Since the first days of the Iranian colonization and occupation of Ahwaz in 1925, Iran has built ethnically homogenous settlements for incoming Persian settlers on Ahwazis’ land, deliberately displacing the indigenous Arab peoples to do so.
A number of such settlements, which are limited solely to non-Arab residents, currently exist across Ahwaz, in mountainious parts where settlements including Masjed Suleiman ,Izeh ,and Saliheyeh (Andimeshk) are located, to towns around Tamimeyeh(Hendijan), and Omideyeh, to industrial cities such as Abadan and Mohammareh . Other settlements previously existed in southern Ahwaz in Bandar Abbas as well as some cities in Bushehr province.
Iranian authorities have been encouraging the nomadic tribes to immigrate from their Persian provinces located on the other side of and among the Zagros Mountains and resettle in Ahwazi territories, offering them full support and funding to do so as part of a strategy to change the demographic composition of the Arab region and further marginalize the already brutally oppressed Ahwazi peoples.
The regime continues to both expand its existing settlements and to settle new areas especially in Asaluyeh city and Mahshor city, both economic centres, as well as destinations for Iranian jobseekers, as well as in the regional capital, Ahwaz.
Another strategy employed by the regime for encouraging Iranian expansionism and settlement-building is the renovation of archaeological sites and the creation of tourism centres, such as Tustar, Shush and Abadan.
The construction of these settlements and incentives to encourage non-Arabs to move to these areas are massively funded by the regime such as Shirinshahr settlement , with the continuing construction of these settlements, all provided with amenities not available to the indigenous Ahwazi people, being a cause of tension and conflict between the Ahwazi people and the incomers, and a major obstacle to peace and coexistence in the region.
The policy of resettling non-Arab peoples in Ahwaz dates back to the first days of the British-backed Iranian colonisation and occupation of the state in 1925 by Shah Reza Pahlavi, who made colonising the area with non-Arab peoples a key strategy in his drive to eradicate the independence and Arab character of Ahwaz.The first settlement was built in Masjad Suleiman, a strongly symbolic location as the site where oil was first discovered in the region; the promise of favourable access to the massive oil and gas reserves was,of course, the primary incentive for Britain’s support of the Iranian occupation of Ahwaz, which contains over 90 percent of the oil and gas reserves claimed by Iran.
Many more settlements were subsequently built, mostly for oil workers, and later expanded as more civilian residents arrived.
A few decades later, after Iran became an ‘Islamic Republic’ following the 1979 Revolution, the theocratic regime encouraged the settlement of larger areas of Ahwaz as a means of implementing a policy of demographic change, introducing many economic projects in the region to encourage more Persian peoples to relocate there and building new settlements such as Minko (Jarahi City).This policy has continued to date, with Mehdi Taib, an advisor to the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, recently announcing, with no trace of irony, that Iran’s territory is the inalienable heritage of the Persian people and that no part of Ahwaz should be handed over to the foreign and alien rule of the Ahwazi people.
Based on this plainly racist policy, the regime has also been seizing massive tracts of farmland from Ahwazi farmers whose ancestors have farmed it for generations, handing it to incoming settlers who are given large grants to go into farming. This is part of a plan for even larger-scale dispossession and resettlement than previously under the pretext of a ‘National Project’, with the regime seizing millions of hectares of lush agricultural land in Testar, Qonitera (Dezfull), Susa(shush), Falahiyeh and Khalafiyeh, evicting the Ahwazi farmers and other residents from their own ancestral lands and homes, and handing them over to Persian settlers who are provided with generous subsidies and agricultural aid to move there and farm the stolen lands.This is part of an overall apartheid-style ethnic cleansing policy which closely mirrors that of the ‘resistance’ regime’s supposed sworn enemies in Israel, to relocate large numbers of Iranian settlers in Ahwaz and change the demographic balance, while evicting and disposessing the locals who are left destitute.
Since 1925, the successive Iranian regimes’ settlement projects in Ahwaz have been implemented under the aegis of the Agriculture Ministry and another regime body which operates as part of the Energy Ministry based in the regional capital,Ahwaz, with this policy intensifying and becoming more streamlined since the advent of the Khomenei regime in 1979.
Despite the regime’s best efforts, however, its attempts to eradicate Arab identity in Ahwaz have failed, with Tehran now resorting to new strategies in its efforts to eliminate the region’s Arab history, culture and identity.The regime’s intensive resettlement program is a large part of this.
On Wednesday, September 28, 2016, Azizollah Shahbazi governor of Abadan city has disclosed the settlement policy applied by the Iranian regime in his elected city.
According to Mehr news agency, he stated that the number of residents of Abadan city has increased by 20% in recent years, despite the migration of the local Arab citizens.He pointed out, “To bring settlers to Abadan the government has provided many employment opportunities to attract more people to migrate to Abadan; in the so-called Arvand Free Trade Zone.”
Regarding the migration of people of Abadan to the Persian provinces, he added that “despite the fact that a lot of citizens of Abadan have migrated to other areas, especially during the Iran-Iraq war, the population of this city has increased by 20%, and this is because settlers are provided with the most facilities needed for having a stable life there.” He mentioned that at present there are 6,042 housing units built that needed to be supported financially by the government to attract people to settle there.
