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Iran’s History of Colonialism and Land Confiscation in Ahwaz

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From the Pahlavi shah era up to the present day, the Ahwazi Arab villages in the Ahwaz region have constantly come under attack by the Iranian ruling regimes and have been destroyed in various ways. In this article, we have tried to examine this issue and its roots.

  Physical elimination of villages through state ‘development plans’ with a security-based agenda:

  Since Iran’s annexation of the Ahwaz region in 1925, several so-called development plans have been implemented in various parts of the Ahwaz region. Until the end of World War II, these projects focused on the development of oil facilities such as the Abbadan refinery and other oil facilities in the south and north of the Ahwaz region. After World War II and at the beginning of the fifties, while Iran’s rulers launched so-called development plans across the country and implemented industrial and agricultural projects in the Ahwazi Arab areas around Susa to Tester, the central government’s forces totally destroyed dozens of villages across the Ahwaz region.

 The residential and agricultural lands of these Ahwazi Arab villages were confiscated in order to establish a sugarcane project in Al-Sab’a (Haft Tappeh), a sugar and paper factory, and several other joint agricultural and industrial projects of Iran and abroad. 

  The Ahwazi villagers, whose villages had been destroyed, were housed in scattered settlements to enable the government to carry out the first phase of the operation to eliminate the rural fabric of Ahwazi Arab communities in Ahwaz.

  In addition to housing the displaced Ahwazi Arab villagers, these newly built settlements became home to the Persian workers and employees at the newly established state projects, who had migrated to these areas from the provinces of Isfahan and Yazd as soon as the projects began. In fact, the Pahlavi regime considered the existence of Arab villages to represent an obstacle to its planned social and political reforms. As such, it tried to destroy the social system and Ahwazi culture of the villagers and create a new, Persian-dominated social structure for the indigenous Ahwazi Arab people in order to vanquish and ultimately annihilate their traditional Ahwazi Arab cultural identity and roots and facilitate their assimilation. 

By destroying the Ahwazi villages, which were to some extent outside the regime’s control both economically and culturally, the regime was able to force the Arab villagers into the settlements, where they were very deliberately accorded a lower economic and social status than the Persian incomers. In these new settlements, the indigenous  Ahwazi Arab villagers, who had been self-reliant, cultivating their own lands and being subordinate to nobody, became, at best, minimum-wage workers, while their non-Arab immigrant neighbours were given superior jobs and enjoyed better economic status. Thus, to some extent, the regime managed to rid itself of the self-reliant and semi-independent rural social structures and to forcibly bring them under Tehran’s control in a repressive new system. 

 The dissemination of Persian culture and language in the new settlements was one of the Pahlavi regime’s main strategies in its effort to erase the Ahwazi Arab identity and culture of the indigenous villagers and impose a homogenous Persian identity. This was achieved through concerted and well-planned efforts, including the aforementioned newly established projects, which sought to impose and maintain a resolutely Persian character and influence in these new towns, constantly emphasising the influence of Persian culture by holding various types of Persian cultural ceremonies, and celebrating different symbols of Persian culture, identity and historical references.

Although the ruling system changed from a secular monarchy to a theocratic republic in 1979, the ethnic oppression remained the same. In the 1990s, the regime’s launch of seven massive and environmentally ruinous state sugarcane-farming projects in Ahwaz led to the razing of dozens of Arab villages to make room for the sugarcane plantations and the refinery facilities, similar to the earlier regime’s projects in northern Ahwaz. 

 During Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency, the sugarcane projects were approved in the regime’s parliament as state-backed national projects, with dozens of Ahwazi villages subsequently demolished extending from the north of Shoaibiyeh district to the vicinity of Muhammarah (Khoramashahr) city. In addition, many villages around the Dez and Shatit (a tributary of the Karoon) rivers, as well as others on the both sides of the Karoon river along its course through Ahwaz-Muhammarah and Ahwaz –Abbadan, were utterly destroyed, with their peoples’ agricultural and residential lands seized without warning or compensation for the sugarcane projects originally planned by Ayatollah Khomeini, which were later named Shoaibiyeh, Dehkhoda, Mirza Kuchak Khan, Amirkabir, Farabi, Dabal Khazaei and Salman Farsi.

