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Iran’s Economy of Exploitation: How Iran’s Colonial Policies Led to Demographic Alteration of Ahwaz



The Ahwaz region of south and southwest Iran is beset by multiple crises, leading to regular protests. The long-suffering Ahwazis have become full to the brim with frustration, unable to bear the status quo any longer.

Paradoxically, Ahwaz is simultaneously one of the richest and poorest regions, with a wealth of natural resources that could potentially turn it into another Brunei and a people living in abysmal poverty. The regime in Tehran has even cut off the region’s once-abundant water supply, even as daytime temperatures in summer often exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) (1).

This paper will first examine the economic importance for Iran of Ahwaz and its varied resources, and after that will analyse how greed for Ahwaz’s vast wealth of natural resources drove Iran to seek to alter the region’s demographic composition by dispossessing large numbers of its Ahwazi inhabitants and transferring them to other areas while replacing them with ethnically Persian immigrants from other Iranian provincial areas. The study will also analyse Iran’s use of a profoundly racist security-centred narrative against Ahwazis to justify repression and the silencing of Ahwazi people’s protests against the systemic state-sponsored injustice to which they have long been subjected.

The Ahwaz region comprises parts of Ilam, Khuzestan, Bushehr and Hormozgan provinces, running from the Iraqi border down the eastern Gulf coast. (2)

The region’s history is believed to predate modern Iran by thousands of years, according to Iranian historian Seyyed Ahmad Kasravi Tabrizi, who discussed Ahwazi history in detail in a controversial book released in 1933 entitled ‘Five Hundred Years of Khuzestan’s History’. In his book, Tabrizi wrote, “The land that we call Khuzestan (Arabistan or northern Ahwaz) today has a deep-rooted history that’s thousands of years older than Iran.” Tabrizi cites many articles of evidence proving the venerable age of the region and its non-Iranian roots. (3)

There is some historical debate over whether the geographic region named Ahwaz was historically part of Iran. Many sources note that the territories of the Ahwaz region are topographically distinct from the Iranian territories, most of which are mountainous in nature, bearing a closer resemblance to the Arabian territories. As some analysts have also noted, the strong resemblance between the region’s geographical and other features —from the topography and climate to societal and economic characteristics —and those of Iraqi and other Arab territories on the other side of the Arabian Gulf, along with their millennia-long relations, provide further confirmation that Ahwaz has never been part of Iran’s territories, geographically or societally. Many other factors also demonstrate this difference, such as the disparities in language, culture, customs, history, etc. This is such a complex issue, requiring whole books in itself to do it justice, that we can’t provide the proper detailed discussion here. (4)

In the following section, the study will discuss the importance of this economically vital region.

First: Ahwaz’s economic importance for the Iranian regime

Ahwaz represents a vitally important asset for the Iranian regime, with its vast gas, oil, mineral and agricultural resources, in addition to its vast quantities of water, making it essentially the lifeblood of the entire Iranian economy, before even mentioning the industrial and commercial complexes throughout the region. In other words, this region alone provides much, if not most, of Iran’s prosperity. (5)

Iran’s economy can be classified as a rentier economy governed by a rentier state. The main feature of such a state is that it obtains most or all of its revenues from its ownership or control of natural resources. It generates these revenues from ready-made sources. These natural sources are controlled by a powerful and wealthy elite in Tehran. The state’s revenues are not the result of economically sound innovation, investment and evolution, but from the exploitation – often reckless – of what is already there. The Iranian regime colonises and exploits the precious revenue-generating natural resources in Ahwaz.

Ahwaz sits on the Shat al-Arab waterway that connects it to the Arabian Gulf, borders Basra and Maysan in southern Iraq. This region is rich in natural resources, such as oil, gas, steel, and other minerals, as well as vast fishing and agricultural resources. Ahwaz was a rich source of clean water, although this is rapidly changing due to the regime’s exploitation and destruction of the rivers. The availability of these Ahwazi natural resources prompted the Iranian state to declare that 85% of its economy is of the rentier variety. Analysis of the policies pursued by successive Iranian regimes in terms of exploitation of the resources and potential in Ahwaz reveals that they are profoundly colonial in nature. Iran seizes the targeted resources and exploits them, devastating the surrounding areas with no regard for the long-term consequences of these actions.

The study will summarise the region’s most economically vital resources and how its exploitation of these impacts the long-suffering Ahwazi people:

1. Water resources: The region is home to six major rivers, including the Karoon, Karkheh, Dez and Jarahi, which collectively account for over a third of Iran’s freshwater supply. This makes Ahwaz- an essential source of water for irrigation, drinking and household use, not only for Ahwazis but for all of Iran.

These water shortages, caused not by climate change but by the regime’s massive programme of dam-building and river-diversion in Ahwaz, have fanned the flames of anger among the long-suffering Ahwazi population, already denied fundamental rights and subjected to systemic anti-Arab racism by the regime, as they see even their rivers dry up, their livestock die, and their crops wither, with large areas of land desertified by this very deliberate policy. While the Ahwazi people suffer a manmade drought and rapidly escalating desertification, the water transferred from their rivers is sent to ethnically Persian regions of Iran, primarily Kerman, Yazd and Isfahan. As if this weren’t insulting enough to Ahwazis, this precious water is not transferred for drinking, but primarily for industrial use, with these three provinces being the main locations of Iran’s industrial centres, including its auto and steel industries.

Iran has built several dams on the upstream stretches of rivers passing through Ahwaz, known colloquially by the Ahwazi Arab people as the ‘Arab-killer dams’ since they are deliberately used by the regime as tools to crush Ahwazi resistance and drive them from their lands by making the region uninhabitable; this is achieved by cutting off water supplies and creating unbearable drought and desertification in the searing heat of summer, then opening the sluice gates in the rainy seasons in winter to flood Ahwazi lands, towns and villages (after constructing berms to divert the waters and protect the regime’s oil and gas platforms and refineries in these waters’ path). (6)

The issue of diverting the courses of the region’s rivers to other Iranian areas is one of the most pressing and urgent challenges facing the Ahwazis, especially during a period when the whole of Iran is facing the most severe drought in five decades due to low rainfall levels, which have fallen by over 60% compared to previous years’ levels amid surging temperatures. This has also impacted the Ahwazi dams’ production of hydroelectricity, affecting the entire country, with Ahwazis doubly punished by seeing their precious water resources seized to deliver hydroelectric power projects that don’t even provide them with power. The greatest dangers facing Ahwazis concerning drought and the diversion of their rivers, however, are the lack of drinking water and the destruction of their agricultural heritage, with even livestock dying due to extreme heat and lack of water, forcing thousands of Ahwazis to leave the region or emigrate to survive. (7),(8)

2. Petrochemicals and Power: Around 95 per cent of the oil and 90 per cent of the gas resources on which Iran’s economy depends are located in Ahwaz, with the revenue from 2019 alone coming to $30 billion. Ahwaz also supplies around 74 per cent of Iran’s electricity requirements via dams and natural resources.

The Ahwazi people see nothing of the vast profits from their resources and are even denied jobs in the petrochemical facilities, which are reserved for Persian incomers offered well-paid jobs and homes in specially built, well-appointed settlements in exchange for moving to the region. Meanwhile, the landscape is scarred by thousands of oil and gas platforms belching out flames and thick smoke around the clock, along with miles of pipelines, massive refineries and petrochemical processing plants.

The coastal area also houses the ports used to ship these fuels worldwide. The pollution from this wholly unregulated industry gives the regional capital, Ahwaz City, the unenviable status of one of the most polluted places on earth, as well as leading to high levels of illness, plus ecological catastrophe as the runoff and untreated industrial waste from the refineries is pumped into what remains of the rivers or leaks into the groundwater, leading to high levels of cancerous diseases and poisoning plants, animals and marine life. In an area historically renowned for agriculture and fishing, the oil industry’s impact has been nothing short of devastating. (9)

  1. Ports, trade and customs

Ahwaz has four major ports on the Arabian Gulf, which are considered among Iran’s most important ports, through which the majority of Iran’s exports and imports are carried out, with over 80% of Iran’s imports of essential commodities entering the country via Ma’shour port or Bandar Imam Khomeini in the region. (10)

This means the region is Iran’s most important trade corridor and the primary source of the customs revenues flowing to the state treasury.

4. Industries and minerals: As well as being a key hub for Iran’s petrochemical industries and heavy industries such as iron, steel and construction materials, Ahwaz is also a centre for Iran’s strategic food industries such as sugar. (11), (12).

5. Agricultural resources: Ahwaz’s many rivers help endow it with excellent rich agricultural land, with its abundant agricultural output including staple crops, leading to it being known as the regional breadbasket. Now, however, thousands of farmers have been dispossessed, either driven from their lands by the regime requisitioning them for vast state-owned agricultural firms, or by the desertification caused by the regime’s dam-building and river diversion projects. In neither case are the farmers compensated for their suffering. Sugarcane plantations were established on the thousands of hectares of Ahwazi land forcibly seized from farmers who were dispossessed without compensation. (13)

The regime’s ruinous and loss-making sugarcane industry places heavy demands on local water supplies already greatly diminished by the regime’s massive dam-building programme upstream on the region’s rivers, most of whose waters are now diverted to the Persian areas of Iran via a vast network of pipelines.

As if this weren’t enough, the refineries used to process the sugarcane are also built on the banks of the river Karoon, whose remaining waters are used in the refining process, with all the untreated chemical waste from this process pumped directly back into the river, whose waters form a large part of the supply for both the rural and urban areas of Ahwaz.

