Category: Ahwaz Land of Arabistan


Friday, November 08, 2013

It was not a normal school day for Ahwazi Arab schoolboy Abbas Haidari. Dressed in traditional Arab clothing, common throughout the Arabian Gulf, nine year old Abbas made his way to school in Ahwaz and stepped into a controversy that challenged endemic anti-Arab racism in Iran.

Wearing traditional Arabic clothing at school or in the office is effectively banned in Iran, a country where racial hatred of Arabs runs deep. For an Arab to “assimilate”, even though they are indigenous to Ahwaz, he or she has to deny their traditions and heritage, although this is often insufficient to counter discrimination.

But a schoolboy decided to take a stand, proudly wearing the Arabic dishdasha and keffiyeh that made him stand out in a sea of blue uniforms as he queued for his class at Shahrak-Ahwaz. The brave yet peaceful act of defiance against a racist regime prompted the authorities to ban him from school.

As a result, Abbas has become a folk hero for many Ahwazi Arabs, prompting many to question and openly challenge social customs that effectively ban traditional costume. He takes inspiration from his mother, whose Arabic poem “Silent Divan” was published earlier in the year to wide acclaim within the Ahwazi Arab community.

While Article 15 of the Iranian constitution guarantees education in the mother tongue, there are no Arabic language schools in the Ahwaz region, ensuring that Arabs are second-class citizens in their own land. Arab students are often humiliated and abused at school, including being whipped in front of their schoolmates. Successive administrations have courted Ahwazi Arab support by pledging to implement the constitution, but there has been no effort to address the issue. This failure means that Arabs are often illiterate in their native tongue, yet struggle to learn in Persian, a language that is not their own.

Some educated Ahwazi Arabs have attempted to help impoverished youths learn Arabic through informal study groups, but this has proven dangerous with several Arabic teachers facing imprisonment and even execution. They include members of the Arabic civic group, Al-Hewar (Dialogue), who face imminent execution. Independent organizations seeking to celebrate Arabic culture are deemed “separatist” by the regime and banned.

Resulting low educational attainment is reinforcing discrimination and contributing to high levels of unemployment and poverty among the indigenous Ahwazi Arabs. Acts of defiance and civil disobedience, such as Abbas’ decision to wear Arabic dress to school, are increasingly seen as the only means to assert ethnic rights and challenge racial discrimination..

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.
Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/11/the-moral-courage-of-arab-boy.html.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ahwazi Arabs are stepping up the campaign to Save the Karoun River, calling on the intervention of the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque.

Dr Karim Abdian, director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization (AHRO), first raised the issue of the Karoun’s diversion  at the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in May-June 2005, warning of the consequences of dams along the Karkhe and Karoun rivers on the indigenous Ahwazi Arab inhabitants.

Last year, he met with UN Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque and provided details of the impact of the dam program, which caused the forced displacement of thousands of Ahwazi Arabs and destroyed their farms and fisheries.

Ahwazi groups are calling on Special Rapporteur de Albuquerque to support the voice of the many hundreds of Ahwaz residents who are now demonstrating regularly along the river banks.

The destruction of the Karoun has brought together environmentalists, Ahwazi rights activists, scientists and others in opposition to the Iranian regime’s pillage of natural resources in the Al-Ahwaz region.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.
Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/10/ahwazi-arabs-lead-campaign-to-save.html.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

At least 11 Ahwazi Arabs were arrested in clashes between locals and the security forces as they evicted and destroyed Arab farms in Sheyban, Bawi county this month, according to activist reports.

Defying local community opposition, the government ordered in bulldozers to destroy farms that had been owned by Arabs for hundreds of years. The move was brought about as an ethnic Persian woman made a claim on 35 hectares of farmland whose Arab owners, the Zeheri family, state has been in their possession for many generations.

The following members of the Zeheri family were arrested by the Security Services: Adel, Hadi, Adib, Amin Aataiee (Zeheri), Ali Hassan, Jawad, Hamid Jasem, Jaafar son of Aabiyd. 