 Physical siege of villages

  This strategy was clearly realised in the implementation of the sugarcane projects in the Shoaibiyeh district and on the banks of the Karoon river along the Ahwaz-Muhammarah and Ahwaz –Abbadan routes. In the Shoaibiyeh district, Khomeini’s sugarcane project was designed in such a way that a number of Ahwazi Arab villages were effectively besieged by sugarcane fields and their communication with Ahwaz and Tester completely cut off. In other words, since the advent of the sugarcane project, the residents of these villages, who could once travel easily and directly on main roads to nearby cities, have been forced to walk distances of between five to 10 kilometres along rural dirt roads in order to reach the communication roads with those cities. This has become a major problem for the remaining population of these besieged villages, making life difficult for the Ahwazi Arab inhabitants.

 Similar problems can be seen for the population of other Arab villages along the Karoon’s banks on the Ahwaz-Muhammarah and Ahwaz –Abbadan routes, making once simple access to the main communication routes between these villages and Ahwaz far more difficult than before the sugarcane projects and causing serious problems for the indigenous Ahwazi Arab villagers.

Seizure of agricultural lands belonging to villages

 Meanwhile, the agricultural lands surrounding many of the villages in the vicinity of the seven sugarcane projects have been completely or almost wholly confiscated for these projects, even in cases where the residential areas of the villages have remained intact and undemolished. This means the Ahwazi farmers and villagers whose agricultural lands have been completely confiscated by the state, without any right of appeal or compensation, are left without any means of making a living or simply of self-sufficiency, leaving them with no option but to migrate to the poor ghetto areas around the region’s cities. Even those farmers, who were left with some land after losing the lion’s share of their lands to these sugarcane projects, are struggling simply to survive and support their own families by farming the remaining woefully inadequate small areas of land, leaving numerous farmers in the region facing severe and worsening destitution. 

 Villages deprived of basic services

  In the years since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Ahwazi Arab farmers living in the agricultural areas along the River Karoon’s banks on the Ahwaz-Muhammarah route, who worked in agriculture before the confiscation of their lands by the Amirkabir sugarcane project have reported that the regime has deliberately opened the sluices on the massive upstream dams to flood their lands and submerge local villages several times a year in the post-war years. When the farmers protested to provincial officials against the flooding of their villages, the officials told them, “You and your ancestors were wrong to build your villages next to Karoon river.” 

 Such outrageous statements from these officials are not unusual, with any analysis of the performance of provincial officials showing a similar policy in all of Ahwazi areas. While the regime has hurried to protect the population in other Iranian provinces, particularly predominantly Persian regions, in the Ahwaz region, the government has conspicuously taken no action on watershed management or flood-control to protect the villages along the Karoon River. 

The Ahwazi villages, located along the rivers and sometimes sandwiched between two rivers, are always left to fend for themselves, against the floods that afflict their lands and villages several times a year. In the case of the villages of Shoaibiyeh, these communities between the Karoon and Dez rivers are left without even a single bridge; for the residents of dozens of villages in the area to travel to Ahwaz city, they must first travel in the opposite direction to Tester city, then take the road from Tester to Ahwaz. Over the decades, many villagers have lost their lives while desperately trying to reach the cities to obtain emergency medical assistance due to the lack of a bridge over the Karoon and Dez rivers, and the long and difficult travel paths imposed on them.

 Farmers are deprived of modern agricultural services

The land around many of the villages beside the rivers in the Ahwaz region has remained uncultivated despite the fertility of the soil there resulting from its proximity to the rivers. Some farmers in Shoaibiyeh district tried to overcome this problem at their own expense and despite their lack of engineering knowledge by digging channels leading from the Karoon river to the areas further from the riverside, using electrical pumps to drive the water flow, but these efforts failed due to engineering problems.

