Geopolitics comes to LA billboards

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How often do you see a geopolitical naming dispute half-a-world-away play out on L.A.’s billboards?  Check out the photo of this billboard I took on the corner of Hoover and 20th Street just west of downtown Los Angeles. I’ve also seen the same sign in L.A.’s Atwater Village neighborhood.

What’s the story? For years Iranians and Arabs have been arguing over what to call the politically contentious body of water that separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula. The Iranians prefer calling it the Persian Gulf, which is what it’s commonly called in the United States as well. But Arab states bordering the waters of the Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, favor calling the body of water the Arabian Gulf.

Corner of Hoover and 20th Street (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
Billboard in Atwater Village

The billboard relates to a new dispute over the labeling of the Gulf in the digital realm. Iranians and Iranian expatriates have blasted Google in recent weeks for not providing a place name to the Persian Gulf (aka Arabian Gulf) on Google Maps. If you check out the map, it’s just blank. In response, a Google representative told the BBC the company doesn’t provide a place name for every global geographical figure.

Los Angeles has a large Iranian population, many of whom fled Iran after the 1979 revolution. According to the outdoor advertising company Van Wagner the signs are being paid for by a wealthy Iranian-American who doesn’t wish to be identified. One who wants to keep the “Persian” in Persian Gulf.

In case you were wondering, here’s the gulf on Google Maps and yes, it’s unnamed.