Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Rose Thorn By Any Other Name

Stop the presses!! Iran is pissed off!!

According to this story reported on CNN the other day, the Navy's designation of a particular body of water as the "Arabian Gulf" rather than the "Persian Gulf" has generated an uproar in Iran and among displaced Iranians around the world. The Navy's Facebook page has been bombarded with angry comments, and Al Jazeera waded into the fray earlier this week with an article in which it acknowledged that "The term "Arabian Gulf" has been in casual but inconsistent use by various members of the US navy and government, and by many Arab states, for a few decades now," but went on to huff that "For the record, the body of water in question has been known - in maps, literature and official usage - as the Persian Gulf for more than two millenia."

True enough.

But history also shows a long tradition of changing the names of places to reflect changing political climates.

The South Asian nation once called Burma has changed its name to Myanmar.

In Russia, Tsar Peter the Great's showcase city of Petrograd later became Saint Petersburg, changing in Soviet times to Leningrad, and then back to today's Saint Petersburg. The city now called Volgograd was originally known as Tsaritsyn, and is perhaps best known by its Soviet era name of Stalingrad.

The African nation of Burkina Faso was previously known as Upper Volta, and today's Democratic Republic of the Congo has been known at various times as The Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Congo-LĂ©opoldville, Congo-Kinshasa, and Zaire.

And here at home, Cape Canaveral, Florida, was changed to Cape Kennedy and then back to Cape Canaveral (home of the Kennedy Space Center), and almost every city of any size has renamed at least one street in honor of Martin Luther King, Malcom X, or both.

The Al Jazeera article linked above cites a UN policy which evidently states that

"...any change, destruction, or alteration of the names registered in historical deeds and maps is like the destruction of ancient works and is considered as an improper action. Therefore, the names of geographical features profiting from a unique historical identity, should not be utilised as political instruments in reaching a political, tribal, and racial objective, or in any clash with national interests and other's values."

Perhaps. But there is also a long tradition of changing names to reflect changing political and social conditions.

The Iranian thorn would be just as prickly regardless of how its surrounding waters are named. And ever-changing geographical names do help keep cartographers in business and provide opportunities for diplomats to wag fingers at each other.

You say Persian Gulf. I say Arabian Gulf.

Let's call the whole thing off.

Have a good day, whether you call it Thursday or something else.

More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

When I was stationed at CENTCOM we were told to use the term "Arabian Gulf" because that was preferred by our gulf allies (Saudi Arabia in particular). As the regional hegemon for millenia and always making it clear they disagree with every policy of the other countries, Iran was not much venerated. I think now that we know the Iranians really don't like the term we'll be much more consistent about using it.

Mike said...

Iranians are mad at us? OH NO!

KathyA said...

In this case, Bill, I think whatever we call it, we're screwed. How about we just point?