This study analyses the massive changes in Ahwaz in the seven decades since the end of WW2 in 1945 from a demographic perspective, examining the data from this turbulent period which has seen sweeping sociodemographic changes in the region, to help expose the policies of successive Iranian governments towards the Ahwazi people.
This study presents painful historical facts by using official evidence and statistics collected by Iranian authorities, which demonstrate the continuing efforts of successive rulers in Tehran to change the demographic character of Ahwaz as part of a long-term historical revisionist project to forcibly assimilate the predominantly Ahwazi population and to deny the Ahwazi people their heritage, culture and history.
The plain statistical facts provided in this study provide evidence for those seeking insight into the reality of events in Ahwaz, which have been long subject to a media blackout by Iran’s rulers, of the current and former regimes’ systematic efforts to eradicate Ahwaz’s Arab character and to deny the historical or contemporary right of the Ahwazi people to their lands. A particularly egregious example of this state policy, seen in the evidence gleaned from Iranian sources, is that Iranian authorities assigned official bodies to target Ahwazi women in particular for projects to reduce birthrates and fertility levels among this demographic – a policy the same authorities have not pursued amongst other groups in Iran.
Readers can verify the details supporting this viewpoint, summarised in the well-documented figures provided, taken from Iranian official sources.
Population figures and growth in recent years
The population rate in the region of Ahwaz rose steadily over the last century, particularly after the Second World War, increasing overall by 3.6 per cent. Historically, in 1945, the number of citizens in Ahwaz exceeded 1.5 million, according to the letter sent by Ahwazi tribal chiefs to a meeting of the seven Arab states at the time of the founding of the League of the Arab States, known as the Arab League. An updated edition of the same letter, sent to the Arab League the following year, 1946, stated that the population of Ahwaz had been revised upwards to two million after other tribes, which had failed to provide figures for the informal census of 1945, added their own people’s numbers to the total.
In subsequent decades, developmental advances seen in Ahwaz and worldwide were accompanied by many demographic changes locally and regionally that deserve analysis and reflection, including a significant population increase in the 1970s and 1980s and a sharp decline in growth in the last decade of the last century. The most prominent of these changes were seen in annual population growth and rising birth rates.
Comparing estimated population growth and global fertility rates with Ahwaz
The golden era during which the Ahwazi population doubled was, in historical terms, very short, lasting no more than two decades, namely the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, Ahwazi society managed to maintain a positive annual growth rate equivalent to 3.2%, surpassing the 1.2% ‘population replacement’ rate viewed as essential to maintain a healthy population level worldwide. In more recent decades, however, fertility levels in Ahwaz have fallen significantly, particularly over the past 20 years, with other parts of Iran seeing far higher birth rates.
While Ahwazi women bore an average of seven or eight children in previous decades compared to the world average of 2.1., the regime’s policies and deliberate impoverishment of Ahwaz saw a sharp fall in birth rates in recent years, falling to below the global average, according to the data from a demographic survey carried out by Iran’s own Centre for National Statistics. Meanwhile, figures issued in 2014 by the Department of Economics and Social Affairs recorded a global fertility rate of around 2.5 children per woman.
Based on the theory of ‘demographic conflict’ that attempts to study the policies used against those in occupied territories engaged in resistance to occupation through analysis of the use of population levels, taking Palestine as an example, we can see how Palestinians use fertility and population growth as strategic tools in their war with Israel in Israeli territory.
Palestinian families entered into this demographic war with Israel after Israel granted some 150,000 Arabs (Muslim and Christian) Israeli citizenship in 1948. Those monitoring this issue can observe the high fertility rates seen among Palestinian women, who sometimes went through 11 pregnancies.
This policy has played a prominent role in the war between the two sides. Seventy years after the establishment of Israel, this demographic conflict continued to benefit the Palestinians. The Arab population (‘1948 Arabs’) with Israeli citizenship has now risen to 2 million. According to a number of studies, Israel’s population will be divided equally between Arabs and Jews in 2050.
The Palestinian Statistics Agency has stated that “The number of Palestinians has increased nine-fold since 1948.” The agency previously estimated that the number of Palestinians in Palestine and in the global diaspora had reached around 12.4 million by the end of 2015, meaning that the total number of Palestinians worldwide has increased 8.9 times since the advent of the Nakba” in 1948, according to Reuters (Asadi, 2016).
