Critical issues faced by Ahwaz (Arabistan) since its annexation to Iran in 1925 are often ignored or forgotten by both international and Arab communities.
This is especially tragic, as Ahwaz occupies an exceptionally strategic location and provides access to a vast array of economically bountiful resources. Ahwaz region is located close to Iraq on the east part of Arabian Gulf overlooking the Shatt al-Arab waterways. Ahwaz is oil-rich and provides more than 95 percent of Iran’s oil revenues, which are the vital artery of the Iranian state.One would think that the location and access to resources would encourage Iranian regime’s stakeholders to value Ahwaz and protect its Arab people. However, conditions which have prevailed since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 until the collapse of the former Soviet Union, have been used by successive Iranian governments to implement chauvinistic policies and cruel practices aimed at extracting the Arab identity from the Ahwazi people and abolishing its national and cultural characteristics.
Since Iran has occupied Ahwaz against the will of its people, Ahwaz has passed through many stages of struggle. The most important and dangerous stage of struggle will be that in which the Ahwazi people fight to achieve autonomy – thereby declaring to the world that they will adhere to their Arab identity, determine their own course of existence, and achieve their demands for justice and legitimate rights.During this time, Great Britain used its influence over The Emirate of Arabistan (Ahwaz), under the leadership of Sheikh Khazaal in its war against the Ottoman Empire. However, after the resolution of the war in their favor, Great Britain gave up its support for the Arabistan emirate and actually helped the Iranian Shah take over it. After the occupation of Arabistan many revolts rose up against the Iranian regime occupying Ahwaz. Despite the lack of support, resistance has continued. The Ahwazi Arab people have since built their own parties and media outlets to represent their cause effectively.
The Iranian regime has adopted policies aimed at worsening unemployment and poverty throughout the region. The region of Ahwaz is awash with a plethora of natural resources which make up about 90 % of the Iranian economy. In light of this, the Iranian state has consistently enforced policies aimed at depriving native Ahwazis of their own bountiful resources such as oil, water, agriculture, and so forth. In the early years of the occupation, the Iranian government plundered Ahwazi resources with ferocity. Their object was to use these gains to establish Persian provinces with powerful industrial bases and infrastructures.
In Iran, Ahwazi Arabs have become second or third-class citizens. Injustice and discrimination are prevalent. Ahwazi Arabs often suffer from mass displacement after the Iranian regime confiscates their land to build Persian-only settlements. The Khomeini revolution of 1979 failed miserably to find a compromise in regards to the Ahwaz issue. Contrary to the revolution’s promises, Khomeini lost historic opportunities to build confidence between their regime and the Ahwazi people by insisting on dealing with them in oppressive measures ranging from mass execution campaigns to banishment and intimidating ways. This even has culminated in the decision of the Iranian regime to implement the so-called ‘sugar cane project’, which was used as a cover for the vast pillaging of Arab lands and a plot to expand Persian settlements into the Arab Ahwaz region in order to change the demographic composition in favor of the none –Arab settlers .
Reports released by institutions operated by the regime said that most Arabs are now living in destitution. Ahwazis confront daily the atrocious living conditions inflicted upon them due to deliberate negligence by Iranian authorities. War-era devastation can still be seen prominently throughout the entire region. The regime has dramatically turned the region of Ahwaz into an enormous open-air museum for the Persian onlookers yearning to recall memories of the war and indulge in venomous hatred against Arabs. Iranian authorities stripped native Arabs of their agricultural lands in Ahwaz during the deadly eight-year war occurred between Iran and Iran on Ahwazi land. The displaced war-stricken Arabs have been barred from returning home to this day. Confiscating Ahwazi land from native people only serves to strengthen Iranian policies aimed at securing the systematic dislocation of Arabs.
Despite the fact that youths of the Ahwazi region often hold university degrees, unemployment is rampant; the unemployment rate has shot up from 35% to 80%. Such a widespread problem has impacted the social fabric of the Arab enclave.Ali Hashemi, Head of Expediency Discernment System’s Anti-Drug Association, declared that rates of unemployment and addiction are unprecedentedly surging in the Ahwaz areas. As he spoke to the Iranian Abrar newspaper, he said unemployment rates have hit 80 percent. According to Hashemi, statistics demonstrate that 45% of Ahwazi youth are currently addicted to drugs. He stated that youth often resort to drug use due to the immense social and economic pressures they must endure in the region. There are two million single, unemployed into, and the stress from their situations drive them to escape into drug addiction, he said.Hashemi warned the Iranian regime of the dire consequences rampant employment and addiction in Ahwaz will incur.
