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The dispute about the Persian Gulf name Essay

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Updated: Oct 16th, 2019


The PersianGulf lies between the Iranian plateau and the Arabian Peninsula. Iran was originally known as Persia and that is where the gulf derived its name from. Since the 1960’s there has been a row about the naming of this gulf between theArabs and the Persians. The Arabs feel that it should be called the Arabian Gulf.

The Arab countries and Iran have been engaged in disputes from time immemorial. There have been historical disputes involving Arabs and non-Arabs and between Sunnis and Shias. Therefore, the dispute about the naming of the Persian Gulf is a continuation of an old rivalry. This discussion explores the extent of therivalry between the Arabs and the Iranians over the naming of the PersianGulf and possible ways of resolving it.


The name ‘Persian Gulf’ is used in naming this water body in most of the maps produced before 1960.Before this time, even the Arab countries used the name Persian Gulf.The ancient Greeks and early Roman historians referred to this body of water as the Persian Gulf in their maps and texts.

Moreover, European and Persian Muslim map printers also used the name Persian Gulf.The Arab countries adopted the name Arabian Gulf after the Arab nationalism. They celebrated their achievements and sought ways to enhance their welfare. Some of these ways included shunning the western influence and renaming the Persian Gulf (Choueiri, 2000).

Initially, the name Arabian Gulf was used to refer to the Red Sea. Several names like The Gulf, Arabo-Persian Gulf,and Islamic Gulf have been suggested to replace the name ‘Persian Gulf’ but the matter still remains unresolved.Most countries and organizations use the name ‘Persian Gulf’ to refer to this water body, for instance, the United Kingdom, United States, the Group of Experts on Geographical Names, the United Nations Secretariat, and International Hydrographic Organization, among others.

These organizations have done research on the history of the Persian Gulf and established that the original name of the gulf should be maintained(Freedman and Karsh,1992).

From the point of view of the Iranians, the changing of the name from ‘Persian Gulf’ to ‘Arabian Gulf’ is a threat to their rights and sovereignty. They feel that the Persian Gulf is part of their historical heritage and changing the name will deny them control over the gulf’s oil reserves. The Iranians also do not allow the use of neutral names like ‘The Gulf’ in reference to this water body.

Moreover, Iran has set aside a day to celebrate the National Persian Gulf Day on 30th April. On this day they celebrate the successful expulsion of the Portuguese from the Persian Gulf. Celebration of this day is meant to deter the Arab countries and other institutions that seek to change the name of the Persian Gulf.

In addition, the Iranian government is constantly seeking to enhance thePersianidentity, for instance, there is the Persian Gulf Cup soccer league in Iran. The countries surrounding the Persian Gulf hold asoccercompetition referred to as the Gulf Cup of Nations but Iran’s team does not participate because the contest does not use the name ‘Persian Gulf’ in its name but opts for the neutral name ’The Gulf’ (Chaqueri, 2001).

The Iranian government has often imposed bans and boycotts on several organizations and countries that continue to use the word ‘Arabian Gulf’. In 2004, the National Geographic Society produced a map of the Persian Gulf and used both the names ‘Persian Gulf’ and ‘Arabian Gulf’ to refer to this water body. This led to a very heated reaction by the Iranian government and other political groups in Iran.

Many Iranians staged protest even on the internet and this led to the banning of all National Geographic Society’s publications in Iran. In response to this, the National Geographic Society edited the atlas and removed the name Arabian Gulf from the map. Instead a note was added stating that only some people refer to it as the Arabian Gulf. Moreover, they got rid of Arabian alternative names that they had used for some of the Persian islands (Ahmadi,2008).

Another controversy arose when the Persian Gulf was referred to as the Arabian Gulf at the 16th Asian Games opening ceremony in China. The Iranian government was not pleased with the constant reference of this water body as the Arabian Gulf by the Asian Games sponsors and even threatened to stay away from the event.

The Chinese government was forced to apologize to the Iranians for that error.Another dispute led to the cancellation of the annual Islamic Solidarity Games held in Iran because the Saudi Arabians suggested that the brochures and medals should have the name Persian Gulf removed from them. This greatly angered the Iranians because they viewed it as an insult to their sovereignty(Limbert,2010)

Iran has taken tough action against those who do not use the name ‘Persian Gulf’. For instance, it prohibited the sale of The Economist in their territory for referring to the water body as ‘The Gulf’. Iran only recognizes the usage of the name Persian Gulf and has barred from its airspace any foreign airlines that fail to use this name.

