Apr 17, 2015

Ahwazi: Self-Immolation and Wave of Protests against Repression

Following the tenth anniversary of the Ahwazi Intifada of 2005, which represents a turning point in the history of the Ahwazi people’s struggle for cultural and political recognition, the Ahwazna Website decided to shed light on some Iranian policies exercised on the Ahwazi minority such as arbitrary arrests, death penalty, denial of employment, deprival of water and dehydration and contamination of wetlands. The contribution comes soon after the latest eruption of protests which followed the self-immolation of a vendor, Younes Asakereh, in Mohammareh city. It also mentions a leaked letter from 2005 of Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, planning the forced displacement and ethnic cleansing of Ahwazi Arabs, which had provoked a mass uprising at the time. 


Below is an article published by Counter Currents

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the glorious Intifada 15 April of 2005 that was a turning point in the history of the struggle of the Arab people of Ahwaz. Therefore, it is an opportunity to shed light on the issue of Ahwaz and objectives of the unwavering struggle of its people, and also to expose the Iranian gruesome policies exercised on Ahwazis which have taken its toll where arbitrary arrest of Ahwazi activists, death penalty, denial of employment, stealing the water of rivers and pumping it to Persian regions, building settlements for housing Persian settlers, dehydrating and contaminating wetlands and marshes for prospecting oil are rife.

The latest eruption of protests expressing longstanding Ahwazi Arab anger at the occupying Iranian regime’s systemic brutal oppression and injustice began in the wake of the self-immolation of Ahwazi street vendor Younes Asakereh in front of the municipality building in Mohammareh city on March 15th 2015 in protest at council officials’ unjustified expropriation of his stall.

Following the example of, and perhaps inspired by Tunisia’s Mohammed Bouazizi whose self-immolation in similar circumstances in 2011 was the spark for the Tunisian revolution and subsequent and still ongoing revolutions across the Arab world, Younes Asakereh's self-immolation was also a desperate protest against horrendous oppression and injustice under the Iranian regime, which denies Ahwazi Arabs all rights and even their Arab identity as state policy. Like Bouazizi, Asakereh also later died as a result of the burns all over his body.

One of the countless examples of the Iranian regime’s inhuman policies towards Ahwazis is a leaked letter in 2005 from Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi circulated to government ministries concerning acceleration of the regime’s program of enforced demographic changes throughout Al-Ahwaz region (known as Khuzestan in Farsi, a name conferred on it in 1936). As the letter clarified, this policy is pursued through the forced displacement and ethnic cleansing of Ahwazi Arabs, to be replaced by Persian Iranians from central provinces of Iran.

The leaked letter clearly demonstrates the regime’s ethnic cleansing policy towards Ahwazi Arabs, advising government ministries to invite Persians to settle in the region as a means of gradually eradicating Ahwazi Arab identity and culture and effectively ‘Persian-izing’ the region. After it had been leaked in 2005, the letter provoked a mass uprising or intifada among Ahwazis, with over 100 killed by the regime in the resulting brutal crackdown.

As well as direct forced relocation and displacement, the regime also pursues other abusive policies against the Ahwazi people and their lands, which have a devastating effect. These policies include the ‘giant dams’ project in which the main rivers in the Ahwaz region, such as the Karoon, which provide the people with not just domestic water supplies but water for irrigation of crops, are being redirected through the construction of vast dams in order to pipe the water to central Persian provinces of Iran, particularly Isfahan. According to a recent statement from Mohammad Ghasemi-Nejad, the Vice President of the Ahwazi Department of Agriculture, this massively environmentally destructive project has so far led to more than 40,000 hectares of previously fertile agricultural land in the Ahwaz region becoming non-productive due to the resulting low water levels in the rivers which had been used to irrigate them.

Another effect of the ‘giant dams’ project is the gradual drying up of the previously bounteous Ahwazi marshlands at the mouths of these rivers, where generations of Ahwazi fishermen and farmers who had made their living from fishing and agriculture are now increasingly threatened with being left without any livelihood.

The environmental effect is no less devastating. According to the Global Environment Organization’s 2014 report, Al-Ahwaz is the most polluted region in the world, with the report stating that one of the primary causes of this is the deliberate environmental damage inflicted by the drainage of rivers and marshes which used to be a natural barrier to sandstorms coming from neighboring countries.

In a related case, Sharif Hosseini, a deputy representing Ahwaz in the Iranian parliament, accused the Iranian government of practicing systematic forced displacement of Ahwazis through the water transfer projects which are changing the climatic character of the whole region, and causing environmental pollution and desertification, in order to prevent agriculture and deny people's livelihoods.

The severe damage to the regional agricultural sector has in turn contributed to a further significant increase in the already disproportionately high unemployment rate among Ahwazi peoples, which now exceeds 35 percent according to the semi-official statistics, with the young generation of Ahwazis worst affected.

Despite the extensive drilling and extraction of oil and gas in the region (which contains 90 percent of Iran’s oil reserves and 40 percent of its gas reserves), the number of Ahwazis employed in the oil and gas sector, almost exclusively in low-ranking unskilled positions, does not exceed five percent, with Persians from central areas of Iran making up 95 percent of the workforce. In stark contrast to the Ahwazis, the Persian oil and gas sector personnel are resettled in spacious, well-appointed government-subsidized all-Persian settlements both in and outside the city of Ahwaz, and are actively encouraged to move to the region through high salaries and facilitating their access to loans and credit at excellent terms. None of these privileges are available to Ahwazis.

All this takes place against a background of unrelenting brutal oppression of the indigenous Ahwazi people, with cultural activities and civil society organisations prohibited for Ahwazis and political activists routinely arrested and subjected to grotesquely unjust and cruel punishments simply for peacefully campaigning for fundamental human rights; sentences for activism range from ten years to life imprisonment and the death penalty.

This systemic injustice is administered by the Iranian Revolutionary Courts, which use charges against Ahwazis such as ‘blasphemy’, ‘enmity against God and the Prophet’, ‘threatening national security’, or opposition to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. For just one example of how these charges are deployed against Ahwazi activists, a number of peaceful activists were executed in 2013 and mid-2014 for posing a ‘threat to national security’ by establishing a civil organization dedicated to teaching the Arabic language

The accumulation of repressive measures and increase in the Iranian regime’s savage and grotesque injustices against the Ahwazi peoples has led to rising outrage among Ahwazis, with Younes Asakereh’s tragic self-immolation simply providing a catalyst for a wave of protests in cities and towns across the region from Mohammareh to Ahwaz (with large protests seen in the Ahwaz city’s football stadium) to Susa, Hamidieh, Khafajeh and other cities. The regime is reacting with its customary savagery, with security forces conducting daily campaigns of indiscriminate house-to-house raids in which detainees are taken to unknown locationsas precautionary measures in order to curb Ahwazi demonstrations from marking the anniversary of occupation of Ahwaz by Iranian state in April the 20th 1925.