Mohsen Haidari, an Ahwazi representative in the “Guardian Council of the Constitution”, said that Rouhani’s government is responsible for the deliberate negligence in Ahwaz. He said the local Arab inhabitants of the region are suffering from unemployment although the area is fruitful with resources. He stated that Iranian authorities are making every effort to hinder employing Arabs in the region in lieu of hiring Persians and other non-Arab ethnicities. Haidari pointed out that the Rouhani government is directly responsible for deprivation due to unemployment in the region due to their deliberate negligence of and racist attitudes towards native Arabs.
According to Ahwaz observers, poverty in Ahwazi areas is increasing due to several factors, including the regime’s systematic confiscation of Ahwazi farming lands, their diversion of rivers’ courses away from the region, the unjust distribution of wealth, and the dismissal of a large number of Arab Ahwazi workers from their jobs in factories/companies since Khomeini came to power in Iran. All these policies have helped to spread poverty, unemployment, and addiction in Ahwaz.The phenomenon of suicide among young Ahwazi Arabs is increasing at an unprecedented rate. As frustration and hopelessness in the region due to deteriorating living conditions rises, so does the suicide rate.Many Ahwazi Arab families are in mass financial crisis due to the difficulty faced by Arab men in securing employment to provide for their families. Many are therefore in deep debt for extended periods of time.
Desperation resulting from these factors is the main motivator moving Ahwazi men towards ending their lives. All Human Rights observers agree that this steady increase in suicide is directly related to the intensifying oppression, poverty, discrimination, and unemployment in the region. This past year, large numbers of Ahwazis have resorted to illegal migration to Europe in the hopes of a better life. But too many of those who could not leave decided to take their lives instead. Statistics reveal that up to 90% of health centers of Ahwazi areas lack qualified doctors. Diseases due to air and water pollution have become chronic in impoverished areas. All these villages lack adequate health centers and trained medical staff. Often these centers are administered by nurses only. There are no ambulances or oxygen for emergencies and medication is always in short supply. If there is a patient in an emergency situation, they often die because ambulances take more than an hour to arrive at the residence.
Those who sustain fatal injuries in accidents often bleed to death before reaching a hospital for treatment. The heavy price of medication adds insult to injury for the impoverished Ahwazi Arab people, especially farmers, who often don’t have sufficient income, if any, to afford treatment.Diseases in Ahwaz caused by the polluted waters of Karoon River are becoming more common. People are heavily dependent on the water of this river for washing. Using this water to wash hands or clothes has resulted in new varieties of skin conditions – some of which are quite dangerous due to chemical substances leaked into the river from sewers, hospitals, and factories.
The regime’s inability to fulfill the people’s basic needs or to calm public anger means that it is resorting more and more to increasingly harsh brute force in an effort to terrorize the people into silence, creating a cycle of violence and resentment. Again, the minorities are worst affected by this brutality, with anger rising as more and more Ahwazis, Kurds, Turks, and Baluchis become wholly disillusioned with the theocratic state, which offers no hope of improvement but only continuing racism, poverty, injustice, and oppression.
Before Ahwaz can gain self-determination, it’s in Ahwaz’s best interest to gain recognition for their cause from the international community. In order to keep the situation in Ahwaz from deteriorating further, it’s best for Ahwaz to garner support from international powers. Strong international alliances will prevent the Ahwazi struggle from being confined to a quickly squashed riot or temporary problem easily used to the advantage of more powerful political players – as happened during World War I.
For years, Iran has adopted a policy to eradicate Ahwaz’s Arab identity in the hopes of taking complete control of the area’s strategic location and economic advantages. Iran has done so mostly without much notice from the International and Arab communities’ protestations, as they have been to this day prioritizing the importance of other matters – such as preventing the infiltration of Russia into the Middle East in the 1920s, the prevalence of Arab peoples’ widespread struggles for independence, the lengthy issues faced by Palestine, and a variety of Arab-Arab struggles. International and Arab communities have also been permissive in Iran’s practices towards Ahwaz as many of them allied with the Shah regime as a result of the lengthy Cold War.
Arab countries, which are supposed to take just stances on Arab issues, have not so far addressed problems faced by occupied Ahwaz according to their revolutionary slogans or ambitious national projects. Instead, Arab countries have merely dealt with Ahwaz according to their interim goals and narrow self-interests. Therefore, despite the tragic situation that the Ahwazi people have suffered over the last nine decades, the Ahwazi issue has been subjected a long term and widespread injustice which has received no real attention or support from International or Arab countries.
By: Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights advocate
Note: The views expressed in this article are belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Ahwaz Monitor.