Three years have passed since Hamidiyeh, a densely populated district, subordinated to Ahwaz city, was officially recognized as a city. However, since it was declared a city, no substantial resources were allocated to the city nor any semblance of municipal facilities.
Despite the fact that the city of Hamidiyeh lies only 25Km North-West to Ahwaz’s capital, it still lacks an adequate standard of living, and basic urban services. Although promises were given by Iranian authorities to improve the urban infrastructure of the city, it seems this was merely lip service.
It was expected that after its recognition as a city, the people of Hamidiyeh would administratively become independent from Ahwaz’s capital. However, its Arab residents still have to travel to the city of Ahwaz to fulfil their daily needs including shopping, hospital treatment, banks and other administrative needs. The local people say that because they have no choice but to go to Ahwaz for their daily needs, they must commute between Ahwaz and Hamidiyeh every day. Long time has passes and still, authorities have not kept any of their promises, which now seem more like slogans, to establish agencies, medical centers, schools and other issues that are vital to any city. Hamidiyeh is a short distance from Ahwaz, and for decades its Arab people have been subjected to systematic violations of human rights.
Although Hamidiyeh was and still is a deprived city, it has produced many renowned people, among them poets, parliamentary representatives, political and cultural figures, turning the city into a cultural centre. The city was and still is resistant to Persianization and hosts many local events which are seen as national Ahwazi events, and are attended by poets, writers, and intellectuals. That is why the city is not a favourite of the regime, which views its educated class as a threat and tries to impose deprivation, poverty and unemployment to force them to leave.
Those who remain and who resist also have to face many difficulties, especially those activists who defy the regime and speak out about its discriminatory policies, who will face arrest, execution or life imprisonment as many have faced this fate in recent years.
The highest degrees of deprivation was inflicted on these people in every aspect of their lives. Scarcity of job opportunities and economic pressures have caused the majority of the population to live in extreme poverty. There are now around over 1000 children from poor families who are undernourished and are suffering from pallor and weariness because of severe anemia. The high rate of unemployment has also forced many young people to emigrate from the city to other places seeking out jobs just to fulfill their basic needs. This rate of unemployment among the residents of Hamidiyeh exists despite the fact that the area has numerous oil and gas companies. But, the local Arab people are denied of getting jobs in this industry. Instead, the only Persian people who are sent to the region by the central government are employed.
Destitution and impoverishment have led to a massive exodus of people to other cities, particularly the young generation of the city of Hamidiyeh. Mohammad Taghi Zadeh, Ahwaz’s Director General of Education in an interview with Hamshahri newspaper stated “Ahwazi regions have almost 650 thousand illiterates. Of these, 200 thousand are parents of students. Figures show that Hamidiyeh has the highest number of illiterates compared to other areas”. He added that the parents should enroll to the “Literacy Plan” that is conducted by ministry of education. Taghi Zadeh did not mention, however, how it would be possible for the students’ parents to seek education when unemployment is so rampant all over Al-Ahwaz. As a result, parents have to think about finding a job and providing for their family’s life necessities rather than go study!! Currently, figures show that among the students of illiterate parents, Hamidiyeh city is ranked at the highest number with 4,841. Showour city is ranked second in Al-Ahwaz with 4,291 illiterates and Falahiyeh city is third with 2,362 illiterates.
The fact is that the education sector in Ahwaz is neglected intentionally by the Iranian officials. The illiteracy figures, as mentioned above, show that the education sector does not receive any investment. This has several negative impacts upon the future of the Ahwazi people. Most of the Ahwazi Arab children living in disadvantaged areas are failing to gain primary education because of lack of schooling, overcrowding in the classes and lack of proper educational facilities as well as difficulties in understanding Persian language, and unqualified teachers.
