Ahwazi Arabs: The Forgotten Struggle for Stolen Rights and Cultural Identity
Written by Rahim Hamid, Ahwazi Human Rights Activist
This report on recent human rights atrocities committed by the Iranian Government against the indigenous Arabs of the Al-Ahwaz region.
The report sheds light on poverty, environment, prisons and courts, racism and cultural oppression committed against Ahwazi Arabs.
I would like to dedicate this humble piece to the memory of my high school teacher, Hashem Shabani, Professor of the Arabic language and literature. On 27 January 2014, Shabani was wrongfully executed along with fellow Ahwazi Arab, Hadi Rashedi.
The following are selected sections of his last letter from prison published before his execution, and translated here into English:
To whoever is concerned about Humanity,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued humanitarian support and efforts to speak up for the suffocated voices of people, and realizing the rightness, deterring the wrongness dressed up in an image fascinating its viewers while its intentions, which are nothing but a diversion, far from reality and blurring the truth.
I must thank you again for exposing the evil hands that have for years endeavored to erase beautiful words, turning them into a fateful poison for us.
I started my journey wielding my pen against the tyranny that is trying to enslave and imprison minds and thoughts; colonizing people’s minds before colonizing their lands, and destroying people’s thoughts before destroying their region.
I have tried to remove the obstacles that divided the street (the public eye) from the truth, making folks live in an illusion formulated by the tyrants to design a life according to their will. When the tyrant’s hands spilled my ink, a single word has been highlighted in my texts provoking the rage and hatred in hearts of those men who continue to survive through spreading the darkness; the name of this highlighted word is “awareness.” I have been defending and supporting the legitimate rights of all peoples in the world; the right to live and enjoy freedom and civil rights. Despite all these sufferings and miseries I have not raised a weapon to fight against the oppression that my Ahwazi people are going through it, and I have not spilled the blood of any human being, I have just spilled the ink of my humble pen to fight against injustice and oppression.
Given the convergence of regional interests between Western countries and Iran, the world needs to understand the human rights atrocities committed by the Iranian regime that all too often receive scant attention. Iran’s crimes against its Ahwazi Arabs remain hidden, rarely reported and never addressed.
Iran has been systematically waging ethnic cleansing against Ahwazi Arabs in the south and southwestern parts of Iran. This ethnic purging amounts to physical and cultural genocide. The motivation for this ethnic cleansing is the existence of massive oil and gas reserves located in this resource-rich region, although the local Arabs are contending with severe poverty and multiple layers of oppression.
For years, the Iranian regime has been using its security apparatus and militias to suppress every voice of dissent and intimidating the general public. The situation of human rights throughout the country remains very fragile. Many ordinary people, including women, children and members of ethnic and religious groups continue to face varying degrees of discrimination in terms of their basic rights. The dream of obtaining these basic rights has now completely dissipated out under the current regime, which combines vicious religious sectarianism with Persian ethnic supremacy.
What the Ahwazi Arabs are subjected to comprises a glaring example of the discriminatory and repressive acts practiced by the Iranian regime. For such a long time, Ahwazis have had to suffer from severely limited access to basic rights, most notable of which is the right of education in Arabic, the mother tongue of the Ahwazi people, and lack of access to essential services, such as health care and employment opportunities.
For more than three decades of Islamic Republic rule, the country has been suffering a horrendous array of human rights violations, namely the upsurge of executions carried out disproportionately against ethnic nationalities such as Ahwazis, Kurds and Baluchi civilians. Along with this there is the policy of widespread torture of detainees, as well as unjust trails in blatantly biased courts, which continue to show a vicious contempt for human rights and particularly for the rights of minorities.
About Ahwazi Arabs
Ahwazi Arabs inhabit in the south and southwest of Iran. They are one of the oppressed people in the Middle East. They are united by race, culture and language. Their Arab dialect resembles Iraqi Arabic dialect and Khaliji (Gulf accent).
The Majority is Muslim although there are a number of other religions and creeds practiced such as Christianity and Mandaeanism.
There has been a deep-seated hostility by every exponent of the various leaders of the Iranian regimes against the Ahwazi Arab people, who constitute 10% of the population. Since 1925 with the toppling of the emirate of Ahwaz led by Sheikh Khazaal Al-Kaabi and the invasion by the Iranian regime, Ahwazis have endured a long history of suffering.
Ahwaz endures “wholesale oppression” with indigenous Arabs living in a fearful environment. Ahwazi Arabs are subjected to severe poverty despite the fact that the region of Al-Ahwaz has reserves containing more than 90% of the natural oil and gas in Iran.
Despite promises made by Iran’s current President, Hassan Rouhani, that there would be improvements for these people, the condition for Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic groups has not improved at all. The heightened persecution, however, was fully predictable despite Rouhani’s smiles.
Rouhani came to power ostensibly as an advocate of human rights and reform, and has been viewed as a “moderate” in the West. He delivered several speeches promising amelioration of hardships during his presidential election campaign. He passionately expressed his goal of upholding human rights and ensuring equal rights for all people in Iran. Instead, after two years in power, he merely became the king of executions. More than 2,000 executions have been carried out under Rouhani, yet the US and Western powers continue to insist that Rouhani is a sincere mediator of peace and stability.
