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PERSIAN GULF IS A HISTORICAL NAME

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Maryam Mahdavi Asl 

Documents Reject Arabs’ Claims

Sir Charles Belgerio was the British agent in the Persian Gulf from 1926 to 1957. He wrote a book, which was published in 1966 in which he heavily relied on notes of Sir Francis Erskine Lock, another British agent in the Persian Gulf. Lord Belgerio, who led the British colonial policies in the Persian Gulf for more than 30 years and was hostile to Iranians, was the first person to use the term Arabian Gulf instead of Persian Gulf. He wrote in his book, “Persian Gulf, which is currently called Arabian Gulf by Arabs….” In this way, he intended to promote Arabian Gulf in the region, especially among the Arabs. Before using that wrong name, Arabian Gulf had never been seen in any creditable writing save for some geographical books in which Arabian Gulf had been used to call the Red Sea.

When his rule in the Persian Gulf was coming to a close, Lord Belgerio used Arabian Gulf for the first time in a Voice of Bahrain magazine and tried to promote it. However, he used the correct name of Persian Gulf in his second book, “Welcome to Bahrain” (1995). Of course, the position taken on the name of the Persian Gulf dates back to before Belgerio and a complete file on the Persian Gulf, which dates back to 1937, still exists at the archives of British Foreign Ministry.(1)

Persian Gulf Was Used before History

Elamites were the first people who inhabited plains in southwest Iran from Shoush to Bushehr. Elam was part of Iran which was bound to Tigris River on the west, to part of Pars, on the east, to Hamedan on the north and to Persian Gulf on the south. Shoush was its biggest city.

Elamites used Persian Gulf since 3,000 year B.C. to reach Bushehr, Kharg Island and other Persian Gulf islands and also to conduct trade with West Indies and Nile Valley. Since Darius the Great, the Achaemenid king, was very interested in sailing, he ordered a canal to be dug between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean after he conquered Egypt in 517 B.C. After conquering India, he ordered Eskilas, the skillful Greek sailor, and a number of Iranian sailors to move from delta of Sind River up to Persian Gulf and the Red Sea and explore unexplored parts of those seas.

According to Herodotus, under Darius the Great (485-521 B.C.), Persian Gulf islands constituted the 14th province of the Iranian empire. In later years, the bipolar world was dominated by Parthian and Sassanid (238-641 B.C.) empires, on the one side, and the Roman Empire, on the other side. Persian Gulf has always been part of the Iranian territory. (2)

The great job for Ashkanid kings was to protect the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia against the Romans. Persian Gulf was also a trade and sailing hub under the Sassanids, and Iranian ships set off from its ports for Chinese ports. Ardeshir Babakan, the founder of Sassanid dynasty (224-241 B.C.) established a number of ports on the coasts of Persian Gulf. Under the rule of Khosrow Anoushirvan, Iranian ships sailed as far as China and Ceylon and all inhabitants of northern and southern ports of Persian Gulf were rich. Iranians were well-known for their sailing skills. After invasion by Arabs, Iran lost its military and marine superiority, but not for long.

During those times, Iranians managed to survive through their political skills. It was then that the first signs of buccaneers were seen on the southern coasts of Persian Gulf and Sassanid kings managed to rule their regions taking tribute from people of Oman, Jolfa and al-Qatif.

However, under Safavid rule in 16th century AD, Shah Abbas the Safavid managed to expel Portuguese and Spanish occupiers from the Persian Gulf with the help of the British forces. Therefore, the British government found a good footstep in the region and conflicts between the Netherlands and Britain over marine superiority in the Persian Gulf started between 1652 and 1654 and continued until 1665-67.

In fact, Iranians did their best to regain their control over the Persian Gulf under the rule of Shah Abbas (1587-1629). In 1602, Iranians recaptured Bahrain in 1602 and put an end to Portuguese rule there. Thereafter, Iranians gradually swept the Portuguese forces from the Persian Gulf until they captured the Portuguese port city of Jolfa (the present Ras al-Khaimah) in 1820. More forces surrounded a port city in Qeshm Island which was occupied by the Portuguese and, finally, dismissed them in cooperation with naval forces who were working for the East India Company. In 1625, they signed a deal with Shah Abbas according to which all Iranian territories in the Persian Gulf were restored.

