Anti-regime protests have continued to spread across the predominantly Arab Ahwaz region of Iran, with the already oppressed and brutalized people pushed over the edge by the latest racist anti-Arab smear by Iranian regime media against the country’s 8 million-plus Arab population.
The protests that are dubbed “the Uprising of Dignity” began with a small demonstration on Wednesday March 28 which was called by word of mouth following the broadcast of a short advertisement made to mark the Iranian new year and broadcast on state TV on March 23, which was seen as the latest in a long line of insulting efforts by the regime to denigrate the Ahwazi people and deny their very existence. In the short ad, children used dolls one of each sex, dressed in traditional costume to show the ethnic make-up of Iran according to region; for the Ahwaz region in the south and southwest of the country, whose Arab population has been brutally oppressed by the regime for decades and denied even the right to speak their own Arabic language or wear their traditional Arab garb, the two dolls shown were dressed in the outfits associated with the ethnically Iranian Lor nomadic peoples; this is a particularly grievous insult for Ahwazis since the regime has imported hundreds of thousands of Lor people, providing them with jobs, financial inducements and well-equipped homes in specially built settlements which are denied to Arabs, in an effort to alter the demographic balance of Ahwaz and rid it of its indigenous Arab population, as well as to send an insulting message to Ahwazis of their own supposed racial inferiority.
Footage from Thursday’s protest in central Ahwaz city showed Iranian police and security forces firing heavily into the air and using tear gas against thousands of unarmed young protesters in an effort to break up the demonstration, with the regime thugs seen chasing protesters towards the Naderi Bridge in the downtown area.
On Thursday 29, thousands more Ahwazi protesters took to the streets for the second day of mass demonstrations sparked by the insulting state TV ad and the regime’s brutal efforts to crush the previous day’s protests. The demonstrators chanted slogans denouncing the Iranian regime’s anti-Arab racism and what they said were efforts to “defame” the region’s distinctive Arab identity. Activists uploaded multiple video clips showing at least 50,000 young Ahwazi men and women surrounded by police and security forces attending a demonstration in the center of the regional capital, singing traditional folk songs and chanting popular slogans including “Ahwaz is Arab and belongs to us!” and “We die for Ahwaz, no place for settlers!”, with equally heroic young Ahwazi women chanting “I’m an Ahwazi woman and I won’t accept insults!”
The regime’s thuggish police and security forces reacted with their customary brutality, arresting dozens of protesters, including women. Footage uploaded to social media also showed a heavy presence of heavily armed police and security personnel in the city center of the capital, as well as in some other towns and cities across the region, including Abadan, Hamidiyeh, Falahiyeh and Mahshor.
The demonstrators also protested against the Iranian regime’s massively destructive environmental policies in the region, including a large-scale program of damming and diversion of the rivers that once made Ahwaz a fertile agricultural area; with those waters now being redirected to other, ethnically Persian areas of Iran, Ahwaz is now plagued by desertification and ever-worsening sandstorms which, accompanied by the existing heavy pollution from the oil and gas refineries in the region, make for a toxic environmentally lethal cocktail. The Protesters’ chants and banners also reflected their concern at this environmental devastation, with slogans including “Stop destroying Ahwaz’ environment”, “Stop the destruction of Ahwaz’ heritage and historic monuments”, “End water theft in Ahwaz”, and “Patience, patience people of Ahwaz, victory is coming”.
Despite the clerical regime’s oft-repeated claims to stand for Palestinian freedom, such anti-Arab racism is endemic and encouraged by the regime, with Arabs being commonly referred to in derogatory terms such as ‘lizard-eaters’ and ‘camel’s milk-drinkers’, being depicted as uncivilized barbaric, and barefooted nomads. Many of the protesters said the ad broadcast on state TV was the latest in a long line of media efforts to denigrate the Ahwazi people or simply to deny their existence completely, which add further insult to the injury of the routine anti-Arab racist injustice of regime policies towards Ahwazis. Although the state IRIB channel made a clumsy subsequent effort to atone for its previous very deliberate erasure of Ahwazis from the advertisement by belatedly making a new ad showing an Arab male doll on the scale map shown, the makers still deliberately omitted to include a female doll, a way of suggesting that Ahwazi men disrespect women. This was a primary factor in encouraging hundreds of Ahwazi women to participate in the protests to show their anger at the racism and its relentless misogyny towards Arab women.
The protests spread across the region on Friday, with thousands of Ahwazis taking to the streets in anger not only at the ad but at the catastrophic economic situation affecting Ahwaz and the whole of Iran and at the horrendous poverty crushing the region; despite housing over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, Ahwaz suffers from staggering Third World levels of poverty and deprivation, with the wealth of its natural resources, also including its rivers, diverted to other areas, even while Ahwaz literally and metaphorically withers and the indigenous Ahwazi people are denied jobs or any share of their own resources; this is believed by most Ahwazis to be a very deliberate regime policy of further ‘punishing’ the Ahwazi people for their Arab ethnicity.
Genocide – defined as the destruction in whole or in part of a race or ethnic group – is a real threat for Ahwazi Arabs. The Iranian governments’ aims to change the demographic composition of the region by displacing Ahwazi Arabs with Persian settlers. The Iranian state, for the realization their nation-building project and formation of a mono-Persian nation have carried out cultural and linguistic genocide in Ahwaz.
While the Iranian regime likes to exploit the cause of Palestinian freedom, its own policies towards Ahwazi Arabs are every bit as racist, brutal and inhuman as those of Israel towards Palestinians, with Iran also building ethnically homogenous settlements solely for “ethnically pure” Iranians on lands ethnically cleansed of the indigenous people; as in Israel these settlements are provided with all amenities for the privileged non-Arab peoples resettled there, while even the most basic of rights are denied to the indigenous Arab peoples. Even Israel does not forbid the Palestinian people from speaking their own Arabic language or wearing their Arab dress as Iran does to Ahwazis.
By Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights advocate who mainly writes about the plight of his people in Iran.