The overarching focus of world powers has been on Iran’s nuclear program. This was pursued in spite of Iran’s continued horrendous human rights record. Doubtlessly seeking huge economic benefits of trade with Iran, the world powers have ignored the increased rate of executions and other persecutions aimed at ethnic and religious minorities.
Sadly, little has been done to curb or extinguish the spread of poverty among Ahwazi Arabs. To understand the extent and seriousness of poverty, it is necessary to examine and correct the notion that poverty manifests itself only as material destitution.
Despite the bounty of wealth that exists in Ahwaz, stretching from its north to its south and from its east to its west, poverty is rampant. Poverty exists on every level. Many Ahwazis live in horrific conditions, below the poverty line in overcrowded slums. The streets are narrow and dirty, with open sewers running along them. Many have no access to water, and drinking water only comes in jerry cans. It is no place for children to play or live.
If you ask them about this, they say ‘In the past, life in Ahwaz was wonderful, not like this’ and children say ‘Unless we collect garbage to eat, we will go without nothing unless we eat dirt, our grandfathers always tell us Ahwaz was a wonderful place to live, but now we see only hunger and poverty’.
This 20-year-old Ahwazi Arab man contracted chronic and rapidly degenerating skin and bowel diseases due to scavenging through rubbish in order to get food for his family. His parents, who are destitute, have been informed that their son needs to go to hospital in Tehran to receive lifesaving treatment, but cannot afford the expense of his treatment.
Ahwazis are victims of institutionalized widespread poverty and deprivation, such as, for example, the lack of equal employment opportunities, decent education, health care, housing, clothing, clean drinking water, as well as the denial of their social, political and economic rights. The scourge of poverty is rampant in Ahwazi areas and like a malignant fatal disease hits and shatters and displaces Ahwazis.
The leading cause behind the spreading poverty in Ahwaz can be attributed to the unequal opportunities and stifling unemployment of Ahwazis. These policies are an integral part of the Iranian regime’s discriminatory policies directed against Ahwazis, who continue to demand their basic rights. The Iranian regime considers the Ahwazis as inferior due to their Arab ethnicity and propagate the mythology of Persians as a superior race. As such, Persians are accorded all rights and privileges and Arabs are denied them.
Ahwazis continue to live in such extreme poverty and deprivation that many of them have no alternative but leaving their homeland, considering it as the only viable option available to them. Forcible displacement and homelessness is strongly encouraged and fueled by the Iranian regime which facilitates the process of changing the demography of the Ahwaz region. The Iranian regime uses and exploits poverty as a cruel weapon against Ahwazis with the sole purpose of forcing them to leave their lands.
Unemployment is recognized as an acute problem among Arabs due to the refusal to employ local people in industry. The lack of employment opportunities caused by discrimination have fuelled unrest among Arab youths, prompting some members of parliament in the region to speak out against unfair labour practices.
Local authorities employ people of other provinces in petrochemical and agricultural companies while indigenous people are jobless due to racial discrimination. Of the top 20 cities for unemployment in 2013, seven were in Arab majority areas, seven in Baluchi areas, four in Kurdistan and just two in Persian-majority areas.
While Baluchistan has long suffered under-development, the Ahwazi Arab region contains much of the country’s oil, petrochemicals, metallurgical and agricultural industries.
In Kurdistan, Al-Ahwaz and Baluchistan, the unemployment rates are the same, at 30-47%, demonstrating that indigenous populations are being subjected to institutional discrimination. Actual unemployment rates are likely to be far higher. Official statistics are based on the welfare claimant rate, which is well below the level indicated by standards used by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Arab farmlands have been confiscated by the Sepah forces (Revolutionary Guards) without compensation and are given to those who produce sugar for industry. Environmental destruction has also caused an environmental crisis in Ahwaz, displacing local Arab farmers and ending their traditional livelihoods. Many cities and villages have not been reconstructed since the end of the eight-year war ended between Iran and Iraq in 1988, and thousands of hectares of lands are still contaminated with millions of land mines.
Children and women in villages in the Ahwaz region collect rubbish to sell in exchange for food. Denied education and the most basic of human rights due to their Arab ethnicity, Ahwazis live in unimaginable poverty and deprivation, and again, this situation is most ironic given the fact that the region is the source of the oil and gas wealth claimed by Iran.
In 2015, the Iranian government conducted a campaign to put Ahwazi Arab hawkers out of business, even though for many this is their own hope of earning money. Over the year, Ahwazi Arab vendors were blindfolded and handcuffed before being subjected to brutal beating by the regime security forces in public. They were then taken to unknown locations.
Due to desperation, poverty and job discrimination, there has been an increase in self-immolation in Ahwaz. One example is that of Omid Rashedi Amiri, a 36-year-old married Ahwazi man with children. He was suffering due to unemployment and not having his job contract renewed. On 2 October 2015, he set himself on fire in protest at the Trade Unions office in Khalafiya County and tragically died at Ahwaz Taleghani Hospital.
Another example was Younes Asakereh, also an Ahwazi Arab street vendor. In March, his fruit kiosk was confiscated, he lost his means of employment and he self-immolated in protest in front of the City Hall and died from his injuries.