The combination of water shortages and intensive pollution from chemical waste dumping makes the remaining water heavily saline, contaminated and undrinkable, killing even the riverside plant life, marine life and local wildlife, as well as proving poisonous when used for crop irrigation. (14) & 15).

The iconic palm tree is one of the most important agricultural products for Ahwazis, but the salt imbalance in what’s left of the water supply from largely diverted local rivers has destroyed the palm trees, depriving the Ahwazis of the ability to derive any traditional livelihood from this agricultural staple. (16) & (17).

The Ahwazi people’s livestock are also dying of thirst and lack of sufficient fodder. Worse, the oil and gas industries exclude Ahwazis from any employment in order to force Arab people to move to other areas or abroad to seek job opportunities. This racist exclusion and effectively forced migration is the deliberate result of the regime’s yearly expansion of its oil and petrochemical industry. (18) &(19).

This employment discrimination has led to Ahwazis suffering from high unemployment rates, poverty and denial of basic government services. The regime’s abuse of the Ahwazi people is confirmed by human rights reports which noted the existence of blatant discrimination against the Ahwazi people in the regional oil and gas sector’s labour market – by far the largest employment market in the region — and which also noted that Persians are appointed to all senior positions while Ahwazis get only the most menial jobs, with Ahwazis accounting for only five per cent of the oil and gas sector’s workforce in the Ahwaz region. (20)

Even highly qualified Ahwazis with degrees in fields directly related to the oil, gas and petrochemical industries are systemically rejected when submitting employment applications or in their interviews, leaving many young Ahwazis desperately changing their names to hide their Arab identity in the hope of being hired for their qualifications rather than rejected for their ethnic identity. (21)

Ahwazi-Iranian Demographic Conflict, Mechanisms and Causes

Non-military, systemic conflict is one of the most effective and influential types of modern global conflict. One of the most prominent varieties of such a conflict is demographic conflict, meaning an effort by the aggressor to change the population structure and alter the original demographic composition of a region in the aggressor’s favour. This is what we see in Ahwaz at the hands of successive Iranian regimes with the aim of eliminating the Ahwazi people’s identity and replacing the indigenous people with a Persian population.

From 1950 to the present day,  a large number of Persians have been resettled and employed in Ahwaz to take up jobs in the petrochemical sector and government departments, with jobs in both these fields automatically denied to the local Ahwazi people, along with the well-appointed housing especially provided for these non-Ahwazi migrants.(22) Meanwhile, Ahwazis denied jobs and often driven from their homes, are forced to migrate to Persian cities in other regions, such as Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, Tehran and others, in search of usually low-paid, unskilled jobs provided by the Islamic Republic and its predecessors for this goal and this purpose. In 2017, the AsrIran website quoted the former governor Gholamreza Shariati as stating that between 2011 and 2016, more than 200,000 Ahwazis had migrated to Persian cities in search of work and employment (Shariati, 2017 Asr Iran). (23)

This investigative paper provides an Ahwazi perspective and analysis of this demographic conflict and of the Ahwazi people’s resistance towards this policy which is effectively one of Iranian domestic colonisation, addressing the reasoning of both parties in the conflict and detailing the measures adopted in resistance and defiance by the Ahwazi people engaged in an unjust and imbalanced conflict such as this one which has lasted for more than nine decades to date, ever since the 1925 occupation of Ahwaz and the capture of its Emir up until the current day.

This study examines the causes of the Ahwazi-Iranian demographic conflict according to the socio-economic and political phenomena experienced by Ahwazis in the current conditions. We will also analyse the strategies and plans used by the Iranian regime in its efforts to change Ahwazi demography in order to homogenise and ‘Persianise’ Ahwaz by dispersing the Ahwazi people or merging them with the migrant Persians in the Ahwazi areas, eradicating Ahwazi identity. (24) & (25)

The study is important from an official perspective as it relies on official and purportedly accurate statistics taken from state-run Iranian agencies and ministries which produce these figures and use them as their primary statistical source material.

First: Concept of Conflict, Demography and the Demographic Conflict (Geopolitical):


The concept of conflict in specialist political literature is viewed as a dynamic phenomenon. It is worth noting that the phenomenon of international conflict is unique to international relations as an extremely complex dynamic phenomenon. This is due to its multiple dimensions, the overlap between its causes and sources and their direct and indirect interactions and effects, and the varying levels at which it occurs in terms of the extent or intensity of violence – or other, non-direct forms of aggression seen in non-violent conflict. This means that such a conflict at its core expresses a conflict between national administrations, resulting from differences in motives, perceptions, objectives, aspirations, resources, capabilities, etc., which in the final analysis lead to making decisions or pursuing policies that differ with one another more than they agree. However, such a conflict, despite all its tensions and pressures, does not reach the point of an armed war, retaining a space for conflict management or adaptation to its pressures while maintaining the relative ability to choose between the alternatives available for each party.


Demography, known as population science, refers to studying a range of population characteristics. These are quantitative characteristics, including population density, distribution, growth, size and population structure; as well as qualitative characteristics, including those related to nationality, identity, and religion. It also includes social elements such as development, education, nutrition and wealth. Demography is defined as statistics that include income, births, deaths, etc., which contribute to the clarification of human changes. Among the other definitions is that of a statistical, social and vital science based on studying a set of statistics related to individuals (27).

 Demographic Conflict or Demographic (Geopolitical)Wars:

Demographic change and demographic cleansing in a comprehensive manner is based on the practice of the policy of transfer (quiet expulsion) in all its varieties in terms of geography and population composition, such as reducing the overall fertility rate of women through encouraging higher-than-usual caesarean birth rates, and the policy of instigating an environment in which psychological diseases and crises flourish, as well as failing to reduce the prevalence of chronic and deadly diseases such as kidney diseases, cancer, skin diseases and respiratory problems. Also, the geopolitical dimension is used to change the physical geography of the location and gradually destroy those resources essential to the survival and well-being of the Ahwazi people by using all available strategies, denying them every possible means of securing a livelihood and disregarding their fundamental right as people whose ancestors have owned and inhabited the lands in question for generations in order to replace them with migrant incomers who will who support the policies of the usurping regimes.

A demographic conflict is a form of indirect war, complete with non-military attacks from the authority and resistance from the axes of popular resistance. Those states and regimes using this strategy are always keen to enforce their projects to change the local demography, making occasional small concessions to axes of resistance and even offering limited capabilities to some as a means of pacification, while always taking a long-term perspective to ensure an outcome in their own interest in future years and decades. By contrast, there is no similar plan or structure to the opposition of the popular resistance’s political or social groupings in their conflict with regimes engaged in these wars, with their opposition being of an impromptu defensive nature responding to the aggressor’s predations and apparent attempts to obliterate and marginalise them.

In the absence of any objective local authority in such cases, it is difficult and often virtually impossible for those engaged in resistance to formulate and implement a strategy since their future vision is reactive, spontaneous and organic, arising largely from the groups on the ground in the areas affected. Meanwhile, the aggressors’ policy of attrition of capacities and their suppression of popular movements limits the ability of the resistance to formulate a unified view on how best to confront the well-planned strategies by the aggressors engaged in this relentless demographic warfare (27)

The need to enforce such demographic changes in the territory in question and the resulting demographic conflict are vital considerations for the ruling regimes and powers, particularly when an expansionist imperial power is confronting a group differing in ethnicity, culture or religion and resistant to its ideology.

Syria is an important case in point in this context, with Iranian regime officials quoted as saying that if Syria was lost to the regime, it would not be able to hold onto Tehran! The same applies in both historic and contemporary settings, with the genocidal Roman occupation of Judea, the brutal Iranian occupation of the provinces of Kurdistan and Baluchistan, the refusal of the People’s Republic of China to accept the independence of Taiwan, the harsh and oppressive Communist Chinese occupation of Tibet, and the oppressive persecution by the Communist Chinese government of the Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province.


Demographic conflict in Ahwaz:

  1. Demographic change in Ahwaz and its effects

B: Iranian role in demographic change and demographic conflict

C: Population change and its effects

D: Geographical change and its effects

E: Medical and health demographic change

Whenever terms such as “demographic conflict” or “geopolitical demographic war” appear, this shows that we are looking at the age-old phenomenon of the perpetual conflict between the coloniser and the colonised.

The Ahwazi-Iranian demographic conflict is characterised by special circumstances which mean that it poses a major threat to the Ahwazi people in terms of resistance and that it is very different from other colonial conflicts; in the Ahwazi case, the conflict is characterised as a non-religious conflict, accompanied by a struggle over gradual displacement in contrast to other demographic conflicts in which there is a far more evident religious-nationalist element which is declared against the oppressed peoples through means of weapons and military force – in these cases, the thwarting of such a military offensive and the victory of either the occupying state or those whose lands it wishes to colonise is always relatively quick and decisive. (28)

By contrast, in Ahwaz, the current Iranian regime wears the cloak of Shia Islam, the faith and sect shared by most of the colonised people, to impose its policies and controls the clergy who are spread throughout Ahwazi society across Ahwaz, using these clerics as a legitimising apparatus to protect it and deter any revolt against it.

