To: National Geographic Society
December 1, 2004

Dear Sarah Clark:

I am writing to you as a professor of History at California State University, Fullerton. I have been a member of the National Geographic Society for the past two years and for reasons enumerated below, I will cancel my membership to your organization. This is not so much because of my personal and national loyalties, but rather due to the wrong and unprofessional decision by your committee to place the name of "Arabian Gulf" next to that of "Persian Gulf."

The body of water called "Arabian Gulf" already exists, and the name is reserved for another body of water, which I teach about in my ancient history courses. In essence, what you have done is to confuse the bodies of water for the students and general users alike. In antiquity the Greeks and Romans called the Red Sea the "Arabian Gulf" (Pomponius Mela, de Chorographia, passage 72). Am I to tell my students that the National Geographic Society has decided to relocate this body of water for us?

As for the nomenclature of the Persian Gulf, it is clear that it was known as Persicus sinus in Latin meaning "Persian Gulf," or the variant Persicum mare, meaning "Persian Sea" in the Classical Sources. In the Islamic period the Arabs themselves called this body of water bahr faris or "Sea of Fars." In the first half of the twentieth century it was known as khalij al-fars "Persian Gulf" by virtually all Arab countries. The Europeans who continued the Classical tradition employed such terms as Sino Persico and Sinus Persicus. Thus in the West and the Middle East this body of water has been known as the "Persian Gulf."

It was only with the recent appearance of Arab nationalism or so-called "Pan-Arabism", spear-headed by former Egyptian President Gamal Abd Al-Nasser, who was hostile to the late Shah of Iran, that the term al-khalij al-arabi or "Arabian Gulf" was coined. It simply did not exist before this period! How could we go about changing names of places so whimsically based on personal preferences? The Society states that since many institutions and people use an alternative name for the Persian Gulf, then "Arabian Gulf" must be mentioned.

By your logic, then Shatt al-Arab, which is the waterway bordering Iran and Iraq, known as Arvand Rud ("Arvand River") to the Iranians for several decades must also be mentioned. But this would be historically incorrect, and I would not support the changing of names based on nationalism. By the same logic if the Iranians begin calling the Sea of Oman or the Arabian Sea the "Sea of Iran," then the National Geographic would have to cave in and place such artificial names for these bodies of water as well. Even the island of Kesh in your map is mentioned by it alternate Arabic name Qays which is almost never used in Iran and it belongs to Iran.

If personal (Directorate) or financial matters govern such decisions, then I must say that I am dismayed that such a reputable organization would be pushed to create false names as "acceptable alternatives" based on unscrupulous decisions. But again, we live in a world where even names can be bought or exchanged for money. I just did not expect that the National Geographic Society would do such a thing. Rest-assured, I will have this matter discussed in our department at Fullerton, and my fellow historians in other California State University campuses will also hear about this matter. I do ask you to please cancel my subscription.


Touraj Daryaee

Associate Professor of Ancient History