Ahwaz is the most polluted place on Earth, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Ahwaz City’s measure of air-born particulate matter (PM10) is 372 ug/m3, which is a third more than the world’s second-most polluted city, Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar and the only city in the world where average PM10 levels rise above 300 ug/m3.
Pollution from local petroleum industries and post-harvest fires in the arid fields are the primary culprits behind the high atmospheric levels of nitrate in the area. Pollution is inextricably bound up with the persecution of Ahwazi Arabs and the pillaging of their homeland as the oil and petrochemicals industries pump toxins into the air and rivers and fresh water is diverted from Ahwazi farmlands.
Environmental pollution in Al-Ahwaz and regime’s avoidance of responsibility
The canals that run from the dam reservoirs have adversely impacted on wildlife in the area. Native to the Umm Dibs area, the Reem deer, also known as the Arabian gazelle, have seen their numbers drop from 1,500 to less than 200 since the beginning of the dam construction program.
The Iranian regime’s rerouting of rivers to non-Arab areas has led to not only the drying up of the Karoon and Karkheh rivers, but to the destruction of the region’s marshlands
fed by the rivers. Great controversy surrounds the river diversion program. The government’s plans, already under development, seek to siphon off 1.1bn cubic meters of water from the province’s main rivers to central Iran. This is destroying the marshlands which serve as an important habitat for wildlife as well as helping to regulate humidity and rainfall further inland. Agriculture felt the worst of the effects of river diversion, exacerbating the effects of lower rainfall; indeed, Iranian scientists believe drought and poor rains are due to river diversion and the destruction of the marshes. The subsequent desertification is exacerbated by severe pollution from the oil refineries and petrochemical industries.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has officially warned the Iranian Environment Association that the southwest of Iran is facing a situation similar to the environmental catastrophes that have affected the Aral Sea in Central Asia and the Amazon jungle. The region contains extensive marshes and rivers that support endangered species of fish as well as migratory birds. Ahwazi farmers and fishermen also depend on the waters for their livelihoods.
According to the UNEP, the Hor al-Azeem marsh has transformed from one of the biggest marshes in the Middle East to a barren wasteland with soil that is too salty to sustain any plants. The marsh lies at the mouth of the Karkeh River on the Iran-Iraq border and also receives water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Dam projects in Turkey and Iraq as well as river diversion projects such as Iraq’s Saddam Canal have decimated the marshland, reducing it to a tenth of its original size.
Environmentalists estimate that due to Iranian water policy, the Ahwazi areas will be uninhabitable by the year of 2020. Some species of birds and mammals facing extinction in the region and Ahwazi Arabs suffering neurological, respiratory and birth disorders as well as high levels of cancer. The water crisis that hangs over Ahwazi areas has resulted in severe economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of poor Ahwazis, a situation that is not conducive to long-term stability in the region.
The Reem deer, also known as Arabian gazelles, which are native to the Umm Dibs area to the west of the Ahwazi regional capital, Ahwaz, are in danger of extinction in the area due to dozens drowning in the irrigation canals running through the region. Local experts say that the creation of the irrigation channels by the Iranian regime led to the deer being cut off from their main pastures on the other side. Those seeking to cross are often drowned. The canals irrigate farmland that was seized by the government from local farmers and now produces monoculture cash crops such as sugar.
The astonishing level of air pollution has taken its toll on the Ahwazi Arab population. Every year during the rainy season, thousands of Ahwaz City residents are hospitalized for respiratory problems including asthma and bronchitis as relentless acid rain affects the area due to a combination of environmental factors and pollution.
Life expectancy is the lowest in Iran and residents suffer high levels of respiratory problems and cancer. Contributing factors include desertification caused by river diversion and the draining of the marshes and the oil, petrochemical, metals and sugar and paper processing plants in and around Ahwaz.
Physical and mental growth deficiencies among Ahwazi children are extremely high, which has been ascribed to the extreme air pollution, including exposure to depleted uranium, as well as water contamination. Toxic levels of lead and mercury-pollution have led to increased levels of congenital deformities and other birth defects among newborn babies in the Ahwaz region, while the rate of miscarriages among Ahwazi women is also disturbingly high.
These defects and complications have been monitored in increased rates among children across almost all Ahwazi cities, such as Ahwaz, Abadan and Mahshor, while there is irrefutable evidence demonstrating a correlation between the increased number of congenital deformities and miscarriages and the ever-worsening air and water pollution.
The rate of these horrendous medical conditions and rare diseases has increased markedly in Ahwaz in recent years due to a combination of soaring pollution rates due to intensive oil and gas extraction and related petrochemical manufacturing plants, and the lack of clean water supply. This has led to near-constant dust storms and an atmosphere of dust mixed with toxic fine particles.
Prisons and courts
Ahwazis lack access to fair trials to defend themselves. These courts are considered among Ahwazis as one-sided and biased. In these courts, Ahwazi prisoners must be mute and are only allowed to hear the list of unfounded allegations before the judge.
Forced confession under torture has been one of the most constant characteristics of the Iranian regime, particularly against human rights activists. This is designed to force Ahwazi political prisoners to confess to committing serious crimes or to implicate others. Despite many Ahwazi Arab detainees retracting their confessions during the trial, Iranian courts accept these confessions as an evidence of guilt and sentence the detainees to long periods of imprisonment or execution.
