Intimidation campaign against persecuted Arab minority
London − 27 February 2019
By Rahim Hamid
Over the past year, there have been three major protests in Ahwaz, including those entitled the Uprising of Land, Uprising of Dignity and Uprising of Thirst; these are in addition to protests over pay and deteriorating conditions by workers, teachers and farmers.
Those following Ahwazi affairs admit that it’s difficult to enumerate the Ahwazi popular uprisings which have sprung up repeatedly for decades, despite the regime’s efforts to crush resistance. However, many international reports have now shed light on a number of these uprisings, belatedly bringing the world’s attention to the regime’s medieval repression and persecution of Ahwazis still happening in the 21st century.
It should be stressed that as the location of over 95 percent of the oil and gas reserves claimed by the Iranian regime, the Ahwaz region should, in theory at least, be among the most affluent regions in Iran. Instead, the majority of Ahwazis live in conditions of medieval poverty with one of the highest unemployment rates in Iran, with 850,000 living in slums, according to a recent report from the state-run IRNA News Agency.
Defending the Land
Ahwazis welcomed 2018 by continuing with a massive uprising that began in late 2017, which came to be known locally as the ‘Uprising for Land’. This first began as protests in solidarity with residents of al-Jalizi village, a small rural hamlet in the Musian ( Datshat Abbas) district, where Iranian security services had attempted to seize villagers’ plots of land.
The villagers heroically stood up against the regime security services’ brutality, which particularly targeted women. When video footage from mobile phone cameras spread on social media showing the security forces’ brutal attacks on the villagers, protests sprang up in cities and towns across Ahwaz in solidarity with the people of al-Jalizi.
The protests against this instance of regime brutality lasted for several weeks, with regime security forces arresting many of the villagers who protested at their lands being seized, as well as detaining many of the demonstrators who participated in peaceful protests against the regime’s brutality. These protests also ended up merging with other demonstrations against the deteriorating conditions in Iran that have gripped the entire country.
The Uprising of Dignity
In March 2018, an Iranian state TV programme incited further protests when it very deliberately omitted the presence of Ahwazis in a segment on the different peoples in Iran, despite Ahwazis’ millennia-long presence as the indigenous people of the region.
As video clips of the program spread on social media platforms and the internet, thousands of Ahwazis, already angered at decades of injustice and racism, poured on to the streets to express their fury and resentment at Iran’s policies designed to deny and simply eradicate their presence in Ahwaz. Despite knowing the lethal dangers of speaking out against the regime, Ahwazi men and women filled the streets across the region, chanting slogans vowing that they would never abandon their Ahwazi lands and identity.
Ahwazi women, angered by the regime’s misogynistic chauvinism as much as by the oppression, injustice and racism of its anti-Ahwaz policies, have played a central role in the protests alongside their male counterparts, marching alongside them once again to assert their shared pride in Ahwazi culture, heritage and identity in what became known as the Uprising of Dignity.
The regime reacted to this uprising, as always, with its customary savage repression and attempts to crush dissent through intimidation and brutality. Although the regime refuses to issue details on the numbers arrested and imprisoned during these or other protests, activists in the area estimate that around 1,500 were detained for participating in these demonstrations.
The Uprising of Thirst
Protests continued to grow at the escalating water crisis in Ahwaz in 2018. This crisis has steadily worsened in recent years, with villages, towns and cities across the region suffering a chronic lack of potable drinking water due to the regime’s disastrous river-damming and diversion project.
Whilst Ahwaz was once known as the breadbasket of Mesopotamia, with generations of local farmers and fishermen supplying the region with crops, livestock and all kinds of seafood, the regime’s massive project to dam the two major regional rivers near their source and divert the waters to other, non-
Ahwazi regions of Iran via a network of vast pipelines has devastated the region to an unprecedented degree. Large areas of Ahwaz that were once farmland and date-palm plantations are now arid desert, while much of the water that remains is brackish, saline and undrinkable even by livestock. Without filtration plants or any water treatment works in any areas but the settlements built to house ethnically Persian settlers, the Ahwazi people are left with a water supply unfit for consumption, causing outbreaks of diseases which have been particularly devastating to the most vulnerable – children and the elderly.
This already terrible crisis worsened in 2018 with water supplies being completely cut off in the cities of Muhammarah and Abadan during the sweltering summer months of May and June when temperatures regularly climb to over 50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). The regime did nothing to resolve the ensuing problems, leading to widespread anger.
Adding insult to injury, reports also emerged that the regime would be supplying Iraq with water from Ahwaz via an extension to the aforementioned pipelines, with similar agreements also signed between the regime and other regional nations to transfer water from Ahwazi rivers to those countries. Ahwazis, already facing life-threatening water shortages and undrinkable water supplies, reacted to this with understandable outrage.
In the midst of this dire situation, the people of Muhammarah and Abadan held anti-regime protests, calling on the leadership in Tehran to resolve the severe water crisis in the area. As word of these protests spread across the region, thousands of other Ahwazis took to the streets in solidarity with the residents of the two cities during May and June, sparking what became known as the ‘Uprising of Thirst’. The regime reacted, as always, with brutality and repression, arresting many protesters and failing to take any action to resolve the water crisis.
2018 saw the highest ever number of arrests in Ahwaz in the four decades since the regime took power, with 5,000 Ahwazi people, including men, women, children and elderly citizens, detained on the flimsiest of pretexts. Many of these people were arrested during the uprisings and protests, with a number also detained during festivals and other public events.
There is a direct correlation between certain events in the country and the rise in arrests and executions of Ahwazis. During these periods, Ahwazis actually brace themselves because they know what is coming. One example is that in October 2018 more than 1,000 Ahwazis were arrested after the attack that targeted a military parade in Ahwaz. It is notable that some international press covered the attack itself, but not the aftermath, during which the Iran regime targeted innocent Ahwazis to vilify and demonise them. It raided their homes and ransacked their possessions, without permission from the courts. To further intimidate the population, the regime indiscriminately arrested women, children, the elderly and youths.
Former political prisoner Ghazi Haidari has confirmed that torture in prisons is known to everyone and is documented in many local and international human rights reports. There are dozens of citizens who have been killed, and hundreds have suffered physical injuries including myself, even those which result in lifelong disabilities, during torture inside prisons and solitary confinement underground. This is in addition to the mental torture prisoners are subject to and the adverse psychological effects of it, which can also last a lifetime.
Haydari adds that, while Western governments and human rights organisations do periodically speak out against the Islamic Republic’s systematic abuses of human rights against Ahwazis and other minorities in Iran, there has been no serious effort made to take the regime to task for these egregious injustices, despite the existence of international human rights laws which could be used to bring pressure on the Iranian leadership.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on twitter.