Land confiscation is carried out by the regime for the sake of establishing sugar cane plantations, fish farms, an industrial free trade zone and more military sites for the Revolutionary Guards. Arabs subject to government land confiscation are never given the true value of their land in compensation and often receive no payment and are left destitute and landless, according to former UN housing specialist Miloon Kothari after his visit to Iran in 2005.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/09/land-confiscation-sparks-conflict.html.

Monday, August 26, 2013

President Hassan Rouhani was left humiliated and embarrassed after an elderly Ahwazi Arab publicly castigated the Iranian government for systemically ignoring his community’s long-standing appeals for jobs, education, clean water and human rights.

In a daring display of defiance in front of television cameras and a public audience, retired teacher Haj Ghasem Hamadi of Khafajyeh [correction: in the previous version of this report, the man was wrongly identified as a religious sheikh] lambasted the Iranian regime’s indifference to the plight of Ahwazi Arabs during a presidential visit to a local mosque. Rouhani was left speechless and the man was interrupted by a presidential aide.

Hamadi said: “In terms of agriculture, there is no water only salty water, no irrigation, no fertilizers and no seeds. They provide 20 bags of compost per hectares for Dezful, but we are given one per hectare. In terms of agriculture everything is below par. In terms of facilities in the area also is below par.

“We have got problems in education. Our situation is bad. No one asks about our hardship. Everyone who comes from there [from Tehran] says hello and goodbye. That is all.”

Rouhani asked: “You mean there is nothing?”

The man answered: “There is not anything. You are in Tehran, you don’t know this region is deprived. There is no farming, no reconstruction, no water, no prosperity, no one asks about us, you are in Tehran, shouldn’t you ask about the deprived regions? We have the oil, the water, the land but we are dying from hunger!”

President Rouhani created high expectations among Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic groups after he promised to end discrimination and enforce linguistic rights during his election campaign.

Rouhani attempted to win over several Arab sheikhs who were invited to meet him in Tehran and voice their concerns. At the meeting, he appeared to accede to their demands for a 10 per cent share of cabinet seats for members of the Arab minority. However, he has failed to appoint any Arabs to ministerial positions.

Hailing from the north of Iran, the ‘pragmatic conservative’ sought to attract non-Persian vote with a list of 10 pledges to address ethnic discrimination, in accordance with neglected constitutional provisions. These included the right to learn in the native tongue, as stated in Article 15, and promoting a meritocratic economy based not on ethnicity or religion but personal strengths in order to leverage the best local human resources. Rouhani has also promised to promote local people into managerial positions.

The president has failed to address some of the more urgent development issues that concern ordinary Ahwazi Arabs who feel increasingly estranged from their co-opted tribal leaders, namely the region’s man-made environmental crisis and political issues. Rouhani’s failure to engage with ordinary Arab workers and farmers indicates that his administration will continue to seek to use political and financial patronage to win the allegiance of tribal elites with little attempt to engage with the masses.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/08/arab-sheikh-humiliates-iranian-president.html.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The drying of the River Karoun is becoming a rallying point for Ahwazi Arabs, who have accused the Iranian regime of presiding over an ecological disaster on a par with the destruction of the Amazon.

Environmental campaigners in Ahwaz City formed a human chain along the Karoun this week in protest at the river diversion project. The mega-project involves the construction of dams and tunnels to divert water away from Iran’s largest river which flows through the city and is essential for farming, drinking water and the local ecology.

Controversy surrounds the Koohrang-3 tunnel, which is currently under construction and is set to transfer 255 million cubic meters of water per annum to Zayandeh Rood in Isfahan. The diverted waters will be used for agro-industrial projects, instead of irrigating traditional Arab lands where food staples are grown, such as rice and wheat. Already, three tunnels transfer around 1.1 billion cubic meters of water from the Karoun and its tributaries to Isfahan every year.