  The state of the lands which are now increasingly barren despite being located near the rivers, as well as the existence of villages that still use the canals built during the reign of Emir Khazal, and dozens of other examples show that numerous centuries-old Ahwazi Arab villages have been deliberately cleared of their populations.

 A closer look at the conditions and of the basic but insurmountable problems faced by the villagers clearly shows that the Iranian regime considers these villages to be outside its area of responsibility and does not consider itself obliged to provide them with any agricultural services or water supply. Even though it is the regime which confiscated the farmers’ lands and the regime’s massively destructive policies which have poisoned these once-fertile riverside farmlands and left them barren, the regime inverts the truth and depicts the situation as a result of the indigenous Arabs’ laziness, and a justification to confiscate even more of their lands.

  Dry riverbeds and water pollution

  The greatest danger that has jeopardised the existence of the Ahwazi Arab villages of Ahwaz more than any other is the drying up of the region’s rivers caused by the uncontrolled construction of a vast network of dams and pipelines upstream which are used to divert and transfer the waters from the three large rivers that once made Ahwaz a verdant regional breadbasket to the predominantly Persian central plateau of Iran. 

  In recent years, due to the accelerating drying up of rivers, the regime’s Water Authority and Agriculture Department have repeatedly banned Ahwazi villagers from diverting water from rivers during the cultivation season in large areas of the Ahwaz region, while increasing water tariffs per hectare of land in other areas. 

  The salinisation of the rivers’ remaining, greatly reduced waters due to the influx of large quantities of highly saline chemical effluent pumped untreated from sugarcane refineries on the river banks back into the rivers has led to large quantities of the same toxic saline chemicals polluting the water supply used to irrigate the lands of Ahwazi Arab farmers further downstream. This has, unsurprisingly, led to a sharp decline in soil fertility and, thus, in agricultural production. In this regard, according to official reports, the amount of wheat produced in the Ahwaz region has fallen sharply by around half compared to previous years.

 The drying up of the rivers has also caused the once globally renowned Hur Aladim (Alazim wetland), known for their prolific marine life and an ecosystem that maintained a unique range of flora and fauna, to dry up almost completely. As well as devastating the environment, this has left dozens of Ahwazi villages around the wetlands, whose residents’ livelihoods depended on the marine resources, completely depopulated.

  In and around the villages of Muhammarah, Abbadan and Ma’shour (Mahshahr), which overlook the Karoon and Jarahi rivers and the Arabian Gulf, with the severe water pollution and salinity, water scarcity, and the encroachment of the Gulf’s saltwater into the freshwater marshes and the riverbed also destroying millions of palm trees, threatening the villages in these areas with complete destruction. 

  Ahwazi villages are arid and desertified in summer, Ahwazi villages are drowned in winter, No supply of drinking water to the villages

 Even the official statements issued by the Islamic Republic authorities acknowledge that about 1,100 villages in the Ahwaz region have no access to safe drinking water. In most of these villages, Ahwazi Arab inhabitants obtain their drinking water either from often unaffordable weekly water tanker deliveries or, more often, from brackish, muddy and polluted rivers, streams and ponds. 

 According to the latest statistics, only 2 917 villages in the Ahwaz region, just over half of the region’s 4,015 villages, have access to so-called ‘safe’ drinking water, while 1,098 villages have no drinkable water source. While water is supplied, as mentioned, via tanker deliveries to some of these villages, this is extremely expensive, and the remaining villages are left with no safe drinking water supply at all, resulting in villagers facing horrendous outbreaks of disease and other severe health problems and in consequence deal with serious health issues. 

