One protester was killed and dozens more injured, with many arrested, when Iranian regime’s police opened fire with live ammunition on peaceful protesters in the city of Muhammarah on Saturday as the unarmed citizens protested about the lack of drinking water and the intolerable, life-threatening living conditions.
“We see only a bleak future – we are going to be buried here,” one despairing protester who managed to flee the scene told Ahwaz Monitor. “We are already almost dying since there’s no clean air to breathe, no clean water to drink, no job opportunities, no money to buy food or water, and all under such unbearable heat. I have six brothers and three sisters; my father and mother are both sick and none of us have jobs – what should we do? We’re not political activists; we’re here to protest and call on the regime and the world to hear our pleas – we want to live, we want water, air and jobs, and an end to this anti-Arab racism.”
Protests have been growing across Iran in recent months as anger continues to grow at the regime’s repression, corruption, incompetence and institutionalised injustice. Footage from the protests in Muhammarah showed the demonstrators chanting, “We’ll die, but we won’t accept humiliation” and “Death to the dictator, death to Rouhani and death to Khamenei!” Heavily armed members of the regime’s infamously brutal security forces could be seen on motorcycles chasing protesters through the streets, according to eyewitnesses who spoke with Ahwaz Monitor. The security clampdown is reminiscent of the backlash against previous demonstrations crushed a wave of massive protests.
The cities of Muhammarah and Abadan are experiencing a severe water shortage as well as rampant pollution. These grievances promoted Ahwazi Arab locals to take to the streets in mass protests to get their voices heard by the regime officials.Using the weapon of thirst, depriving people of water, is one of the tools that the Iranian regime uses to pressure the Ahwazi people. This method was preceded by a systematic campaign to render the Ahwazi rivers dry up, depriving agricultural lands of water necessary for irrigation.
According to experts, these steps are aimed to force the Ahwazi people of their homeland through making life there impossible.As to drinking water in Muhammarah and Abadan, pollution has reached unbearable levels. Therefore, locals in both cities have been taking to the streets on a daily basis for these problems to be resolved. They called on the regime authorities to stop tampering with the lives of the people through depriving them of clean water as the temperature in the region is surging.
The Ahwazi protesters rebuked the officials during these protests, chanting: “If you are unable to solve our problems, you should go out.” They also said the regime is the sole responsible for the water crisis the whole region is going through. Despite being chronic, the Iranian regime has been paying no heed to the water crisis in Ahwaz for a long time. As days pass, the problem gets aggravated. It can be seen with the naked eye. Moreover, more people are taken to hospital for treatment due to infections resulting from using this highly polluted water. This deterioration comes along with an unprecedented wave of price hikes across the Ahwazi markets. All consumer items have their prices risen, including bottles of drinking water bought by civilians who suffer from the polluted water across the city.
The authorities are turning a deaf ear to the incessant protests. Nothing is done to save these people. The regime deliberately has pushed the Ahwazi region to this choking crisis through diverting courses of rivers such as Karoon and Karkheh to the Persian areas. Speaking about Friday and Saturday ’s demonstration, another protester said, “The regime’s sending our water to other regions even when we’re going thirsty; why is the regime deaf when we’ve been crying out for 40 years ‘We’re hungry, we’re thirsty’? If there’s no access to water, that means Ahwazis are going to be dead, along with all the birds, animals, fish in the rivers – or what remains of them. It’s a real disaster. We need swift and immediate action from the international community.”
The situation in the entire Ahwaz region has been worsening in recent years; although Ahwaz houses over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran and should be benefiting from its mineral wealth, the region is one of the most desperately poverty-stricken in the country, with the massive unchecked pollution from the oil and gas wells leading to air pollution levels that make much of the region unfit for human habitation. Although Ahwaz which sits on a massive delta at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf was once renowned for its farmland, fishing and natural beauty, the regime has rerouted the two largest rivers in the area to provide water for other regions of Iran, leading to widespread and accelerating desertification and further exacerbating the existing pollution problem.
In addition to enduring the theocratic regime’s standard brutal repression, Ahwazi people are doubly punished by being persecuted for their ethnicity, denied the most basic of rights, including the right to wear their traditional Arab garb publicly or to be educated in their own language, and denied employment. In a policy reminiscent of the Israeli state which Iran’s regime claims to oppose, the regime also builds special, Persian-only settlements provided with modern utilities withheld from the indigenous Arab peoples, in order to attract citizens from other regions, who are offered jobs and financial incentives to move there, as a means of enforcing demographic change and attempting to reduce the Arab majority.
By Rahim Hamid
An Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights advocate who mainly writes about the plight of his people in Iran.