In the same context, contrary to the demographic situation in Palestine, the available statistical data and census information indicate that the annual growth rate of the population in Ahwaz was expected to decline due to a number of factors, primarily the Iranian regime’s policies intended to eradicate or forcibly assimilate the Ahwazi people as a means of denying their claims in the region, along with a low birth rate due to economic changes and other reasons which led to a profound change in the population rate in Ahwaz.
This led to a palpable demographic shift across Ahwaz, which can be clearly seen in the communities in the region. In tandem with this, the regime has increased its policy of ‘Persianisation’, bringing ethnically Iranian settlers from other areas of Iran to live in Ahwaz, where they live in ethnically homogenous settlements restricted to the Arab Ahwazi people and are provided with amenities and services denied to Ahwazis. All these factors have had a strong negative impact on the demographic situation in Ahwaz society.
Statistics indicate that the regime is increasing the number of settlers being resettled in the Ahwaz region, usually by providing inducements such as jobs, money and specially built housing, as mentioned above. If this continues in the current manner, these non-Ahwazi immigrants will soon constitute over two-thirds of the population in Ahwaz, where the number of settlers and migrants, all provided with privileges not available to the local Ahwazi population, has risen dramatically in recent years.
Here, it should be noted that the primary reasons for the increase in the ethnically Iranian non-Ahwazi population in the region lies in the Iranian regime’s provision of generous incentive packages to young families, who are offered employment and childcare facilities to increase the rates of birth to ethnically Iranian, non-Ahwazi citizens in the region to bolster demographic change.
This demographic change policy can clearly be seen by analysis of the regime’s own statics, with the provinces of Ahwaz (Khuzestan, Bushehr and Bandar Abbas) accounting for more than 8.5 per cent of the total internal migration in Iran in 2016, according to the Statistical Centre of Iran (SCI).
Population growth rate and fertility rate
Other data from the SCI, meanwhile, shows that the annual growth rate of the Ahwazi population in the Ahwaz region fell in 2016 by 0.78% in northern Ahwaz (Khuzestan), 0.80% in Musian (Dechet Abbas), 2.4% in Bushehr and 2.39% % In Bandar Jaron (Hormozgan).
Other figures from the SCI show that the average birth rate for women in Ahwaz fell to 1.7 children per woman in 2016, while in ethnically Persian governorates, it rose to 2.1. The SCI also indicates that the “annual growth rate” in Ahwaz declined to less than 1.2 per cent in the second decade of the 21st century (Statistical Centre of Iran, 2016).
Low fertility: Causes and facts
The Iranian regime relies on a policy of reducing the fertility rate in the province of Ahwaz. The regime’s policies of encouraging deprivation and poverty in the region have further reduced the birth rates amongst Ahwazi women, with high unemployment, deteriorating economic conditions and high costs for child-rearing, making it difficult for families to have more than two children.
There are a number of adverse, long-term demographic effects following low birth rates, with many factors that are causing this decline in the entire region of Ahwaz, including those that affect the whole world, such as lower fertility rates, lower infant mortality making smaller families more cost-effective, population movements, and other major factors, all of which have contributed to the decline in average annual population growth in Ahwaz and falling rates of reproduction.
Other reasons for falling birth rates in Ahwaz include, most notably: poverty, destruction of the agriculture sector, meaning less food available, higher adult mortality rates, more caesarean section births, higher rates of births of deformed children due to pollution, infertility, and increased use of family planning methods.
Poverty is one of the main reasons for the decline in population growth in Ahwaz, where Iran’s occupation and racist policies that deny all but the lowest-paid jobs to the indigenous Arab people have impoverished the Ahwazi population and denied it all opportunities to make a decent living.
Despite the fact that Ahwaz is home to over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, much of the indigenous population lives in conditions of medieval poverty. Whilst Ahwazis were once able to marry and start families at a younger age, increasing poverty and changing social norms mean that the average age for marriage is now over 30, with those who usually marry being able to afford only one child due to poverty and harsh living conditions. The average age of marriage in societies is a major factor in determining when a woman begins to have children.
Destruction of the agricultural sector
Ahwazi society was heavily dependent on and centred around agriculture, fishing and livestock farming for centuries, occupations which were labour-intensive and required a lot of manpower. As is common in many agricultural societies, large families were the norm rather than the exception. This continued up until the 1970s and ‘80s, when the advent of the theocratic regime following the 1979 revolution brought brutal new policies as the new leadership set about deliberately destroying farmlands using a number of pretexts, particularly in border areas, and displacing their inhabitants to ghettoes on the outskirts of towns and cities in the region. This was done for several reasons:
- The Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88.
