans or air-conditioning.

As a boy, I dove and swam in the waters of the Khaleej al Arabi (the ‘Arabian Gulf’) and it is my hope that with your help the day will soon come when this waterway is rightfully recognised as ours.

Respectfully yours,

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

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