Since Iranians had restored their rule over Bahrain and Jolfa (Ras al-Khaimah) they were the dominant force in the Persian Gulf and its islands and this continued until due to downfall of Safavid dynasty and internal conflicts, new opportunities were offered for pirates to become active in the region. Especially, Muscat Arabs used that power void to plunder regional coasts and islands. In fact, severe conflicts in Iran and Oman in 1721-1736 exacerbated the power void in the Persian Gulf and paved the way for piracy. However, as Nader Shah became the king of Iran and stability was restored in the country, Iran’s sovereignty over the Persian Gulf was once more established.

In fact, it should be noted that in 326 AD, Shapour II of Sassanid dynasty, fought Arab pirates, killing some of them and taking the rest into captivity. However, when Nader was killed in 1747 AD, one of his commanders called Karim Khan Zand was forced to fight the pirates and Arabs again. He attacked Oman and Basra and conquered them. He also subdued domestic unrests and reestablished order in the society.

Under Qajar rule, colonialist powers, especially Britain, attacked Iranian coasts along the Persian Gulf and dominated that region. Efforts made by Amir Kabir, the then chancellor of Iran, to establish an Iranian navy in the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf failed due to the effects of colonialist powers. During World War I (1914-1918), Persian Gulf developments led to major political events which increased the influence of Britain in southern Iranian coasts. In that war, the British forces that aimed to dominate oil wells in Khuzestan and Abadan refinery, which supplied needed fuel to British navy, entered into war with the Ottoman forces.

The Ottomans were defeated and lost their control over the Persian Gulf forever. However, after disintegration of Ottoman Empire, Iran found new neighbors such as Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. In 1925, Pahlavi dynasty was established in Iran after the end of World War I. Although the British flag was taken down in Persian Gulf ports and islands and the Iranian flag was hoisted in those lands, however, in 1939 when the World War II started, despite Iran’s declared impartiality, it was drawn into the war and the allied forces took threatening measures along southern Iranian borders in the Persian Gulf. Anyway, the Allied took charge of Persian Gulf, Khorramshahr and Shahpour (Imam Khomeini) port cities, as well as the national railroad. During the war, they used Persian Gulf to sent millions of tons of weapons and military equipment to the Soviet border and warfronts. This was a key factor which facilitated final triumph of the Allied. After World War II, Iran regained its control over the Persian Gulf and bolstered its navy to consolidate its grip over the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea. After the British forces left the Persian Gulf in 1968, there was kind of political and military void in the region which could have encouraged foreign powers get back to Persian Gulf. Therefore, Iran took the following measures to cement its political domination over the Persian Gulf.

1. In order to protect the Strait of Hormuz and marine routes which were frequented by tanker and commercial ships, Iranian army attacked the Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Mousa islands on November 3, 1971, and returned them to the country some 80 years after they were occupied by the British forces.

2. The Iranian government solved the problem of the Iranian continental shelf with Saudi Arabia on the basis of 1968 Geneva Contract. In 1970, Iran signed an agreement with Qatari government for the determination of a borderline along the continental shelf and, two years later, a similar agreement was signed with Bahrain.

3. As to the Iranian and Iraqi borders in Arvand River, which had been disputed since 1943 and had not reached a final conclusion by 1975, the Iranian and Iraqi governments finally reached a final agreement in June 1976, which apparently put an end to many years of disputes.

Three Iranian Islands in British Documents

The issue of three Iranian islands in Persian Gulf was first raised during the case of damages which were inflicted on the Iranian nationals in Lengeh, Charak, Assilou, and their boats at Abu Mousa, Abu Shuaib, Hondurabi, and Tunb islands due to military operations by the British officer, Captain John Lock, under the command of General William Ker, in 1820. Local governors had filed a lawsuit with the Iranian ruler. Then, the Iranians protested to the Indian government. In March 1822, the Indian government apologized for the accident and paid 2,000 rupiahs to the Iranian government as compensation. Seven years later, Captain George Barnes Brook prepared an official report on August 25, 1829 to be presented to the government of Bombay on “Iranian islands and coasts” in which the names of coasts and islands which were ruled by governors of Fars and Kerman provinces had been enumerated.