The Ahwazi prisoners such as netizens, bloggers, media contributors, poets, teachers, student activists, intellectuals and human rights activists are almost always charged with seeking to overthrow the regime, threatening public order, instigating sectarian hatred and being in connection with foreign powers, waging war against Allah and corruption on earth. Such charges will be sentenced with capital punishment or life incarceration.
The Ahwazi people live through constant violations of their human rights. In 2014, the Iranian security forces carried out a mass arrest of Ahwazi protesters, illegally detaining over 2000 people in secret detention centers in which viciously extensive torture has been documented.
Throughout 2015, Iranian security forces targeted innocent Ahwazi Arab civilians in a series of coordinated mass raids and arbitrary arrests. They were transported to unknown jails and subjected to degrading, humiliating interrogations. The house raids carried out against young Ahwazi adults and college students involved smashing down doors and destroying all household furniture, along with assaulting family members, intimidating women and children and severely beating and insulting the detainees before their families’ eyes, in such a manner cruelly designed to insult their honor and dignity.
Prison authorities target Ahwazi prisoners for more extreme forms of punishment. They force Ahwazi political prisoners to serve their prison sentence not among another political prisoners but with rapists and murderers. The agents have even forbidden Ahwazi prisoners from having reading materials.
One Ahwazi Arab former prisoner who served five years in various Iranian prisons for activism recalled his story with painful honesty, disclosing horrifying detail of his ordeal from the moment he was incarcerated aged 17. Problems included lice infestation, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. Lice would burrow under inmates’ skin and clothes were filled with louse eggs. Prisoners would inspect each other, picking off lice from each other’s hair and other parts of the body. He stated that during his incarceration he felt that all his Ahwazi fellow prisoners shared a strong will to live. They shared the conviction that they would survive this living nightmare, even though many were scheduled for execution.
In November 2015, Ahwazi prisoner Mohammad Hammadi (35) died in suspicious circumstances after spending seven years of his 10-year sentence. He was arrested in 2008 by the Ministry of Intelligence and charged with acting against national security and was tried at the Revolutionary Court in Ahwaz. He had reportedly died before reaching hospital and a relative claimed that there was evidence that he was choked to death due to bruise marks on his neck. He had enjoyed good health and did not suffer from any chronic illnesses, but his relatives had been informed he had died of a stroke.
Some Ahwazi Arabs are killed summarily as security forces move against street protests. On 9 November 2015, 17y-year-old Ali Jalali was shot dead by Iranian security forces in Ahwaz City’s Nahdhe (known also as Lashkarabad) neighborhood. The teenager died while he was attempting to prevent the security forces from confiscating his food stall and the foodstuffs he was selling, which were his sole source of income.
The shooting followed peaceful demonstrations by residents protesting against orders by the government to shut down popular Arab restaurants and cafés in the district, which were followed by brutal raids by security forces. The closures and raids on the restaurants, which specialized in the popular local seafood dishes and falafel and were popular with tourists as well as locals, were another demonstration of the excessive restrictions placed on Ahwazi Arabs by the government.
Going in 2016, Ahwazis are concerned with the fates of dozens of activists arrested in late 2015 in the cities of Susa, Quneitra, Shavoor, and Khafajeh under the pretext of attacking the Muharram mourning in Quneitra (Dezful). According to the official Iranian news agencies, even before completion of the investigation and issuing any verdict from the courts, the Ministry of Intelligence, accused the detainees of forming a group called “Jund Al-Farouq”, charged them with “enmity against God” the punishment for which is the death sentence.
In addition, security officials have arrested the Arab activists on so-called charges of attacking a Shia convoy of mourning in the Safiabad district in the city of Quneitra (Dezful) at the start of Muharram. Two people were killed, and two others have been injured. In an interview with Fars News Agency, Ahmed Ghahremani, the Public Prosecutor of Quneitra city (Dezful), insisted on the immediate execution of the accused detainees even before the court’s decision has been handed down. Ghahremani claims that the detainees confessed to “enmity against God” and as a result there are fears they will be summarily executed, in contravention of Article 37 of the Iranian Constitution, which states: “The principle of presumption of innocence, and no one is to be held guilty unless proved guilty by a competent court.”
The arrests in September and October this year, took place after the detainees were denied the most basic right to make phones call to their family and access to a lawyer. The families of the accused are unaware of the status of their sons or the reasons for their detention. The names of some of the detainees are protected by human rights activists, and will be released after the conclusion of the court. To date, no Ahwazi Arab group has claimed responsibility for the attack in Quneitra (Dezful), and several Ahwazi rights organizations issued statements condemning the attack.
Ahwazi people have been living under “unbearable” circumstances as a result of the Iranian occupation. Ahwazi Arab women who are incarcerated mostly in the infamous prisons of Karoon and Sepidar, some of them sentenced to lengthy incarceration and the majority are kept in special women cells, remaining under investigation indefinitely even when no verdicts have been issued.
The state of Ahwazi Arab women prisoners is critically dire. Pregnant inmates have told harrowing stories of medical neglect and brutal mistreatment in Iranian jails that threatens the welfare of both them and their babies.
