Following the revelations of a new plan by the Iranian regime to divert more water from Ahwaz to central provinces of Iran, Ahwazi Arab citizens on Thursday defied the regime’s ban on protests to stage a peaceful demonstration on the western bank of the Karoon River against the planned move.
The protesters called on international environmentalist organizations and on the United Nations Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, urging them to take action and intervene to stop the regime’s planned diversion of the Karoon River, whose effects would be catastrophic not only for the indigenous people but for the environment.
A large number of local residents, old and young, turned out for the protest, carrying banners and placards in three languages – Arabic, English and Farsi – warning the Iranian authorities of the potentially devastating effects of diverting more of the river’s waters, with messages including, “The Karoon belongs to Ahwaz”, “We will save the Karoon”, “We will die for the sake of the Karoon”, “The international community should pay very close attention to what’s happening in Ahwaz due to the effects of climate change”, “Stop the environmental disaster and human rights abuses in Ahwaz”, “We’ll give our blood but we won’t give our beloved Karoon”, and “I am a farmer and Karoon ”.
Protesters also chanted slogans, including “Save the Karoon River”, “The death of the Karoon is life and death to us”, “Stop stealing our water”, “You stole the oil and gas, but we won’t allow you to seize our water”, and “Rerouting water is against international law”.
This is not the first of such protest over the regime’s damming and diversion of rivers in the region, with Ahwazis taking to the streets on a number of occasions previously to stage rallies, as well as demonstrating in front of state buildings, including the provincial governor’s office, over the water-theft. Ahwazi MP’s in Iranian parliament also raised their concerns yesterday against this secret plan inside the regime’s house of constitution (Majles) in solidarity with their constituency members.
The devastating results of the regime’s river-damming and diversion program in the region include thousands of deaths resulting from illnesses directly caused by the terrible pollution and desertification caused by this policy; the dust-storms caused by the desertification also exacerbate the terrible pollution from the oil and gas drilling and refineries in the region. Between 2011 until 2014, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) repeatedly declared that the Ahwaz region was the most polluted in the world, with dangerously high asthma levels among children and teenagers due to excessive levels of industrial waste and toxic emissions.
The water-theft is widely believed to be part of a very deliberate and longstanding regime policy to force the indigenous Ahwazi people out of their homeland, with the leadership in Tehran implementing what amounts to an apartheid policy of discrimination, denying Ahwazis the most basic of rights on the basis of their Arab ethnicity. Despite the region holding over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, the Ahwazi people are denied any part of the wealth attained by the regime from their resources, living in medieval poverty, while Iranian workers are offered incentives and bonuses to work in the oil and gas industry and to move to the region, living in ethnically homogenous Iranian-only settlements provided with all amenities, where Ahwazis are banned from residency in these communities and denied the same basic amenities.
Most Ahwazi activists and the majority of the Ahwazi people believe that the regime’s longstanding river-damming and diversion program is effectively weaponizing water, implementing an undeclared policy of ethnic cleansing by denying the people of the once-verdant region the most basic of rights as a means of forcing them out of Ahwaz, denying the region its Arab identity and history, and more effectively subsuming it to Iranian hegemony. The regime, which demonstrates a strong and overt racist antipathy towards Arabs both in Iran and regionally, has long viewed the Ahwazis as a threat to its interests, primarily to its exploitation of their oil and gas resources. Damming and diverting the region’s rivers which are the people’s sole water supply and the sole source of irrigation for farmers there, has not just had a catastrophic effect on the people of the region, but also on the ecosystem and wildlife, as well as reducing the once-globally renowned marshlands to a shadow of their former glory. While the regime claims to be diverting the rivers’ waters to benefit agriculture in the ethnically Persian regions in central Iran, it is deliberately driving thousands of Ahwazi farmers whose families have farmed their lands for generations into destitution, with no water to irrigate their crops and their once-fertile farmland turning to desert.
The regime’s deliberate and carefully planned manufacture of drought and extreme water scarcity is a crime according to every tenet of international law and to basic human decency, with Ahwazi campaigners calling on the UN, international human rights and environmentalist groups and all people of conscience to raise their voices in solidarity with the Ahwazi people in support of justice.