- The establishment of the regime’s environmentally devastating and economically ruinous ‘sugar cane project’, with the Iranian regime seizing hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land, under the pretext of the implementation of this loss-making project.
- The Revolutionary Guards took over the Ahwazi lands under the pretext of carrying out irrigation projects, leading to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural lands, which were handed over to ethnically Persian settlers. Much of this land ended up turning to desert due to settlers’ lack of interest in farming.
- The Ahwazi lands suffered drought and widespread desertification due to the regime’s massive river-damming and river-diversion projects, which reduced much of the region’s once extensive river network to muddy trickles or dried them up completely in order to divert the water supply to ethnically Persian areas of Iran.
All these factors meant that the agricultural sector lost its importance and stature in Ahwaz society, having a collective direct negative impact on the region’s fertility rates.
Rise in deaths
In recent decades, for the first time since the 1940s, Ahwaz posted the highest rates of mortality in Iran, according to figures released by the SCI (Statistical Centre of Iran, 2016).
Whilst there has always been some degree of infertility, in Ahwaz as anywhere else in the world, this was not previously a widespread problem in Ahwaz as it is now, with infertility becoming commonplace amongst Ahwazis. According to the global definition of the term, infertility is a condition that affects the reproductive system so that one or both partners are incapable of reproduction. Infertility is usually diagnosed when couples have tried to conceive a child for at least one year without success. (Mohamed Ahmed, 2018).
One of the methods which many Ahwazis believe is used by the Iranian regime to control population growth in Ahwaz is Caesarean births, which discourage women from having more children. Whilst the global average for such operations ranges from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, statistics confirm that the rate of caesarean section births in hospitals in Ahwaz has reached 60 per cent, four times more than the global average and twice the average rate in the rest of Iran.
Caesarean section births affect the Ahwazi community in several ways:
First: the negative impact on the health of baby and mother.
Second: High costs endured by Ahwazi families.
Third: Ahwazi women are often left unable to bear more than one child after the first Caesarean surgery.
Increase in birth control usage
Policies to increase the availability of safe and effective contraceptives and to benefit from family planning and reproductive health care programs have been a significant contributor to reducing birth rates. In 2013, more than 90 per cent of governments worldwide, including Iran’s, provided direct or indirect support to family planning programs.
In conclusion, according to the data provided above, it is possible to confirm that the Ahwazi people can be classified among the peoples rapidly heading for extinction. If we add these figures to the projects of ‘Persianization’, (spreading the Persian identity and culture), forced displacement, settlement, and the destruction of the region’s once bounteous river network, the scientific and objective conclusion is that the situation is “catastrophic and shocking”, with its tragic consequences set to be proven in concrete and evident ways in the near future.
Most statistics and evidence confirm that the government has put more focus on changing the demographic structure of Ahwaz. Because they know well that a divided and heterogeneous nation is no longer able to stand against colonialism, for this reason, the government has ever since been targeting the Ahwazi people from the inside. It is a silent killer policy aimed at exterminating the entire Ahwaz population, and it has been pursued in the form of changing the demographic structure of Ahwaz. This inhuman act is conducted without adequate news reflection or attention. In silence, its annihilating consequences are disintegrating the Ahwazi nation from the inside.
By Ghazi Heideri, an Ahwazi rights activist based in the Netherlands.
Mohamed Ahmed. (2018, April 24). What is Infertility? The largest Arabic site topic, https://mawdoo3.com/%D9%85%D8%A7_%D9%87%D9%88_%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%82%D9%85
Statistical Center of Iran. (2016), Statistical results regarding population figures. Link https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#inbox/FMfcgxvzMBrSXTxkmPlzlFVtHzPdlBCV?projector=1&messagePartId=0.1
Al Asadi, Marwa. (2016, December 22). World population growth and the importance of human capital investment. Al-Naba Network.
Resource crisis. (2010, May 15). Population growth through human history. Https://resourcecrisis.com/population-growth/10-5/
(From the Book of Van der Bloom, Professor of Geosciences and Environment Sciences, University of Michigan (April 1, 2006).
Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2014). World Population Monitoring 2014, United Nations New York. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/trends/Concise%20Report%20on%20the%20World%20Population%20Situation%202014/en.pdf
News agency of Islamic republic of Iran, Isfahan province (2018), critical situation of Isfahan in the prevalence of cancer deaths, link: http://www.irna.ir/esfahan/fa/News/82827104