In its public rhetoric, the Iranian government adopts the language of humanitarianism and loudly voices its aversion to nationalism to dissuade Ahwazis from any move to adopt an Ahwazi nationalist stance or resort to nationalist conflict. However, if we disregard this lovely rhetoric and analyse the Iranian regime’s actual structure, divisions, behaviour and worldview, we find strong and clear racism and blatant discrimination inflicted on all Ahwazis. Another aspect making the Iranian regime’s policies in this demographic conflict more complex and dangerous is the regime’s constant defence and protection of the security of the ethnically Persian internal migrants from other areas of Iran supported by the regime’s judicial authorities and security apparatus, who depict any and all efforts by the Ahwazi people to resist colonisation and ethnic cleansing, reject the legitimacy of the regime’s judicial and security services and defend their own rights as “terrorism”.(29)

One of the instruments and aspects of this identity-based demographic conflict and of the other gradual and subtle policies to undermine Ahwaz through which the Iranian regime imposes its demographic change policies against Ahwazis is seen in the phenomenon of the “clash of the elites”, which often occurs between the racist Persian elite and the nationalist Ahwazi elite who are systematically marginalised and excluded from gaining any potential benefits from the resources on their own lands. This is due to the misconception popularised by Persians since the 1925 colonisation that – contrary to all historical records – Ahwazis are the immigrant interlopers in this land and should return from where they come from, and that this status somehow gives Persians the right to their openly racist supremacist treatment and contempt towards Ahwazis, the rightful owners of the land, and to their heritage, identity and lives. Historically, this supremacist worldview was the foundation for the Nazi creed and dehumanisation toward other races, indicating that while the expressed policy, objectives, and idea of the Persian occupation and others are nominally based on the concept of resistance, their implementation, in reality, varies according to the subjects, location and time. The only clear ideology is gradual or sudden ‘demographic change’, as expressed, as we noted earlier, in the term “transfer” (30).

A: Demographic change in Ahwaz and its effects:

Demographic change is the largest and most important concern for Ahwazis since it affects their daily lives and identity and their future potential negatively, as it has in all the previous decades since the fall of Arabistan (the historical name of Ahwaz) to Iranian forces in 1925 and the killing of Emir Khazaal bin Jabir al-Kaabi in the first era of successive Persian Shahs’ rule. Ever since then, consecutive Iranian regimes have instituted deep-rooted policies of demographic change in the Ahwaz region through various means including murder, displacement, execution and destruction. These policies led most in Ahwaz to enthusiastically support the 1979 revolution, hoping to finally have justice and freedom. (31)

Even after Khomeinists seized power, instituting the ‘Islamic Republic’ theocracy, many Ahwazis, who are mostly Shiite, were at least initially deceived by the clerics into believing that their rule would be just and fair-minded, based on their positive views of the Khomeinists’ claims. While this brief period of acceptance allowed the new theocratic regime to institute and intensify the previous regime’s racist and securtised policies towards Ahwazis and to achieve some demographic transfer of the Ahwazi population, the new rulers were unable to achieve the comprehensive change they sought. (33)

One of the main reasons for the large-scale demographic change in the region and its effects is unemployment, which is itself primarily caused by state-endorsed racial discrimination (Ahwazis are denied any rights or employment in all but the most menial jobs). Another is the regime’s wholesale destruction and pollution of the natural environment via oil and gas drilling, forcing thousands of farmers and fishermen to abandon their ancestral lands with no compensation, along with the regime’s destruction of countless villages, whose populations have been displaced in their thousands, again with no compensation, to make room for oil and gas drilling zones and refineries, along with the construction of purpose-built settlements created specifically to house the ethnically Persian workers imported from other parts of Iran to work in these facilities; it should be noted that Ahwazis are banned from living in these settlements which are provided with all the modern amenities denied to the Ahwazi people.

These and other problems deliberately created by the regime to make life intolerable for the Ahwazi people have, in turn, led to further connected problems for Ahwazis, whose lives are dominated and devastated by the regime’s relentlessly hostile policies, leaving them in a constant state of conflict, with no meaningful way to repel or respond to the regime’s acts of non-military warfare, and with no option for resistance except to cling to their land and identity and to remain, despite everything, without retreating.(34)&(35)

This systematic demographic change has affected the Ahwazi people at every level, obviously and painfully in economic terms, as the only job opportunities available in Ahwaz are with petrochemical companies, oil refineries, sugarcane, traditional agriculture or free trade in the free market zones, with jobs in all these fields, except for the most unskilled and menial ones, close to or almost non-existent for Ahwazis. We will review these here, relying on the Iranian regime’s official statistics and comments from its ministers, high-ranking officials, and politicians with authority over these issues.


 Ever since the establishment of these vast state-run petrochemical facilities in Ahwaz – whose profits, according to international reports, go directly to support terrorism and the destabilisation of the region – the Iranian regime has withheld jobs from the local Ahwazi people using various pretexts, including the excuse that they lack the necessary qualifications or specialist skills; those Ahwazis with the requisite qualifications and skills will be turned down automatically on the supposed grounds of a lack of experience or of no vacancies, even while these jobs are still being advertised in Persian media. Meanwhile, applicants from ethnically Persian backgrounds and of all other Iranian ethnicities can get the jobs effortlessly even without the necessary qualifications, skills and experience; this means the number of people employed in the petrochemicals industry in Ahwaz in the last decades has probably reached to be over 700,000, all migrants.

The former regional governor of Ahwaz, Shariati, in an interview with the state-run Mehr news agency in 2013, stated that the circle of employment is becoming narrower and more limited day by day for the young Ahwazi population amid the increasing presence of 300,000 of non-native workers in this region. Shariati added that while the unemployment levels are rising among local native Ahwazis in the Ahwaz region, these non-native workers have achieved decent jobs in the country’s unemployment Centre [Ahwaz]. (37)

Several reports and articles have detailed accurate statistics on 30 of the petrochemical companies, oil and gas refineries, steel refineries and other companies in the region, which have no Ahwazis in any management or administrative roles. (38) & (39)

 Oil refineries:

 A report published in the Feydus news agency in 2018 about employment in the Abbadan oil refinery, the oldest and largest oil refinery in the Ahwaz region and one on which the regime in Tehran relies, Jalil Mokhtar, the representative of Abbadan city in Iran’s parliament, said, more than 2,800 professionals, workers and technicians were employed in the refinery, with only 1800 of these personnel protected by the employee insurance policy; of this number, only 340 local Ahwazi employees were identified as being from Abbadan and Muhammarah .” (41) Meanwhile, more than 80 per cent of the employees in the Bid Boland refinery in Arjan (Behbahan) are non-Ahwazi migrants to the region, according to a 2016 report by the Dana news agency. (42)

Sugarcane project: the best illustration of an economy based on colonialism

 The nature of Iran’s colonisation and exploitation of Ahwaz and its resources cannot be construed as the result of capitalist, Marxist or any other theories of colonialism. Rather, the logic underpinning this savage, racist system is far more primitive – ‘Might Makes Right’ – with Iran simply using brute force to overwhelm and subjugate the Ahwazi people in a policy of plunder. This system of plunder and pillage by which Iran impoverishes and marginalises Ahwazis did not begin with the current, theocratic regime; indeed there are now only two years until the centenary of Iran’s 1925 colonisation of Ahwaz when it deposed and jailed the independent emirate’s last Ahwazi leader and began the relentless persecution of its Ahwazi people. (42)

 The Iranian regime’s securitisation policies, accompanied by the use of excessive force and unspeakable cruelty, have paved the way for an effort to crush and annihilate the culture, heritage and very existence of the Ahwazi people. This, in turn, has resulted in multi-faceted social confusion. (43)

Dr Mehrdad Vahabi, a Professor in Economics at the University of Paris, developed the theory of plunder policy in his 2004 book Political Economy: Destructive Power. In this work, Dr Vahabi discussed the function of destructive power in the economy, particularly destructive forces from outside the economic sphere which lead to the economic equivalent of military conflict. The actions of these wholly selfish and destructive states which pillage citizens’ wealth lead to social fragmentation, as explained by Dr Vahabi in 2018 on Radio Zamaneh. (44) In the case of Ahwaz, the successive Iranian regimes used force to extend their authority over all of the Ahwazi people’s resources, intensifying this suppression by seizing and colonising their lands, changing the Ahwazi areas’ demographic makeup. This manipulation not only changed the ethnic composition of the Ahwazi territories but imposed ruinous new agricultural practices, such as the sugarcane project, which is the best illustration of an economy based on colonialism.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) sugarcane farming project is one of the most environmentally devastating political projects launched in Ahwaz, with employees at these loss-making facilities being employed primarily based on their affiliation with the IRGC and secondarily according to ethnicity and race, which has aroused great anger and controversy among the Ahwazi public.

The consequences of the regime policy of settlement of Persians in Ahwaz and forced demographic change

Even a cursory glance at the Sugarcane & By-Products Development Co. workforce of over 20,000 people, according to its website, clearly demonstrates that all but a very few menial jobs are reserved for the Persian minority of settlers from other regions of Iran. Despite the fact that the company’s agricultural lands were seized from the Ahwazi people, their share of the resulting job opportunities is negligible. Despite the imposition of complete government secrecy on the affiliations of the employees in this company, the emergence of semi-periodic protests by local residents near the company’s farms, denouncing the deterioration of their living conditions, strengthens local suspicions that the majority of the appointments are based primarily on ethnicity and reserved for Persians only.

Resentment at such unjust and racist practices has led, naturally, to rancour and resentment among the Ahwazi population at this blatant injustice, with this anger spilling over into arguments between Arab representatives and Persian officials in the Ahwaz region, with the Ahwazi Arab representatives emphasising that national security necessitates Arab participation in large sugar cane companies to avoid a deterioration of the security situation. This reasoning led the decision-maker in the Ahwaz region to appoint an official with an Arab name, Abd al-Ali al-Nasiri, to manage the sugarcane company.