Disputes over Tunb and Abu Mousa Islands

As said before, in order to retain the British domination over India, that government’s policy in Persian Gulf sought to keep rival colonialist powers, especially Russia, away from the Persian Gulf. This policy was in line with permanent policies of Britain toward Iran. Britain did not want Iran to become an influential regional power. On the other hand, they did not want the Iranian government to reach an agreement with the Russians, which would have consolidated Russian influence in the Persian Gulf, threatening the British interests in India. In late 19th century, the British government was faced with increasing challenges from Russia and Germany in the region. The Russian threat seemed serious for two reasons: firstly, the increasing influence of Russians at the Iranian court, and secondly, their constant efforts to find a fueling base in the Persian Gulf. On April 19, 1888, the British minister plenipotentiary in Tehran, Sir Dormund Wolf, reported to the British governor in India that the resident political representative of Britain in Persian Gulf, Colonel Orsi, discovered a plot which was by the then Iranian chancellor, Amin-os-Soltan, to promote the Russian influence in the Persian Gulf, but the Iranian king refuted their claims. A Russian engineer who visited Bandar Abbas and Hormuz Island in 1895 had opined that Hormuz Island should become a fueling station for the Russian ships.

In 1899, the British intelligence found information that showed the Russians were trying to control a port at Strait of Hormuz in order to use it as an Iranian railroad terminal. The British forces were worried about close ties between Iran and Russia and tried to reach an agreement with Russians to divide Iran into their respective influence zones. Therefore, in 1895, the British authorities offered their proposal to the Russian, which was rejected. This made the British government more concerned about insidious progress of the Russians toward the Persian Gulf through Iran. Therefore, Lord Lerosen, the governor of India, noted that penetration of the Russians into the Persian Gulf through Iran should be prevented and southern Iran should become impenetrable to them. The British authorities were so worried about increased influence of the Russians in the Persian Gulf that they tried to confront them. Therefore, the British rule in India commanded British naval commanders to contact Arab sheikhs in Persian Gulf islands. The British navy, however, reported that it was very difficult to find an owner for the islands and there were not local chiefs to be contacted because all Persian Gulf islands were under the Iranian rule.

At that time, the British government decided that the islands should be taken out of Iran’s sovereignty and be transferred to British rule which would support the Sheikh of Sharjah. On the order of the British authorities, the flag of Sharjah was hoisted in Abu Mousa and Greater Tunb islands in July 1903 in order to prevent further progress of the Russian government toward the Persian Gulf. Due to their strategic importance, Abu Mousa and Tunb islands were given to non-Iranian rulers by the British authorities. However, Sheikh of Sharjah was so unwilling to have the islands that Colonel Sir Percy Sixe, wrote a letter to him to recommend that the flag of Sharjah should remain on the island. Two major developments in Iran paved the way for consolidation of British rule in the Persian Gulf:

A) The Constitutional Revolution (1905-1906) and subsequent turmoil in the country; and

B) 1907 treaty between Britain and Russia about dividing Iran into two zones of influence.

Banking on the new conditions, the British government raised new claims on the Iranian islands through its proxies among Arabs. Occupation of the Lesser Tunb Island following the Greater Tunb and Abu Mousa islands was another step taken to meet British interests in the Persian Gulf.

Restoration of Iran’s Sovereignty over the Iranian Islands

After withdrawal of British forces from the Persian Gulf and the end of 150 years of British colonialism in the region, regional countries were faced with a new opportunity to solve old problems and Iran had a good chance to restore its sovereignty over the islands. Sir William Luce, chief British negotiator, announced that Iran and Britain had solved their disputes over the islands. Later, the British prime minister told the House of Commons on December 6, 1971 that the status quo was a reasonable basis for stability and security in the region. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that old disputes between Iran and Britain over the islands had been resolved and according to that solution, which called for a return to pre-colonialist situation, Iran’s sovereignty over the islands had been restored.

Endnotes:

1.    Afshar Sistani, Iraj, Name of Persian Gulf Based on Historical Documents and Geographical Maps, pp. 114 & 115
2.    Hermidas Bavand, Davoud, Historical, Political, and Legal Bases for Iran’s Sovereignty over the Tunbs and Abu Mousa Islands, pp. 15-16, translated by Aqaei, Bahman

Source: http://www.iran-newspaper.com/

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