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The Persian Gulf and its Iranian islands -Iran

The Persian Gulf

The Persian Gulf is in the south, separating Iran from Saudi Arabia. The Gulf is 990kms long and at its widest place about 340kms wide. The Strait of Hormoz is less than 55kms wide. The average depth is 35ms but increases up to 90 to 100ms in some places. The ancient Greeks called this gulf “Persikos” and the Arabs referred to it as “Bahrolfars”. In contemporary times it has become famous for its international oil wells which are located on the sea bed.

Naming the Persian Gulf

An epitaph from Darius the first (Darius the Great) which mentions “the sea which passes from Pars” has been found in the Strait of Hormoz, and the Gulf has been called “the Pars Sea” from the time of Sassanians. The second century Greek Historian, Flavius Arrianus, mentioned it as “Persikon karitas” (meaning Persian Gulf) in his work, as did Esterabon, the first century Greek geographer. Latin books from the Middle Ages refer to it as “Persicus Sinus” or “Persicus mare”. In other languages the word “Persicus” is used with slight variations.
Arab and Iranian Muslim scientists mentioned the Gulf as “Bahr e Fars”, “Bahrolfarsi”, or “Khalij e Fars” in historical and geographical books. Masoudi, the fourth century Arab historian and geographer travelled from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf and later to Kerman, Transoxiana and China. He says, “The Sea of Oman is the continuation of the Persian Sea.” Estakhri, the fourth century geographer and Ibn e Hoghal e Baghdadi had the same idea and named the Persian Gulf “Bahr e Fars” in their work.

The islands of the Persian Gulf

The Persian Gulf has many islands such as Kish, Khark and Gheshm, which are important in economic terms and a large number of Iranians and non-Iranians reside there. Some of these islands are still uninhabited because of a lack of water. In recent years, Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tonb Island have come to the attention of Western politicians and media because of the baseless claims the United Arab Emirates have laid to them.

Geographical characteristics and the position of the three islands

The Strait of Hormoz, with a length of 185kms and a width of 56 to 180kms is the narrow channel which links the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean and international shipping lines by way of the Sea of Oman. Iran owns some of the prominent and strategic islands in the Strait of Hormoz and the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Although all of the Iranian islands hold special importance, Lark, Gheshm, Hengam, Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tonb Island are more significant. Abu Musa Island is 12kms wide and 75kms from the south east of Lenge port. Abu Musa’s oil is in the surrounding sea in the district of Mobarak and is considered to be the highest quality in the Persian Gulf.

TThe historical background of Iran’s sovereignty over the three islands

Historical research shows that in the second millennium BC the three islands, like the others, were ruled by and were part of the Persian Empire. Similarly, during the Islamic era these islands were also part of southern states of Iran like Fars. Portuguese forces occupied the three islands for some time but they were taken back during the reign of King Abbas Safavi. King Nader Afshar and Karim Khan Zand controlled the three islands and in the reign of King Fathali Ghajar, the Fars Sea islands of Kish, Bahrain, Abu Musa, Hendurabi, Greater and Lesser Tonb Island and Faru were part of the Fars state. In 1263, the islands of the Persian Gulf, including Abu Musa, were part of the Fars state. A precise study of historical books and documents leaves no doubt about Iran’s sovereignty over these three islands.

Iran’s sovereignty over the islands in the Persian Gulf and the claims of the United Arab Emirates

1. It is noteworthy that while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) claim to own the Iranian islands, the Sheikhdoms which form the country did not exist before the nineteenth century. The Ras al Khaimah Sheikhdom didn’t even exist at the beginning of the twentieth century, let alone have a basis to claim ownership of the islands and seas. The Sheikhs were heads of large ethnic groups so that in the 1960s Britain officially accepted their sovereignty over their lands. Before that the Sheikhs only governed their own ethnic group rather than the whole land. Britain entered the Persian Gulf in the early nineteenth century to halt the dominance of these ethnic groups who they believed were pirates with no political identity or country. Gradually and by adopting a new imperialistic policy, the heads of these ethnic groups, and by extension the emirates, came under the protection of Britain. From the mid twentieth century these emirates were officially accepted by the England and the last of them, the UAE, took shape after the departure of the English forces from Persian Gulf in the seventies and serve as a reminder of imperialism in the region.
2. According to the international relations principle that “a contract between two countries does not create a right or responsibility for a third country”, the agreement between Iran and Sharjah about Abu Musa Island is an official document which does not allow any other country or organization to interfere. Greater and Lesser Tonb Island were returned to Iran by Britain based on an unwritten agreement, because the Iranian government of the time believed that any kind of written agreement could leave doubt about Iran’s ownership and sovereignty over them. This was ratified by Britain’s government of the time. It is noteworthy that the Gulf Operation Council and the Arab Council which approve the UAE‘s claims to the islands did not exist at the time of the agreement between Iran and Sharjah (1971).
3. The existence of many atlases and geographical documents before and after the creation of Islam as well as official and semi-official maps from the 18th and 19th centuries (a great deal of which were provided by British governments and navigators) indicate the sovereignty of Iran over these islands. The Iranian names of the islands, including Tonb and Abu Musa (Bu Musa Bumuf Gap Sabzu), is a further indication of their Iranian identity.
4. The Persian Gulf was assumed an Iranian blue breadth in numerous Historical eras and its southern coasts including Bahrain were under the sovereignty of Iranian governments, making it unlikely that the islands between these coasts belong to another country.
5. While the UAE claims that Iran exerted pressure on Sharjah during the negotiations leading to the agreement in 1971, this is unfounded as Iran dealt directly with the British imperialist empire as was appropriate at the time.

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