Iran: The oppression of Ahwazi Arab people in Al-Ahwaz
While Iran’s role in the wars in the Middle East is receiving a great deal of international attention, the situation in its south and south-western provinces of Khuzestan, Hormozgan and Bushehr, which are known to its Arab inhabitants as Al-Ahwaz region, is largely ignored.
Iran has imposed a media blackout on this Arabic-speaking region. It was occupied by Iran in 1925, and its Arab inhabitants have been subjected to ethnic discrimination and cleansing, state violence, and marginalization ever since.
Iran claims that it respects the rights of the non-Persian ethnic nations living in its current borders, but its actual policy in Al-Ahwaz is based on ethnic and linguistic repression. Arabs, who form the majority of the Al-Ahwaz region’s population, are discriminated against at every stage of life. They are not allowed to be educated in their language, and the use of Arabic is forbidden in public institutions. This has led to high rates of school dropout and illiteracy among children. 70% of children drop out of school by the high school stage.
Other Persian provinces boast thousands of cultural centres, but there isn’t a single one in Ahwaz. Publically singing in Arabic or reading Arabic poetry are enough to earn a person a jail sentence. Arabs are routinely discriminated against in employment, housing and, access to political office.
The names of towns and cities, such a Mohammareh (Khorramshahr), Al-Khafajiya (Susangard), and Al-Falahiyah (Shadegan) have been Persianised, and Persian speaking settlers have been brought in from other provinces as an aim of changing the demographic compositions of Al-Ahwaz.
Ahwaz holds grim records, both on an Iranian national and a global level. The capital of the region, also called Ahwaz, is the world’s most air-polluted city with dramatic increase in cancerous diseases linked to air and water pollution.
Iran has the second highest execution rate in the world, and Ahwaz has the highest share of executions in the country. The actual number of executions carried out could be much higher than the reported figure. The Al-Ahwaz’s prisons are full of ethnic Arab political activists, who are often held without trial and there are reports of torture and secret executions. In April 2015 alone, Human Rights Watch documented the arrest of 78 Arab activists, including children. Iranian opposition groups have shown a little solidarity with the people of Ahwaz – many have the same racist attitudes as the Iranian government.
Due to the poverty and repression in the area Al- Ahwaz has the highest suicide rate in Iran. The unemployment rate among Ahwazi Arabs is over 40%. Arabs are routinely discriminated against when it comes to employment. In one oil-drilling company operating in the region, it was found that only seven of the 4,000 employees were Arab. The poverty rate is extremely high – standing at around 70% in the major cities - and the child malnutrition rate is around 50%, which is equivalent to that of low-income and poor countries in Africa.
29 years have passed since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, however, the Al-Ahwaz region is still grappling with the extensive damage and the destruction that were the result of that war, with very little support from the central government to allocate enough budget of the oil and gas revenues of the region in order to reconstruct the extensive devastation that occurred in the war-torn areas. The legacy of war is still visible on the walls of the homes of the Ahwazis.
No more than 60% of the inhabitants have access to safe drinking water, even though there are five rivers in the region. Dams have been constructed in Ahwaz, diverting water to other, ethnically Persian provinces such as Isfahan and the province’s marshes and wetlands have been drained, destroying the ecosystem. This has had a devastating effect on the region’s farmers and fisherman.
The region’s poverty stands in contrast to its natural wealth. 98% of Iran’s oil resources and 100% of its natural gas come from the area. If it were an independent state, the occupied Al- Ahwaz would be the world’s third largest producer of oil. However Iran’s discriminatory policies have turned it into a hell on earth where the Ahwazi indigenous inhabitants are continuously terrorised, watching their land being stolen from them, their resources taken away, and their children being deprived of their education and ethnic identity.
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