An infamous example of brutality against female prisoners was the Ahwazi political prisoner Fahimeh Esmaeli who was handcuffed while pregnant in an effort to degrade her and break her spirit. Fahimeh Esmaeli, like many Ahwazi women, has struggled against immense systematic discrimination and institutionalized violence, land confiscation and premeditated extermination against the Ahwazi Arabs.
She is a dedicated and well-educated activist who, after the unfair execution of her brave husband Ali Maturi, a political and social activist, has been imprisoned and condemned to 15 years of incarceration and exile to a prison outside Ahwaz. With threats against her life and that of her unborn child, she was coerced into making confessions against her husband to liquidate him like many Ahwazi prisoners. She was seven months pregnant when arrested, subjected to torture and has remained shackled.
Iranian agents have never shown any mercy or pardon for her as she continued to suffer from deliberate starvation and malnutrition, negligence and physical constraints, including handcuffs, waist chains and ankle manacles. These were a danger to both her and her unborn child. She gave birth to her Salma daughter without any medical aid in a filthy cell. While with her baby in the first days, she was shackled during her transfer (exile) to another prison outside Ahwaz, involving bus rides of up to 18 hours.
The women’s prisons in Ahwaz which are operating at maximum capacity have serious problems of filth and pollution. Lice and scabies symptoms appear on the skin of many women since they are allowed to shower once a month. The women in these terrifying prisons have been exposed to torture by various means in sensitive areas of the body, beating and rape during the investigation.
Iranian governments, whether monarchist or Islamist, have spared no efforts to destroy Ahwazi Arabs and other oppressed non-Persian nations to form a country based on Persian identity.
To achieve this racist objective they have enforced acute economic, political, cultural, social oppressions on Ahwazi people. Under different unjustified pretexts they have separated many territories of Ahwaz’s geography and then annexed them to the neighboring Persian provinces.
The consensus stance of the Persian Islamists, liberals, republicans and monarchists towards the term of “nation” is that nation is defined as a homogeneous group of people who share a feeling of common nationality having a sovereign state. So, other people who do not have independent statehood are not recognized as a nation but considered as a series of ethnic minority groups.
Under such a false and so-called academic definition, the Ahwazi Arab people, along with Turks, Kurds, Baluchs, and Turkmen have been oppressed and deprived of their legitimate national rights including the right to self-determination.
The Iranian regime, in order to maintain its illegal sovereignty on Ahwaz, Kurdistan, South Azerbaijan and Baluchistan has so far resorted on policies involving denial, deception, distortion of facts, force and repression, killing, and ethnic cleansing. Iranian chauvinist socialists believe that the nation is a subjective phenomenon and a product of nationalism and orchestrated by the bourgeois. Thereby they reject the objectivity of the nation and deny the national oppression and legitimate rights of non-Persian nations.
This picture is of the members of the Arab cultural foundation of Al-Hewar (dialogue) including the martyred writers Hadi Rashedi and Hashem Shabani Amouri. Most of the men in the photo are now in prison, have fled the country seeking asylum or have been executed by the Iranian regime for “enmity with Allah” because they supported Arab cultural identity and self-determination.
The racism against Ahwazis runs rampant. Racist anti-Arab sentiments that are so core to the modern Iranian state since the beginning of the Pahlavi regime in 1925 are often followed by racist acts. These everyday acts of intimidation and violence are allowed to flourish due to the nonexistence of anti-racist laws.
Akbar Abdi, a well-known comedian, has lately raised the level of this racial chauvinism during a live program on state television. He mentioned a trip with his family to Mecca in which he reacted to an Arab man who requested to get his son engaged to his daughter by saying: “If I can compare the value of my daughter with Gold, I would have to compare Arabs, you or your son, with Persian rubbish.” Television programs and state-owned newspapers for years have been offending and attacking Arabs and Ahwazis are bearing the brunt since racist denigration leads to the justification of genocide, as Europe witnessed before the Nazi Holocaust.
Genocide – defined as the destruction in whole or in part of a race or ethnic group – is a real threat for Ahwazi Arabs. The Iranian governments aims to change the demographic composition of the region by replacing Ahwazi Arabs with Persian settlers. The increasing number of occupying Persian settlers in Ahwazi lands and the reverse migration of Ahwazi Arab people to Persian areas and the integration of the two nations will gradually leave a devastating impact on the Arabic language of Ahwazi Arab people. The Iranian state, for the realization their nation-building project and formation of a mono-Persian nation have carried out cultural and linguistic genocide in Ahwaz.
The Persians ruling under the aim of building the soul of Persian statehood and in order to establish a single national identity, have created several institutions, organizations, and ministries. They have created an extensive educational system, and the Persian language has been declared as the official language of education, administrative and non-administrative correspondence, media and press in the country.
The Iranian governments, one after the other, to promote and expand the Persian language in the country and abroad, have allocated an enormous budget to the construction of universities and schools with Persian instruction. While the oppressed non-Persian nations, including the Ahwazi Arab people, have been denied education in their mother language.