As the local Ahwazi population are well aware, however, this was a wholly fictitious token appointment designed to silence the Arab majority in the region. An examination of the names of the general managers of the Sugar Cane Company’s seven subsidiaries, as shown above, reveals that they are all Persians. Furthermore, according to the information on the company’s official website, the members of the management board in all of these companies are all Persians. Mohammad Jaafar Behtash, a retired professor in the field of agricultural economics from Ahwaz University has warned against the ongoing discrimination in the sugarcane company’s employment practices, noting that discrimination is the hallmark of the company’s recruitment policy and warning of the security implications of this. (45)

This discrimination was instigated and is accommodated and reinforced by the administration bringing in a large number of workers and employees from other, ethnically Persian areas of Iran, providing them with cheap housing, and making loans available to them. These moves are intended to promote a policy of changing Ahwaz’s demographic composition. As a result of these companies and their counterparts’ policies, locals daily observe the construction of ‘Persians-only’ settlements similar to the predominantly Persian Aghajari and Bahnar neighbourhoods of Ahwaz city, although only a decade ago, local Ahwazis recall that no neighbourhoods had a significant Persian settlers’ presence, let alone a Persian majority. This settlement expansion, is supported not only by the sugar cane company, but also by the oil companies in addition to the central government’s policies supportive of this trend.

The sugarcane projects are widely seen as being one of the Islamic Republic’s programmes specifically created to manipulate the demographic structure of Ahwaz by making the region uninhabitable for its Ahwazi people and obliterating Ahwazi Arab identity, culture and history.

Through these projects, successive regimes have succeeded in colonising vast tracts of Arab lands and building new settlements for non-Ahwazi migrants from other parts of Iran. For example, in 2004, the Supreme Council of Urban Planning and Architecture approved the Shirin Shahr settlement, 20 km southwest of Ahwaz city, in close proximity to 130,000 hectares of sugarcane fields, to provide homes for 100,000 non-Ahwazi migrant families. The word “Shirin” in Farsi means “sweet” and is synonymous with the word sugarcane.

The residents of this city are Farsi-speaking employees and immigrants from other Iranian cities who were brought in and given full-time employment in the sugarcane industry. What’s more, senior managers and other high-ranking officials in oil companies, the National Steel Industries Group, the National Drilling oil company, and in the regime’s military and security forces have also bought many lavish villas and luxury homes in Shirin Shahr. The Ahwazi people, meanwhile, are not allowed to live there. (46)

While Ahwazi Arab inhabitants of Ma’shour, Abbadan, Mohammareh, Ghizaniyeh district, etc. face extreme water shortages and lack the most basic amenities and living facilities, the luxurious, landscaped Shirin Shahr settlement is lavishly equipped with every possible amenity for its residents, with first-class services including health, education, green spaces, sports facilities, urban transportation, leisure and welfare facilities, tourism facilities, cultural facilities, trade outlets, etc close to accordance with international standards. (47)

Traditional agriculture:

Agriculture provides the food supplies for villages and outlying areas in Ahwaz and is the only means of livelihood for the rural communities, who have lived there since time immemorial. The fertile lands and villages of Ahwaz are also, unfortunately for their peoples, located on top of subterranean oil, gas and mineral riches which are all that successive Iranian regimes care about, with the current regime being the worst to date.

Many of the Ahwazi farmers, fishermen and owners of these lands have been marginalised, dispossessed and driven from their homes in order to turn the lands into vast oil and gas facilities, with the regime authorities adding insult to injury by placing dams and massive networks of pipelines near the sources of the region’s rivers to reroute most of their waters to ethnically Persian areas and even draining the downstream marshlands fed by these rivers, devastating the ecosystem and destroying what agriculture, farming and fishing remained, with the resulting drought afflicting the whole of Ahwaz, once renowned as a regional breadbasket.

While the Iranian regime has offered some of the remaining farmers business opportunities, loans and jobs in the Persian cities in exchange for abandoning their lands, Ahwazis are fully aware that this is part of a malicious strategy to expel farmers so that new oil and gas facilities can be built on their lands.

The regime’s malice knows no bounds; for one example, when a heavier-than-usual seasonal rainfall in early 2019 ensured that the region’s farmers were expecting a bumper crop later that year, Iranian authorities deliberately opened the dams upstream to flood the lands downstream and destroy their crops in an attempt to force them to abandon their lands, offering services and facilities in other areas of Iran such as Isfahan, Tabriz and Yazd to encourage them to move, according to an official statement from Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture. Despite this effort, the persistently tenacious Ahwazis resisted the flooding with the most basic tools and refused to sell or abandon a single inch of their beloved lands for the sake of the regime in Tehran. (49)

B: The Iranian role in demographic change and demographic conflict in Ahwaz is divided into two parts, namely the demographic change itself and the anti-Ahwazi, anti-Arab racism of the Persians and the regime loyalists among the Lur, a nomadic people (demographic conflict). Whilst not wishing to openly admit its own racism, the regime supports and incites anti-Ahwazi racism amongst Persian and Lur personnel in ministries, schools and companies in the region in order to create an internal conflict and perpetual hostility among citizens in an effort to ensure division and to drain the indigenous people’s resistance capabilities and energies. The Lur, some of whom live in the north of Ahwaz, are nomadic migrants, mostly from Lurestan province consider themselves to be historical existential and dangerous enemies of the Ahwazis; this clearly poses a threat to Ahwazi identity and sovereignty in their lands. This hostility, encouraged by Tehran, has led to the Lurs claiming ownership of the land, providing the regime with another means of inciting further antagonism. (50)

C: Population change and its effects:

The demographic change seen in Ahwaz has been carried out through the political mechanisms discussed above, with their effects being very apparent and obvious. Incoming settlers from other, ethnically Persian areas of Iran have taken over government jobs and positions, forcing the Ahwazi elite with the ability and funds to do so to migrate both within the borders of Iran and abroad. This demographic change is used to underline the regime’s claim that the Arabic language of the Ahwazi people is undesirable in government departments, schools and companies and to discourage residents from speaking, learning or listening to it. For this reason, the Farsi language has become the official language used in the market, the street and all state bodies, despite this being contrary to Article 15 of the Iranian Constitution, which provides for the right to education in the mother language for Ahwazis. (51)

Another effect is the commercial dimension in the market, with Persian migrants taking over the local market and the trade sector within Ahwaz and boycotting local Ahwazi retailers and products sold by them. This has led to a further sharp upturn in migration amongst the Ahwazi elite, another of the effects of the regime’s unofficial but carefully calculated population transfer policy. (52)

1.Geographical change and its impacts:

The geographical division is one of the most important methods of demographic change that limits the capabilities of any popular resistance movement. As such, this was the first method of demographic change deployed in Ahwaz under the Shah long before the 1979 revolution and continued ever since.

Under the Shah, the Ahwaz region was divided between the provinces of Khuzestan, Bushehr and Bandar Abbas, with the former Arab names of the region’s cities and towns changed to Farsi, such as Muhammarah being renamed Khorramshahr, Abbadan renamed Abbadan, Falahiyeh renamed Shadegan, Ma’shour renamed Mahshahr and Khafajiyeh renamed Susangerd. Some outlying areas in the Ahwazi region were annexed to other provinces after the occupation of Ahwaz in 1925 to separate them and cut their strong ties with their Ahwazi community. This is in addition to the regime’s policy of attributing the ownership of the Ahwaz region to peoples of other, non-Ahwazi Iranian ethnicities and moving various ethnic Persians and other ethnicities to the region while forcing Ahwazis to migrate in an effort to make Ahwazis the smallest minority there.

One of the striking features of the regional capital, Ahwaz City, for local Ahwazis as well as newcomers, is the shocking contrast between neighbouring districts in the city. The current layout of Ahwaz shows upmarket wealthy neighbourhoods cheek-by-jowl with marginalised ghettoes on the city’s outskirts.

This phenomenon is seen throughout all cities in Iran, particularly in the Iranian capital Tehran. It’s public knowledge there that the city is effectively if unofficially, divided, partitioned into two parts: upper-class urban areas and poor urban areas. This split relates, in the first place, to the stark disparity between classes. This disparity comes mainly from the difference between the residents’ income and lifestyles, creating a chasm between the residents from the poor southern neighbourhoods and those living in the affluent upscale northern districts.

These disparities also extend to other areas of the residents’ lives, whether religious, cultural or social. The disparities between social strata have long been a glaringly obvious phenomenon in Iranian cities. In Ahwaz, however, an additional dimension, that of ethnicity, makes these differences more complicated; this is not just the economic disparity between wealth and poverty but between the wealthy Persian settlers living in the affluent neighbourhoods and the impoverished indigenous Ahwazi Arabs living in the marginalised poverty-stricken slums on the city’s outskirts.

In recent years, these already marginalised areas have deteriorated further, with the city, whose infrastructure is already teetering on the brink of collapse, facing complete devastation, even worse than the current horrendous poverty in the city’s slums. One example is the Al-Sadat neighbourhood, itself an offshoot of the Malashiyeh district, one of the slum neighbourhoods that has grown up on the outskirts of Ahwaz City.

The abject poverty and near-total lack of services in Al-Sadat are medieval, with the area housing thousands of people living in unspeakable conditions, without paved roads, drainage, sanitation, or even drinkable water. There are no health or education facilities for residents, with children in the area trapped in a cycle of poverty since their families can’t afford to send them to school, leaving them trailing far behind their peers. Despite the high levels of illness and disease resulting from the living conditions, there are no health facilities, and residents are unable to afford to access healthcare anyway. (52)

Al-Sadat is not an anomaly but one of several similarly deprived and marginalised areas of the city – the region’s historic capital – where the indigenous Ahwazi residents struggle for survival. Meanwhile, successive regimes have worked to dispossess the Ahwazi people, using their stolen land for the construction of exclusive enclaves reserved solely for wealthy Persian incomers; these affluent communities, fully equipped with every amenity, are given distinctively Persian names such as ‘Kiyan Pars’ (‘Land of Persians’), Golestan or Shahrake Naft – this last being a settlement constructed specifically to house ethnically Persian oil company employees. These rich, well-appointed neighbourhoods, furnished with every possible amenity that residents might wish for, with spacious homes built along broad, tree-lined avenues, may sit side-by-side, cheek-by-jowl with the Arab neighbourhoods, but they are in a different world of class, wealth and privilege conferred on the basis of ethnicity.

