The Islamic Republic of Iran appears in its aggressive arrogance as a solid and intimidating force. There are however, chinks in the Iranian regime’s armor – it is beset by rebellious minorities who seek self-determination from the Tehran regime. On December 3, 2016, an international conference on Ahwaz was held in Tunisia by the Euro-Arab Center for Studies, in conjunction with the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz. The conference was titled “Ending the Occupation and Restoring the Country – An Historic Duty”
The Ahwazis are an Arab minority in a predominantly Persian state. In 1925, Shah Reza Pahlavi annexed the area known historically as Arabistan to Iran, and gave it the name Khuzestan. Ahwaz is the capital of the province, which is bordering Iraq to the West, the Persian (Arabian) Gulf to the Southwest, and the Zagros Mountains to the East, North, and Southeast, which separate it from Iran (Persia). Arabistan was a British protectorate that was governed until 1925 by Sheikh Khazaal bin Jabber, whose family ruled Arabistan for over a century. The British, interested in preserving its oil interests in Iran, gave the Shah a green-light to occupy the province.
The British colonial administrator of Arabistan, Sir Arnold Wilson once said that Arabistan is “a country different from Persia as is Spain from Germany.” Indeed, most Arab-Ahwazis are Sunni-Muslims in sharp contrast to the majority Shiites in Iran. In addition to religious differences, there is also the ethnic difference. The Ahwazis are Semitic Arab people while the Iranians (Persians) are Hindu-European. Culturally, the Ahwazis have been robbed of their language (Arabic). In short, there is little in common between Ahwazi Arabs and their Iranian occupiers. There is only repression and apartheid practiced by the Ayatollahs regime.
Significantly however, Arabistan provides Iran with 80 percent of its oil requirements and 50 percent of its gas. According to Al-Arabiya (1/25/2017) “Numerous Arab villages are without schools and those ‘lucky’ enough to attend school are educated in Farsi. Some 80 percent of Ahwazi women are illiterate as opposed to 50 percent of Ahwazi men. Over thirty percent of the under-30s are unemployed in this heavily industrialized region, primarily because Persians receive priority and jobs often advertised outside the governorate. Thousands are without access to drinking water because rivers have been diverted to arid Persian provinces. Their streets have open sewers; many are deprived of electricity and gas. In 2013, Arabistan capital Ahwaz was classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the most polluted city on earth, partly due to desertification and industrial smug. Arab farmers are regularly stripped of agricultural land, and although there has been loud condemnations of Israel’s separation wall, there have been no media headlines about the segregation walls hiding squalid Arab ghettos from wealthier Persian settlements and glossy new towns.”
One wonders where the hypocritical voices of the Israel boycotters are, especially that of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and their western “useful idiots,” whose boycott and divestment campaigns punish Palestinian workers in Israeli companies, while ignoring the killing of Palestinians in Syria by the Assad regime and their Iranian and Hezbollah helpers. Where is their outcry about the true apartheid practiced by the Iranian regime against Ahwazi-Arabs, Kurds and Baluch Sunni Muslims in Iran? And where is the media’s criticism of Iran’s separation walls in Arabistan?
Writing in the Saudi daily Okaz, Abd Al-Mushen Hilal argued in his column that the Ahwaz issue is older than the Palestinian issue, and that the Iranian occupation of Ahwaz was as bad as the Israeli “occupation” of Palestine. Hilal asserted that, “There is a pressing need to recognize the Ahwazi issue, in order to deal with Iran’s efforts to eradicate the Arab identity of the region by expelling its residents, changing its characteristics, and obscuring its Arab identity. Its name changed from Ahwaz to Arabistan, and later to Khuzestan; it is home to 12 million Arabs, and it is as large as Syria, Jordan, and Palestine combined.”
The BBC reported on January 25, 2006 that “At least eight people were killed and 46 injured in two blasts in the south-western Iranian city of Ahwaz. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been due to give a speech at a religious center nearby.” Earlier, “in November, protests erupted in Ahwaz after ethnic Arabs accused authorities of discrimination.”
The Ahwazi Arabs are not the only ones to be discriminated against and oppressed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Kurds in Iran, estimated in 2008 to number from 8-10 million, or 11-15% of the Iranian population, are indigenous to the region they live in (northwestern Iran). Like the Ahwazi-Arabs, the majority of the Iranian Kurds are Sunnis, and have been likewise persecuted and discriminated against by the Iranian regime. Initially they supported the Iranian revolution against the Shah. The Iranian Kurds sought an autonomous rule within Iran. It led to the Ayatollah Khomeini declaring Jihad against the Kurdish people of Iran. As a result, there has been a continuous military, economic and psychological war waged by the Tehran regime on the civilian Kurdish people.
According to the Kurdistan Peace and Development Society, the Tehran regime has led a systematic genocidal campaign against its Kurdish population, which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people. The Iranian Kurds seek improved governmental representation and protection of their basic human rights through the creation of a federal state.
International human rights organizations have revealed that Iran executed at least 94 Kurds in 2005, 117 in 2006 and up to 370 in 2008. In 2010, at least 16 Kurdish political prisoners were awaiting death sentences in Iran. None have been given access to a fair trial. According to Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) “many of the executions are public, and often sentences are handed down in absence of legitimate court proceedings.”
Despite being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran is the only country in the world to publicly execute minors. An estimated 134 minors are currently on death row. Many high profile executions of juveniles occurred in the Kurdish area. One in particular was the execution of Mohammedreza Haddadi, sentenced to death for an alleged crime he committed at age 15.
Dr. Hossein Bor is a distinguished legal scholar with a law firm situated across the street from the White House. A Baluch activist, he once told this reporter that “freedom and self-determination does not stop at the gates of Baluchistan (southeastern Iran) and Kurdistan.” Like the Kurds, most of the Baluch people in Iran are Sunnis, and are severely persecuted as such. Bor wrote that “The Baluch people in Iran are going through the hardest time in their history. They have been systematically oppressed, discriminated against, and deprived of proper education. There are 3.5 million Baluchis in Iran, (2009) and there has not been even one single Baluch high official in the country in the last 30 years.”
The Kurds, Baluch, and Ahwazi aspirations have never received the attention the Palestinians have received. Yet, these people have struggled for freedom and self-determination for a century. They are more numerous than the Palestinians and are truly oppressed. There are already 22 Arab-Muslim sovereign states, yet there is not a single Kurdish state, or a Baluch state. The Ahwazis have known a measure of independence as a British protectorate, but their occupation by Iran is intolerable. It well is past time for the international community to notice these people.