On Sunday, 24 May 2022, Iran’s security forces reportedly brutally beat, injured and forcibly dispersed Ahwazi protesters for holding a peaceful demonstration over increasing water scarcity in the Gheyzaniyeh rural area 40 kilometres east of Ahwaz city. The demonstration took place after the people of the area endured steadily worsening water shortages for three decades with no action from the regime to improve conditions, with the situation recently reaching a critical point at which water is either wholly unavailable or is often so heavily polluted that it’s unfit for human consumption or even for consumption by livestock and other animals.

  Failure to clear war mines

 Along the Ahwaz-Iraq border, there are dozens of Ahwazi villages whose main residents have not been able to return to their villages since the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war over 35 years ago. The residents dare not return to their ancestral homes due to the negligence of the authorities in failing to clear the lands around these villages of the minefields laid there by the regime during the war, with the regime simply turning a blind eye to the dangers they pose.  

 The security significance of the border area for the government suggests that the regime does not intend to restore the villages to their original owners, and is instead engaged in building military and intelligence facilities in the villages so that it can conduct direct military and intelligence operations with political affiliates in the neighbouring Arab countries.

 Commercial designs on the border strip

 The villages around Muhammarah and Abbadan on the borders with Iraq are currently subject to a major free trade zone plan implemented by the regime. As a result, vast areas of lands belonging to Ahwazi villagers have been or are being seized by the government with no compensation for their owners. The plan has also put a number of villages in the area at risk of total destruction.

 In addition to the aforementioned concerns, the lack of educational facilities and schools in these villages and the lack of proper roads and highways should also be mentioned. To reach their primary schools, the children from these Arab villages are forced to travel long, circuitous and arduous routes at their parents’ expense. Once they reach middle school or high school age, they have no option but to travel to distant cities to continue their education.

In general, we can see a single cohesive policy adopted by successive regimes in Iran for the past century towards the Ahwazi Arab villages in the Ahwaz region, which shows a blatant disdain for the Ahwazi citizens and clearly demonstrates that the rulers in Tehran have always considered the existence of Ahwazi Arab villages in the region to pose a security threat, leading to recurring efforts in various ways to make these villages uninhabitable and displace their populations to poverty-stricken ghetto areas on the outskirts of Ahwazi Arab cities.

Results of some of those racist policies:

  • The confiscation of more than 70,000 hectares of agricultural land in areas including Shoaibiyeh, Al-Minaw, Susa and northern parts of Ahwaz has benefited a number of state companies; during the reign of Mohammed Reza Shah, the most important of these firms were the Iran Cultivation and Manufacture Company – Iran, the America Cultivation and Manufacture Company – California, as well as the DezKar Company, Shell Company, and Klassno Company.
  • After the Iranian revolution, more than 135,000 hectares of land belonging to Ahwazi farmers to the south of Ahwaz city, to the north of the cities of Muhammara and Abbadan, and on both sides of the Karoon River, were confiscated by the new regime. These areas are among the most fertile agricultural lands in Ahwaz, and all this land was confiscated under the pretext of establishing the Sugar Canes Project, while the companies launched to run this project were and are owned and controlled by prominent figures from the Iranian government and Iran’s ruling regime.
  • The confiscation of 47,000 hectares of Ahwazi Arabs’ lands for the purpose of setting up the project of the disabled of the Iraq-Iran war in the Jufair area near to the Iraqi- Ahwazi borders.
  • The confiscation of more than 25,000 hectares of Ahwazi Arabs’ lands for the purpose of setting up a fish farming project to the south of Ahwaz city. This stolen land was then gifted to Persian settlers who were newcomers to the territory.
  • The confiscation of more than 100,000 hectares of land to the east of Howeyzeh city extending to the north of Muhammarah city under the pretext of being required for military manoeuvres by the regime army’s 92nd Division, despite the whole area very clearly being agricultural land. The thousands of Ahwazi Arabs who lived in several Arab villages there were finally displaced from their lands by brutal force.
  • The Confiscations of thousands of hectares of agricultural land around the cities of Khafajiyeh (Sousangerd), Howeyzeh and Al-Besitin (Bostan) under the pretext of developing the Azadegan oilfields which extend to the Majnoun oilfields in southern Iraq.
  • The confiscation of more than 6,000 hectares of agricultural land in the city of Susa (Shush), which were gifted to military personnel of the Revolutionary Guard and Quds Forces. The regime refers to this project in the north and northeast of the Ahwaz region as the ‘settlement of the clergy’, with a confidential document about the project eventually being leaked. This infamous document, known as the Sardar Rasheed document, is named after Sardar Rasheed, one of the senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guard and Qods Forces.
  • In addition to these examples, the current and previous Iranian regimes have both instituted a systematic policy involving the wholesale destruction of Arab neighbourhoods and entire areas, displacing thousands of Ahwazi people with the purpose of altering the demographic composition of Ahwaz, as seen in the demolition of Sepidar neighbourhood in the city of Ahwaz in 1998, which led to the displacement of thousands of residents of the district who were mostly from the lower economic class.
  • In addition to its policy of land confiscation, the Iranian regime has also implemented a parallel policy against Ahwazis which is no less vicious and racist than the former, namely the diversion of the water courses of Ahwaz’ main rivers, predominantly the Karoon, Karkheh and Jarrahi though also affecting other rivers. As we explained earlier, these waters are diverted to central Persian areas such as Isfahan, Yazd, and Kerman for the purpose of irrigation and industrial use, even while depriving Arab farmers of these waters and making their fight for a living more difficult and more frustrating. Moreover, the regime periodically deliberately creates floods through opening the sluice gates on the dams that have been constructed for this purpose in order to submerge and ultimately destroy the infrastructure of Ahwazi villages and consequently to facilitate the displacement of Arab people and the confiscation of their agricultural lands, depopulating Ahwazi villages and rural areas and leaving them empty wastelands.
  • The purpose of all this is the displacement of the farmers from their villages and systematic destruction of their economy, forcing them into marginalised ghetto areas on the outskirts of regional cities that are called” the Arab belt of poverty”; once besieged and ‘cleared’ of their Arab population, these Arab towns and villages are given Persian or other non-Arab names and repopulated with Persian or other non-Arab residents. There are dozens of such towns and villages, such as the ‘Shirin Shahr’ Settlement to the south of Ahwaz city, in the midst of the villages that have been destroyed for The Sugar Cane Project and fish farms. This settlement was initially designed for more than ninety thousand people, although this was the first step to expansion. There is also the giant ‘Ramin’ settlement in the north of Ahwaz city, which is built for more than one million non-Arab settlers and newcomers to the regime.
  • The marginalisation of the indigenous Ahwazi Arab people in ‘the Arab poverty belt’ is a deliberate and planned regime policy, whereby poverty, drug addiction, crime, and all kinds of structural imbalances at the level of cultural, social, and economic structures spread widely due to deliberate, though not officially acknowledged, segregation. Living on the margins of the society is a natural consequence of these abysmal and inhuman policies. Among the most significant results of this policy are the environmental disasters, water pollution, increasing soil salinity, ecological pollution and the spread of infectious and cancerous diseases, with all these problems cited in a report submitted by Milan Kothari, the United Nations’ envoy to the Ahwaz region, in 2005. In his report, he describes these policies as catastrophic for the indigenous Arab people of Ahwaz.       

In his report, following a visit to Iran in July 2005, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Milan Kothari, drew attention to “neglect” and the “uneven distribution of development resources from the national authorities in Tehran.” For example, in some poor neighbourhoods of Ahwaz, observing:

 “… a complete lack of basic services impacting negatively on the populations’ health status, in addition to contributing to severe security problems. Most poor neighbourhoods were unpaved, open-air sewage was sometimes observed and uncollected garbage blocked streets, obstructing traffic and access from the outside in case of emergencies.”