Iran and Arab nations have been rivals for a long time and this threat by the Iranian government has exacerbated the conflict. The Iranians removed the book Arabian Nights from all stores and online sites and insisted that the Arabs should refer to the Arabian horses as Persian horses(Limbert,2010).

From the Arabian perspective this water body should be referred to as the Arabian Gulf because many Arabs occupy most parts of its shoreline.Moreover, the Arabs claim that the name ‘Persian Gulf’ cannot continue to be used since the Persian Empire is no more, and therefore the name is irrelevant.

They cite the example of the MediterraneanSea to validate their point, whose name changed from the Roman Sea when the Roman Empire ended. In addition,the Arabcountries feel that they are more in number on the gulf’s shore and therefore the gulf should not be named after Iran which is just one country.

The Arabcountriessurrounding the gulf include Qatar, United ArabEmirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Iraq. Iran is the only non-Arabic country surrounding the gulf. Therefore, they feel that they have rights over the water body.The Arabian countries seekto enhance their affairs (Amirahmadi,1993).Therefore, they prefer the name ‘Arabian Gulf’ in naming some of their institutions and games teams, for instance Arabian Gulf Rugby team and Arabian Gulf University in Dubai and Bahrain respectively (Martin, 2011).

Jamal Abdul Nasser was the originator of the idea that the name ‘Persian Gulf’ should be replaced with ‘Arabian Gulf’ because of Iran supporting Israel. However, after the Islamic revolution, Iran shifted its support to Palestine.

In spite of this, the Arab countries have continued to refer to this water body as the Arabian Gulf. The Arab nations retaliated toIran’s threats of banning their airlines by threatening to ban all Iranian products unless they change the name Iranian to Arabian, for instance, Persian rugs to Arabian rugs. They also threatened to ban the Iranian video game called the Prince of Persia (Aikman, 2009).

Iran is fiercely fighting to defend and maintain the name of the Persian Gulf even though it is faced with a lot of challenges from the Arab countries. Most Arab countries are also trying to endorse the name Arabian Gulf. The Arabian countries are involved in booming trade with other countries in the west. Institutions like oil companies that are involved in trade with the Arab countries also support the name ‘Arabian Gulf’ so as to maintain a good relationship with their business partners.

However, countries and organizations that want to remain in good terms with both the Arab countries and Iran use the name ‘The Gulf’ to avoid offending either party.Iran is involved in a battle against many Arab countries and winning it is a tough task. However, it has an upper hand because there is enough evidence proving that the name of the gulf was originally ‘Persian Gulf’ (El-Najjar and Habibi, 2005).

The dispute between the Iranians and the Arabs has gone on for a long time and efforts need to be made to resolve it.The best solution to the conflict is to let the Iranians use the name ‘Persian Gulf’ and the Arabs the ‘ArabianGulf’,while other external parties like countries and organizations should use a neutral name like Arabian/Persian Gulf.

The Arab countries and Iran can not afford to maintain their conflicts as they depend on each other for many things like trade. The countries can also seek peace through indulging in dialogue to try and establish the real causes of this rivalry. Then the rivals can come to a consensus about the name that should be used in order to serve the interests of both of them(Lederach, 1997).

TheArabsandIranians can choose to resolve their conflict and concentrate on benefiting from the gulfs resources like oil instead of wasting time fighting(Irani and Nathan, 2000).There is still hope for reconciliation between the Arabs and the Iranians because there is so much to unite them, for instance their religion, language and trade among others (Halliday, 1996).


From the above discussion, it is evident that the controversy that arose from the renaming of the Persian Gulf is extensive. The Arabs and the Iranians are involved in a deep rivalry over the name that the water body between the Iranian plateau and the Arabian Peninsula should have.

The Iranians feel that those who use the name ‘Arabian Gulf’ have no respect for them and consequently they impose boycotts on their products. The rivalry is deep-rooted but with the application of the right conflict resolution methods, an amicable solutioncan be arrived at to re-unite these old rivals.

Reference List

Ahmadi, K., (2008). Islands and International Politics in the Persian Gulf: Abu Musa and TunbsIn Strategic Perspective. London: Routledge.

This book explains the significance of the Persian Gulf as a highway between the West and the East. It gives the history of the gulf and its relations with international countries. The book also explores how the Arab countries are scrambling for the control of the gulf and its islands.

