Google Gulf

Removing the waterway's name from maps


Google Gulf
by David Rosenberg

There is a new Gulf war underway, but be careful what you call it.

Google unwittingly sparked the conflict last week when it dropped the name “Persian Gulf” from the body of water separating Iran from the Arabian Peninsula. It declined to call it the “Arabian Gulf” or simply “the Gulf,” either, perhaps making its 250,000 square kilometers 97,000 square miles) the biggest landmark on Google Maps to go nameless.

Iran, the modern state of Persia, lost no time in launching an attack on Google. “Google[‘s] fabricating lies... will not have any outcome but for its users to lose trust in the data the company provides,” Bahman Dorri, Iran’s deputy minister of culture and Islamic guidance, told the Fars News Agency on Saturday.

Google’s nameless decision is the latest in a controversy over the Gulf’s name that goes back to the 1960s and has ensnared everyone from the Asian Games, to the US Navy to National Geographic magazine.  On one side is Iran, which has adopted the Gulf’s Persian name as a symbol of national grandeur; on the other are the Arab Gulf countries, who fear Iran is staking a territorial claim.

“The name of the Gulf has become a highly emotive controversy in the region, to an extent that can be difficult to understand,” Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at London’s Chatham House, told The Media Line.

Google’s decision came only days after Iran’s “National Day of the Persian Gulf,” which is marked April 30 to commemorate the 16th-century battle in which the Iranian Navy defeated the Portuguese. A spokesman for Google couldn’t immediately provide any comment on the decision or why it was taken now.

The dispute has taken on an added dimension as the two sides spar over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Saudi Arabia and most of the other Gulf Arab powers have sided with the West in seeking to rein in Tehran and have accused Iranian leaders of fomenting Shiite unrest in their Sunni-majority countries.

Analysts are not sure whether Iran is, in fact, stirring up trouble in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But Tehran has certainly engaged in symbolic warfare. Last month, its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Abu Musa, an island whose sovereignty is disputed with the United Arab Emirates. Earlier in the year it staged naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, the channel that connects the Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, two bodies of water whose names have not attracted any controversy.

Iran framed the Persian Gulf name change as part of a bigger battle with the West and its Arab allies. “The efforts of the [global] arrogance and its Arab allies to remove the name of the Persian Gulf will result in its name becoming more durable,” said Dorri, using the government’s code word for the US.

Google Maps is no stranger to political controversy. It was forced to correct how it displays a microscopic island in the Strait of Gibraltar claimed by both Spain and Morocco after erring twice. A year-and-a-half ago it created an international incident when a Nicaraguan army commander, relying on Google Maps, moved his troops into an area that was in fact in Costa Rica’s territory, taking down a Costa Rican flag and raising the Nicaraguan flag.

The name controversy over the Gulf, however, has no practical importance. To paraphrase Juliet, “What's in a name? That which we call a gulf, by any other name would still be an international waterway.” Neither Iran nor the Gulf Arabs dispute that.

Nevertheless, history is on Iran’s side. As far back as the ancient Greek geographers Strabo and Ptolemy, it was known as the Persian Gulf or some variation of it.  The 10th-century CE Arabic Christian writer Agapius did the same. In more recent centuries, mapmakers have employed the terms Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Basra and Gulf of Qatif after a port now in Saudi Arabia.
Arab countries typically called it the Persian Gulf until the 1960s, but Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, rising a crest of Arab nationalism and unhappy about Iran’s then friendship with Israel, lobbied for a name change. Arab nationalism has since receded, but the Arab Gulf has not budged on the issue.

“It's useful for Iran to whip up nationalistic fervor against its Gulf Arab neighbors as a distraction from its internal economic problems and political infighting,” said Chatham House’s Kinninmont. “That said, the name Persian Gulf is well established in international usage -- and the name of a body of water doesn't have implications for sovereignty.”

The name-calling issue has put outsiders in an awkward position.

Tehran banned National Geographic from newsstands and barred its reporters in 2004 after it published a world atlas that called the waterway the “Persian Gulf” but added the words “Arabian Gulf” in brackets. Demanding a "correction", Tehran promptly banned the American-owned magazine from Iran. The magazine surrendered.

Iran employed the same tactics two years later when the British news magazine The Economist published an article and map that referred to “The Gulf,” a favorite compromise for those who are trying to steer of the controversy. A spokeswoman for the magazine wasn’t available for comment but an informal search revealed it was using Persian Gulf frequent, including in a 2010 article on the controversy.