Adding insult to injury, in recent years, the regime has been promoting new claims asserting that the marginalised Ahwazi areas are actually rural districts unconnected with Ahwaz city, a fairly transparent effort by Iran’s regime to push the indigenous people out of their own cities and to turn these into exclusively Persian communities, one more step towards the regime’s objective of demographic change.

The officials appointed to run the urban development of the Ahwazi areas, from the governor to the lowliest clerical positions, are almost exclusively appointed from among the immigrant Persian population, and abuse the financial budgets via personal embezzlement, with whatever’s left over being spent solely on the already affluent Persian settlements with no spending any on the Ahwazi areas.

In the local elections for city’s council positions, held every four years, despite the indigenous Ahwazi Arab voters who, despite Tehran’s efforts, still make up the majority of the population voting massively for Ahwazi Arab representatives, the government and candidates representing the Persian settlers, who attain far fewer votes, reflecting their smaller numbers and unpopularity with the local population, force the government and intelligence services to ‘recount’ the votes; this predictably, results in transparently fraudulent announcements by the regime’s representatives that the original vote-counting process was inaccurate, handing victory to the Persian settlers who collaborate openly with the intelligence services in theft and embezzlement of Ahwazis’ land, money and resources, providing lavish expenditure for the Persian settlements and zero for the impoverished Ahwazi areas.

These ‘elected officials’ even bring family members from their original areas to give them jobs and homes denied to the indigenous people. No challenges to this patently corrupt process are tolerated, with dissent punished by imprisonment. This transparent corruption has led increasing numbers of Ahwazis to abandon participation in the election process, knowing that their votes will be disregarded and the positions will go to the regime loyalist Persian settler candidates, no matter how massive the margin of Ahwazi candidates’ victory is in reality. (54)

When the Ahwazi people take to the streets protesting at the regime’s brutality, corruption and apartheid-style policies of ethnic segregation and its deliberate deprivation of the Ahwazis, Persian groups, both regime-affiliated and opposition, insist that Ahwaz is not an Arab region, noting the presence of a Persian population – what they won’t acknowledge is that the Persian population they’re referring to was brought there by the regime to live in ethnically homogenous settlements built specifically for these immigrants to the region and to work in the well-paid jobs denied to the Ahwazis in the oil and gas sectors, as well as in hospitals, banks, schools, universities etc.

These Persian immigrants have never taken part in the anti-regime protests for freedom and human rights alongside Ahwazis; their affluent lifestyle, which rivals that of their wealthy Western counterparts and would be impossible if they had to compete on an even playing field with the indigenous Ahwazis, is, after all, the direct result of being sponsored backed and supported by the same regime. Unlike Ahwazis, they will never have to worry about being dispossessed, marginalised, persecuted on the basis of their ethnicity, about their lands being stolen or about being denied jobs, decent homes, potable drinking water, paved streets or functioning sanitation and sewage systems or forced to emigrate simply to have any hope of a decent life. On the contrary, they are the beneficiaries of the Ahwazis’ suffering, living on stolen land and profiting massively from the resources stolen from the indigenous people.

For Iran’s regime, these settlers are essential in changing the region’s demographic profile, taking local’s jobs and resources and effectively taking over management of Ahwaz, whose people are denied all but the most menial of positions and reduced to disempowered, disenfranchised pauperism and abject humiliation. This relentless systemic racism is an unofficial but very real state policy geared towards indoctrinating young Ahwazis into believing that their lowly status is not a result of a monstrously unjust system maintained by brutal, relentless ethno-supremacist oppression but of some defect or innate racial inferiority in their Arab-ness; through this constant vilification and endless humiliation, Tehran aims to inculcate shame and humiliation in young Ahwazis, forcing them to reject their very identity, abandon their language, culture, heritage and claim to their lands and resources in favour of pursuing assimilation into ‘naturally superior’ Persian society, making them obedient, malleable, submissive and subservient to Iran. (55)

The Iranian regime and even Persian opposition groups claim that the Ahwazi population is estimated at 4.7 million, sometimes even estimating it at as low as only 3 million Arab residents. Since there is no accurate way to conduct a formal census in Iran, much less in the peripheral areas, such claims are unreliable, likely fabricated, and wholly self-serving. Moreover, in its census, taken every ten years, Iranian governments have avoided recording ethnicities to keep non-Persian communities, including Ahwazis, in the dark about their actual numbers, allowing the state to downplay their significance. (56)

This numbers game is just one aspect of the multifaceted oppression, both by the Iran regime and the silent enablers of Tehran’s systematic and continuous discrimination against the Ahwazi population. These enablers include hardline royalists abroad, as well as other opposition groups, and of course, the regime lobbyists.

To add insult to injury, the international community rarely, if ever, addresses or even acknowledges this issue. In some Western countries, racism against Arabs is pervasive; Iran’s domination of the historical narrative promoted by history departments in Western universities has warped the perception of the history of the region, eradicated the role of non-Persians, and downplaying their cultural, linguistic, and social contributions while distorting and aggrandising the ethnocentric Persian mythology.

Domestically, meanwhile, Iranian oppression and engagement in ethnic cleansing and depopulation policies in the Ahwaz region are a mixture of racism, a power-driven interest in securing a monopoly on the oil, gas, and water in the region, consolidation of control, empowering loyalist ethnically Persian groups, and creating a path to looting, corruption, and unmitigated support for the export of the Islamic revolution.

The Arab world, which feels unable to stand up to Iran independently, has chosen to avoid antagonising Tehran through any expression of public support for the Ahwazi people. Some states are also concerned about reciprocal intervention, of Iran meddling in their local issues or increasing its existing intervention more aggressively if they publicly express support for Ahwazi autonomy, independence, or even fundamental human rights. This lack of support reverberates in the West.

Unlike the Palestinian issue, which has enjoyed universal support in the Arab and Muslim world for decades, with billions of dollars channelled towards humanitarian aid, awareness campaigns, and other resources, the Ahwaz issue has not garnered even a minute fraction of this attention. Despite Iran’s colonialist role in the Middle East and beyond, it is seen as too much of an immediate and direct threat to Arab states’ interests to use the Ahwazi cause as a way to galvanise the masses in the same way as they’ve exploited the Palestinian cause, with fears that any support for Ahwaz could, quite simply, backfire if implemented with the same level of intensity.

The Western states, not seeing any mass mobilisation of support for Ahwazi human rights in the Arab/Muslim world, do not see the issue as a priority for anyone; only policymakers are aware that the issue exists. Indeed, most regular Westerners have never heard of the name Ahwaz or anything related to this situation; even when the events in the area do make the news and even when these reports are critical of the regime, events are reported from a Persian-centric perspective as related to the rights of ‘Iranians’ in ‘Khuzestan’.

As a result, the fictitious census numbers in Iran raise no eyebrows in the West; the majority hardly sees the issue as being of immediate importance or relevance to their own interests. In addition to this point, Iran doesn’t include the Ahwazi Arab population in Illam,  Abu Shahr (Bushehr in Farsi), and Jambrun (Hormozgan in Farsi), depicting Khuzestan alone as being the home of Ahwazi Arabs. When one includes the number of Ahwazi Arabs in Ilam, Khuzestan, Bushehr and Hormozgan, however, the number of Ahwazis comes to no less than eight million people, overwhelmingly of Arab ethnicity.

This variation in statistics is a problem that creates tension between the government and the local population and one which the regime is desperate to play down; after all, the needs of eight million people in terms of infrastructure, financial appropriations and different government services are very different from the needs of 4.7 million or just over half of the region’s residents. This deliberate under-counting or ‘imaginative accountancy’, which allows the regime to spend far less on the region than others in Iran, is in itself sufficient reason for the deterioration in the quality of life and already abysmal living standards, which have been repeatedly denounced by the Ahwazi Arab residents of the region. (57)

This latest refusal to recognise the actual size of the Ahwazi population is not the only one; it’s likely linked to the regime’s longstanding efforts to deny Ahwazi identity and to forcibly assimilate or subjugate the Ahwazi people under Persian Iranian control. Ahwazi opposition groups have long accused the Iranian regime of a planned policy of ethnocide and demographic change as a means of seizing Ahwazi Arabs’ land and resources and changing the demographic structure of the region to make it majority-Persian. This charge was confirmed in 2005 with the leaking of an official document from the office of then-President Mohammad Khatami revealing the details of the regime’s demographic change policy in entire Ahwazi areas. In addition to the regime’s policies of seizing the region’s resources, including its agricultural assets, and crushing its people’s hopes of economic prosperity while denying them basic infrastructure and withholding development funding granted to Persian regions, this strategy has led to widespread anger and public protests. (58)

Proof of demographic change: Iran’s regime has used Landmines as a Tool for Demographic Change For almost 40 years

Large numbers of landmines still remain from the Iran-Iraq war in several areas populated by the Ahwazi population. While 35 years since the war ended, the Ahwazi areas remained contaminated with explosive remnants of the war. These explosive remnants include unexploded shells, grenades, landmines and bombs left behind, claiming the lives of local Ahwazis every year. While there should be an urgent de-mining programme for these areas along with a programme of repair and reconstruction of Ahwazi Arab towns, rural areas and infrastructure that were destroyed or devastated during that war, no such action has ever been taken.