Currently, there are seven dams and tunnels diverting Karoun’s water with a further 19 dams under construction as well as 12 dams on Karkheh river basin and five dams on Jarrahi river basin. Twelve of these dams have built in Lorestan province in the Karoun and Karkheh basins, which store 800 million cubic meters for local use. Two dams have built in Ilam province on Karkheh river basin with annual storage capacity 1.04 billion cubic meters. Three dams have been built in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province on Jarrahi River with annual capacity of 1.24 billion cubic meters. So far, 25 dams with total capacity of 10.44 billion cubic meters have into operation in the Karoun basin. These dams are located in Chahar Mahaal and Bakhtiari province, Lorestan province and the north part of Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan).

Due to the dam projects, around half the Karoun’s water flow is now waste water. This will reach 90 per cent when Iran’s dam building project is completed, according to Iranian scientists. The Karkheh and Jarrahi tributaries are now almost dried up and Ahwazi activists fear the Karoun – Iran’s only navigable river – will now dry up. Already, the region’s marshlands on which many Ahwazi Arabs traditionally depend for their livelihoods are a fraction of their former size due to the dam projects.

One of the groups campaigning against the destruction of the Karoun, the Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz (PADMAZ), has claimed that as a result of the dam projects “the Ahwazi environment will be destroyed and Ahwazi Arab will be forced to move to other cities in addition to contracting intestinal and renal diseases and different kinds of cancer… This will speed up the Iranian colonial plan of ethnic cleansing of Ahwazi Arabs.”

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/10/Save-Karoun-001.html.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Former Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, an ethnic Arab who rose to the top of the Revolutionary Guards during the Iran-Iraq War, this week made unprecedented criticism on the Iranian regime’s treatment of Ahwazi Arabs while visiting a mosque in Ahwaz City during Eid celebrations.

Regarded as a regime loyalist and the only Arab to have held a cabinet position in the Islamic Republic, Shamkhani accused the regime of “sectarianism” for launching a new television channel, Ahwaz TV, which is intended to counter Ahwazi Arab opposition.

Often praised for his role in the fight against Iraqi forces, Shamkhani accused the government of failing to reconstruct and develop the Ahwazi Arab region for the benefit of the people following the end of the 1980-88 war, which saw many towns devastated and still has a legacy of one of the world’s worst landmine problems. He highlighted various challenges facing the region in relation to good resource management and human development, but although government officials have often acknowledged the problems they have failed to act.

In a side-swipe at the ruling theocracy, Shamkhani claimed that native people had felt marginalized by the government’s decision to import extreme Shia fundamentalists from Arab countries, such as Tunisian theologian Muhammad Al-Tijani, to confront Sunnis. He claimed these theologians had little understanding of local Arab society and had proven to be counter-productive, fueling conversion from Shi’ism to other faiths.

Instead of progandising with religion and television channels, Shamkhani called on the government to deal with discrimination and resolve problems of poverty, which motivate disloyalty among Ahwazi Arabs. He claimed that in spite of frequent changes of administration and 15 different provincial governors, the policies in the region have not changed.

Source: Ahwaz New Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/08/iran-ex-defence-minister-attacks.html.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ahwazi Arab websites and blogs were hacked and brought down by Iran’s cyber army during election day. In the run-up to the election, the websites of the Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz and the National Resistance of Al-Ahwaz were disabled by cyber attacks. On election day, the DSPA’s website was brought down once again along with the Ahwazi Arab People’s Democratic Popular Front by a group called the “Iran Cyber Army”. The attacks were not confined to the Ahwazi movement, but also struck sites belonging to the Green Movement.

Although such attacks are illegal, the Iranian government has openly declared them to be part of its ‘soft war’ strategy. Deputy of the Supreme Leader’s representative at the IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Hossein Sepehr boasted earlier this year that Iran had the world’s “fourth largest cyber army” whose remit includes “stop and foil cyberspace activity by opposition elements and opponents of Iran, for whom cyberspace is a key platform for communicating, distributing information, and organizing anti-Iran activities.”

