Ahwazi: The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) Celebrates Anniversary
BAFS was created in December 2004 to lobby on behalf of Ahwazi Arabs and attract international attention to their cause, which has never received the coverage it deserves. The Ahwazis endure ethnic persecution, high levels of poverty, forced displacement and state terrorism, despite being indigenous to one of the world's most oil-rich regions.
BAFS's position has been to support Ahwazi groups that are committed to non-violent means to foster change and promote human rights, equality ande democracy in Iran. It works in collaboration with the Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz (DSPA), the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation (AHRO), the Ahwaz Studies Centre, the Ahwaz Education and Human Rights Foundation and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO).
The organisation's website was launched in March 2005 during the 61st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, where Mansour Silawi-Ahwazi of the DSPA and Sanjukta Ghosh representing the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation - both officers of the BAFS - met with UN officials to highlight issues affecting Ahwazis
The Ahwazis hit the headlines the following month when an intifada in Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan) was brutally put down by security forces, leading to more than 160 deaths. The unrest was sparked by the leak of a letter written by former Vice President Mohamed Ali Abtahi calling for the "ethnic restructuring" of Khuzestan to reduce the Arab population from 70 per cent to 30 per cent of the province's total. BAFS was the first website to report the uprising and to publish the translation of the letter.
In July, UNHCR's Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing Miloon Kothari spoke of his outrage over the forced displacement of Ahwazi Arabs. Kothari's findings and BAFS's lobbying efforts prompted MEPs such as Paulo Casaca to include the condemnation of the forced migration of Ahwazi Arabs in a motion on Iran in October. The motion was sponsored by all the European Parliament's political groups and represented a major breakthrough for the Ahwazi lobbying campaign.
BAFS's coverage of the Ahwazi struggle against persecution and poverty has attracted plaudits from leading journalists, politicians, human rights groups and lobbyists. Many would not have known about the plight of the Ahwazis without BAFS's reputation as the only source of news and information on Ahwaz in the English language. Within just one year and with few resources, BAFS has helped transform the Ahwazi struggle from an unknown local dispute into an issue with important regional and international importance. Just this month, BAFS's work was acknowledged in feature articles in the Washington Times and Shaarq magazine, the UK's only English language publication the British Arab community.
BAFS Chairman Daniel Brett said: "The coming year will be crucial for the Ahwazi cause, which risks being drowned out by the arguments over Iran's nuclear programme. In the year ahead, we will be holding meetings at the House of Commons in London and the European Parliament and Commission in Brussels and will continue to build on our success in raising the profile of Ahwazis among NGOs, the United Nations and the media. We believe that the Ahwazis can only win freedom, peace and justice with international solidarity, not with bullets and guns."