Instead, the Iranian regime has used the presence of landmines left by its forces in the rural area bordering Iraq from the 1980-88 war to pressure the Ahwazi Arabs there into abandoning their lands; once these areas are wholly depopulated, they are then de-mined and seized for use in state-run sugarcane farming projects or for distribution as ‘gifts’ to ethnically Persian settlers. The Ahwazi people, driven from their lands and homes, receive no compensation and have no right of appeal. (59)

The regime has very deliberately left hundreds of thousands of the lethal, still active landmines from the 1980-88 war untouched for decades in this once densely populated area adjacent to the Iran-Iraq border in southwestern Iran, refusing to disclose their location to the region’s Ahwazi people. (60)

Indeed, during the nine-year tenure of President Rafsanjani, from 1989 to 1997, the regime used the devastation in the region caused by the war which, coupled with the landmines’ presence, left many villages and towns uninhabitable, as useful pretexts to drive out the remaining Ahwazi population.

In reality, during the war, the Iranian leadership in Tehran took advantage of the ferociously intensive Iraqi bombardment of the region to launch the first phase of its own displacement of rural Ahwazis in the area, continuing during Rafsanjani’s tenure to use the pretext of the land mines’ presence to force out the remaining residents unwilling to leave their land and to make it impossible for those who had fled to other areas during the war to return and resume their lives there after the war was over. As a result, thousands of Ahwazis from these areas have been left, unable to return to their homes and lands, denied any compensation, living in intergenerational limbo in squalid ghettoes on the edges of the region’s cities or in other Persian regions of Iran.

For over three decades, the displaced Ahwazis have been demanding that the regime allow and actively facilitate their return to their homes in the regional cities of Ahwaz, Muhammarah, and Abbadan, as well as other areas, with the regime consistently refusing to acknowledge their pleas.

The post-Iran-Iraq war grievances on Ahwazi Arabs

In this embedded short film, Ahwazi Arab locals in the cities of Muhammarah and Abbadan talk about the horrendous suffering there, lamenting the medieval conditions of destitution, deprivation, and extreme poverty despite the Ahwaz region housing over 90 per cent of the oil and gas wealth claimed by Iran.

The Ahwazi residents speak about the heartbreak of seeing their children weeping from hunger while having no food to give them. Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars going to the Iranian regime from the natural resources on their land, the people of the two cities, like many Ahwazis, are denied even clean water or the most basic utilities and services, such as mains electricity, gas or water. Despite the passage of three decades since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the regime has never attempted to rebuild or repair what remains of the towns and villages in the area that were destroyed or severely damaged in the eight-year conflict.

One lady says bitterly, “We lost our children, mothers and fathers in the war – is this fair, the situation in Muhammarah, that Ahwazi people should remain like this [gesturing to her home and children]?”

Another interviewee, a middle-aged man, says, “I could take you to see houses in neighbourhoods whose residents have been starving from hunger for ten to fifteen years.”

A second man says, “We face severe problems from not having clean water, and from the absence of a sewage system, but we can’t find anyone who will listen to us.”

A young man from Abbadan points out the bleak irony in the juxtaposition of the terrible deprivation in the city with the proximity of the nearby gas refineries which make the regime rich, saying, “We can smell the gas [from the refineries], but there is no gas pipeline reaching homes in Abbadan.”

A fifth interviewee speaks bitterly of the regime’s indifference to the people’s suffering, saying, “In terms of basic hygiene conditions, these areas are sub-zero,”

The middle-aged man added, “I could take you to see around 30 rural areas to the west of the Karoon River where no official has ever “set foot”.

Another resident is heavily sarcastic about the Iranian regime officials’ selectiveness during their occasional visits to their government colleagues in the area, saying, “How come officials wanting to meet with the Commander-in-Chief, the ministry heads, the doctors and engineers can manage to travel to the Shalamcheh area [a war-stricken area in Ahwaz region] on the Iran-Iraq border northwest of Abbadan city, which was a central location in the 1980-88 war]. But, how come you didn’t go to see the 30 villages in the area? Why didn’t you go there?”

Another interviewee, a woman, also voices a sardonic cynicism about the Iranian regime’s claims to treat all its citizens as equals, asking, “Are we considered Iranians? Are we part of Iran?”

The short film finished with haunting footage of a gaunt young Ahwazi girl who has known nothing but poverty and deprivation for all her short life. She gazes bleakly at the camera, her hands on her cheeks, dreaming perhaps of the simple pleasures of a childhood denied. (61)

Rafsanjani, in one of his memoirs, recalled: “When we reached out to the research section, we had a live program broadcast with explanations from IRGC commanders Mohsen Rezaei (IRGC’s overall commander), Aziz Jafari (commander of the IRGC’s ground force), and Mohamad Bagher Ghalibaf (head of the Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters). With their recommendation, we agreed to establish 14 Agro-Industrial complexes (sugarcane projects) along the bordering areas of Ahwaz region for the purpose of development and ‘ethnic demographic change’ there.” (62)

While the regime has never officially acknowledged the existence of its demographic change policy in Ahwaz, the fact that authorities were able to de-mine the lands in the region which were seized by the regime for use in its sugarcane projects or to ‘gift’ to Persian beneficiaries, demonstrates that the regime is fully able to safely and quickly defuse and remove the landmines when doing so suits its own purposes and that it is using these lethal weapons as one more tool to dispossess the Ahwazi people. There have been no international mechanisms to ensure either the return of sequestered lands or the provision of equitable compensation for Ahwazi Arab landowners whose farmlands were forcibly seized by the IRGC through the use of violence for the construction of military garrisons and buildings for private companies affiliated with the regime.

Comprehensive Security Project in Ahwaz

A leaked copy of a 2014 report released by the Iranian regime’s ‘Supreme Council for National Security’ in 2016 provided further compelling evidence of the regime’s policy of ethnic cleansing of the Ahwazi population as part of the Iranian leadership’s ongoing efforts to permanently change the region’s demographic composition.

The leaked plan, named ‘A Comprehensive Security Project for Khuzestan’, proposed a number of strategies with the objective of crushing the Ahwazi freedom movement and thwarting already severely proscribed activism by the Ahwazis (, 2016.)

Perhaps the most important and dangerous of the items incorporated in this project is the planned construction of “new settlements and cities” intended to resettle massive numbers of Persian and other predominantly non-Arab immigrants from other areas of Iran in the region as a means of completely changing its demographic composition in favour of non-Ahwazi peoples to eradicate Ahwazi identity and culture.

According to the leaked report, this ‘security project’ was approved during a meeting of the higher council tasked by the SCNS with its implementation on 27 April 2014, with the meeting chaired by Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, the Iranian Interior Minister under Hassan Rouhani’s government.

Ahwazi human rights organisations confirmed that the regime’s demographic change strategy is already being implemented, as noted above, via widespread land confiscation, seizure of properties, demolition of homes and population transfer, adding that whatever regime officials may claim, the evidence on the ground of these policies being brutally enforced is clear and unambiguous.

The measures proposed in the leaked report include “the repression of political movements” and “the continuation of the policy of demographic change by the displacement of Ahwazis from their home areas,” along with “bringing more Persians from other [Iranian] provinces for resettlement in the province of Khuzestan.”

In the report, a copy of which was received by Ahwazi rights groups, the authors also – unusually for the regime – acknowledges “the existence of discrimination, oppression and marginalisation of Ahwazis”, noting that this led to “nationwide protest” in recent years, before proposing further draconian security measures in an effort to prevent similar future protests. Unsurprisingly, Ahwazi observers have noted that none of the regime’s proposals include the freedom and fundamental human rights for which activists and protesters are calling. (63)

The report identifies five categories of challenges facing the Iranian regime in the Ahwaz region – “political, security, cultural, social and economic” – before proposing that these be resolved through focusing on quelling the demands of the Ahwazi peoples by “dissolving political mobility and demands in the crucible of Iranian pro-regime parties” through indoctrination of the region’s populace in the “concepts of the Islamic Republic” and inculcating “obedience to the Velayat e-faqih system”.

The higher council’s supervisory committee tasked with supervising the implementation of the project is staffed by senior regime officials including the First Assistant to the Iranian President, Eshaq Jahangiri Kouhshahi, as well as the Interior Minister, the Minister of Intelligence and his security and intelligence aides, and the commander of the regime’s regional Internal Security Forces. Another committee member is the chairman of the regime’s regional TV and radio media commission, while a number of members are not identified by name.

The SCNS was tasked by the regime leadership in 2014 with forming five sub-committees to implement the ‘security project’ over a five-year period up to 2019. The primary focus of the project, according to the leaked document, is the enactment of policies to eliminate regional threats and challenges to the regime, with the committees presenting biannual updates on their progress to SCNS Secretary-General Ali Shamkhani, who has overall charge of the project.

Prior to this leaked report, the Iranian regime’s plan to change the demographic composition of Ahwaz was first exposed in 2005 in another leaked document, which was signed by Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the policy director of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s presidential office. Despite Abtahi’s denials of the document’s authenticity – a standard regime ploy – these revelations led to widespread protests across Ahwaz, dubbed the ‘April Ahwaz Uprising’, with hundreds of unarmed Ahwazi demonstrators killed by regime police and security forces in the leadership’s brutal crackdown. (64)

The leaked report also emphasised the crucial need for the regime to “reduce the migration of Persians from the Ahwaz region and ensure that they are settled there safely and securely, [and are] self-sufficient at all levels,” adding that there should be “increased emigration to the province of Khuzestan [ Ahwaz] from other Iranian regions in order to ensure long-term demographic changes at the lowest cost.”

