Iranian naval border forces reportedly shot and killed three Ahwazi Arab fishermen on Saturday, 27 August, while the men were fishing in a local lagoon. Ahwazi rights groups who broke the news on social media, have named the three victims as brothers Latif, Hossein, and Tareq Delawi, aged 46, 36 and 30 respectively.
The brothers, all married with young families, came from the fishing village of Darisiyeh-ye Sofla near Falahiyeh city. According to eyewitnesses’ testimony, the men had gone out fishing, as normal, in the Khovr-e Dowraq lagoon located near the Jarahi River estuary between the Ahwazi towns of Falahiyeh, Abadan and Ma’shour in southwest Iran, nearby where the river empties into the Arabian Gulf.
Other fishermen reported that the three brothers were engaged in their usual fishing activities when Iranian coastguard personnel suddenly opened heavy gunfire on their boat for no reason and without giving any warning.
The other fishermen from the village in the area fled in terror, hiding their own vessels in fear that they’d be targeted too. The next day, Sunday, they returned to recover the three brothers’ bodies, returning them to the shocked men’s families.
Compounding this tragedy, the mother of the three men died on Monday from a heart attack widely believed to be caused by the trauma of losing her three sons in such a horrific way. Regime officials and media have issued no statement, explanation or comment about this brazen act of extrajudicial murder against three unarmed civilian fishermen.
Attacks of this nature by regime forces against Ahwazi fishermen are not unusual, with several others killed in recent years, usually while fishing at night in the wetlands near their villages; last November, for example, 32-year-old Ahmad Sawari was shot dead while fishing in the Hor al-Azim wetlands in the Howeyzeh area.
According to witnesses who spoke with local human rights groups, Ahmad was fishing quietly when the Iranian military forces opened fire without warning, killing him instantly. As always, there was no official acknowledgement of the killing, let alone any investigation.
Over the past decade, Iran’s regime has accelerated its efforts at depopulating Ahwaz of its indigenous Ahwazi Arab people, a policy which has never been publicly admitted by the leadership in Tehran, but which is clearly well-planned and organised, as confirmed by leaked documents from regime officials. In tandem with this, the regime has boosted its efforts to bring Persian Iranians from other regions of Iran to live and work in an effort to change the demographic balance in Ahwaz, offering inducements including jobs and homes in well-appointed, purpose-built, racially homogenous Persian-only settlements (where Ahwazis aren’t allowed to live).
These settlements, provided with their own electricity, water and sewer systems, and with schools, hospitals, shops, malls and entertainment complexes, even have their own well-maintained road systems; this contrasts vividly with the local Ahwazi communities struggling with decrepit, rundown, overburdened facilities and pothole-riddled roads.
Even without taking such random killings into account, Ahwazi fishermen are already struggling to survive, facing a double blow, first from the massive pollution of the marine ecosystem by unrestricted run-off from the oil and gas facilities that pepper the region, which contains over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, and second from the regime’s massive damming project upriver on all three of the major rivers that at one time made the region a verdant regional breadbasket, also renowned for its vast marshes and profusion of fish and marine life. With these waters diverted to other, Persian regions of Iran, mostly for use in industry, Ahwaz’s once-mighty rivers, which were so vast that oceangoing vessels, including cruise ships once plied their trade along the waterways, are now a fraction of their former size, with much of their length increasingly reduced to toxic heavily polluted mud or simply desertified.
The reduction in the volume of water intensifies the aforementioned pollution. While many Ahwazi fishermen and farmers, whose forefathers fished and farmed these lands for millennia, cling on determinedly to their ancestral lands, others have been driven out of their homes by regime forces, who give only a few hours warning before seizing their farms and lands, often razing whole villages to turn the land over to the regime’s loss-making sugarcane industry or to build the aforementioned Persians-only settlements, or giving their farms and land to Persian regime loyalists or soldiers as a ‘reward’ for their service.
Those Ahwazi farmers driven out receive no compensation for this state theft, and any complaint is likely to see the complainant arrested and imprisoned. This has seen thousands of families thrown into destitution and forced to move to hastily erected, abject shanty settlements on the outskirts of cities and towns across Ahwaz. Other rural Ahwazis have had no option but to flee to towns and cities to live in the same shanty towns, with their lands no longer capable of sustaining crops and their waters so poisoned that no fish or other marine creatures can be found.