Many cities and villages in Ahwaz are faced with demographic changes, many lands were confiscated from their Arab owners and handed over to Persian settlements. All this is done in order to make turn the Arabs into a minority in their own lands. Arabs are also having difficulties accessing job opportunities. Over 20% of Arabs are unemployed and in some cities like Mohammareh the unemployment rate has reached 40%. In fact, all these inequalities and discrimination carried out by the Iranian authorities against the Ahwazi people are a continuation of a political policy that has existed since the occupation of Ahwaz in 1925. The regime has left no option of living with the people languishing under the worst occupation known in history.
Fears are also growing among the Ahwazi Arab majority population in the Ahwaz region that the Iranian regime is planning to demolish the historic 19th century palace of Sheikh Abdul Hamid Bin Khazaal in the city of Hamidiyeh north of Ahwaz city, a landmark in the Ahwazi people’s cultural heritage.
The palace was built by Sheikh Khazaal Bin Jaber, who ruled the Ahwaz region from his seat in Mohammareh between 1897 and 1925, as a governor’s palace for his eldest son and heir, Abdel Hamid, who was appointed as governor of the district, with the town, Hamidiyeh, bearing his name.
Following Iran’s 1925 occupation of Ahwaz assisted by the then-British Empire in exchange for oil deals, many of the place names in the region were changed to Farsi names in an effort to deny and ultimately eradicate the Arab heritage of the region as a way of assimilating it into Iran.
These efforts continue to this day, with Ahwazi Arabs forbidden from publicly using their native, Arabic language or even dressing in their traditional Arab garb. Many sites of historic significance have been demolished as part of this process of cultural ethnic cleansing, with Ahwazis suspecting that the famed palace in Hamidiyeh may be next in line.Although article 4 of the universal declaration of the Human Rights pointed out that ”nobody has any right to make anyone a slave,” the Iranian authorities treat the Arabs as slaves. Very rarely do they grant them the opportunity to thrive on the basis of the economy, politics and education.
Despite Ahwaz housing over 90 percent of the oil and gas claimed by the Iranian regime, the indigenous Arab people live in medieval poverty, denied the most basic of rights, and are subjected to apartheid-style discrimination due to their Arab ethnicity. The Ahwaz region, once an independent state, was initially occupied with British support by the then-Shah of Iran in 1925. The region and most of the place names were subsequently given new Farsi names in an effort to deny their Arab heritage, with successive regimes brutalising the people, who are denied even the right to publicly speak their own Arab language or wear their traditional Arab garb. The regime encourages ethnically Persian people to settle in the region in order to change its demographic balance, offering the settlers generous incentives and good jobs not available to the indigenous Arab people, and housing them in ethnically homogenous settlements where Arabs are forbidden from living.
The Iranian regime’s Human right violations against the Ahwazi Arab people have reached a critical stage – in particular the policy to motivate Persian settlements, to make insults on TV against the Arab culture, history and ethnicity as well as in universities, schools, media, and newspapers.
The policies of the Iranian authorities against Ahwazi Arabs meant to isolate them from the world are rapidly increasing. For example, the majority of police stations are run by Persians, as well as the majority of services. Many Arabs lost their jobs in the oil and gas industries and make up only a small percentage of the workers. The regime has also deprived Arabs access to clean waters, and diverts the rivers in Ahwaz to Persian cities (for example, diverting the course of the Karoon from Ahwaz to Isfahan).
To conclude, there are several ways to pressure Iranian authorities to stop the systematic oppression which turns Arabs into slaves. Of these we can mention: mounting a media campaign, NGOs groups, international formal diplomats reports, and condemnations by other governments, pressure by the United Nations, and also protest inside Ahwaz against the policies of the Iranian authorities. Moreover, making contact with some organizations like the ‘International Covenant on Economic, social and Cultural Rights (1966)’ on the basis of the right to non-discrimination, right to work, just and favorable conditions of work, trade union rights, right to social security, right to health, right to education, and right to an adequate standard of living – all these can play a massive role in putting Iran under pressure to stop its oppressive treatment of the Ahwazi Arab people.