He called on officials to intensify their work, where he said; “the officials should make more effort to overcome the problems facing this project so as to ensure its success as soon as possible.”
The goal is to attract more settlers to serve them with the appropriate conditions to seize job opportunities by prioritizing them at the expense of the Arab people of Ahwaz. Regardless of existing qualifications brought among the people of Ahwaz, settlers will be given priority in order to get to work and earn a living; while in order for Ahwazi people to make a living they are forced to migrate to the Persian provinces.
The Arvand Free Trade Zone is a 155 sq. km. industrial/ security zone that surrounds Mohammerah, Abadan, and Minoo Island along the Shatt al-Arab waterway (known as Arvand Rud in Iran) in Ahwaz. The regime has established these projects for years through confiscation of Arab farmlands. Now, this zone is controlled by settlers surrounding Ahwazi Arabs who are deprived of being hired in their own homeland.
Speaking in a 2015 TV interview about the regime’s settlement plan in Ahwaz, Akbar Turkan, a senior advisor to the Iranian President, said, “The government should give every Iranian citizen a plot of land in strategic areas like the ‘Salbokh Island in Mohammareh and strategic areas on the Westrn border with Iraq.” This statement was further evidence of the regime’s efforts to ramp up and expand its demographic change policy in the Ahwaz region, which include plans for the construction of many new settlements.The senior regime official was speaking a week after the regime confiscated hundreds more hectares of land in the ‘Salbokh Island’ area, once again evicting their residents with no warning or compensation, leaving them destitute.
Also, on Monday, June 15, 2015, the Iranian regime has announced that it has resettled 10,500 Persian families from the nomadic ‘Lor’ peoples in ‘Persian-only’ settlements in al-Ahwaz region (known as ‘Khuzestan province’), part of its project to change the demographic composition of the region’s population in its efforts to eradicate Arab culture and influence.
The Iranian official news agency IRNA quoted the director of its Tribal Affairs ministry in Khuzestan (the Persian name for al-Ahwaz), Ali Rahim Karimi, as stating that the project to resettle the nomadic tribes people began in 2014 with a fiscal budget estimated at 100 Iranian billion riyals. The first stage of the project has already been implemented with the construction of new settlements in a 2,000-hectare area to the west of the Karkheh River in the region. These settlements are ethnically homogenous, with Ahwazi people denied the right to live there due to their Arab ethnicity.
Karimi further explained that the second phase of the resettlement project is currently underway in a 200,000-hectare area in the Shoaybiyeh-ye Rural District of Toster (Shushter) city, north of the city of al-Ahwaz, with the government in Tehran allocating a budget of 90 billion riyals to this phase.
The apparent long-term objective of this policy is to displace the Arab people of Ahwaz en masse from the region, evicting them from their cities, towns and villages, and forcing them either to flee to other regional countries or to live as third-class citizens under Iranian subjugation.
As part of this policy, the regime has adopted a strategy of very deliberate destruction of Ahwaz’ infrastructure and massive pollution of its environment, simply to make the region uninhabitable for its native people. This is part of an overall strategy to eradicate Arab peoples, their identity, history and culture from the region and to ‘Persian-ize’ the region completely. Thus the regime very deliberately systematically pollutes the region’s drinking water and diverts rivers used to irrigate farmlands, seizing millions of hectares of agricultural lands and emptying whole villages under the pretext of ‘national projects’. Thus the Ahwazi people are denied the most basic human requirements such as water, electricity, schools, healthcare, and communications networks.A typical example of this is the horrendously deprived village of Al Khaddarat, 40 kilometres from the city of Dārkhoweyn, although this is fast becoming the norm rather than the exception, as part of a systematic effort by the regime.By either straightforwardly evicting people from their lands or deliberately denying the people the bare essentials in the hope of their being forced to leave, the regime plans to drive Ahwazis from their lands.
Meanwhile, the regime offers attractive financial and other incentives to Iranians, identified as “economic settlers”, to resettle Ahwazis’ land, with benefits including well-paid jobs, advantageous mortgage deals on homes in settlements provided with every modern amenity (which are denied to Ahwazi peoples), subsidies, grants and tax breaks.
It is undeniable that Iran’s establishment of settlements in Ahwaz is linked to the mass displacement and ethnic cleansing of the Ahwazi people as part of a policy of demographic change. Indeed, regime officials’ own statements clearly refer to Iranian resettlement and displacement of the local population. These statements show that settlement of Iranians in Ahwazis’ land is causing irreversible demographic changes. Where there are fears of changing demographics in Persian settlers ‘favor, which would harm the future of the Al- Ahwaz in the case of the right to self-determination.
Without any condemnation of this massive ethnic cleansing, which breaches all international laws, by international human rights organisations and the international community, Iran’s apartheid policy will continue unabated.
By Mostafa Hussein Hetteh
Note: The views expressed in this article are belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Ahwaz Monitor.