  The Special Rapporteur also pointed out that:

 “… lands traditionally cultivated by Iranian Arabs, which were expropriated by the government for remarkably low prices, in order to provide space for development projects and plantations, such as the Dekhoda sugarcane project. The affected population had no access to legal remedies to challenge the legitimacy and legality of the expropriation orders.”

As a result of the aforementioned Iranian regime policies, at least half a million Arab people have lost their farms and homes and been forced to move to the marginalised areas around Ahwaz city. There are more than 22 such marginalised ghetto areas around Ahwaz city, with Iranian official statistics showing that 99% of the population in these areas are Ahwazi Arabs living in grinding poverty amid harsh living conditions. These marginalised districts are: Sayyahi, ShelangAbad, Razmandegan, Goldasht, Golbahar, Keraishan, Aindo (Ainaldawwa), Mallashiya, Chenaiba, Jangieya, Kut Abdallah, Kanteks, Ghala’t Chana’n, Kooya Taher, Manba’ Ab, Hasirabad, Zergan, Zowiea1 , Zowiea2, and Lashkarabad.  

 Therefore, as we can see from all the above, tens of thousands of those displaced Ahwazi Arab population forced to move from their homes in northern areas of the Ahwaz region, now live in marginalised areas around Susa and Tester, and Dezful, with the people from south of the Ahwaz region residing in the marginal districts around Ma’shour and Abbadan, such as Koora, Jarrahi and other districts.

Many hundreds of thousands of Arabs from the border area who left the Ahwaz region due to the Iran-Iraq war have been unable to return despite the passage of over 35 years since then since the regime is not willing to clean their villages of war mines. 

At least 40 villages around Al-Azim marshlands have been abandoned due to the environmental crises caused by the Iranian projects to divert the waters of the rivers that once fed the marshes to the central cities of Iran, resulting in the total drying up of the rivers and marshlands in Ahwaz. 

The following videos and reports show just a few of the house demolitions carried out by Iranian authorities in Ahwaz in recent decades, leaving residents destitute.

  1. In 1998, Iranian authorities demolished the entire Arab neighbourhood of Sepidar in Ahwaz city. This Ahwazi boy explains how the Iranian forces attacked the residents, including his father & mother, and demolished their home.
  2.  Ahwazi protesters demand that the United Nations take action to end the Iranian regime’s policy of systematic silent ethnic cleansing by turning villages into parched arid communities in summer, then drowning them in winter to force inhabitants to evacuate their homes.
  3. In 2012, two Ahwazi brothers, Musa and Ali Fazeli, were killed by Iranian regime forces whenthey resisted the confiscation of their land in Abdelkhan, 30km south of Susa (Northern Ahwaz.
  4. On 13 April 2013, Iranian regime forces attacked the Chenaiba district in Ahwaz city and demolished the homes of Arab residents there. A 15-year-old boy, Mortez Sowiedi, was killed while resisting the demolition of his parents’ house.
  5. On 21 April 2013, residents of Howeyzeh city demanded that the Iranian president stop the confiscation of Arab lands by the Azadegan oil company and the Maskane Mehr housing organisation.
  6. On 6 September 2013, Iranian regime forces attacked Shaiban city in northern Ahwaz, demolishing the farms and homes of Arab Residents. Eight members of one Ahwazi family were injured while resisting the demolition of their homes.
  7. In September 2014, Ahwazi women stood against the Iranian regime personnel, and the bulldozers brought in to demolish their homes. One woman says: “I have five children – where shall I go? You should kill me first before demolishing my home!”
  8. On 16 November 2014, Iranian forces attacked the Farhangian district in Ahwaz city, demolishing many of the Arab residents’ homes. Locals heroically resisted the attack, with many risking their lives by remaining in their homes to resist the demolition.
  9. In November and December of 2014, Iranian regime forces demolished about 10 Ahwazi homes in Ahwaz city and on its outskirts supposedly to ”cleanse” the “prestigious” areas inhabited by non-Arab settlers of the marginalised Ahwazi Arab residents.
  10. On 18 January 2015, Iranian regime forces attacked the Shahrake Ahwaz neighbourhood on the outskirts of Ahwaz city, demolishing the homes of Arab residents. During this attack, the Ahwazi Arab residents were injured and arrested for resisting the destruction of their homes.
  11. On 16 February 2016, the Iranian forces attacked the Masha’li district in Ahwaz city and demolished several Arab residents’ homes.
  12. On 11 March 2016, Ahwazi farmers demanded that the Iranian government stop its confiscation of more than 40,000 hectares of their agricultural lands and prevent the so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from confiscating these lands for the benefit of non-Arab settlers.
  13. On 6 December 2017, Iranian regime forces attacked Ahwazi women while they were working on their agricultural land around Jalizi village in the northwest of the Ahwaz region in an effort to force them to evacuate their land. The regime’s Etka military organisation is responsible for confiscating more than 4,000 hectares in the area, with this attack carried out to seize yet another 2,000 hectares.
  14. On 14 July 2019, Iranian regime personnel destroyed the homes of Ahwazi people in the Boroomi district on the outskirts of Ahwaz city (13km away).
  15. On 21 August 2020, Iranian regime agents attacked the village of Nakhilat (Abolfazal)on the outskirts of Ahwaz city and demolished some of the homes of its Arab residents. The regime plans to destroy the whole village where more than 300 Arab families have lived for more than 4 decades, with these lands cultivated by the indigenous Arab Ahwazi people for hundreds of years.