Opposition websites were offline for only a few hours, indicating that while the attacks were well-coordinated they were merely disruptive rather than fatal to website operations.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/06/regime-hackvitists-bring-down-ahwazi.html.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Electoral fraud has denied Arab candidates a majority on the Ahwaz municipal council, Ahwaz News Agency can reveal in an exclusive report.

With most of the vote counted on Sunday morning, 17 Arab candidates – 12 of which belong to the “Al-Mowahada” list – were clear winners of the 21 seats up for election. In a highly unusual move and without explanation, the electoral authorities decided to postpone announcing the result until Monday. The mayor and provincial governor are alleged to have intervened to manipulate the results. The outcome is that just five Arabs have been elected in a clear attempt to politically marginalize the indigenous ethnic Arab population, which represents a majority in the provincial capital.

The following Arab candidates were declared winners of the Ahwaz poll: Sayed Mahdi Alboshokeh (20,550 votes), Kazem Sawari (19,452), Ashour Sawari Pour (16,731), Ebtesam Albaji (15,461) and Naji Sawari (14,627). Although they were clearly ahead in the results on Sunday, the following Arab candidates from the Al-Mowahada list were denied seats in the Ahwaz city council: Rahim Kaab Omayer, Ali Naseri, Saham Saki, Khaled Lowaimi, Abdullah Abiyawi, Sayed Karim Saeed, Touran Hamid and Mousrafa Ramazan Ahmadi.

Intelligence services harass popular female Arab candidate

Arab candidates were also subject to harassment. Sana Salemi, who stood for election to the Fallahiyeh (Shadegan) municipal council, was arrested and detained for hours by the Iranian intelligence services on 8 June for speeches she gave in Arabic.

She had participated in an Arabic poetry and cultural event in the town, which was attended by leading Arab poets and intellectuals. She was released following the intervention of respected figures from the community and after she had signed a declaration that she would desist from giving speeches in Arabic. She won a seat with the second highest number of votes in the election.

Mrs Salami was among a relatively large number of Arab women standing for election at a municipal level. Seventeen Arab women were elected to local councils in Arab-majority towns and cities in the region.

Conspiracy of electoral fraud

Regime supporters had openly voiced concern over the potential success of Arab candidates in the run up to the elections. Ahead of the election, Eng. Falsafi, the secretary of Khuzestan committee of the conservative Islamic Society of Engineers, published an article on the Shooshan news agency website stating that it was unacceptable for elections to promote ethnic identity, which indicated his objection to Arab candidates campaigning on an anti-discrimination platform. He said that one particular race must not dominate municipal authorities, although Arabs remain a majority in many towns in the province, and called for lists comprised of one ethnicity to be examined carefully.

Ahwazi activist Abu Mousa told ANA: “Falsafi’s demand as well as his suggestion that non-Persian ethnic lists are the result of potentially subversive activity contrasts with pledges by some presidential candidates, including president-elect Hassan Rouhani, that non-Persians should be appointed to managerial positions in non-Persian areas and that seats in cabinet should be reserved for members of non-Persian ethnic groups.

“The demands Falsafi made of Arab candidates are not made of ethnic Persian lists in areas where Persians are a majority. He questions the loyalty of Arab candidates, yet like all candidates they are subjected a vetting procedure to judge their loyalty to the regime before they are allowed to stand for election.

“The regime is confused. It knows the rising strength of the non-Persian ethnic movements inside and outside Iran and is adopting their political language, but at the same time wants to repress non-Persian voices, particularly Ahwazi Arabs, because it does not trust their loyalties.”

Doubts over Rezaee’s success

The results cast doubt on the authenticity of the presidential election vote in the province, which gave Mohsen Rezaee 46% of the vote, up from just 7% in the election four years ago, and put him ahead of Hassan Rouhani who won the poll nationally. Although the hardline “principalist” touched on issues such as ethnic discrimination, poverty and environmental destruction in his campaign, Rezaee is largely unpopular among ethnic Arabs.

