Jul 22, 2004

Ahwazi: Statement at the WGIP

Joint statement by Ahwaz Human Rights Association; Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz; Indigenous Ahwazi Arabs for Freedom and Democracy
Untitled Document
On behalf of between 4 to 5 million indigenous Ahwazi Arab people of Southwestern Iran, we want to thank you for the opportunity.

Indigenous AHWAZIS believe the exercise of the right of self-determination is the only reasonable way of resolving a potentially explosive conflict between it and the oppressive Iranian government. The hope and prospect of realizing this right, in our opinion, is the only way to prevent a violent conflict in Iran.

Since the annexation of Arabistan (al-Ahwaz) by the Iranian government in 1925, indigenous Ahwazi nation has not recognized, nor does it now, recognize the Iranian government as their legitimate representative. The successive regimes in Iran have deliberately kept us backward. While our land accounts for 80 of Iranian oils production, we do not share the riches of our land and half of our population live in absolute poverty. Notwithstanding, and despite all odds, indigenous Ahwazi Arabs still have faith in the international community's ability to be just, fair and hopefully intervene on its behalf.

Hopelessness, frustration and desperation of poor and unemployed indigenous Ahwazi youth have in the past provided the impetus in blowing up and destroying oil installations in their land. They perceived these installations as instrument of power that not only did not benefit them, but also polluted their air, contaminated their water and caused a disastrous ecology system. Moreover, they know that no attention is paid to them, and unfortunately, the world does not react unless and until conflicts breaks out.

Prior to its annexation by the Iranian government in 1925, al-Ahwaz used to be an autonomous territory inhabited entirely by indigenous Ahwazi Arab tribes. For the past 500 years, the region was called Arabistan by Persian rulers (signifying the territory's Arab character). The central government changed the territory's name to Khuzestan in 1936. Currently, Ahwaz, or Khuzestan, is a province that lies in southwest Iran, bordering Iraq, Kuwait and the Gulf.

The confiscation of indigenous Arab-owned land by the Iranian government has been an established policy since 1925. The confiscated lands are typically given to non-Arab settlers. In the past fifteen years alone, over 60,000 hectares of indigenous Ahwazi Farmers land have been forcefully taken over, or legally stolen from indigenous farmers and given to non-indigenous outside settlers and government trusted agents. This scheme is designed to break up and change the ethnic structure and racial mix of the province. The Islamic Republic government continues the forced resettlement policy of the previous government to force the indigenous Ahwazis-Arab population out of Khuzusistan by providing economic incentives and enticements to re-settle non- Arab population on the expropriated Arab farmlands. This policy is intended to dilute or de-populate the towns and villages of Khuzestan from indigenous Arabs.

Al-Ahwaz or Arabistan enjoyed fall autonomy and independence at various times in its history of 5,000 years. Arabic was taught and spoken as the official language.

After the emergence of Reza Shah and by enforcing centralization, he invaded Arabistan, overthrew the local administration, occupied and destroyed Arabistan's sovereignty, and subordinated the province to Iran, all against the wishes of its Arab inhabitants and without their involvement. The state adopted Farsi (Persian) official language, which is even now spoken by less man 40% of the total population. The government shut down the schools and banned Arabic education in the province where about 90 %, of the people were native Arabic speakers.

For the past 79 years, indigenous Ahwazis were put under political, cultural, social and economic subjugation by the past Iranian monarchist and the current clerical regimes. These regimes stripped ndigenous Arabs of Ahwaz from their human rights and lowered their status to the ranks of 2 and 3 class citizens. Thus, the Ahwazi nation endured one of the most brutal national persecution and ethnic cleansing.

The policies of the Islamic Republic, like its predecessor, are based on the elimination of the national identity of Ahwazi-Arabs, and to a lesser degree, other nationalities such as the Turks Kurds, Baluchis and Turkmen The aim is "Persianization" or "Farsization ", where everything must be Persian. This policy is based on a supremacist, and a chauvinist ideology, aimed at the elimination of non-Persian cultures, especially the indigenous Arabs.

Our people have been subjected to the eradication of our national identity, our culture, language, and customs- and faced with forced assimilation and imposition of Persian language and culture on an unprecedented level. Our children are being deprived from the use and study of their mother language and our people are being denied their social and political rights.

While our land produces over 4 million barrels of oil a day and to funds 90% of Iranian economy, indigenous Arabs live in abject poverty. No part of this oil- zero- has been allocated to our area or to our people. Again, a common practice between the previous monarchist and the current clerical regime.

Our demands for basic human rights, including education in our mother tongue, have often been labeled as "separatist", "secessionist" or called "stooges of foreign countries" or "danger to territorial integrity. Iran of today is nothing but a cultural and a linguistic apartheid where a dominant minority rules in every respect of life, political, social, cultural, economical etc.

According to the Human Rights Watch "Millions of Land mines remaining from the Iran-Iraq war in the province of Khuzestan, kills and maims indigenous inhabitants of Khuzestan in southwestern Iran every day". The Iranian government deliberately ignores the land-mine problem as it helps its policy of forcing indigenous Arabs off their homes and lands.

50% of the Ahwazi population suffers from absolute poverty and 80% of the children suffer from malnutrition.

While the illiteracy rate among the general non-Arab population in Iran is about 10-15%, this rate among Arab men in Khuzestan is over 60 and among Arab women is even higher.

Indigenous Ahwazi Arab students drop out of schools at 30 % during elementary, 50% during secondary and 70% during high school because they are forced to study a so called official language a language that is not their native. Not surprisingly, this is the outcome of an imposed single-language educational system in a multi-lingual, multinational/multicultural society. This policy has led to economic deprivation, political sidelining, and negation of cultural identity. Ahwazis cannot wear their national and ethnic dress and costume in official centers. They are a people ignored, they are non-official.

