They Cannot Change the Name of Persian Gulf

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dr. Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh  

Interviewee: Dr. Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh

Interviewer: Hossein Nikpour

“Iranian officials should be very careful when expressing their viewpoints on the three islands.” This is the viewpoint of Dr. Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, who teaches at Tarbiat Modarres University of Tehran.

An expert in political geography, he assures us that Arabs will never be able to change the name of Persian Gulf based on political motives alone.

He has recently written a letter to UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, reminding him about documents which prove Arabs’ claims baseless

The following is the text of his interview with Jam-e Jam daily.

Q: From time to time, the United Arab Emirates claims that three Iranian islands in Persian Gulf belong to that country. What is the historical root of this dispute?

A: Firstly, I should remind you that we have no dispute with any country over the three island and we must be careful about this when expressing our viewpoint.

This is because our politicians sometimes ignore this point that disputes have been already settled in December 1971. Now most Iranians and officials talk about dispute settlement. In that case, we must talk about issues that arise from UAE claims.

It is very important that no dispute has remained to be solved. When our officials talk about disputes, this would be against them from a legal viewpoint.

Q: I correct my question. What are the roots of UAE’s claims as to the islands?

A: This issue dates back to when Britain occupied most of the Persian Gulf and then assigned various sheikhs as their rulers. The British forces also eyed regions north of Persian Gulf including Khuzestan, Bandar Abbas, and Bandar Lengeh, but they could not achieve that part of their goals.

Documents that I have gleaned after 7-8 years clearly prove the realities. A document shows that in a secret meeting in 1902, the British government decides to occupy Persian Gulf islands and Hormuz Strait lest Russia may attack that region.

This was just an excuse to allow Britain, which had already occupied Qeshm, Larak, and Hengam islands to add the Greater Tunb, Sirri, and Abu Mousa to that list. The decision has been communicated in writing to British viceroy in India and its representative in the Persian Gulf. A year later, they occupied the aforesaid island. In those documents, the British government has owned up to having occupied those islands in 1903. The Lesser Tunb was also occupied in 1908.

Iranians realized that the islands were occupied only a year later in 1904. Some 68 years after that story, Iran took serious steps to take the islands back and those efforts were fruitful.

During that period, Iran protested to the occupation of those islands on many occasions and sometimes managed to get them back to its rule for short periods. This is very important because in the absence of those protests, 68 years was enough to take those islands out of Iran’s hands. Iran even managed to reclaim Siri Island in 1962 without facing much resistance.

In 1968, Britain announced that it was planning to leave the Persian Gulf up to the end of 1971. They planned to merge the present emirates of the United Arab Emirates as well as Qatar and Bahrain to create a federation with 9 members, but they failed.

Firstly, Bahrain and Qatar were not ready to condescend and form a federation with those emirates. Secondly, Iran protested because Iranian islands had been attached to those emirates. Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Saddam Hussein protested to the plan because the federation would have violated their territories.

Britain, then, decided to reach an agreement with Iran as the most powerful regional state.

Therefore, it decided to give the islands back to Iran. An agreement was signed between Iran and Sharjah, which had serious claims to Abu Mousa Island, in 1971, under the oversight of British Foreign Office. At that time, the UAE did not exist and Britain was the lawful government of those emirates. Other countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan were present as observer. Sheikhs of Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al-Khaimah were also present. The Sheikh of Ras Al-Khaimah once called for money from Iran, which was rejected by the latter.

Q: Some sources say that Iran gave up Bahrain in order to take the three islands back; is that true?

A: Such rumors were cooked up by Egyptians. Having claims to something is different from possessing it. Iran did not possess Bahrain, but had claims to it. One and a half century earlier, Nasser ed-Din Shah had lost sovereignty of Bahrain to Britain, but Iranian rulers always claimed that Bahrain belonged to Iran just similar to claims that Arabs have to our three islands. My studies show that Egyptians were liars. The documents I have reviewed and personalities I have interviewed attest to the fact that no deal was made at that time. Iran and Britain decided in 1965 and 1966 to study Persian Gulf from the viewpoint of continental shelf resources, oil resources as well as the rights of Arabs and Iran. The result, which has not become an agreement but is considered customary in international law, was a line crossing in the middle of the Persian Gulf from east to west which was considered the border between the two sides. It was based on this custom that Iran withdrew its claims as to Bahrain in 1970 and this has been recorded at the United Nations in the same year. Then Britain decided to let go of three islands which were located to the north of the dividing line.

Q: Is Abu Mousa located to the north of the line?

A: Abu Mousa straddles the line. Therefore, it was decided that both sides should control the island; the northern side of the island was given to Iran and the southern side was given to Arabs. Of course, in 1992, they claimed that Iranians had penetrated the southern half of the island and hoisted Iran’s flag there, but Iran denied the claims. That misunderstanding provided the United Arab Emirates with good grounds to claim ownership of the three islands.

Q: Do they have legal proof to their claim?

A: Their claim is totally baseless because when the agreement was signed by the British government in 1971, the United Arab Emirates did not exist and it came into being two days later. Formation of the United Arab Emirates was delayed because Iran wanted to take the islands back from the British government, which had “stolen” them from Iran. This had nothing to do with the UAE, and Iran even declared to Sheikh of Abu Dhabi who was present in negotiations that it was not their business.

After the misunderstanding in Abu Mousa in 1992, Arab states filed a case with the United Nations to give a legal glaze to what they had done. A meeting of council of sheikhs was held. Although it seems to be the highest ranking decision-making body in the Emirates, but it is Sheikh of Abu Dhabi who dictates his decisions through that council.