Aside from electoral fraud, Rezaee’s high proportion of the vote could also be explained by an Arab boycott of the presidential election and the number of polling stations in Arab districts was halved, ensuring a lower turn-out for Arabs as well as long queues for the press cameras. Official figures suggest that the turn-out was higher for the municipal elections (over 80%) than the presidential election (officially 74%) as Arabs rallied in support of Arab candidates standing in local authorities.

Rezaee is an ethnic Lor from Masjed Soleiman and has been accused by Arabs of enabling Lors from outside the province to settle on land confiscated from indigenous Arabs. He was also involved in the Black Wednesday massacre during the 1979 Arab uprising in Mohammerah (Khorramshahr).

Source: Ahwaz New Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/06/election-report-vote-fraud-in-ahwaz.html.

Monday, June 17, 2013

President-elect Hassan Rouhani created high expectations among Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic groups after he promised to end discrimination and enforce linguistic rights during his election campaign.

Official results show that Rouhani came second in the Ahwaz region with 34% of the vote, compared to Mohsen Rezaee on 46%, although these results are now in doubt due to evidence of electoral fraud by the regime.

The election contest offered the clearest sign yet that the Iranian regime is aware of Ahwazi Arab grievances. Presidential candidates spoke on issues that the Ahwazi movement has been raising for over a decade, but has faced persecution and accusations of separatism and foreign-inspired terrorism. Linguistic rights, poverty, discrimination in the workplace and environmental destruction were the top themes of the election debate in Arab districts as candidates tried to woo local support.

Raising hopes among some Ahwazis not already disillusioned with the political system could foment conditions for unrest in the future. The failure of the “reformist” administration of President Khatami to address grievances and instead sustain a program of ethnic cleansing against Ahwazi Arabs led to civil unrest in April 2005, a period known as the Ahwazi intifada. Many Ahwazis who had supported Khatami’s administration and formed cultural associations seeking to boost Arab rights became disillusioned and were subsequently imprisoned with some sentenced to death.

Rouhani’s 10-point plan for non-Persian ethnic groups

Rouhani attempted to win over several Arab sheikhs who were invited to meet him in Tehran and voice their concerns. At the meeting, he appeared to accede to their demands for a 10 per cent share of cabinet seats for members of the Arab minority. Already, his cabinet appointments appear to have fallen well short of this target.

Hailing from the north of Iran, the ‘pragmatic conservative’ sought to attract non-Persian vote with a list of 10 pledges to address ethnic discrimination, in accordance with neglected constitutional provisions. These included the right to learn in the native tongue, as stated in Article 15, and promoting a meritocratic economy based not on ethnicity or religion but personal strengths in order to leverage the best local human resources. Rouhani has also promised to promote local people into managerial positions.

The president-elect has failed to address some of the more urgent development issues that concern ordinary Ahwazi Arabs who feel increasingly estranged from their co-opted tribal leaders, namely the region’s man-made environmental crisis and political issues. Rouhani’s failure to engage with ordinary Arab workers and farmers indicates that his administration will continue to seek to use political and financial patronage to win the allegiance of tribal elites with little attempt to engage with the masses.

Candidates note problems, offer no solutions

Other presidential candidates appeared to have a greater understanding of the problems facing Ahwazi Arabs, although provided few policy solutions. In his rhetoric, Rezaee had made a notable ideological transition from a hardline principalist stance to a platform that stressed the economic and social marginalization of non-Persian ethnic groups. He also attacked those who referred to the indigenous population as “Arab-speakers”, a term regarded as offensive by Arabs for playing down their ethnic identity. Chief among his vocal concerns was the destruction of the local ecology, particularly the province’s controversial dam and river diversion program that has caused hardship and displacement for hundreds of thousands of local Arabs.

On a visit to Mohammareh/Khorramshahr, Mohammad Ghalibaf said that “Years after freeing the city, I feel ashamed of the failure… Khuzestan suffers from basic problems relation to water, the environment, employment and industry.”

