With China actively seeking to eliminate Google from its virtual shores, even going to the effort of creating its own version, Iran has turned up the heat on the internet mapping giant this week over its failure to label the Persian Gulf, according to a report from CNN.
The Iranians believe that Google is making a political statement by failing to use the Persian Gulf label, which has in recent years been re-titled ‘The Arabian Gulf’ by some believing it is more ‘politically correct’.
The Persian Gulf is coveted by Iranians as a statement of power and ownership over the gulf, and refers back to the nation’s history in the Persian Empire. Proponents of the Arabian Gulf name suggest that as 70% of the Gulf coast is NOT in Iran, that the Arabian Gulf is more appropriate, and that the use of Persia is an anachronism even in Iran, where the population is a mix of Persians, Arabs, Kurds and numerous other ethnic groups.
Iran has raised similar complaints against various institutions for decades. A simple Google search finds correspondence with the Dutch Airline KLM during the mid 1990’s after they referred to the Arabian Gulf in their in-flight magazine. More recently thousands of people protested through Facebook ’causes’ when the US Navy used Arabian Gulf, the Economist magazine was banned when it referred to the waterway as ‘The Gulf’ and reportedly the infamous Louvre gallery in Paris, France found itself in hot water when its guidebooks did the same.
A look at maps going back to the turn of the century in Maps.com’s National Geographic Classic Collection reveals, interestingly that published print maps have always typically used the Persian Gulf label. One edition from 1991 shows both Arabian Gulf and Persian Gulf labels, but was designed to highlight the various disputes and issues of the region at that time.
Referring to the International Hydrographic Organization, sometimes used by Cartographers as the ‘final word’ on water naming conventions (“The Vision of the IHO is to be the authoritative worldwide hydrographic body which actively engages all coastal and interested States to advance maritime safety and efficiency and which supports the protection and sustainable use of the marine environment” ) last updated its materials in 1953 and clearly refers to the water as The Persian Gulf. But for those who use the Times Atlas of the World there is a distinct lack of controversy as they opt to name it ‘The Gulf’ (what next, “The Ocean” and “The Land Mass”??)
Google is of course an easy, and high profile target when it comes to this type of dispute. For one, any assault on Google, the world’s third biggest superpower behind Apple and Microsoft, is bound to make headlines or at least come out near the top in a Bing search. And for two, any irate consumer who wants to bash the search engine giant can take their pick of lost cities and mislabeled waterways to rant about.
What they can be accused of is sidestepping the issue a little. If you type ‘Persian Gulf’ into Google Maps, it will take you to the center of the unlabeled body of water with a nice red pin to mark the spot. If you type in Arabian Gulf, it suggests “Arabian Gulf, Kuwait” which when clicked takes you to the same body of water, very close to the coastline of Kuwait. Type in other waterways of lesser profile – Caspian Sea, English Channel, Baltic Sea, Strait of Gibraltar and every one of them is labeled. So maybe Google lost its nerve on this one. (Google maps in fact fails to label the East Sea, AKA The Sea of Japan, depending on whether you are from Korea or Japan – so it has previous form here). An anonymous Google representative argued that they simply ‘dont have labels’ for every body of water. It can be really frustrating when you run out of labels. Perhaps they could have borrowed the one from “Ditch #1, Osceola AR.”
From our point of view at Maps.com, newly published maps follow the convention set by leading cartographic publishers and organizations like the IHO – and will continue to be ‘The Persian Gulf’ until further notice.
- Iran ‘to sue Google’ over Gulf (bbc.co.uk)
- Iran threatens legal action against Google for not labeling Persian Gulf (fox6now.com)
- Iran to Sue Google (forbes.com)