Aikman, D., (2009). The Mirage of Peace: Understanding the Never-Ending Conflict in the Middle East. California: Gospel Light.

The author looks into the conflicts that continue to tear the Middle East apart. He pays particular attention to the dispute between Iran and the Arab countries over the naming of the Persian Gulf. The author challenges the reader to look at the crisis in the Middle East logically instead of with criticism. The author affirms that the name ‘Persian Gulf’ should be used in order to avoid conflicts.

Amirahmadi, H., (1993). Iran and the Persian Gulf crisis. New York: St. Martin’s press.

This book gives a critical analysis of the crisis that has engulfed Iran over the naming of the Persian Gulf. The Arab countries feel that the gulf should be given a name that relates to them since the shoreline is mostly dominated by them. However, Iran is not about to give in to the pressure as it claims that the gulf was named after them a long time ago and therefore it can not be changed.

Chaqueri, C., (2001). Origins of social democracy in Modern Iran. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

This book explores the origin and history of Iran during the revolution of the Persian constitution. It takes the reader through the phases that Iran went through in the conversion to modernity. The repercussions of the revolution of the Iranian constitution are explained. The book takes us back to the time when Iran was known as Persia, the name from which the gulf between the Iranian plateau and the Arabic peninsula derived its name.

Choueiri, Y. M., (2000). Arab nationalism: a history: nation and state in the Arab world. UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

This book explores the Arab nationalism. This phenomenon is what led to the adoption of the name ‘Arabian Gulf’ to replace ‘Persian Gulf’.Arab nationalism marked the celebration of the achievements of the Arab nations. The Arabs called for the unity among all the Arabian nations and exclude western influence from the running of their affairs.

El-Najjar, H., and Habibi, N., (2005). Web.

The authors of this article explore the various challenges that Iran is likely to face in defending the name ‘Persian gulf’ against the Arabs. The Arabian countries are many and are involved in booming business with rich multinational companies and therefore may have an upper hand in this battle. The article also offers some solutions that could lead to the end of this rivalry between the Arabs and the Iranians.

Freedman, L and Karsh, E., (1992). The Gulf Conflict 1990-1991. London: Faber and Faber.

This book gives an account of the conflicts surrounding the Persian Gulf. There have been disputes for a long time regarding the naming of the Persian Gulf. This name was given to the water body a long time ago when Iran was referred to as Persia. However the Arabs feel that the name should be changed as the Persian Empire is no more.

Halliday, F., (1996). Arabs and Persians beyond the Geopolitics of the Gulf. Web.

This article analyses the extent of the conflict between the Arabs and the Iranians and ways through which the conflict can be solved. The author explores the historical perspective of the conflicts between these two rivals. The author also looks at the reasons why the rivalry between the Iranians and Arabs escalate as time goes by. The author also says that despite the numerous differences that these two rivals may have, there are very many things that can unite them, for instance religion, trade and language. Therefore they should strive to achieve peace.

Irani, G. and Nathan, F., (2000). Rituals of Reconciliation: Arab-Islamic Perspectives. Web.

Thisarticle exploresthe methods that Islamic countries can apply in resolving conflicts between them.Conflict resolution is viewed by many Muslims from the Middle East as the imposing of western ideas on them.However, these methods can be very useful in solving conflicts in Muslim countries, especially the controversy between Iranians and the Arabs.

Lederach, J. P., (1997). Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.

This book gives practical solutions of arriving at peace between warring communities. The book emphasizes on the use of long-termsolutions in order to completely unite the people and heal their relationships. The root causes of the conflicts should be established in order to come up with ways of resolving them.The suggested methods of conflict resolution can be very helpful if applied in reconciling the Arabs and Iranians.

Limbert, J., (2010). Web.

This article tries to establish the reasons why peace is so evasive between Iranand the Arab countries. The author says that the two rivals are very suspicious of each other and therefore attaining peace is a far- fetched hope. The author also cites pride and ignorance as other reasons why these two rivals can not unite. None of the two is willing to suggest a peaceful dialogue as this might be seen as a sign of weakness.

Martin, L. H., (2011). Mapping the Persian Gulf Naming Dispute. Web.

The author of this article looks into the various reasons that both the Arabs and Iranians use to validate their choice of name for the water body that lies between the Iranian plateau and the Arabian Peninsula. In addition, the author explains the views of other countries and organizations about the dispute. The views of the United States, united nations, united kingdom, Google, atlases and the media are expressed, and the name that each prefers to use in reference to the water body is given.

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