The report further recommended even more intense monitoring of human rights activism and diplomatic activity by Ahwazi activists both domestically and overseas, expressing concern that activists are attempting to raise awareness of their plight among the international community in order to gain international assistance and protection and to gain wider acknowledgement and recognition for the legitimacy of their cause.

The report issued instructions for the immediate suppression of any calls for secession or federalism in Ahwaz, emphasising the need for the regime to limit the political activities of Ahwazis to those approved within the framework of the Islamic Republic and its institutions.

Another recommendation by the report was the establishment of Arabic-language media channels which could disseminate negative propaganda about Ahwazi activism or “nationalism”, as well as countering “extremist groups” and “Wahhabism” in the region, with the regime also concerned at the number of young Ahwazis converting from Shi’ism to Sunnism despite facing severe penalties for doing so.

The report further recommended bringing Iraqi Shiite militias, as well as members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, both of whom are currently fighting for the regime and its allies in Syria, to the region to help in the implementation of the ‘security project’. It suggested that this could be achieved by the Tehran-backed foreign militias holding seminars and giving talks to young Ahwazis to persuade them of the superiority of the Shi’ite doctrines as a means of dissuading them from supporting Ahwazi national movements domestically and overseas.

On the financing of the project, the report controversially recommended allocating a budget consisting of funds from regional oil sales, with over 90 per cent of Iran’s oil and gas resources located in the Ahwaz region. The SCNS also recommended allocating a proportion of the profits from the state petrochemical firms operating in the regime’s Shatt al-Arab ‘free zone’, known as the Arvand Free Zone. (65)

This proposal naturally led to widespread anger amongst Ahwazis, who are denied any profit from the sale of their resources by the regime, with the majority living in Third World levels of poverty despite the massive profits from the oil and gas fields. (66)

Ahwazi activists described the report as further irrefutable evidence of the regime’s policy of ethnically cleansing Ahwazis in Iran through mass displacement as a way of eradicating their presence in this region, calling on international human rights and legal bodies to adopt an unambiguously critical position and strongly condemn this policy.

Ahwazis have continuously called on humanitarian and human rights organisations to adopt a clear stance in condemnation of the Iranian regime and its officials who are responsible for implementing policies which can only be described as criminal in every sense against Ahwazis, who have been left with nothing more to lose, having been stripped of all rights since the occupation and annexation of their homeland over 97 years ago.

Ahwazis have also called repeatedly on the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, to take action to end the regime’s crimes against Ahwazis in Ahwaz and across the region and to force the regime to desist from these plainly racist policies and to act in accordance with international laws and treaties. None of the Ahwazis’ appeals for action have had any effect. (67)

Ahwazi landowners homeless due to mass property confiscations

Iranian regime authorities on Sunday 23 August 2020 began the demolition of a village on the outskirts of Ahwaz City, the eponymous regional capital of Ahwaz region, disregarding the pleas of Ahwazi residents who are being left destitute by this latest state destruction of a community. (68)

Adding insult to injury, regime authorities reportedly issued arrest warrants for all the residents of the village, AlboFazl after they refused to vacate their homes, with the regime demolishing the village, which houses over 300 families, as part of a ‘redevelopment’ programme. A number of the residents of the village of AlboFazl were arrested, with their homes being seized by the regime. (69)

As though this were not traumatic enough for the residents, the regime-run power company has also cut off their electricity supply in searing summer temperatures of over 120o Fahrenheit (48o Celsius) as a way to force them to vacate their homes, although they have nowhere else to go.

The Bonyadeh Mostazafan, a foundation affiliated with the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Khamenei, which plans to seize the area for redevelopment, ordered the village’s electricity supply to be cut off, with the state electricity company and local authorities complying.

The regime has justified this shocking inhumanity towards the residents of AlboFazl with its usual claim that their homes and land are state property, automatically dismissing the residents’ documentation proving their ownership and rights of possession as invalid. This is doubly insulting to the villagers since these ownership documents were issued by the Bonyadeh Mostazafan itself.

According to Ahwazi human rights activists, some of the villagers in AlboFazl, many of whom have lived there their entire lives, are refusing to leave their homes for fear of being seized by regime forces and seeing their homes confiscated along with their possessions.

A teenage boy in the village whose father was among the residents arrested for refusing to abandon their homes, told regime’s Mehr News Agency, “The men here are farmers, drivers, security guards or construction workers. They are not murderers or criminals – they’ve have been arrested for not leaving their homes! The men in the village were arrested because of their homes, and we have to post bail of millions to secure their release. Our homes are all we have – we have no official jobs or other property, so what is the fair condition that is imposed on us?”(70)

Another villager is a mother of disabled children who’ll be left destitute if her family is driven from their home. She told Mehr News Agency, “Our houses are being demolished here. I have five disabled children, one of whom has died. Why do they want to evict us from our homes?”

Seyyed Yousef Mousavi, the Imam of Abolfazl village mosque, said, “This area was agricultural land before the [1979] revolution and the village was built later. The revolution began in 1979, and when the Housing Foundation, and later the Bonyadeh Mostazafan were established, they took the vacant lands in the suburbs [around Ahwaz city], including the lands this village is built on, and issued ownership documents for them. (71)

Mousavi pointed out that the village residents being imprisoned or evicted had developed the farmlands and revived the area, saying, “Even though these lands have been in the hands of farmers who’ve revitalised them, and who even have the right of root, which has been confirmed by experts in the organisations of the Registration and Agriculture ministries, now that the Bonyadeh Mostazafan has claimed ownership, it should identify the former owner of the land before asserting its ownership.”

He added, “The Bonyadeh Mostazafan and the Housing Foundation also announced in their own bureaucratic language that the foundation had seized these lands, which means that the lands are already owned since they’re now claiming ownership. So, the lands belong to the farmers and they should be compensated.”

Mousavi concluded, “The issuing of arrest warrants has frightened the residents of this village and nobody feels calm and safe anymore.”

Another village elder said: “If the regime’s claims [that the state owns the land] are true, why wasn’t this issue raised before recent years? Why do they remember this issue after 300 families had built their houses and made a living in this village for more than 30 years?!” He added, “In the days when we’ve got Corona disease on the one hand and the sweltering, exhausting heat and unhealthy economic situation on the other, this has further worsened life for people.”

The elderly man added, “This is the homeland for all of us, and it’s not clear how the Bonyadeh Mostazafan wants to own the lands of our ancestors.”

A third elderly resident of AlboFazl pointed out that regime forces have even destroyed the school as part of their drive to force the villagers to leave: “The respectability and esteemed position of the teacher is clear to everyone, but in this village, they’ve destroyed the school – are not we from this country? Is that why they’re committed to destroying our homes?”

The knowledge that their village is just the latest in a long line of communities to be razed and seized by the regime is of no comfort to the people of AlboFazl, however.

One young man, sweltering in the heat without electricity or any idea of where he and his family might go when the regime takes the only home, he’s ever known told DIRS that the people are terrified by the regime’s eviction orders, with nobody feeling calm or safe. “It’s not fair that the men of the village are arrested for refusing eviction from their homes and released only if they make a commitment to leave the homes that are their only shelter,” he added. But for Ahwazis, cruelty and unfairness are the norm from Iran’s regime.

For Ahwazis, this is simply the latest in a longstanding pattern of forcible regime appropriation of their homes and lands. The regime routinely gives Ahwazis only a few days’ or even a few hours’ warning before demolishing homes, farms and entire villages across the Ahwaz region. Regime forces carried out mass arrests of demonstrators who took to the streets of the capital in 3 December 2017 in solidarity with the residents of Jalizi village in the north of the region who had been violently attacked by the Iranian internal security forces when they tried to protect their homes and lands from regime efforts to drive them out and raze the village completely. (71)

In AlboFazl, as in jalizi and other destroyed villages, Ahwazi residents have nowhere to turn to and no hope of any compensation or mercy from the regime, whose officials ordered the demolitions, with any complaint likely to see the complainant being arrested and imprisoned on fabricated charges.

Ahwazi citizens in Khorosi residential area face imminent confiscation of their properties

For the past 60 or 70 years, the residents of the Khorosi area in Ahwaz, which is one of the many disadvantaged and marginalised neighbourhoods in Ahwaz city, have been living in the property originally bought from the namesake of the area. However, in a new oppressive measure, the Iranian regime officials claim that these lands are occupied and that the Ahwazi residents must pay the cost of repurchasing their properties to obtain the title deed. (73)

The landowner of this eponymous area had originally exchanged the properties sold to Ahwazis for sheets which had served as purchase agreements. The buyers would keep them as proof of purchase, and some residents still carry them around.

One of the local rights activists explained to DIRS, “These desperate people are walking on eggshells due to fear of confiscation of their houses. The Ahwazis spend their lives building their homes, constructing their lands and securing homes for themselves and their families without any support from the government, which denies them employment, essential services, or mortgages.

The Ahwazis live in a state of constant dispute with the authorities, which confiscate their lands., Ahwazis are in pursuit of stability, in light of demolitions of homes, confiscations of lands, and evictions.

The chain of events in the land confiscation saga was revealed last week when the residents of the Khorosi area approached the authorities to renew their ownership documents. They were informed that all the homes in the Khorosi area have been put at the disposal of the government agency in charge of collecting and selling government properties affiliated with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs. This happened despite the local residents possessing the sale contracts they had inherited.

In a shocking update, the residents learned that these repossessed lands would be auctioned off. A settler or a foreign firm would take hold of these lands and obtain the title deeds.