The Gulf Arabs have not been above symbolic gestures, Two years ago, they pulled out of the Islamic Solidarity Games, which were being hosted by Iran that year after they found that the medals and official logo called the body of water the Persian Gulf. The Iranians refused to back down.

Even the US Navy has annoyed the Iranians. Before it dispatched the aircraft carrier the USS Abraham Lincoln to the area, the navy ordered all personnel in 2010 to call it the Arabian Gulf. When word got out, angry messages began piling up on its Facebook page.

Google seems to have taken a different tact on its Google Earth site, which shows the planet’s natural contours with an overlay of human borders and place names. As of Monday, the waterway was called both the Persian Gulf and the Arabia Gulf, the latter placed below.

First published in Media Line.

David Rosenberg is Media Line's Senior Business Correspondent. has reported from Israel on business, economics and politics for more than two decades. He was Israel bureau chief for Bloomberg News and business editor of The Jerusalem Post, and earlier worked as a correspondent for Reuters and Dow Jones.




by koa on






Gharibe Ashena I agree with what you wrote about Raoul

by kuroshmazandrani on

Astonishing that this site has been letting these types crawl around for years ... shame

Hamishe Khalij-e Pars 

Gharibe Ashena

Khalij e Pars Forever...

by Gharibe Ashena on


Gharibe Ashena

Rasoul you can eat what is in my shorts....

by Gharibe Ashena on


long live Iran

Auction:Pay more to change the name of countries!

by long live Iran on

It should not be matter who rules the countries. Name of countries, seas, mountains and oceans should be nothing to do with politics if we want to be fair to history.

It is not an auction to pay more and change the name of countries as arabic countries are doing now! So what is the next? Pay more and change the content of history books!!

Imagine China can pay more to change USA name. 

Long Live IRAN for EVER

Persian Gulf for EVER! 

Arash Kamangir

soon they'll remove Iran from world map!!

by Arash Kamangir on

The way things are developing and thanks to IR, I won't be surprised if  the name of Iran itself is removed from the World map!


Israeli Gulf!


After, Israel defeats IRR, it will change the name back to Persian Gulf!

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Given people such as you it is much more likely that USA will split. It is just people such as you who deliberately sow hate and division: if you don't have anything intelligent then be silent.

iraj khan

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

by iraj khan on

This follows Google’s 2008 decision to include the historically inaccurate and politically charged name “Arabian Gulf” alongside “Persian Gulf” in their Google Earth application.

Sign your name on our open letter to Google’s CEO Larry Page to call on Google to stop playing name games with the Persian Gulf and to use the correct name



Not true

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

That which we call a gulf, by any other name would still be an
international waterway.” Neither Iran nor the Gulf Arabs dispute that.

The goods passing through it are for the international economy, but the waterway they pass through & for up to 200 nautical miles from the coast is not an international waterway but Iranian national waters.  Iranians don't dispute that the waters which belong to them by law are theirs not the international communities.  They do dispute making one law for the USA/UK/GB and then creating a unique other law for others, that is a sign of arrogance and injustice and calling waters within 200 nautical miles of irans coast international waters means that either the law needs to be changed for all and openly or the existing law needs to be adhered to.


So I realized nameless

by Kingreza3 on

So I realized nameless Persian gulf long before the recent heat. between (6 to 12 month ago) though there was no reaction back then. I figured its labeled somewhere that I am not zooming in even though, i did the zoom few times and then lost intrest and told myself who fuckn cares. I need to see some data as google really took it off now vs. While back. I really think some one realized it and found a good way to make the Arabs hate Iranians more and vice versa.
So who fuckn cares. This issue is not gonna go away if we continue to show this much sensitivity. So let them call it Arabian gulf. Shit make it Jewish gulf to piss off everybody off and look at every nation people through nationalism prism. If they are useful be friend even if you hate them. And drop them if they are liability even if they reffering to Persian gulf as Persian gulf.


you said it best mr ahmadinejad's mamoor.

by mousa67 on

and if they dare putting it on the table you just throw your keyboard at them all the way from your house in london and your uncle mousa will  make sure they move it to under the table.

now take a deep breath and  a dive in your local swimming pool in london. LOL.


no matter what it takes

by مآمور on

the name of the persian gulf is not on the table, it is on the map and will stay there.

I wear an Omega watch


Islamists of IRAN And Persian Gulf Arabs are

by Azarbanoo on

Bastards all together.


And hopefully soon

by Raoul1955 on

The name 'Iran' will also be removed as that territory should be divided up between the US, GB, and Russia.