From Distorting History to Repeating a Baseless Claim

Saturday, April 12, 2008

On March 30, 2008, when the country was experiencing a stalemate in news activities due to new Iranian year holidays, heads of Arab states issued a statement at the end of their meeting in Damascus, Syria. Interestingly, although the meeting had been held behind the closed doors to discuss three major issues in the Middle East, that is, the situation in Iraq and Palestine as well as reducing tension among regional states, the statement repeated baseless claims raised by the United Arab Emirates to the effect that Iran has occupied three Persian Gulf islands and participants emphasized on the need for finding a peaceful solution to the issue!

This repetitive claim by heads of Arab states, which has turned into an indispensable part of all meetings of (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council ((P)GCC), was being reiterated at a meeting, which was supposed to see into major problems nagging the Arab and Islamic world. More interestingly, the Arab League wrote a letter to the United Nations calling for resolution of disputes over the three islands.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman was the first to react to the baseless claim on the three Iranian islands of Abu Mousa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, calling the Arab League statement over the islands suspicious and intervention in the internal affairs of Iran.

The next Thursday, Iran’s permanent representative at the United States submitted Iran’s written response to the Arab League statement to the UN secretary-general in which Iran has stipulated that the three islands are indispensable part of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran’s response read as such: “The Islamic Republic of Iran categorically rejects the United Arab Emirates’ baseless claims over the Iranian islands of Abu Mousa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb and reiterates that those islands are eternal and undeniable parts of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, the letter sent by observer representative of the Arab League at the United Nations and its appendices as to the Iranian islands  in the Persian Gulf is totally unfounded and devoid of any legal value.”

Government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, also reacted to the UAE’s claims by saying that the legal situation of the islands is quite clear and unquestionable documents proving their attachment to the Islamic Republic of Iran have been sent to the United Nations.

Historical documents

Since a long time ago, these islands have been part and parcel of the Iranian territory. In 18th and 19th centuries, those islands were administered by the Iranian governor in Lengeh port, which was an administrative section of Fars province. Iran’s sovereignty over the islands has been recorded in many books, historical documents, almanacs, marine travel logs, geographical maps, as well as official documents, administrative reports and memos of the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the Indian Affairs Office of the British government during 17th, 18th and most of 19th centuries.

The first and second edition of a book published by the British ministry of marine affairs called “Marine Guide to Persian Gulf”, the three islands have been shown as part of the Iranian territory. Also, the islands have been marked as part of the Iranian territory in a map drawn by the British War Ministry in 1887 as well as in another map of Iran drawn by Lord Curzon in 1892.

Under the rule of Al-e Bouyeh, all of the Persian Gulf, including its southern rim, was considered part of the Iranian territory.

The rule of Seljuk kings over the Persian Gulf was unrivaled. After invasion of Mongols, chaos reigned in Iran. However, Fars and Kerman provinces were less damaged. Their rulers frequently ruled over the Persian Gulf in an independent manner and relied on the power of their subordinates, that is, sheiks of Gheis and Hormuz.

When Ilkhans ruled Iran, the ruler of Hormuz, who was subordinate to ruler of Fars province, gained unprecedented marine and commercial power and during the next 150 years, all the coasts and islands of the Persian Gulf which were ruled by the ruler of Hormuz, were also considered part of Fars or Kerman provinces.

In view of the above facts, it would be logical to assume that Lengeh and related islands, that is, Abu Mousa, as well as Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb have been always considered part of the Iranian territory.

Historical maps

During that period, many official maps were drawn up which are considered cartographic documents on division of the Iranian territory and all of them show Tunbs and Abu Mousa islands as belonging to the Iranian territory. In other words, the maps show that the British authorities had accepted that the said islands belonged to Iran.

In addition, the said maps were not drawn by Iran to prove its sovereignty over the islands, but they are British maps which clearly prove that the three islands belong to Iran.

A map on situation of sailing in the Persian Gulf has been drawn by John McLeod in 1786 and published by East India Company, which divides the islands and ports of the Persian Gulf in five groups. The fourth part, which includes Iranian islands, has clearly shown the Tunbs and Abu Mousa islands as Iranian islands.

Also, in a book titled “Geographical Notes on the Iranian Empire”, written by J. M. Kiz, political advisor to Sir John Malcolm, during his mission in Iran, the three islands have been mentioned as the Iranian islands. The second edition of the book replaced black and white maps with color maps in which Tunbs and Abu Mousa islands were painted in the same color as the rest of the Iranian territory.

In addition, the British minister plenipotentiary in India, Captain C. B. S. Saint John, drew a map of Persian Gulf in 1876 in which the color of the said islands is the same as the rest of the Iranian territory.

In another map which was prepared by intelligence department of the British ministry of war in 1886, the three islands have been painted in the same color as Iran.

In 1902, the British Foreign Office decided in a secret meeting to occupy the islands due to their strategic position. Therefore, a year later, the islands of Abu Mousa and Greater Tunb in addition to Sirri Island were occupied by Britain in the name of the ruler of Sharjah. The Lesser Tunb Island was also occupied five years later by the British troops.

Since that date, Iran did its best to reclaim the islands and sometimes, Iranian governments were successful.

Iran-Sharjah agreement

In November 1971, the two sides found a solution to the problem. According to an agreement, which was signed by Iran and Sharjah, sovereignty of each side was determined. Less than a month later, the Arab League members including Iraq, Libya, Algeria, South Yemen and Kuwait, took legal action against Iran at the United Nations Security Council and without producing a single document, claimed that Iran had occupied the islands. The Security Council met urgently on December 9, 1971 to discuss the case, which was closed in Iran’s favor. In fact, the problem was solved 36 years ago through Security Council’s arbitration when a country called the United Arab Emirates did not even exist.

The agreement signed between Iran and Sharjah in November 1971, was a legally binding contract which leaves no room for intervention by a third party. Also, Tunb islands were returned to Iran by the British government according to an agreement based on which Iran had announced that any written contract on the islands would be breach of its sovereignty over those islands. It should be noted that during the United Nations Security Council meeting on December 9 (which had been convened to see into a complaint raised by the Arab League against Iran’s rule over the three islands), permanent representative of Britain had announced that the agreement reached between his government and the Iranian government in November 1971 was a good model for resolving territorial disputes in other parts of the world.


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