The media, both at home and abroad, have played a significant role in the oppression of Ahwazi Arabs. Some Ahwazi families have reported that their detained loved ones have been subject to torture, malnutrition, forced labor and other cruel and unusual punishments before being coerced into confessing in front of the cameras of Press TV.
The role of the media is to portray Ahwazi Arab activists as terrorists, even when no violent act has been carried out or threatened.
The Iranian regime uses such strategies through its media in a bid for manufacturing a false and deeply racist narrative to the world that dehumanizes and demonizes Ahwazi Arab people seeking freedom and human rights as terrorists, denies their voice and rights, and presents the regime as the rightful occupier of Al-Ahwaz Arabs’ land.
Such racist attitudes are common within the Persian Diaspora, including opposition parties, and are expressed through Western-backed Persian language media such as BBC Persian, Radio Farda and VOA Persian. As a result, the Ahwazi cause is deliberately distorted by endemic racism and Ahwazis find themselves alienated and marginalized.
The Prevalence and Trends of Persian state- sponsored Racism against Arabs in Iran
The racism against Ahwazis runs rampant; we can feel that anti-Arab sentiments tainted by rooted fascism is not confined to ordinary Persian citizens, but include a considerable portion of the Persian elite that directly fueled by state politics.
Monday, August24th is the anniversary of the birth in 980 AD of the great Muslim doctor, scholar and polymath, Abu Ali Ibn Sina (better known in English as Avicenna), one of the great thinkers of the Islamic Golden Age, who wrote all his timeless works in Arabic.
The Iranian regime chose to mark this date with an annual celebration, ‘Doctors’ Day’, honouring the countries doctors – though only those of Persian ethnicity. The sign shown below, erected to mark the annual event at the entrance of an oil company hospital in the city of Abadan in the Arab Al-Ahwaz region (renamed Khuzestan in 1935, ten years after Iranian colonisation) demonstrates the depth of Iranian racism towards Arabs, including doctors, saluting the doctors of Persian ethnicity while conspicuously omitting any mention of their Arab counterparts.
This placard is a great indication of the depth of Persian racism toward other non-Persian people, especially that of Ahwazi Arabs. The intensity of this bigotry is shown in countless ways: the regime’s annual ‘Doctors’ Day’ held every year on August 24th, on which the work of doctors is celebrated and honoured, with celebratory events, including seminars, held to mark the occasion – though only for those doctors who are Persian Iranians, with their Ahwazi Arab counterparts pointedly excluded, despite the fact they are supposedly being citizens of Iran. An example of this is seen in the sign seen here, which was posted at the entrance to the oil company’s hospital in the city of Abadan in the Ahwaz region, commemorating Doctors’ Day by expressing gratitude and appreciation for the work of Farsi-speaking doctors, a very deliberate snub to Ahwazi doctors.
This is only one of the countless daily reminders to Ahwazi people of their inferior status in the eyes of the Iranian state, with such systemic racism towards Arabs having become deeply ingrained in Iranian culture and in the political system over decades.
This is not the first and will not be the last example of racism against Arabs. Anti-Arab bigotry appears to be spreading to all circles in Iran even those who are considered to work in honorable professions where one is expected to look at the equality of human beings regardless of ethnicity, sect, and religion, political or regional differences.
This banner on the door of an ophthalmology clinic in the city of Kermanshah, western Iran, is not unusual, “We apologize for not accepting Arab patients”.
The declaration of the banner starts with a racist piece of poetry attributed to the Persian poet Abu Qassem Ferdowsi (935-1020 AD), the author of the Shahnameh poetry book, which says: “after drinking camel milk and eating lizard, the matter reached the level to which those Arabs aspired to possess the crown of a King. Damn, oh time, Damn oh time.”
In the center of the banner are two figures: on the right is a man who represents the first kings of Persia, relating to the Achaemenid dynasty ruling in Persia from Cyrus I to Darius III (553–330 BC) and behind him there is map, where “the Persian Gulf” is written. At the left, there is the image of an Arab man, beside him is a camel with golf clubs on his back and there is written in English “Arabian Golf” rather than “Arabian Gulf”.
The reaction to this blatant racism was reflected in social networking pages by Ahwazi Arab activists who understand Persian.
This kind of racism is deeply offensive and even more so since Arabs have been subject to relentless chauvinistic behavior and the exhibition of racist tendencies that come to light more and more by fanatic Persian national poets, writers or reporters who feel entitled as writers to spew their anti-Arab diatribes publicly as a form of their own work.
On Thursday, April 16th, 2015, the Iranian regime and its supporters spew racist anti-Arab slogans in Karaj, Tehran city. “Death to all Arabs” was chanted by the Persians.
Iranians took to the streets in various cities and chanted racist and fascist slogans against Arabs after the regime circulated fabricated news stories of two Iranian youths being raped in Saudi Arabia. The claim was denied by the Saudi Arabian government, and the family of the two youths confirmed that the news was false and baseless.
Despite the clerical regime’s oft-repeated claims to stand for Palestinian freedom, such anti-Arab racism is endemic and encouraged by the regime, with Arabs being commonly referred to in derogatory terms such as ‘lizard-eaters’ and ‘camel’s milk-drinkers’, being depicted as uncivilized barbaric, and barefooted nomads .
