How does NGS plan to bridge this Gulf?

When National Geographic referred to the “Persian Gulf” as the “Arabian Gulf” back in 2004, Reza Pahlavi of Iran visited NGS to “bring clarity to the issue.” (Iranians are Persians, not Arabs, so Pahlavi — the former Crown Prince of Iran — was not pleased with the name change.)

Reza Pahlavi with NGS President & CEO John Fahey (2004)

“The meeting with Mr. Fahey was an in depth and thoughtful discussion of the historic and academic facts regarding the Persian Gulf,” said Reza Pahlavi of Iran. “It was an opportunity to unequivocally express, on behalf of my compatriots, our unwavering national position on the sole usage of the name Persian Gulf.”

“I am pleased to have been reassured by Mr. Fahey that the National Geographic Society recognizes ‘Persian Gulf,’ as the undisputed historic name of the body of water south of the Iranian plateau,” the forty-four year old political leader added. (via

That promise came long before the upcoming launch of our Society’s 33rd local language edition — NGM-Arabic, which will debut on October 1st. (NGM does not publish a Farsi edition for Iranians.)

What will our new Arabic editors call that “body of water south of the Iranian plateau”? We have a hunch it will not be the “Persian Gulf.”

Consider: The Islamic Solidarity Games, which were scheduled to be held in Iran in April, were canceled because of a dispute with Arab countries over what to call the Gulf. According to the BBC:

The games federation in Saudi Arabia said the Iranian organisers had failed to address its concerns, particularly about the planned logo and medals. These bear the words “Persian Gulf”, but Arab countries, who call it the Arabian Gulf, reject the term.

So… does John Fahey’s “reassurance” to Mr. Pahlavi in 2004 still hold? Or will the editors at NGM-Arabic be allowed to apply their own cartographic conventions to depict the world as they see fit — in the Gulf and elsewhere?

How this issue gets resolved will speak loudly about what our Society has become — and where it’s going.

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