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The Three Islands

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It is more then 200 years of the changeable ownership (Britain, Portugal, Sharjah) of the three small islands situated near the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. And there is a dispute between Iran and the UAE for more than 40 years of the islands' ownership. Why these three small islands, two of which are uninhabited and the third one has just 2,000 residents, are so claimed? Are there rich wild life area, rare health resorts, historical monuments or ancestors’ burials? These are the oil and influential trade location.

Abu Musa, the city on the AbuMusaIsland, “is one of the main ports for exporting oil from Iran. Due to the depth of sea, oil tankers and big ships, have to pass between Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs; this makes these islands one of the most strategic points for Iran in the Persian Gulf” (IRNA,2012).

Abu Musa is claimed by these countries for economic, environmental reserves of oil and self security. Who will force the country, which can interrupt the world’s economy trade within few hours? 

History

AbuMusaIsland and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs are situated near the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, south of Iran. Bahman Aghai Diba in the article The Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu-Musa indicates that The Lesser Tunb is 22 miles from the mainland of Iran. The Greater Tunb is 17 miles from the Iranian land. Both of them are not able to sustain living and they had never had any inhabitants. Abu- Musa is the home for a limited number of people (less than 50 households) (Bahman, 2012). Guive Mirfendeski adds that the Greater Tunb’s total area is about 3 square miles (7.5 sq. km). There are no permanent freshwater sources on the island and historically no permanent settlements, although it was occupied seasonally. Lesser Tunb, about 5miles (8km) east of Greater Tunb, is less than 2 square miles (5 sq. km) in area and has no fresh water or inhabitants (Mirfendeski, 1996).

“The third island is Abu-Musa. It is located 75 km from Iran’s Bandar Lengeh port city and 16 km from the strategic Strait of Hormuz. It is the farthest island (out of 14 islands of Hormozgan) from the Iranian coast of the Persian Gulf. It is 46 miles above the sea. The highest place is the 110-meter HalvaMountain. Abu Musa city is the center of the island. The weather in Abu Musa is warm and humid, although, compared to the place in the Persian Gulf, Abu Musa has a better climate and the most diverse ecosystem, but it lacks suitable soil and water for farming leaving fishing as the main industry for locals. It is one of the main ports for exporting oil from Iran” (IRNA, 2012).

 “From 1330 until 1507 the kings of Hormuz reigned the Tunbs. In 1507 Portugal invaded the territory. In 1622 the Portuguese were expelled by Shah Abbas. The British Empire occupied the islands on 7 June 1921. AbuMusaIsland and The Greater and Lesser Tunbs were administrated of the Emirate of Sharjah. In 1971 before the UAE’s formation and the British protectorate end, Iran together with Sharjah got partial control of Abu Musa according to an agreement of common administration. On November 1971 the Islands were completely seized by Iran” (Mirfendereski, 1996).

“By the end of November 1971, the conflict over the island reached a pitch. On November 29, Iran and Sharjah announced an agreement calling for Sharjah to maintain sovereignty over Abu Musa and Iran to station military forces on the island. Oil revenues from the oil fields surrounding the island would be shared. On November 30, Iran sent military forces to Abu Musa, in accordance with its agreement with Sharjah, but then took control of the two nearby Tunb islands. Iran's seizure of these three islands caused a reaction in the Arab world. Iraq built up it port and naval facilities at Umm Qasr, and the UAE was formed as a federation of five trucial sheikdoms” (Abu Musa, 2012). “After the Shaykhdom joined the new United Arab Emirates (UAE), the dispute with Iran remained dormant for twenty years. The UAE raised the issue of Iran's occupation in 1992, in conjunction with the dispute over Abu Musa. Since then, the Tunbs have been a source of contention between Iran and the UAE” (Mirfendereski, 1996).

Abu Musa is still being claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Bahma writes that sovereignty of Iran over these Islands has been recorded in many books, historical documents, almanacs, maritime journals, geographical maps (that show these three concerned islands in the color of the Iranian mainland), official documents, administrative reports, officials notes of the British authorities in India and so on (Bahma, 2012).