These demonstrations by nationalists Persians and Basij forces were held in front of the Saudi embassy. Their fascist Aryan slogans against the Arabs clearly reflected their hostility to the Ahwazi Arabs under the occupation of Iran. These same demonstrations are held under the license of the velayat-e faqih system which falsely claims to support the Arab issues from Iraq to Lebanon. This affects the dignity of millions of Ahwazi Arabs who have been caged under the Iranian occupation.
On March 29, 2011 Iranian sites circulated a video of an Iranian poet named Mustafa Badkoobe as he recited a poem in Persian with the title “God of the Arabs”, depicting the Arabs, stating he refuses to enter heaven if there were Arabs, and that he would prefer to go to hell, which deeply angered and insulted the Ahwazi Arab in Al-Ahwaz. He said that these “Khozaan (Ahwazis) learned the Arabic language and that they know they are not Arab but are actually only Arab-speaking Iranians converts who should revert to their origins, the pure Persian race”, which was met with great encouragement and applause from the Persian audience who share these intolerant and abhorrent views, but was quickly followed by the widespread wrath of Ahwazi Arabs.
Anti-Arab racism is endemic in Iran, having been encouraged by successive regimes with Ahwazis’s bearing the brunt of this bigotry. Both in formal policies which treat them as second-class citizens, excluded from property ownership and all but the most menial jobs. They are denied the most basic of rights through a culture which glorifies racism and casual violence towards Arabs: many of the most celebrated contemporary Iranian poets’ most famous poems are filled with virulently racist anti-Arab imagery and language.
While the Iranian regime constantly exploits the Palestinian cause (as and when expedient), this mobile game app popular in Iran – in which caricatured Arabs represented in a style reminiscent of Der Sturmer are force-fed lizards then beaten up – gives a taste of the real Iranian view of Arabs, which is fostered and encouraged by the regime. Ahwazi Arabs in the occupied Ahwaz region as well as Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians and other Arab peoples across the region, know the true, deeply fascistic Iranian attitude to Arab peoples all too well.
This anti-Arab racism extends to all cultural forms, with one fairly typical recent hit by a popular Iranian singer entitled ‘Kill and Fuck An Arab’ issued shortly after a phone app game, ‘Beat An Arab’ in which the object of the game is to force-feed a grotesque caricature of an Arab before beating him unconscious: both the song and the game were approved for general release by the Iranian Culture Ministry, which routinely approves such offensive material , and is neither viewed by Persian Iranians as being in any way objectionable.
Ironically while the theocracy in Tehran is keen to present itself as the champion of Palestinians and arch-foe of Zionist occupation, its own savagely imposed the occupation of Ahwazi Arabs’ land is arguably more brutal and its profound anti-Arab bigotry is virtually indistinguishable to that of Zionists.
Recently an Iranian rapper named Behzad Pax released his album under the title “Kill Arabs”, which gained huge popularity among Persians. One song with disgusting and nauseating anti-Arab words incites beheading and wiping out Arabs everywhere. The hatred of Arabs appears even in the songs sponsored by the regime. They come under the government of President Hassan Rouhani, whose office called a few days ago for the normalisation of relations with the Arab countries, especially in the Gulf, and most importantly Saudi Arabia.
The writer of the song, Behzad Mahdavi Bakhsh, says in the introduction, “I have never liked these Arab eaters of locusts.” (It is noteworthy that the phrase “the locust-eaters” is used in Persian, even in literature, alongside “barefoot”, “camel-riders”, “lizard-eaters” and other racist expressions.) The song praises Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the external arm of the Revolutionary Guards, and compares him with the legendary King Cyrus of Persia.
The lyrics say “Qassem Soleimani’s army is everywhere”, “This is Iran, o Arab fools” and “This is the Cyrus Army, not Daesh (ISIS).” Others are “I swear by the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf) we will eliminate your name, o Arab parasites”, and “We will decapitate the necks of all of you near Cyrus cemetery in Persia. “
Then the poet indulges in his threats and says: “If you made a mistake you will pay the price in Riyadh, and from today onwards my name is honoured to be “the Arab-killer’”. The song distributed by the rapper Behzad Pax addressing the imaginary Iranian King Cyrus –who has become a symbol of Persian extreme nationalists–has the following words: “Arise, O Cyrus; it has reached us that we are threatened by the Arabs.”
Following the formation of the modern Iranian nation-state in 1926, which coincided with Reza Shah Pahlavi’s ascent to power, he formed a team of Persian nationalist theorists with the aim of disseminating negative, racist propaganda about Arabs within Iran. This paved the way for the popularisation in Iran of a virulently anti-Arab culture, with Arabs being collectively demonised and held responsible for social and political backwardness in Iran.
This policy of systemic racism towards Arabs has continued under successive Iranian rulers to this day, and can be seen in the virulently racist modern Persian literature of the past eight decades, in which Arabs are routinely slandered, dehumanised and grotesquely caricatured in a manner reminiscent of Der Sturmer.
Iran’s Ministry of Education has distributed a new, deeply racist textbook for children in the Arab Ahwaz region depicting Arabs as savage, uncivilised idiots.
