Ahwazis should be rich: instead they’re mired in medieval poverty

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The medieval poverty and deprivation suffered by the Ahwazi Arab people are made more bitterly ironic by the fact that their lands are the location of over two-thirds of the oil and gas reserves claimed by Iran, worth tens of billions of dollars annually.

Despite the wealth of oil and gas extracted from underneath their feet, with the state-run Mehr News Agency noting that over 70 percent of Iran’s oil and gas resources are in the Ahwaz region (also known as Khuzestan province), Ahwazis continue to live in Third World subsistence conditions.  Denied jobs in the oilfields, which are instead given to Persian settlers brought in specifically for this purpose, who are accommodated in specially built and well-equipped, racially homogenous settlements (in which Arabs are forbidden), the indigenous people languish in unimaginable poverty.

The village of Mansoureh 40 kilometres from the city of Falahiyeh is emblematic of the problems Ahwazis face.  Despite the 170 active oil wells dotting the landscape around the village, which should at least compensate for their ugliness and environmentally harmful effect by making locals massively wealthy, Mansoureh’s 4,000 residents still exist in hand-to-mouth conditions of grinding poverty.

Mansoureh was once a dynamic community, one of the largest in the area, in the heart of a lush, internationally renowned wetlands area. The passage of time and increasing desertification, in combination with the advent of the oil industry, mean that the wetlands are long gone and the village nowadays is a heavily polluted hamlet whose unpaved streets are regularly reduced to muddy impassable swamp by the annual rains.

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The river that runs through the centre of the village, also named the Mansoureh, has historically been the heart of the community, providing not just water to drink and bathe in but the means of making a living for residents for centuries.  The intensive oil drilling in the area has led to massive pollution of the river, making the water largely undrinkable.  This problem has been further exacerbated in recent years by the regime’s program of dam-building and diversion of the Jarahi river, of which the Mansoureh is a branch, leading to rapidly dwindling water levels; residents warn that if the authorities don’t take action to dredge the river and end the upstream damming and diversion, it will dry up completely, making life in the village unsustainable and agriculture in the area impossible, forcing people to migrate.

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Ironically, while oil wells stretch to the horizons around the village, residents have no domestic gas supply and only intermittent supplies of electricity; in summer temperatures which regularly rise to over 50 degrees Celsius, the lack of power is another headache for the long-suffering locals.   The residents, reliant on gas canisters for heating and power, need to travel 40 kilometers to Falahiyeh to get these refilled; with hardly any of the village’s 900 households able to afford a car and no public transport network, this is another problem.

With the regime building pipelines from the area around Mansoureh to transport the oil and gas to distant regions, the failure to provide any supply to the village itself seems a further insult to the villagers.

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The horrendous suffering of the Ahwazi people and the systemic injustices inflicted upon them by the Iranian regime have long been ignored by Western journalists, human rights NGOs and activists and international organisations like the United Nations and European Union.

Despite the claims of these individuals and bodies to care about human rights, particularly those of the peoples once colonized by Europeans, they remain silent as Ahwazis are denied the most basic, fundamental human rights, including the rights to assembly and free expression,  although these are nominally at least guaranteed by the Iranian constitution.

The regime’s and its predecessors’ brutal and grotesque apartheid-style oppression of the Ahwazi people and denial of their right to sovereignty and freedom, now continuing for almost a century,  is effectively unofficially green-lighted by the international community,  headed by the UN, despite its gospel of defending human rights,  including the right to self-determination.

Ahwazis, suffering horrendously and subjected to systematic injustice under successive Iranian regimes with the complicit silence of the world, have good reason to be cynical of the sincerity of the international community and its human rights advocates and social justice warriors, who have apparently decided that state-imposed injustice and racism are to be supported in this case.

In short, the international community has a lot of explaining to do.

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