Iran’s Historical, Evident and Indisputable Sovereignty over the Three Islands Part (I)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Seyed Majid Tafreshi

Part I

Jam-e Jam TV Network held an interview with Dr. Seyed Majid Tafreshi, UK-based researcher of Iran’s contemporary history on the documents and evidences related to the sovereignty of Iran over the three islands of Abu Musa, Lesser and Greater Tonbs and the existing disputes.

At the beginning of the interview, Dr. Tafreshi dealt with the disputes over the sovereignty of the islands and then referred to the record of Iran’s sovereignty over the three Islands of Abu Musa, Lesser and Greater Tonbs and said there are numerous documents at valid and authenticated world archives, including the national archive of Britain and the Archives of Indian Tribunal.

During the past years, some of these documents were put at the disposal of researchers. However, a great part of those related to the years 1970 and 1971, which should basically be released since 2000, have not been released yet and are still confiscated and researchers are not allowed to use them. During the past year, after I filed a complaint according to the Freedom of Information Act in Britain, finally 30 classified documents and files were put at my disposal in two different stages and I took films of them. The majority of these documents and the other existing documents indicate that there is no doubt about Iran’s sovereignty and the national will of Iran on sovereignty over the three islands, not in the past, nor at present and even since the time history reminds us.

The contemporary history researcher touched on some documents related to the sovereignty of Iran over the three islands and said a major part of these documents are related to developments of 1970 and later, that is a period that Iran imposed direct and renewed sovereignty over the three islands.

 However, in a general classification, one can mention five stages in the history of the three islands existence. These eras have differences. We have the initial era when historiography started - when the three islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tonbs belonged to Iran. Of course, since the 15th and 16th centuries that the British colonialism and before that the Portuguese colonialism entered the region, there were issues related the islands and the rest of the Persian Gulf but on the whole there were no doubt about Iran’s sovereignty- until the year 1727 when the Qawasim or Jawasem rulers are mentioned there.

Various domestic and foreign documents in Arabic, English and Persian all indicate that they were Iran’s protectorate for a long period of time until the middle of the rule of Nassereddin Shah of the Qajar Dynasty and if they had a government it was a protectorate under Iran’s patronage and Iran’s rule there was indisputable. Of course, these rulers always had special relations with the British colonialism but numerous documents and evidences in different archives show that they were always supported by Iran and in fact they considered themselves protectorate of the central government in Iran. However, the second stage which continued until 1887, that is the middle of Nassereddin Shah’s rule, from this time onward for 15 years Iran directly dismounts troops in the three islands and takes over the islands officially, practically and directly. Iran’s direct sovereignty continues until 1903, in the early parts of Mozafareddin shah’s rule. In this year due to the weakness of the internal government and problems which existed, the islands were occupied for a long time by the British government until 1971. I emphasize that they were occupied by the British government forces. If there were local sheikhdoms, they were all protectorates and in fact not involved in litigations against Iran. It is the British government and army that occupied the region until 1971. In the year 1971, simultaneous with the establishment of the United Arab Emirates, Iran claimed sovereignty over the three islands and is stationed there. This was done on a verbal an unwritten agreement on the two Tonb islands and on Abu Mussa which was a very strong and joint treaty with Sharjah ruler (in fact with Britain on behalf of the Sharjah ruler).

Therefore, although Iran lost its direct rule over the three islands for a long period but in all periods in the history of Iran, there is not even one page of document which negates Iran’s sovereignty over these islands. Even during the 68 years of occupation by the British government (1903 – 1971), all governments in all eras and in all their correspondents stipulated that the islands belong to Iran and should be returned to Iran and no government cast any doubt on this issue. 

Stressing that the British government’s movements were political and spiteful on raising doubts on the ownership of the three islands in some junctures, Dr. Tafreshi said, “I divide this issue into three parts: the first era, that is the era of British colonialism when it was raised as the global power. In this era, Britain, based on its own interests and coveting, is naturally at odds with Iran’s interests on the ownership and sovereignty of the three islands.

Anyway, it tries to take these areas under its own domination and of course the British government continues to act as the gendarme of the Persian Gulf until 1971, when its military forces left the region. During the developments in early 1970s, Britain faced trouble, because its colonialist record caused it support its protectorates, that is the national government of Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah on the issue of the islands. On the other hand, it had special relations and specific alliance with the deposed shah of Iran. Therefore, it faced trouble and as a result it practically withdrew and caused the issue of the islands, at least with respect to the case of the Greater and Lesser Tonbs, remain a pain in the neck.

The wrong thing the British government did in this case was that when Iran toned down for certain reasons regarding Bahrain and quits and the independence of Bahrain was announced, Britain promised Iran that after withdrawal from Bahrain,the case of the three islands would be settled completely so that Iran’s indisputable rule over the islands would continue. In practice, this did not happen and London did not keep its promise and therefore Iran was forced to impose sovereignty directly and the Iranian government entered the scene directly. The important issue that exists here is that during the history until 1971, the Iranian government had never had to deal with the sheikhs of the region on the islands and if there were any disputes or differences, it was between Iran and Britain.

Even in the developments of the 1970 and 1971 until the day the UAE state was established, the Pahlavi regime and Iranian diplomats were not authorized to talk with regional sheikhs and did not consider them parties to the dispute at all and they were not important at all to have any claims from legal point of view. If there were any claims, whether legitimate or illegitimate, they were raised by Iran and Britain and nothing as the regional sheikhs has ever been mentioned. Since 1970 and 1971, Britain raised the issue of the rights of the regional sheikhs with the aim of weakening Iran’s status in the Persian Gulf in the new era.”

Presenting some unique documents on Iran’s historical sovereignty over the three islands from among 3000 that Dr. Tafreshi has at his disposal, he said, “These documents are related to the up-to-the-minute talks between Iran and big powers over the sovereignty of the islands and also debates among the regional rulers on accepting or rejecting the process of developments which were happening to the interest of Iran with respect to returning and reestablishing Iran’s sovereignty over the islands.

There are two other points that should be mentioned: First, during the recent three or four decades, lots of researchers inside and outside Iran have published numerous works on Iran’s sovereignty over the three islands in Arabic, Persian and English. However, a book published by Dr Naqi Tabarsa entitled “Sovereignty over the Islands of Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser Tonbs in the Process of Iran’s Foreign Policy” is the most inclusive book published in this regard due to using documents of the Iranian Foreign Ministry entirely and inserting Arabic and English resources, especially that there are several maps in this book which more than anything else indicate and prove that Iran’s sovereignty over these islands is unquestionable.


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