The UAE dedicated to this problem internet page proclaiming that the residents of these Islands are Arabs, whose mother tongue is Arabic. They have inseparable family and commercial ties with the ArabCoast of the Gulf. They also belong to prominent Arab tribes of Al-Sudan, Al-Boumheir, Bani Hammad, Al-Shawames, Bani Tamim. The historical record confirms that these Islands belonged to the Qawasim of Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah since at least 18th century. This was the situation when the British came to the region and concluded several agreements with the Rulers of the Emirates, including the first agreement of 1820 (UAEIslands occupied by Iran, 2012).

According to the UAE Islands occupied by Iran, the UAE’s sovereignty over three Islands indicates next items: the three Islands hoist the flags of Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah. The laws, Regulations and customs of the two Emirates are followed on the Island and residents of the Island are citizens of the two Emirates; since the turn of the century, Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah have granted licenses for exploration and oil drilling in their Islands and their territorial waters. For example, the Ruler of Sharjah granted several companies licenses which authorized them to exploit iron oxide in Abu Musa in 1898, 1933 and 1935, the last having a 21-year term. Likewise, the Ruler of Sharjah granted oil concession in Abu Musa to Petroleum Co. Inc. in 1937 and to Buttes Co. in 1970; Iran has made intermittent claims on the Islands, but these claims were not supported by any legal evidence. They were contradicted by subsequent conduct of the Iranian Government, which offered, through the British Government, to purchase the two Islands from Ras al-Khaimah in 1929. However, the Ruler of Ras al-Khaimah rejected the offer and the British Government notified Iran of the rejection; on more than one occasion, through official documents and correspondence dating back to the 19th Century, the British Government stated that it recognizes the right of Sarah and Ras al-Khaimah, awaits to recognize the right of Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah to exercise sovereignty over the Islands. The British also opposed the Iranian claims and warned Iran in September 1934 not to challenge the status of the Islands and threatened to resist any Iranian intervention on the Islands (UAE, 2012).

Thus, Islamic Republic News Agency indicates that a map from 1891 shows Abu Musa being a part of Iran then. The second point is that the 1971’s Memorandum of Understanding was an introduction to the return of IranianIslands of Abu Musa, the Greater and the Lesser Tonbs to the mainland, formerly occupied by the UK colonizers (Islamic Republic News Agency, 2012). But who is right?

Island’s citizens

It has been mentioned at the beginning of the research that among the three Islands only Abu Musa is constantly inhabited. In 2012 the island had about 2,131 inhabitants. The city of Abu Musa counted 1,953 inhabitants according to Islamic Republic News Agency. So, it is a small country. Both Iran and nowadays the UAE have been claiming for the three Islands and especially for Abu Musa for many years. “The dispute became a relatively dormant issue following the establishment of diplomatic relations between Iran and the UAE in October 1972” (UAE, 2012). “In 1980, however, the UAE submitted its claim on the island to the United Nations and joined with five other nationsGulf states to form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Throughout the rest of the 1980s, the dispute over the island was overshadowed by the Iran-Iraq war, until March 1992, when Iran expelled the foreigners from Abu Musa. The foreigners ran the UAE-sponsored school, medical clinic and power-generating station” (Abu Musa by America education). “In 1992 Iranian authorities forced Emiratis sailing to the islands to apply for Iranian visas. In 1996, Iran built an airport on Abu Musa and a power station on Greater Tunb. In August 2008, the official Iranian media reported the construction of a marine rescue centre and a registration office for ships and sailors on Abu Musa. Hundreds of Emirati families on Abu Musa have been cut off from basic health and education services available to the rest of the Emirates' citizens” (Habboush,2010). Because of the disagreement between countries citizens of Abu Musa live in the constant fear. “There are few who know the daily suffering of our citizens in Abu Musa", Sheikh Abdullah said (Habboush, 2010). After a courageous resistance by members of the Ras al-Khaimah Police Force in defiance of the sovereignty of the Emirates over the Islands which resulted in casualties on both sides of dead and wounded. “The inhabitants of the Islands were expelled, thus leaving behind their properties and possessions”, writes the UAE’s internet page.