In a side-swipe against institutional racism, he said “considering ethnic groups as a threat is an unforgivable sin… When management and decision-making is centralized, there is a lack of appreciation of local capacities” and as a result it is a threat to national prosperity and security. However, Ghalibaf was short on answers.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/06/arab-unrest-if-rouhani-fails-to-meet.html.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A speech by Ahwazi environmental activist Haifa Assadi, at the Ahwaz human rights meeting in the UK’s Houses of Parliament, 15 May 2013

The Ahwaz region faces an environmental catastrophe on a par with the destruction of the Amazon rainforests. River diversion and the draining of the marshes are turning a once fertile land into desert while industrial pollution has made Ahwaz City the most polluted place on Earth, according to the World Health Organisation. As well as destroying the unique ecology of the region, the effects have been devastating for the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population.

Over centuries, the climate and environment of Ahwaz have depended on the rivers flowing through the region. The Karoon, Karkheh, Dez and Jarrahi rivers play an important role in the conservation of the marshlands of Falahiyeh and Hawr-Alazim. The life of the Arab farmers depends on the rivers’ water. Moreover, rivers prevent the salt water of the Gulf flowing up the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

However, the Iranian regime has been actively engaged in plans with the most destructive impacts on the ecological balance of the region and desertification of the once green fields of Ahwaz. One of these plans is the transferring of water to the central provinces of Iran through diversion of the rivers. This is done regardless of the region’s minimum water requirements.

Several dams and diversion tunnels have been built for this purpose of diverting water from the Karoon river to the already dry Zayanderood river of Isfahan. A total of 69 dams have been built or are under construction.

At the same time, the Iranian regime has been investing on the development of the environmentally destructive sugarcane plantations, created on 250,000 hectares of fertile farmland confiscated from Arab farmers.

The destructive environmental impact of these projects is the salty wastewater that turns the green fields of Ahwaz further downstream into barren lands. At the same time, fresh water from the Zagros mountains is being replaced by wastewater from the western cities of the country, contributing to the environmental crisis. The date plantations that traditionally sustained the livelihoods of thousands of Arab farmers are now dying. Moreover, the saline wastewater stored in a large area around the city of Muhammara for evaporation has left hills of salt there to become a great threat to the health of the Arab people of Ahwaz.

Due to the excessive pollution of the rivers the amount of total dissolved solids in the water has greatly increased. In the border cities of Abadan and Muhammara, it has reached four times the maximum level for potable water.

Another important factor in the aridification of the region is the deliberate evaporation of the Hawr Al-Azim marsh. This is being done on a par with Saddam’s destruction of the Iraqi marshes.

Hawr Al-Azim marsh has a very important role in maintaining the ecological balance in the Middle East. It has been completely destroyed and dried out due to the activities of oil companies. According to Ali Mohammad Shaeri, the vice president of the Iranian environment organization, “500 thousand hectares of marshlands of Ahwaz have dried out and this is the main cause of sand storms in the region.” The sand storms are the result of a decline in humidity throughout the whole region. As a result, the Pollutant Standards Index – or PSI – of the air quality in Ahwaz region has passed 600 units. This is while according to the international standards a PSI over 300 units is critically hazardous.

The destruction of Hawr Al-Azim has forced people from more than forty villages to abandon their homes and move to city slums. In Ahwaz City alone there are more than 400,000 Arabs living in slums, suffering difficult health and social conditions.

The environmental crisis in Ahwaz has several negative effects on the health of the indigenous Arab people. In recent years, respiratory and lung diseases have become very common as a result of high air pollution, leading to many deaths. Water pollution has resulted in skyrocketing digestive and Kidney diseases.

Because of the discriminatory policies of the Iranian regime against the indigenous Arab people of Ahwaz, they are deprived of the right to manage their own affairs. The crucial managing positions are assigned to non-native people coming from other provinces. These assigned officials do not consider the right of the native people of Ahwaz in the water resources of the region and the resources are expropriated to the advantage of the central provinces. The Iranian regime has no intention of stopping or even considering stopping these plans. Instead, new projects for dam construction and water diversion are being proposed and destructive industries – which do not employ local people – are contributing ever higher amounts of toxic pollution.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/05/destruction-of-ahwazs-marshes-is-like.html.