According to credible sources in Ahwaz, the latest textbook (cover shown below) depicts various derogatory images of Arabs, with the cover showing an image of a barefoot Arab man in traditional dress riding a camel as a racist caricature.
Such crude anti-Arab bigotry and offensive stereotypes are standard in Iranian media and culture. All such depictions, as well as anti-Arab video games, poetry and other cultural artefacts, are closely monitored and approved by the theocratic regime, which actively encourages anti-Arab racism.
The two pictures show how an Arab man wearing traditional clothes inappropriately, suggesting that Arabs are stupid and uncivilised, like the stereotype carried by mental Persian towards the Arab people.
The other picture shows Arabic man in a desert with a face like a pig and bare feet that are thought to have expressed a wish of arriving a lush garden and a beautiful waterfall.
Ahwazi activists condemned this latest expression of anti-Arab sentiment, particularly in the guise of an educational book for Arab children, adding that this is part of a systemic supremacist culture of hatred towards Arabs and all things related to Arab identity rooted in resentment amongst many Iranians dating back to the fall of the Persian Empire at the hands of Muslims and Arabs.
This resentment has been actively promoted and encouraged by successive Iranian rulers, up to and including the current regime, as a way of justifying their own brutal persecution of Ahwazi and other Arab peoples.
The Ahwazi activists warned against the perpetuation of such racist policies against both Ahwazi Arabs and other non-Persian minorities in Iran, adding that it could lead to a backlash against not only the regime itself but against Persian peoples generally.
This latest incident of regime-sanctioned racism follows recent widespread regional anger over Iranian state TV broadcasts of racist slurs against the Turkmen people of Southern Azerbaijan, which led to large demonstrations in Azerbaijan and elsewhere.
These racialist courses are wandering promptly by the nonexistence of a law that penalizes such pernicious acts in a country. Akbar Abdi, a well-known comedian character, has lately raised one of this racial chauvinism during a live program on a state television. He mentioned a trip with his family to Mecca in which he reacted to an Arab man who requested to get his son engaged to his daughter by saying: If I equaled my daughter with Gold, I would not equal Arabs, you or your son with Persian rubbish.” He described the Arab man with ugly and dirty epithets.
This was not the first one and will not be the last state-sanctioned stream of bigotry against Arabs and Ahwazis. Television programme and state-owned newspapers for years are offending and attacking Arabs as Ahwazis are bearing the brunt.
An Iranian magazine called Roshan put this picture on its cover:
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, wearing traditional Arabic dress, lives in a desert land (symbolising the loss of civilization), and Javad Zarif behind him is a library, to symbolise the civilization and culture of Persians. This picture intends to say that the Arabs are destroying and losing science and civilization. Iranian Fars society is marred by a heritage of racism. Many Fars people forget that they live in the largest arid plateau.
What actually motivates racism among Persians against Arabs in general and Ahwazi Arabs in particular along with Kurds, Turks and Baluchis is the misplaced belief instilled into Persians minds that they come from the special superior Aryan race while the rest of other ethnic groups have some inferior racial traits that result in that group being detestable.
All forms of human rights and liberties are natural rights, and no one has the authority to give them to others as if they were favoured. It is deeply painful to see that a centralised state such as Iran with a petrified and racist Persian mentality has for nine decades been discriminating against Ahwazi Arabs along with other groups based on ethnic and religious differences. Ahwazi Arabs are going through the most anguished of times because of the inhuman oppression of the Iranian occupation state practised against them.
I do not know how best to convey my views. However I do have some questions for the Persian community who on a daily basis bombards Ahwazi Arabs with racist remarks and disgusting insult; is it in our hands to become an Arab or a Persian? Isn’t it cruel and inhuman to discriminate against people based on their identity or the language they speak? Is it up to us to decide to be born Arab or non-Arab?
All people who have faith in humanity should defend the rights of the oppressed Ahwazis who face political, religious and ethnic suppression at the hands of Iranian authorities. Even its civil community needs the whole world speaking up for it in various international organisations, especially the United Nations, in the name of justice and humanity.
I do think that every single effort is necessary to raise the awareness of the plight of Ahwazi Arabs. As an Ahwazi young man I would like to mention that supporting Ahwazi issues should not be confined to the political aspect. Instead, we need all forms of support.
Ahwazi Arabs voices have been silenced by brutal force. This silence is deeply rooted in the generations of tyranny, persecution and fear Ahwazis had grown up with.
The freedom of Ahwazi people has been long delayed but it absolutely must not be denied or undermined. The ongoing international silence on human rights situation in Iran is in fact nothing more than a lethal weapon empowering the hands of the Iranian regime, the constant oppressor of people in the country, particularly Ahwazi Arab people who see all their wealth being stolen while they are left in growing economic impoverishment and treated with injustice and considered unworthy solely because of their Arab ethnicity.
People of the world need to come together to support Ahwazis in their attempts to organize events in major cities to expose the Iranian regime’s persecution of the Ahwazi people. They need to speak up and inform politicians, journalists and world citizens together as a collective to force the Iranian regime to stop its policies of oppression and grant legitimate rights to Ahwazis.
Rahim Hamid is a freelance journalist and human rights advocate who writes about the plight of his community – the Ahwazi Arabs – and other ethnic groups in Iran.