The question of the Island inhabitants’ language did not help much to solve the possession discussion. One side claims that “the residents of these [AbuMusaIsland and The Greater and Lesser Tunbs] Islands are Arabs whose mother tongue is Arabic. They have inseparable family and commercial ties with the ArabCoast of the Gulf. They also belong to prominent Arab tribes of Al-Sudan, Al-Boumheir, Bani Hammad, Al-Shawames, Bani Tamim” (UAEIslands occupied by Iran, 2012). Another protest deals with toponymy researches. “Abu Musa's inhabitants call it 'Gap-sabzu' (Persian‎), which in Persian means 'the great green place.' On old maps the island is called: 'Boum-Ouw' (Persian‎) or 'Boum-Ouf' (Persian) which in Persian means 'WaterLand'”. But in the recent century it is also called Bum Musa, Persian for 'the land of Musa/Moses' instead of 'Boum-Sou' (Islamic Republic News Agency, 2012). “Most of the island’s infrastructure like roads and schools, including a university, have been built by Iran, and Abu Musa’s governor is Iranian” (The New York Times, 2012).

But the matter of the cruel dispute is the 2,131 inhabitants’ language question and not the oil reserves and powerful economical location? “For three years, Mrs. Allahdad and her family lived on the Iranian island of Kish, where her husband was working. Mrs. Allahdad confided that in all that time she had never made an effort to visit Abu Musa, even though it was quite near. There was no point, she said; because she had been told it was a barren place where there was nothing to do” (The New York Times, 2012).

International Support

Not only Iran and the UAE are interested in the dispute, but many countries all over the world, too, because the result of the discussion may separate the access to the Persian Gulf and to the flow of oil. “The Emirates are not acting independently in this matter”, said the analyst, Sadollah Zarei, 55, a columnist for the hard-line state Kayhan newspaper. “Bigger powers are behind this”  (The New York Times, 2012).

“By the end of November 1971, the conflict over the island reached a pitch. On November 29, Iran and Sharjah announced an agreement calling for Sharjah to maintain sovereignty over Abu Musa and Iran to station military forces on the island. Oil revenues from the oil fields surrounding the island would be shared. On November 30, Iran sent military forces to Abu Musa, in accordance with its agreement with Sharjah, but then took control of the two nearby Tunb islands. Iran's seizure of these three islands caused a reaction in the Arab world. Iraq built up it port and naval facilities at Umm Qasr, and the UAE was formed as a federation of five trucial sheikdoms. However, the Arab states did not take any military action, and the US did not insist on an immediate withdrawal. American non-interference can be attributed to Iran's strategic importance to the US at that time” (Abu Musa, 2012).

“In 1980, the Emirates took their claim to the United Nations Security Council, which rejected it” (The New York Times, 2012). The Bahma’s article says that the government of Iran succeeded to get two resolutions from the United Nations to officially recognize that the body of water in the south of Iran was “Persian Gulf” (UNAD 311/Qen dated March 5, 1971, and UNLA 45.8.2 (C) dated August 10, 1984,). No Arab country has accepted to use the correct name of the Persian Gulf. At the same time, the conditions of Iranian government at the moment are very much different from those years and regime of the Islamic Republic is so isolated and disrespected in the international forums that no one can expect to get a vote in favor of Iran, despite all existing documents and evidences (Bahman, 2012).

“In 1942 the British mooted the idea of the Arab League, who wanted to rally Arab countries against the Axis powers. However, the league did not take off until March 1945, just before the end of World War II” (BBC, 2012).

“The League of Arab States, or Arab League, is a voluntary association of countries whose peoples are mainly Arabic speaking or where Arabic is an official language. It has 22 members including Palestine, which the League regards as an independent state. Its stated aims are to strengthen ties among member states, coordinate their policies and direct them towards a common good” (BBC, 2012).

Some Iranians claim that the League was set up just to help Iraq to occupy the ThreeIslands. But according to the BBC report, decisions made by the Arab League are binding only on members who voted for them and these divisions have in effect crippled the league in the sphere of "high politics" (BBC,2012). Moreover, “the Arab League has been a little more effective at lower levels, such as shaping school curricula, preserving manuscripts and translating modern technical terminology. It has helped to create a regional telecommunications union” (BBC, 2012).    

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