In that meeting they decided that agreements signed by any emirate would be considered legal and obligations undertaken by any of the said emirates would be considered the obligation of the United Arab Emirates. A glance at their agreements and the case they filed with the United Nations in 1992 would reveal the childish contradictions.

Agreements approved by council of sheikhs denote that the UAE has accepted the 1971 agreement on the three islands. However, in their petition to the United Nations, they claimed that Iran had occupied the island. They have also called on Iran to comply by its obligations as per the 1971 agreement. According to international regulations where there are contradictions in a claim, that claim would not be heard.

The third reason to prove the UAE claims are illegal is that when council of sheikhs accepted that the 1971 agreement has an obligation for the UAE, all sheikhdoms of the UAE would have delegated their powers to government of the United Arab Emirates.

Sheikh of Sharjah who had dealt with Iran on the three islands had not delegated his power to Sheikh of Abu Dhabi who is the ruler of UAE. He told them that the three islands were not their business and left the meeting.

Sheikh of Abu Dhabi was delegated powers by other sheikhs in the absence of Sheikh of Sharjah.

The fourth issue is that the government of Abu Dhabi which has raised claims over the islands is illegal. According to constitution of the United Arab Emirates, the rule of the sheikdom should rotate every 4-5 years among 7 sheiks. However, Sheikh of Abu Dhabi has been in place since 1971 when the UAE was established and has treated others in a dictatorial manner. According to UAE constitution when head of UAE dies, his deputy will take his place. That deputy has been Sheikh of Dubai since UAE was established. A few years ago, when Sheikh Zayed, the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, died, he was replaced by the son of Sheikh Zayed, who was crown prince of al-Nahyan tribe. According to UAE constitution, the post should have been given to Sheikh of Dubai. Therefore, the rule of al Nahyan is not legal.

Q: Why the three islands are so important. Is UAE insistence on its claim merely political or those islands are important in military and strategic viewpoints?

A: When they talked about importance of the islands under the Pahlavi rule, it was because the island are located near the Strait of Hormuz and were very important in barring the Soviet access to the Persian Gulf. However, they are not very important in military or strategic terms and from economic viewpoint, they are of no significance.

A very limited amount of oil has been found on Abu Mousa, but economists maintain that it is not so valuable as to tempt anybody to lay down his life for it.

The islands are mostly of a symbolic importance right now. Head of the United Arab Emirates wants to make his country bigger and wants to have the Greater Tunb which is 17 km off the Iranian coast. However, this is the best means of creating political division between Arabs and Iran. They see the islands as an excuse to promote their pan-Arabic idea. Therefore, the Arab League has turned a blind eye to important issues of the Arab world and has focused on the islands.

At the same time, the United States is occupying various parts of the Middle East and aims to give a superior position to Israel compared to other regional states.

Q: What could be the best reaction our country can show to this issue?

A: Our government should ignore those claims and enlighten international public opinion. Of course, when they act through international institutions, our government should protest officially and categorically. But we must avoid of reacting to mere claims. We can also accept to negotiate on how we can remove their misunderstandings as to the islands. However, it is clear that they do not seek negotiations and only seek to cause a row over the issue and this is what the US needs to sow discord in the region. They only seek to intensify territorial disputes of a type that can fan the flames of conflict between governments.

Q: When the name Persian Gulf was applied and when efforts began to change it?

A: About 4000-5000 years ago, Persian Gulf and all lands surrounding it belonged to Iran and it was totally located within the Iranian territory. The name was first applied by Greek historians and no other official name has been used since. It is customary in the world that various nations give a name to seas that are around them. For example, people of Gilan called the Caspian Sea the Sea of Gilan, but such local names are not recognized internationally.

In 1935, the British viceroy decided to change the name of Persian Gulf. Before that no such effort had been made. The British government, however, ignored the request by its representative. In 1957, Sheikh of Bahrain used a fake name for Persian Gulf because the Iranian government had claims to Bahrain. But that name was also ignored. Jamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president, who claimed to be leader of the Arab world, used the name too and this continued until Saddam Hussein came to power in 1968. He did his best to change the name of Persian Gulf in order to pitch Iran against Arabs. Saddam spent hundreds of millions of dollars to do this and there are always people without dignity who do everything, from taking part in conferences to writing books, to devour part of that money and this has kept the dispute alive up to our time.

However, as a person who has been studying this issue since 35 years ago, I declare that most Arabs have no problem with Iran and only a small minority of pan-Arab fanatics follows this issue. Streaks of such fanaticism could be found among a minority of parliamentarians in countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. However, they are mostly centered in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

In Qatar, the issue is being followed by Sheikh of Qatar and his lackeys while in the Emirates, Al Nahyan family is interested in such claims.

I assure you that despite their claims and the money they spend on those claims, they will get nowhere and the United Nations has always taken up the name of Persian Gulf which has been followed by other international bodies, governments and countries. Arab leaders, for example, pay BBC to use the fake name and after BBC goes through that money, it uses Persian Gulf again. I assure you that geographical names cannot be changed on political grounds because this would lead the world toward chaos.

Tomorrow, Pakistan will be tempted due to its disputes with India, to use “Pakistani Ocean” instead of the Indian Ocean! This will lead to war and bloodshed. Therefore, international community will not accept such claims.

Source: Jam-e Jam Newspaper

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