Ahwazi Arab people in Al-Ahwaz

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Christiane Yousif

Christiane Yousif

This Arabic-speaking region, located in the south and southwest of Iran, is ignored by the world and deserves a great international attention. Witnessing mass-demonstrations demanding freedom and the end of the Iranian regime’s multi-functional oppression, the Ahwazis are among the most brutally oppressed peoples in the Middle East.

The Arabs of Iran are an ethnic group, living mainly in the provinces of Khuzistan (territory containing the most important oil and gas resources of Iran), Hormozgan, Bushehr, Fars and Khorasan. Their population would have 10 million inhabitants out of 80 million Iranians, with people united by race, culture and language. Their Arabic dialect closely resembles that of neighboring Iraq. The majority of Ahwazi people are Shiite and Sunni Muslims, although there are other sects and beliefs, including Christians and Mandeans.

The region occupies fertile lands full of water, counting the longest river in Iran, the Karun, which play an essential role in the life of its people, only 60% of the inhabitants have access to drinking water. Most of the Ahwazis depend economically on waterways for their income from fishing and agriculture, with water used to irrigate the rich arable land. Despite abundant natural resources, minerals, oil (discovered in 1908) and natural gas (about 80% of Iran’s oil and gas resources), the Ahwazis live under the yoke of oppression and degrading poverty. According to statistics, this region contains some 183 billion barrels of oil, accounting for more than 85% of Iranian oil deposits. Moreover, according to statistics, Al-Ahwaz contains the second largest natural gas field in the world, after Russia.

Historically, the Semitic tribes Elami would have settled on the shores and valleys of Al-Ahwaz, establishing a great civilization, especially the ancient city of Susa, now known as Shush. Although “Arabistan” was the immediate objective of Persian and Ottoman expansionism, the Ahwazis managed to maintain their independence. Since 1847, the discovery of British oil in “Arabistan” has led to an increase in shipments to the Shatt al-Arab. Al-Ahwaz had its territorial integrity in history until 1925.

In 1925, the Pahlavi dynasty came to power in Persia, now called Iran, since 1935. Reza Khan, the ruler of Persia, led by General Zahidi, in alliance with Great Britain, invaded the Emirate of Iran, Al-Ahwaz, in 1925, overthrowing the last independent Arab ruler of the region, Sheikh Khazal Al Kaabi, who was then imprisoned in Tehran for ten years, before being assassinated in 1936. Following this military invasion, independence and sovereignty of the Ahwazi Arabs were formally refused when this Arabic-speaking region was annexed to become a part of the new nation of Iran. The Pahlavi dynasty was founded on a strongly nationalist ideology, with all Tehran territories represented as homogeneous parts of a Persian set, identifying the geopolitical importance and resource wealth of Al-Ahwaz, as potential major assets. Its Arab inhabitants have been subjected to ethnic discrimination, cleansing, state violence and marginalization.

Since this annexation, this systematic eradication of the Arab character of the Al-Ahwaz region and its peoples has spread in all areas of life, showing a fully planned strategy to bury and erase Arab culture and Ahwazi identity. The current Iranian theocratic regime has imposed an authoritarian regime on the Al-Ahwaz region by the most severe measures in order to isolate the Ahwazi people from their origins and their historical association with the Arab nations. Subsequently, to date, Iran has implemented a Farsi education program, teaching of the Arabic language is prohibited and all studies in Arabic have been made illegal. This led to widespread illiteracy among the Ahwazis and widespread unemployment problems, exceeding 40%. The Arabs are systematically discriminated against in terms of employment. The Iranian regime goes so far as to confiscate the lands of the Ahwazis and increase the proportion of non-Arab settlers in the region, in order to change the demographic population and the original Arabic names of cities, rivers and other geographical features by names in Farsi, in an attempt to deny the Arab identity of the region. These “apartheid” policies of successive Iranian regimes prohibit the Ahwazis from wearing an Arab dress, with the ultimate goal of eradicating all Arab identity. The poverty rate is extremely high-about 70% in large cities- and the rate of child malnutrition is about 50%. 29 years have passed since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, however, the stigma of the war is still visible on the walls of the houses of the Ahwazis.

Although these policies continue to this day, the Ahwazi Arabs have always fought for their rights, including the rights of self-determination of the nation. They used all means of peaceful protest to achieve their goals. In April-May 1980, the attack on the Iranian embassy in London by a group of six armed men belonging to the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA) marked the independence movements of the Arab minorities of Iran. Since 2000, the Ahwazis have been able to organize themselves, which has led to numerous demonstrations and a peaceful political protest without stopping. They have also reached their voices to the number of international organizations monitoring human rights issues around the world. All of them unanimously condemned Iran for violating human rights in Al-Ahwaz. In various incidents, the Iranian armed forces open fire to the crowd, including children, women and the elderly.

Unfortunately, their struggle has often been ignored or has not been acknowledged as a political struggle against Iran. It has not been supported by the regional Arab states because they are mainly Arab Shiite Muslims. Also, Iraq has always wanted to consider “Arabistan” as part of its soil and prevent any other Arab state from interfering and claiming.

This policy based on ethnic and linguistic repression has accelerated in recent years, with the obvious aim of eradicating the Arab identity and culture of Al-Ahwaz. Any popular political movement or uprising led by dissident Ahwazis is abruptly annulled by the regime’s authorities, with massive violence against demonstrators, mass arrests and executions. Prisoners detained are usually held incommunicado for months, during which they are subjected to torture and interrogation.

The Ahwazis wish to live in peace and prosperity, to conform to the laws and norms of the international community and to contribute to humanity.

The only part of oil and gas production transmitted to the Ahwazis is air and water pollution and an increase in dangerous diseases, resulting from toxic waste and toxic gases from petroleum and petrochemical installations, of massive quantities of hazardous industrial substances in the surrounding environment. The capital of the region, also called Ahwaz, is one of the most polluted cities in the world, with an increase in cancer diseases, linked to air and water pollution.

The Ahwazis have repeatedly sought to use all peaceful political means to attain, even the most basic human rights, which are supposed to be guaranteed by the Iranian regime’s present Constitution, particularly in articles 15 and 19, which emphasize the right to education in the mother tongue of all ethnic groups in Iran, including Arabs, Turks, Kurds and Baluchis.

 

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