Archive for the ‘Persian Gulf’ Category

Madam Secretary, the Name is the Persian Gulf

March 4, 2009

Objective source: The AP Stylebook dictates proper name usage.

Los Angeles
Tehran Bureau | comment

The State Department statement was relatively brief: “The Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham Clinton] is pleased to announce the appointment of Dennis B. Ross to the position of Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for The Gulf and Southeast Asia.” Which “Gulf?” Gulf of Mexico? Gulf of Aqaba? Gulf of Tonkin? Gulf of Aden? Gulf of Carpenteria? There are so many of them!

We read on. “This is a region in which America is fighting two wars and facing challenges of ongoing conflict, terror, proliferation, access to energy, economic development and strengthening democracy and the rule of law.” Oh! That Gulf.

Well, Madam Secretary, you need first and foremost an advisor on history because, given his long history of bias toward Iran, in addition to be totally unfit for the job, your advisor and “expert,” Dennis Ross, does not know the history of that region. The name of that Gulf is the Persian Gulf, nothing less, nothing more. It has been that way since at least 330 B.C., when the Achaemenid Empire established the first Persian Empire in Pars (or Persis, the region which is called Fars in present day Iran) in the southwestern region of Iran. After that historical event, Greek — not Iranian — sources started calling the body of water that bordered this region the Persian Gulf. It has stayed that way ever since.

In his 1928 book, A Periplus of the Persian Gulf, Sir Arnold Talbot Wilson, the British civil commissioner in Iraq from 1918-1920, stated that,

No water channel has been so significant as Persian Gulf to the geologists, archaeologists, geographer, merchants, politicians, excursionists, and scholars whether in past or in present. This water channel which separates the Iran Plateau from the Arabia Plate has enjoyed an Iranian identity since at least 2200 years ago.

Madam Secretary, I know that the United States and its allies import significant amount of oil from the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. I know that the U.S. supports the corrupt and dictatorial Arab regimes there, because they protect what is perceived as the vital interests of the United States (although those regimes are the main culprit in the rise of al-Qaeda). I also know that these nations are spending tens of billions of dollars to buy weapons from the United States — weapons they neither need, nor will ever be able to use — and that the U.S. nuclear industry is going to make billions more by selling nuclear reactors to Bahrain and other Arab nations in that region (but not, of course, to Iran). Therefore, the new and changed State Department — just like the old ones — wants to appease these regimes, and avoid doing anything that would offend their rulers. I know all of that.

But, Madam Secretary, all such considerations do not, and cannot, change the history of that region. The 990 km long body of water that starts from Arvand Rud that carries the waters of Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and ends at Strait of Hormuz — another Iranian name, recognized internationally — that connects it to the Oman Sea, has always been, and will always be, the Persian Gulf. This has been recognized internationally. Nothing, and least of all the billions and trillions of the corrupt Arab rulers, can change that. If your advisors do not know that, or are not willing to tell you that, then, you need new advisors. To be successful in your efforts in that region, the first thing you need to know is the region’s history.

Madam Secretary, President Obama has said that the U.S. talks with Iran must be built on mutual respect. One good place to start showing this respect toward Iran and Iranians is calling that historical body of water what it has always been called, the Persian Gulf.

Noruz in Abu Dhabi

December 11, 2008

Desert storm: Emiratis and Qataris flex their muscles (with a little help from their friend).

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
Tehran Bureau | notebook

It was back in March, a couple weeks before the Iranian New Year. I had submitted a copy of my passport and press credentials to attend a demonstration of military maneuvers that was to take place at the end of three weeks of exercises between Emirati, French and Qatari forces. When I did not hear back, I was not surprised: though I carry an American passport, it clearly states that I was born in Iran.

Not that it should have been an issue. As officials will tell you, the first joint war games between the three countries had nothing to do with the state of tensions with Iran. Not even when the French-led military exercises coincided with President Nicolas Sarkozy’s tough stance against Iran’s nuclear program. And not even when the exercises were preceded by a visit to Iran by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the U.A.E. and Ruler of Dubai. This was the highest ranking visit by a U.A.E. official to Iran since the revolution 30 years ago.

