For 92 years to date, successive regimes have denied the Ahwazi Arab peoples the most basic rights, imposing policies that can only be described as apartheid in nature. Dehumanised and vilified by Iran for their Arab identity and subjected to relentless oppression and systematic injustice, Ahwazis’ long struggle for freedom and rights has been ignored by the world.
Despite the passage of three decades since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Al- Ahwaz region in southwest Iran is still scarred by the devastation, with millions of Ahwazis’ lives torn apart not only by the bombs, bullets, and trauma of the war itself but by the years of abuse by the Iranian regime in the decades since.
While it’s difficult to convey the devastating human and environmental costs of the war and the subsequent years, the remains of the homes and communities in Al Ahwaz stand as mute testimony to its shattering effects, with the half-destroyed deserted villages and ghost towns around the border still standing as they did when their residents were driven out during that terrible period.
For example, the city of Abadan suffers from apparent damage and destruction in its urban infrastructure for years due to the negligence of its irresponsible officials.
The city of “Abadan” overlooking the Shatt al-Arab was one of the most beautiful cities in Al-Ahwaz region, but today inflicted much damage and destruction.
The city has not reconstructed after the end of the war between Iran and Iraq. This city as same as other Ahwazi areas lacks well- equipped hospitals, parks, construction, housing, recreational places and other commercial and industrial institutions while the first oil refinery was established in this city.Abadan was a predominantly Arab-populated city during the reign of the Ahwazi emire, Khazaal Bin Jaber, until 1925 when he was martyred by the invading Iranian regime who sought to change the demography of the area by bringing in Persian settlers to work in the developing oil and gas installations and, by increasing the Persian population, to eradicate the Arab character and the stamp of their identity on the region.
While Ahwaz enjoys massive gas. The gas is sent to the farthest provinces for multiple purposes, but nearly all the Ahwazi village and urban areas such as Abadan city do not have any access to domestic gas and deprived of this blessing. The local people have to carry gas cylinder to Gas Center management to refill the gas bottles that often involve long distances. The life of Ahwazi people has now been under the crippling siege of poverty and racial differentiation.
Even in the inhabited areas of Ahwaz (a.k.a. Khuzestan), the Iranian regime has never allocated any money for the reconstruction of the ravaged region whose infrastructure has slowly collapsed, with most Ahwazis viewing this as a very deliberate, though never officially acknowledged, regime policy to drive the people out in order to eradicate Ahwaz’ Arab heritage and assimilate the population.
Across the region, empty villages are a common sight. Despite Ahwaz region housing over 90 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by the Iranian regime, its people are denied any of the benefits or even the most basic of rights, living in abject poverty in often medieval conditions under a system of overt and systemic anti-Arab discrimination which can only be compared to South African apartheid.
All but the most menial jobs in the oilfields and other state businesses in the region are given to ethnically Persian settlers who are offered financial incentives and excellent wages to move to the region, where they are provided with homes in ethnically homogenous settlements supplied with amenities denied to the Ahwazi peoples. Ahwazis are forbidden from living in these settlements.
The occupation of Ahwaz began long before the theocratic regime came to power, with the then-Iranian Shah’s regime first seizing control of the independent region with British support in 1925; the British provided support to the Shah for this illegitimate occupation in exchange for oil contracts. For Ahwazis, still languishing in desperate poverty and environmental devastation 92 years later while another Iranian regime gets rich on their resources, the major oil contracts signed recently by the ayatollahs’ regime with 29 international oil firms are simply a continuation of a longstanding injustice.
Despite the regime’s claims of solidarity with Palestinians and other Arab peoples, Tehran’s deep anti-Arab prejudice extends to all areas of Ahwazi culture, with Ahwazis forbidden by law from being educated in their Arabic mother tongue, and even from wearing their traditional Arab clothing in public, whether at work, at school or even at sporting events.
This denial and demonization of Ahwazis’ Arab culture and heritage is consistent with successive Iranian regimes’ longstanding racism towards Arab peoples, with these prejudices being encouraged and celebrated in Iranian culture through crude negative stereotypes of Arab peoples in poetry, art, and literature. It’s noteworthy that the dissemination of such racist material across media is administered by the regime’s culture ministry.
These persecutions and ethnic cleansing of the Ahwazi people are part of a long history which began with Iran’s 1925 invasion and annexation of Ahwaz, carried out at the orders of Shah Reza Pahlavi. It’s notable that this was yet another regional land-grab backed by the then-British Empire, which betrayed the Ahwazi people in exchange for favourable trade deals with Tehran offering favourable terms for access to the oil and gas resources on Ahwazis’ lands in what’s now southern and south western Iran.
In a subsequent effort to eradicate Ahwaz’ Arab identity (a policy that continues to the present day), the Shah ordered in 1935 that the area be divided and renamed as the Iranian provinces of Khuzestan, Bushehr, and Hormozgan, with cities, towns and villages also receiving new Persian names.
Despite the international community’s supposed eagerness to encourage development as a means of ensuring peace and prosperity, development in Ahwaz is limited to the ethnically homogenous Persian settlements where Arabs are forbidden to live, and to the oil installations.
With the Ahwazi people very deliberately denied the most basic amenities or any portion of the vast wealth accrued from the oil and gas resources located on their, poverty and unemployment are endemic; over 85 percent of the Arab population is jobless, even as the Tehran regime offers financial and other incentives to Persian citizens to resettle in the region, where ethnically homogenous ‘Persian-only’ settlements are provided with all amenities, even as the local people are denied even the most basic facilities, including running water or electricity. There are hundreds of Ahwazi villages whose people are deprived of drinking water as an example according to an editorial in Naseem Newspaper published on 1/08/2017, the governor of Al-Ahwaz stated that despite having asked for help from the Iranian regime six month ago to address the severe problems faced by Arab residents of the massively polluted Ghizaniya village who lack any clean water source, with their community surrounded by 600 state-run oil wells, he has received no response.
Despite the fact that Ahwaz contains over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, the Ahwazi people are denied any share in the massive profits from their own natural resources and deliberately kept in abject poverty, with their lands routinely confiscated by the regime, which denies those affected any right to raise a legal objection to such open theft or to claim compensation.
The regime’s systematic oppression and apartheid-style abuse of Ahwazis is clear in the most basic of human needs – water. Despite the region being rich in rivers and marshlands from which generations of Ahwazi Arabs made their living for centuries, less than 5 percent of Ahwazi Arabs have access to clean drinking water, although 95 percent of the ethnically homogenous Persian settlements in Al-Ahwaz – where Arabs are forbidden from living – are provided with it.
With the only water available to over 90 percent of the Arab Ahwazi people being heavily polluted and unfit for human consumption, more Ahwazis have died as a result of illnesses contracted as a direct result of drinking this foul water than by execution or even in war. Given the fact that the Persian settlers in Ahwaz and non-Arab citizens elsewhere are provided with clean water, this policy too is very clearly a part of the regime’s strategy to make the Ahwazi people’s lives so intolerable that they will accept being driven from their land.
As a result of these crude and deliberately discriminatory policies, an estimated 95 percent of the Ahwazi Arab population live under the poverty line, with chronic poverty, malnutrition and illness being endemic; hundreds of thousands are unable to meet even the most basic food needs for themselves and their families, while mortality rates among Ahwazis are far higher than those for other regions in Iran.
In the intervening 92 years since Iran’s original annexation, Ahwaz has gone from a nation rich in natural resources, rivers, fertile arable land and bountiful marshlands to an increasingly arid and heavily polluted region with medieval levels of destitution and absolute oppression under successive Iranian regimes.
Prohibited by law even from being educated in their own language, Arabic, the Ahwazi people’s struggle to maintain their Arab culture and heritage is a triumph over systemic injustices and unimaginably harsh conditions which are maintained by Tehran in a very deliberate effort to force them to accept subjugation and abandon their Arab identity.
Since 2005, the Iranian regime has stepped up its already severe human rights violations against Ahwazi peoples, which, according to regional human rights activists documenting them, have doubled in the decade since.
These activists face draconian penalties simply for speaking out against the endemic human rights which Ahwazis are subjected to, often facing life imprisonment or execution.
Since 2005, Iranian authorities have introduced even more repressive political and economic policies in their efforts to quash dissent and silence any movement for rights and freedom, withdrawing the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of movement and free assembly and arresting countless Ahwazi activists and intellectuals on ludicrous charges such as ‘enmity to God’ and often for such ‘crimes’ as converting to Sunnism.
The kangaroo trials for Ahwazi activists held in the regime’s “revolutionary courts” are widely acknowledged as a travesty of justice, with detainees denied representation and sentences effectively decided before the trial. Torture in the regime’s jails is standard, while execution rates continue to rise; Iran is now second only to China for the number of executions per capita annually, with these figures reaching record levels under the leadership of so-called the ‘moderate reformist’ President Rouhani.
Despite regular protests to the international community throughout this period about the racist policies and countless injustices inflicted on the Ahwazi people by successive Iranian regimes, the world has remained silent and indifferent to their suffering, instead offering a tacit endorsement of Iran’s continuing savage occupation and apartheid anti-Arab policies. Indeed, following Obama’s deal with the Islamic Republic, the international community is apparently rushing to embrace the ayatollahs, with many Western institutions and companies keen to do business with Tehran, encouraging and strengthening its brutality towards Ahwazis and other minorities in Iran.