Seventeen years after the war with Iraq, the Arab-populated border cities destroyed during the Iran-Iraq war have largely been untouched. Because this is in line and serves the policy of assimilation and ethnic cleansing. The regime erected dams and diverted the waters of our rivers such Karun to non-Arab areas, and it is now planning to pipe and sell the waters of Karkhe river that passes through an entirely indigenous Ahwazi Arab area of Howizeh and Boustan, to Kuwait- and other Gulf countries- while Khuzestan severely suffers from shortage of drinking waters.

The regime does not permit any genuine Arabic newspapers and media in Khuzestan. Ahwazis are excluded from the seen in the mass media. Instead, we see a systematic campaign of hatreds and misrepresentation of indigenous Ahwazi Arabs in the media in Iran- again a common denominator of the previous and the current regime. Now, as in the previous regime, governor general of Khuzestan, all other province's political, military and security commanders and officers, mayors and all high and mid-level government officials of Khuzestan have consistently been appointed from non-Arabs outside of the native Arab population. This marginalization is more acute in a country that the state is the largest employer.

Often, the Iranian government authorities in Khuzestan refuse to register and issue birth identity cards to indigenous Arab newborn-babies, who do not assume Persian or Shiite names. Names of cities, towns, villages, rivers and other geographical landmarks were changed from Arabic to Persian during the previous Pahalavi regimes. These historical Arabic names existed for centuries. The regime refuses to consent to the Ahwazi Arabs' request to change the names of these landmarks back to their historical Arabic names. This regime, like the previous one in Iran, prevents any public mention of the Ahwazi Arab minority population. It has imposed a silence and a news blockade in the national and international media against the existence of Arabs in Iran.

Iranian government in the past 2 years has intensified its campaign of repression against indigenous Ahwazi Arab freedom fighters, human rights and political activists in Khuzestan (al-Ahwaz). It has executed many and imprisoned thousands of Arabs. In the last 18 months, it executed Fadhil Muqaddam, Rahim Sawari, Amir Sa'idi, Hashem Bawi and Abbas Sheihani. During the past 12 months, security forces arrested and imprisoned Mr. Kazem Mojadam, Ali Al-Chaldwai and hundreds of other prominent human rights activists.

The regime refuses to release thousands of indigenous Ahwazi Arab political prisoners. Many of these prisoners are being kept in prison for over 20 years. Some are ill, frail and over 70 years old. We submitted a list of these political prisoners in the Karun prison in Ahwaz to the UNHCHR. With global changes and revolution in telecommunications and emergence of satellite media, we see a tremendous rise in Ahwazi socio-political self-awareness. Accordingly, a greater demand for autonomy and self-determination. Leading and the directing this national awakening will depend upon the

treatments and the response of the dominant regime in Tehran to the legitimate demands of indigenous Ahwazi Arabs and other oppressed nationalities; and also, by the degree of sensitivity of the International community vis-a-vi, the struggles for the rights of self determination.

Despite the seemingly hopeless future that lies ahead of indigenous Ahwazi Arabs, we believe the right of self-determination provides a suitable means of conflict resolution. An overwhelming indigenous Ahwazis believes in non-violence and employment of civic means of struggle for the establishments of a civil society and strengthening the principles of democratic values. We will pursue peaceful resistance, as means and methods of realizing our goals.

Generally, the future of Iran as a modern and a progressive state, and a good member of the International community, could be guaranteed only through a voluntary association of all national groups constituting Iran; where they will have the opportunity to develop their respective cultures, languages, histories, economies and homelands, under an appropriate manifestation of severity, federal, confederate or an equally appropriate system of governance that guarantees and respects the rights of self determination.

We Ahwazi Arabs of al-Ahwaz or Khuzestan desire coexistence with all nationalities in Iran. We advocate a self-rule, autonomy and the right of self-determination that enables and facilitate democracy and social justice. We do not believe in the imposition of one dominant nationality at the expense of others.

In summary, specific demands of the indigenous Ahwazi Arabs of Iran are partially as follows: • Education and study in the mother tongue. • Participation and sharing of economic wealth and resources. • Allocation of some of oil revenues toward the development and progress in Khuzestan. • Expeditious de-mining of Arab inhabited border areas remaining from the eight year Iran-Iraq war. • Repair or rebuilding of Arab towns and villages in Khuzestan that were destroyed during the Iran-Iraq War. • Allow the Arab war refugees to return to their homes in Ahwaz, Abadan, Muhamara (khuramshare) and other cities. • Allow formation of civil society elements in Khuzestan such as labor unions, formation of Arab political and cultural centers. • We demand the return of lands or equitable compensation to Arab landowners whose property was forcefully expropriated by the Iranian government. • We demand safeguarding of the area ecology, and cleaning the drinking water poisoned by run-offs from the "Sugar Cane" project. We demand that the government must stop the proliferation of drugs among Arab youth and combating corruption. • Release all political prisoners.

Mr. Chairman, the loss of faith of our people in the international community's ability to be fair may drive our youth to desperation and hence to extremism. International community cannot and should not encourage and promote national chauvinism of a dominant nation or an ethnic group at the expense of others. It can not be expected of dominated and oppressed nationalities and ethnic group to keep quite.

We think the right of self-determination is basic human rights that all nations, including the Ahwazis, are entitled to, and it is the main ingredient to peace.

Contact: AHWAZ HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION Indigenous Ahwazi Arabs for Freedom and Democracy in Iran Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz P.O. Box 287383 New York, New York www.ahwazstudies.org