 To sum up, the main unspoken aim of Iran’s regime in seizing and confiscating the Ahwazi Arab people’s lands is to manipulate and change the Ahwaz region’s demographic makeup, to ‘Persianise’ Ahwaz and disenfranchise its indigenous Arab people. In its efforts to achieve this, the regime promotes and assists large-scale immigration of Persians from other areas of Iran, who are offered well-paid high-level jobs in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, modern homes with all amenities in purpose-built-settlements, and other generous incentives to encourage them to relocate.

The regime is currently accelerating this relocation policy, even as more and more Ahwazis are forced from their lands by poverty, land seizures and desertification caused by the regime’s large-scale construction of vast dams and pipelines on the upstream stretches of the regional rivers, which divert and reroute much of the water to other regions.

Tellingly, while Ahwazis endure drought and desertification, with many local communities forced to rely on expensive tanker shipments of water for a safe water source, the settlements constructed by the regime for incoming Persian workers are provided with clean freshwater resources for every home and other facilities via specially constructed underground pipelines.

 Although Ahwaz contains over 90% of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, most of its indigenous Ahwazi Arab population lives in medieval poverty, denied the most fundamental rights; it’s a bitter joke for Ahwazis that the only part they see of the multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry is the massive pollution belching from the unchecked wells and refineries, which poisons the air and the groundwater, making the regional capital Ahwaz and cities like Ma’shour among the most polluted places on Earth.

 Meanwhile, countless Ahwazi Arabs, driven from their lands, denied employment or the ability to make a living or simply sustain their families by the traditional regional industries of agriculture or fishing, are forced to either live in impoverished ghetto communities on the outskirts of regional cities and towns or to move to other regions or nations to survive. In November this year, according to official figures, the Ahwaz region ranked second in Iran in the number of people living in extreme poverty and deprivation and marginalisation, before even factoring in the relentless repression by regime authorities.

By these means of encouraging inward migration of Persians, while making conditions for the indigenous Ahwazi people intolerable, the regime aims to eradicate Ahwazi history and culture entirely and to reduce the indigenous people’s status to that of a minority in their own lands without rights or legitimacy.

 By Mehdi Hashemi

 Mehdi Hashemi is an Ahwazi human rights activist based in Washington DC. Hashemi tweets under@waelsaffah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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