The death of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Sunday at age 82 is not being mourned by Ahwazi Arab population, who remember him best for ethnic cleansing of Arab regions and virulent anti-Arab racism towards the Ahwazi Arab population, including his infamous statement to media in 1985: “We don’t have Arabs, but there are a few gypsy people whose job is singing and dancing.”
While the leadership in Tehran mourns the loss of a regime stalwart, who served as president between 1989 to 1997 and laterally headed the Expediency Council, tasked with resolving disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council, Rafsanjani is better remembered by Ahwazi Arabs by his derogatory nickname, “the Iranian fox.”
Amongst the primary reasons why Rafsanjani is still hated in the region is his enthusiastic support for the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which saw millions of Ahwazis driven from their homes since Ahwaz, which borders Iraq, was on the front line; countless towns and villages in the region were depopulated, with their residents forced to flee for their lives to ethnically Persian regions. This led to widespread protests by the dispossessed Ahwazis in 1985, when Rafsanjani, who was close to Ayatollah Khomeini, as well as to his successor, made his infamous and derogatory statement denying their existence.
The ruins of these towns and villages, destroyed in the war, still lie empty, with no effort to rebuild them in the intervening decades; many Ahwazis believe that the war was useful to the Iranian regime’s plans to depopulate Arab areas and eradicate the region’s Arab heritage. Eighteen months after the start of the war, Rafsanjani was the regime official who lobbied to reject a ceasefire with Iraq which could have saved countless lives, with the devastating war continuing for a further six-and-a-half years.
After the war, more especially following his election as president in 1989, Rafsanjani continued to antagonise the Ahwazi people. In one of his most ambitious projects, the regime’s sugarcane program, he ordered the confiscation of thousands of hectares of farmland and the construction of massive sugar refineries in the region. The farmers and others whose ancestral lands and homes were seized had no legal recourse, with Ahwazis, denied the most basic of rights, and receiving no compensation, being driven into destitution. The sugarcane program had initially been proposed by Shah Reza Pahlavi before the 1979 revolution, a fact Rafsanjani acknowledged in his speech at the opening of the first sugar refinery, when he said: “When I completed the sugarcane project in Ahwaz, in fact I completed the plan which Mohammad Reza Pahlavi failed to entirely fulfil.”
Ahwazi Arabs were and are also denied any but the most menial jobs in the state-run sugarcane industry, with the regime bringing in ethnically Persian management and skilled workers from elsewhere in Iran to run and staff the facilities. These personnel, who are accorded rights denied to Arabs and other ethnic minorities in Iran, are also provided with homes in specially constructed and ethnically homogenous settlements provided with all the modern amenities denied to the Ahwazi people.It should be noted that the same conditions apply in the oil and gas industries; although over 90 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by the regime are located in Ahwaz, the indigenous people are denied jobs or any of the vast wealth attained from them.
Like the oil and gas fields, the sugarcane refineries, built on river banks for access to the massive quantities of water used in the refining process, are also responsible for heavy pollution in the region, with untreated chemical waste from the refining process being dumped back into the rivers, leading to widespread ecological devastation.
During his tenure as president Rafsanjani also initiated the regime’s massive river-damming project in the Ahwaz region, which has seen millions of gallons of water rerouted from the region’s rivers (upstream from the regime’s factories) to other, non-Arab areas of Iran.These water rerouting projects, which have led to widespread desertification and intensified the already high pollution rates in the region, are widely castigated by the Ahwazi peoples as another effort to drive Arabs out.
By RAHIM HAMID
Note: The views expressed in this article are belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Ahwaz Monitor.