Persian Gulf Is More than a Name

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Interview with Gholamreza Sahab

For millions of Iranians, the Persian Gulf is not simply a name. It is part of the identity of an ancient land, which has played a great role in scientific and civilizational progress of the human society. Regardless of their political views, Iranians are so unanimous about the national identity that they forget differences to defend it and are even ready to lay down their lives.

The reaction shown to distortion of the name "Persian Gulf" by the National Geography Society about 3 years ago clearly proved the above fact. Treatment of National Geography by Iranians after that incident is good evidence to the importance attached by Iranians to their historical and national identity. Of course, the case of National Geography was only an instance. British periodicals have been using “Gulf” instead of Persian Gulf for years under pressure from Arab advertisers (imagine what would have happened if Pakistan had paid them to call the Indian Ocean just “Ocean” or “Pakistan Ocean”!)  
They ignore the fact that Iranians like to see the name of Persia and Persian Gulf on this part of the world.

Despite their zeal, Iranians have been less studious during the past few years for promoting that name and their efforts have been sporadic and without a clear-cut strategy. Therefore, some neighboring countries have been rudely trying to own our names and honors. Of course, this was not the first time that Arabs tried to change the name of Persian Gulf. It also happened 46 years ago on August 4, 1958 when Iran protested to distortion of the Persian Gulf by Iraq and some Arab countries and Britain. Iran communicated its formal protest to Iraqi leader, Qasim, who had come to power through a military coup.

In 1962, the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, proposed a plan as part of his Pan-Arabism scheme to rename Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf. Arab nationalism was cherished across the Arab world and helped the name change.

However, most academic elite in the Arab world objected to the current which was powered by racist Arabs.

In fact, all attempts to change geographical names during the past years have been orchestrated by extremist elements. Saddam Hussein was one of those elements. He paid 300 million dollars over 40 years to some European journalists and universities to change Persian geographical names. After the extraordinary case of changing the name of Persian Gulf, many historical and geographical research centers decided to produce historical documents and show them to international scientific and academic centers as a counteroffensive.

Although due attention has not been paid to international publicity yet, measures taken thus far are praiseworthy and call for cooperation among domestic media.

One of those measures was publishing a map of Iran, which dated back to 1724. The map, which has been recently published by Abureihan Birouni Research Institute, which is affiliated to Great Islamic Encyclopedia Center, is a valuable document that proves Iranian claims to the name of the Persian Gulf.

An undeniable document

The Persian Gulf is older than geography and mapping. As shown in the oldest maps of the world, the name of this strategic waterway has been Persian Gulf since millennia before Christ. No other creditable map has been found to show a different name. In fact, at the climax of the Iranian empire, Persian Gulf was a body of water which fell within the limits of the Persian Empire. There is no creditable museum in the world without a map of Persian Gulf and if those maps are collected at a single place, they would establish a spectacular collection.

The said map is among thousands of maps which have been drawn in past centuries about geographical situation of Iran. Though it had been ignored for many years, faculty members of Abureihan Birouni Research Institute have recently published it. The main goal of the institute is to conduct studies on history and geography of Iran. Kazem Mousavi Bojnourdi, head of the Great Islamic Encyclopedia Center, says that publication of the old map by Abureihan Birouni Research Institute aims to prove that Persian Gulf has always belonged to Iranians.

He maintains that the map has been prepared by Persian Gulf Encyclopedia Department of Abureihan Birouni Research Institute and has been designed and printed by Gholamreza Sahab, one of the most renowned Iranian cartographers and geographers.

I talked to Gholamreza Sahab about the details of the map. He is one of the twin sons of Abbas Sahab, who was father of cartography in Iran. He is faculty member of Persian Gulf Encyclopedia and is an expert in cartography and geographical maps. He has been in charge of Sahab Cartography Institute for many years and has won many prizes from creditable cartography festivals of the world for designing maps of various countries.

Asked about the 294-year-old map, Sahab says that it has been printed through lithography by a senior French engineer in Paris in 1724 and is among dozens of similar maps printed by famous cartographers which shows the limits of Iran at the time of Safavid dynasty. All of those maps carry the name, Persian Gulf.

Sahab noted that the French engineers visited Iran in the later years of Safavid rule and at the time of Shah Sultan Hossein. He then published his map in France through lithography method. The map has been colored with hand and is very accurate about sea and land borders.

He added that the map is important due to its accuracy and it is considered one of the most accurate maps of its time. The map has pinpointed such places as Gilan, Mazandaran and Astarabad and even Varamin. Another feature of the map is mentioning the names of three Persian Gulf islands within the Iranian territory. It clearly shows that three islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs as well as Abu Mousa belong to Iran and is one of the most important maps which is being kept at the achieves of the Great Islamic Encyclopedia.

Sahab stated that Iran planned to send many copies of the map to different creditable scientific centers of the world and also make it available to all renowned cartographic researchers at no cost.

Of course, Sahab maintains that such measures should have been taken earlier by scientific and research centers of Iran.

He says sending copies of old maps to creditable international scientific centers will help introduce Persian Gulf to the world, though this measure is insignificant compared to powerful propaganda launched by Arabs to change the name of the Persian Gulf.

Sahab says that Iranian officials should not suffice to such measures, but should arrange various exhibitions around the world to prove Iran’s claim.

“We must publish various copies of this map at different scales and sell them to Iranian expatriates. We must contact all and every geographic institute in the world and provide them this and other maps cost-free,” he opines.

He also called on all Iranian expatriates not to suffice to Internet, but purchase such maps and distribute them where they live or install them where they work. Sahab believes that it would be better if Iranians called shops or companies which they are running outside the country as Persian Gulf.

Persian Gulf forever

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Sahab argues that the map is not the sole document to show that Iranians are right. He says that there are many unique and valuable maps in scientific and research centers of Iran which are unknown to most people.

“The name Persian Gulf has been frequently used by painters, cartographers, and sailors most of whom are non-Iranian.

Some of those maps were demonstrated at the Foreign Ministry 3 years ago. A glance at the sequence of maps would reveal that they enjoy long historical background and examples of them can even be found among Greek maps drawn based on Ptolemaic style. When existence of even one copy of such maps is a cause of honor, the archives of the Iranian Foreign Ministry contains many copies of them. In addition, there is another valuable collection which is the product of Muslim cartographers and painters when Islamic civilization was at its height. They date back to 4th-7th centuries AH (1000-1300 AD). Estakhri, Ibn Howqal, Jeihani, Balkhi, among others, have produced such maps which are among unique maps kept at the Foreign Ministry. Those maps clearly show southern Iranian waters as Persian Gulf and even include details about the Iranian islands and Iran’s governance over those islands,” he said.

Apart from those maps, other maps were drawn by Portuguese and Dutch cartographers in later centuries up to 1700s. They spent a time in the Persian Gulf before sailing east. Those maps show the name of Persian Gulf in Latin, English and Arabic with their Persian equivalent. Between 17th and 20th centuries, when British forces were predominant in the region, there are many English maps which confirm details of previous maps and prove sovereignty of Iran over the Persian Gulf and Iranian islands.

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم