In recent weeks, a slew of protests against the Iranian regime broke out with people filling the streets in different cities across the country en masse. Raising their voices loudly without fear, those protesting drew attention to important issues such as widespread poverty and unemployment, administrative and economic corruption, the abuse of power among heads of state and government, as well as demanding the freedom of civil and political activists from prisons. Protesters chanted slogans calling for death to the Islamic regime and the death to the dictator.
Iranian sources have reported that 5 of the demonstrators arrested by the Iranian regime during these recent protests wound up dying under torture. The Iranian MP Mahmoud Sadeqi said that, according to official statistics, the number of those detained during the recent protests amounted to about 3700 total. The regime has always used massive arrest campaigns in the Ahwazi Arab region as a remedy to crush dissent. More than 280 people from this region were arrested during recent protests.
In this article, I aim to examine the motives for participation in these protests that Ahwazi Arab people have and how those motives relate to Ahwazis’ national aspirations.
Since Ahwazi people suffer systematic oppression and injustice across the social and political spectrum at the hands of Iran’s regime, they saw the recent protest as the best chance to voice their anger and condemnation of the regime’s policies which have legitimized and encouraged all types of crimes against Ahwazis and other minorities, so Ahwazi Arab peoples participated extensively in the protests in most cities and towns. Ahwazi Arab people, like other oppressed ethnic minorities in Iran, have been protesting and fighting for their basic human rights for a long time, having long ago lost hope in the possibility that the regime would ever recognize their rights. By protesting, they hope to see the current regime toppled and replaced with a democratic and decentralized government that recognizes their and all minorities’ rights, as well as to eliminate the current racism and discrimination of all kinds, which magnify and intensify the persecution.
Ahwazis have been protesting and engaged in a constant struggle to attain their rights for decades, including a massive uprising across the region in 2005, but all these protests have been brutally crushed and received no media coverage due to the regime’s media blackout. In 2005, people across Ahwaz took to the streets for protests, sparked by the leak of a document from a senior regime official concerning plans for ethnically cleansing more Ahwazis and implementing a more extensive policy of demographic transfer to ‘Persianize’ the region. The regime responded to the protests, typically, by sending in large numbers of troops and security personnel and indiscriminately shooting some protesters – all of whom were unarmed – with a large number killed or wounded. Thousands of other protesters were arrested and imprisoned, subjected to the regime’s usual kangaroo trials on fabricated charges such as ‘Moharebeh’ or “enmity to God”, then executed or sentenced to decades of imprisonment; these Kafkaesque ‘trials’ often last only a few minutes, with the accused provided with no defence lawyers and the statements given in ‘evidence’ obtained under torture. Many other protesters are still “missing”.
The regime hopes that by brutally crushing any sign of dissent while imposing a media blackout or providing only its own false interpretation of events, it will force the people to abandon hope and accept its totalitarian rule. This strategy has not worked to date, with the people still determined to attain their freedom and human rights, no matter how long it takes. The Ahwazi people’s demands have been clear since the 1979 revolution; they, want to attain their national and human rights such as having education in their mother tongue, having a share in the wealth of their resource-rich region which is sunk in medieval poverty despite having over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, and to have a system of self-rule, such as regional autonomy; as with all the ethnic minorities in Iran, Ahwazis strongly believe that in order to truly end the long history of brutally unjust, discriminatory and straightforwardly racist policies of successive Iranian regimes, it’s essential to implement some form of self-rule or federalism for minority areas in a secure overall framework that would protect the people’s rights and secure their civil liberties.
Since the formation of the modern Iranian nation-state in 1936, successive regimes have sought to eradicate the racial and cultural identity of the Ahwazi people and other minorities, to forcibly impose a homogeneous Iranian identity by denying minorities their own languages, cultures, and history and punishing those who refuse to abandon their heritage. That long and still ongoing history of vicious systemic persecution and racism that’s lasted almost a century to date, along with the broken promises of reform and change from successive regimes, means that the people won’t trust empty slogans from any incoming government without real decentralization which is crucial for the realization of minority rights; without that decentralization the people are sure that there will be no real change, simply another unjust oppressive regime in Tehran replacing the current one.
The current protests are different from those in the past because they’re all across the country, not just in Ahwaz or just in Tehran or just in any other region or city, but everywhere; also the protesters are mostly working class and there are no parties or groups organizing them (despite the Iranian regime’s usual nonsensical claims).
Ahwazi Arabs have always been in solidarity with all the other minorities – Kurds, Baluchis, and Turkmen being the largest of these – and all the oppressed peoples of Iran; the regime’s brutal oppression is not reserved for one group, but inflicted on all dissidents and anyone demanding freedom and human rights; the ethnic minorities are doubly afflicted due to the racism which permeates every aspect of the regime’s policies towards them. For Ahwazis, this bigotry can be clearly seen in media (all of which are rigorously monitored by the regime) which perpetuate offensive stereotypes and caricatures of Arabs as lesser beings. There’s a constant stream of articles, poems, cartoons, songs, even video games which glorify violence against Arabs and present them as inferior beings and subhumans. This racism long predates the regime’s current tensions with the Gulf Arab nations.
We Ahwazis stand beside all the other peoples in Iran and elsewhere demanding freedom, dignity, human rights, equality, real democracy, and an end to injustice and oppression. We share the same cause of freedom for all the peoples of Iran and for the establishment of a truly democratic state which recognizes all the people’s rights. We see unity as one of the strongest weapons against the regime and against all oppressors who rely on divide-and-rule policies to maintain their power.
The regime has long suppressed struggle of Ahwazis and other ethnic minorities in Iran to obtain freedom and human rights under the pretext of these groups supposedly being troublemaking separatists, both in an effort to delegitimize their struggle for freedom and to aggravate chauvinistic sentiments among the Persian majority; we see this clearly in Iranian media which routinely present any dissent or protest by Ahwazis, Kurds, Baluchis, etc. as an insurgency by dangerous separatist extremists rather than legitimate protest by people demanding their long-withheld freedom and human rights.
The regime relies on inculcating such hostile, chauvinistic and frankly supremacist sentiments amongst the Persian populace in order to justify its oppression of minorities. With Ahwazis, Kurds, Baluchis, Turks, and Turkmen collectively making up over 50 percent of Iran’s population, the regime must either enforce a homogenous Persian identity on these and all minorities (a project which it has singularly failed in due to its brutal methods and racism) or ruthlessly crush any uprising for freedom. By indoctrinating its loyalists and Persian people generally with a supremacist attitude to Arabs and other minorities, the regime attempts to legitimize its own inhumanity, reframing it in terms of “protecting citizens” from destructive and dangerous uncivilized barbarians who wish to destroy the nation, despite the fact that the supposed “barbarians” are nominally equal citizens of the same nation.
If we examine the demands of Ahwazi Arabs since the brutal military annexation of Ahwaz( Known as Arabistan as well) in1925 by Persia state, we can see that they have always demanded their basic rights which are mentioned by all international human rights organizations and which were subsequently enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I believe that if the Iranian opposition groups rethink their current policies and undertake to recognize and protect the full and equal rights of Ahwazi Arabs and other minorities and the ethnic mosaic nature of Iran, it is not too late to work within the framework of the current nation-state, and to build a new, democratic state in which the rights of all ethnicities, colors, and races are protected and all parts of society are represented. All that Ahwazis want is the freedom, fairness, and justice and the right to self-determination supposedly guaranteed to all peoples under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to be treated as full and equal citizens with full and equal representation, whether under a federal system or another which guarantees their long-withheld rights. Without the involvement of all ethnic groups, we will not attain freedom for Ahwazis or any other ethnic groups; our freedoms are inextricably linked. That’s why I call on Iranian opposition groups to dispense with the outmoded assumptions propagated by successive regimes and to work with Ahwazis and with all the minority groups in Iran, not as ‘enemy separatists’ but as fellow freedom seekers pursuing liberty from the murderous regime.
By Rahim Hamid
Note: The views expressed in this article are belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Ahwaz Monitor.