The day before the exercises were due to take place, I had still not heard back and put in a call. My contact on the other end of the line could not find any of the paperwork I had faxed over more than two weeks earlier. But he clearly remembered my constant pestering and told me to get myself to Bateen Air Base the next morning, where we were supposed to catch a plane to “an island in the Gulf”.

The base failed to appear on the expensive new GPS system that I had just purchased, so I called for a taxi instead. The guards at Bateen were surprised and confused by my appearance. After several calls from the gate, I was escorted to a shuttle bus that was to ferry a small group of journalists to the plane. A contingent of suit-and-tied Frenchmen who spoke their names in hushed tones to the guard were escorted off the minibus when a military attache was unable to locate their names on his list.

“That’s new to me,” said an Arab photojournalist who had arrived from Saudi Arabia. “This is the first time I’ve been on a bus where the brown guys get to stay on, and the white guys have to get out.” We chuckled, as if in admiration for the government of the U.A.E.

We were joined on the plane by Emirati, French and Qatari officers — and later the same group of quiet Frenchmen. The windows from which we could gauge the course of our 45-minute journey were blocked off but I guessed our island was somewhere near the Saudi border. A bigger bus took us to a ceremony on a covered but windy platform. For all the security, my cell phone still worked.

I started chatting with a man who had an American accent in the row below me. He quickly moved the topic of the conversation to Iran. As he continued to escalate his rhetoric, I broke the news to him. “You should probably know that I was born in Iran,” I said. He was visibly shaken. “And they let you in here?” he asked after gaining his composure.

At least he was earnest.

Under a sandstorm warning, with visibility severely limited, it was difficult to understand what was happening in the military exercises: there was lots of dust, lots of machinery and lots of men but the overall objective remained a mystery to me. The simultaneous-translation headphones with which I was provided failed to carry an English translation, apparently not because of technical difficulties either. The interpreter would taper off in the middle of sentences, as if bored or suddenly seized by the realization that the task at hand was beyond his capabilities. Or maybe he couldn’t see anything either.

From what I could make out, there were three friendly countries involved in the exercise. The white country — Qatar — had just signed a business and economic agreement that a fourth country — the “red country” — was angry about, prompting it to invade the whites. The other two countries had come to its aid.

A reporter from Reuters asked during the news conference that followed, “Who is country red?” French General Roger Renard replied, “It’s just a ‘hypothetical’, as in a ‘Hollywood scenario’. Red country is red country.”

“Why had the three countries decided to join forces this year?” I asked. France has long had a presence in the Persian Gulf and has conducted military exercises with both U.A.E. and Qatar separately for a number of years. “We just did,” Gen. Renard said. “It had to happen at some time and it just happened to be this year.”

Iran was unhappy about the exercises, said the reporter who had asked about the red country. The French press attache, sitting to my right, signaled for Renard that he must not answer any “political questions.” Renard tried to dodge the question. “There is always a great temptation to relate an exercise to political matters,” he said. “Our business is to train our people to work together… and to be able to fight together if we have to.”

The threat of a possible war on Iran has been looming at least since the U.S.-led war on Iraq in March 2003, shortly after the beginning of the Persian New Year. It’s been widely covered in the media, so widely I’m not sure what to make of it. Has it deflected an actual strike, or numbed a great number of people to the very idea, thus making an attack all the more feasible.

I was feeling cold and went to stand next to a U.A.E. guard with his back turned to me holding a machine gun. He had found a rare patch of sun and in the desert chill I desperately needed some extra warmth. When he asked me to return to my seat, I remembered the first words of Arabic I had learned as a child in Iranian school the year after the revolution: “Al Shams,” I said, referring to the sun. The guard smiled and made more room for me next to him.

For the record

November 11, 2008

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“Not only does Iran maintain that the Gulf is Persian in name.”
— The Economist

Not only?

In the Nov. 6 issue of The Economist, in an article about the GCC, “Caught in the middle but still perky,” a list of apparent grievances against Iran includes the right it maintains to call the Persian Gulf by its long-established name: Persian Gulf.

I have included an entry from the Associated Press Stylebook for those re-writing their own stylebooks as they go along. The AP is after all “the essential global news network, providing distinctive news services of the highest quality, reliability and objectivity with reports that are accurate, balanced and informed.”