Those who wish to remain in the area have to buy these lands at current prices set by the authorities. Even with such extreme hardship, they can only do that if the land is not acquired by the government for eminent domain reasons, such as a plan to build a new settlement on the international road linking the capital – Ahwaz City – with Abbadan.

This situation also arose in several other Ahwazi areas, where the government resorted to similar measures, in an effort to force out the Ahwazi residents from the region. The pattern repeated when the residents of those areas contacted the authorities to renew their deeds.

The reason for these displacement and depopulation schemes is linked to the regime’s interests in taking control of the lands, in part due to the China-Iran deal for profit, and in part due to the plans to redistribute it among Persian loyalists, and to loot whatever is possible. The ultimate objective is to change the demographic area in Ahwaz in favour of the Persian settlers through a process of displacement.  According to local sources, nearly 30,000 Ahwazis in the Khorosi area will find themselves homeless. It is the biggest displacement in Ahwaz after the events of the Iran-Iraq war.

The demolition of 30 buildings under construction in Toster

Another house demolition campaign was carried out in the Toster (Shushter) area on Thursday 20 August 2020. The regime officials announced the demolition of 30 buildings under construction belonging to Ahwazi citizens in the Toster district, under the pretext that their owners did not obtain building permits. (74)

According to local Ahwazi eyewitnesses, the land on which the houses were built is about 14 hectares, and some of these buildings were inhabited despite their incomplete construction.

The eyewitnesses told DIRS that the Iranian police forces ordered the local Ahwazi Arabs to evacuate the buildings, using excessive force and violence against the women, children and elderly residents and threatening with arrest if the residents resisted the police and tried to halt the demolition of the buildings.

Land confiscation in Muhammarah

In a related incident, the regime confiscated 50 hectares of arable land owned by Ahwazi citizens in the village of Mandwan in the Muhammarah district last week, under the pretext that the ownership of land belongs to the authority of the Iranian state.

Ahwazi local farmers interviewed by DIRS anonymised to protect them from the regime persecution denied the allegations of the Iranian authorities, stressing that the regime’s flimsy pretexts are no longer fooling anyone.  They said, “we are aware that the regime is planning an extensive land grab and illegal taking of the Ahwazi farms for settlement development.”

In another related development, the authorities announced the allocation of 1.5 trillion rials for accomplishing the second phase of the free agricultural zone, a settlement project in Ahwaz. In light of this project, 550,000 hectares of the Ahwazi lands will be confiscated from the local people, facilitating the population transfer of Persians and non-Ahwazi to the region. (75)

The Iranian regime allocated a colossal budget of 1.5 trillion rials from the National Development Fund to accomplish the project on orders from Khamenei. The Iranian-Chinese fund pledged to allocate $613 million to partake in the project. The plan of the project revealed that the Jahad Nasr Foundation, owned by the IRGC, is overseeing the project. (76)

It is distributing the usurped land in 19 districts in Ahwaz, starting in the Mousian district in Ilam province and ending in Bandar-e Mahshahr in central Ahwaz. It is worth noting that north Ahwaz produces annually 17 million tons of agricultural crops, including one million tons of wheat. But recently, this production has been challenged by the burdens placed by the Iranian government. It seeks to seize the lands of Ahwazi farmers and grant them to non-Arab settlers.

House demolition in Arjan City

One of the crimes of the Iranian government in recent years has been the destruction of local homes under the pretext of non-standard constructions or illegal constructions. For example, on 27 May 2020, Iranian municipality personnel along with security forces forcibly have demolished several Ahwazi residential’ houses in Arjan City known as Bhabhan in Farsi.

Human rights groups have reported that these Ahwazi citizens were living in Ahwazi areas such as Sableh and Chathabeh (Chazabeh) areas bordering Iraq and due to severe clashes and bombardment and destruction of their villages during the Iran-Iraq war, the entire population had to flee the area and resettle in other, safer Ahwazi areas. A number of these war-stricken and displaced Ahwazis were resettled on the outskirts of Arjan city first in tents and then built their houses in those areas without receiving any assistance.

Once the war ended, the displaced Ahwazis and other displaced residents sought to come back to their villages, hoping to get help from the government to rebuild their houses and revive their farmlands. However, this time the regime officials prevented their return, stating that the area was not cleared of landmines and other explosives.

They were told to wait until the area is officially confirmed cleared of landmines. However, a few years later, the regime’s oil companies confiscated their lands without compensating the displaced population, leaving the locals landless and homeless in the impoverished peripheral areas of Ahwaz City and other towns. Over 30 years after the war, the regime municipality personnel followed by security forces brought their bulldozers have destroyed their only shelter stating that they obtained no legal permit when first erecting the houses.

The desperate Ahwazi civilians who were witnessing the demolition of their homes had a sit-in protest, but the security forces used threats of arrest and intimidation, forcing them to evacuate and destroying the houses leaving the already displaced people homeless.

This amateur video shows how traumatised women and men are imploring the officials not to bulldoze their houses saying Where are we going to go, We have children and elderly people.   “You are dirtier than a dog if you destroy it (his house). You are an animal. By God, this is lawlessness. Who brought it? Who made this house for me? Did Khamenei make it? We made it ourselves. Who made it for me? Did the leader make it for me? I came here from Bestitin (Bostan in Farsi). I built this house myself.”

The families said, “Our lands and properties in Bestitin (Sableh and Chathabeh areas) have been seized by oil companies, which are all in the hands of the authorities. We were forced to move to Arjan and built our houses for ourselves in the vicinity of Arjan and continued our lives during these years. Now, years later, by the regime’s inhuman policies, the security forces have destroyed the only roof over our heads, The same regime officials raise slogans for supporting the oppressed but when it comes to the deprived and  disadvantaged  Ahwazi people, they destroy our houses leaving us defenceless in the desert heat.”(77)

Land confiscation and house demolition in Ahwaz City

 The regime’s confiscations and expropriations of Ahwazis’ homes and lands take place routinely on a small, individual scale as well as the scale of entire villages and towns. In this footage from June 2020, a desperate Ahwazi Arab homeowner sits in front of his home in the Zergan neighbourhood of Ahwaz city, refusing to allow regime contractors and municipality workers with bulldozers to demolish it. The homeowner and his family had not even been notified beforehand of the regime’s plans, with regime officials simply arriving and telling the family to leave, showing them official documents claiming their home was being expropriated by the state. (78)

As noted in a recent report by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), despite prohibitions against these actions in the Iranian regime’s own constitution and despite Iran’s status as a signatory to the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), there is strong evidence that Iranian authorities are orchestrating a systematic and ultranationalist policy of land confiscation and forced migration, in line with the ethnic reconstructing scheme outlined in a top-secret letter written by former Iranian vice president, Sayed Mohammad-Ali Abtahi.

As explained earlier, the Abtahi letter, leaked to the international media in 2005, led to an unprecedented popular uprising, which engulfed the entire Ahwaz region and resulted in more than 100 people being killed by the security forces. The letter, written in 1999, suggests a time frame of 10 years to accomplish the ethnic restructuring programme. Iranian authorities are encouraging the forced migration of Ahwazis out of Ahwaz and their replacement with loyal ethnic groups, (particularly ethnic Persians), and constructing separation walls to segregate local Ahwazis from non-indigenous settlers and the privileged migrants. (79)

Whilst this time frame appears to have been over-optimistic on the part of the regime, which has still been unsuccessful in its drive to make the region majority-Persian, this is not for want of trying. As the ISCI report further notes, “Ethnically exclusive settlements such as Shirinshahr and Ramin have been built in recent years to house Persians from Yazd and Fars provinces who have been brought into the area to take up jobs denied to Ahwazis. The regime is encouraging ethnic Persians to settle on the land confiscated from Ahwazi farmers by placing incentive advertisements in Farsi-speaking provinces and cities, which promise cheap fully furnished apartments with all amenities. (80)

In fact, since the military occupation of Ahwaz, the Iranian regime has begun to implement the ethnic cleansing agenda by constructing exclusive settlements to bring Persian settlers to Ahwazi lands and thereby change the demography of Ahwaz. Moreover, the regime has systematically attempted to increase poverty and unemployment among the Ahwazi people while the Persian settlers enjoy priority in achieving employment opportunities.

Nomadic Lur settlement project

It is estimated that more than 150,000 hectares of Ahwazi farmland north of Susa (Shush (and Toster (Shooshtar) have been taken to resettle nomadic Lur (Lor) clans, in accordance with directives by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Revolutionary crop command. In recent years, Iranian officials brought many of these nomadic Lur settlers to this region by building new settlements for them on lands confiscated from Ahwazi rural villagers.  This settler colonisation is continuing under the name of the ‘nomadic Lur clans’ settlement or Eskan Ashayeri Lur’ in Farsi.   These policies have forced rural Ahwazis who became almost landless to reside in poor shanty towns around the city. (81)

For the Iranian regime to totally obliterate the very existence of the Ahwazi Arab residents in the countryside, it builds homes for nomadic lur settlers. However, the regime moulds the villages on the construction style of the old Ahwazi villages rather than modern structures.  The regime’s aim is to deceive the international community, to refute justified allegations by the Ahwazis or the international community accusing the regime of establishing these purpose-built settlements to house the nomadic lur settlers on the Ahwazi Arab lands. Rather, the regime superficially preserves the villages’ visible status quo and constructs distant villages while keeping the same lur settlers to some degree deprived of some services—as part of a grand camouflage aimed to hide the racial discrimination and the expulsion of rural Ahwazi Arab communities from their areas.

Moreover, these Potemkin villages have been populated by armed lur settlers, who have been given free rein to mistreat and attack Ahwazis who do not flee their native lands. (82)

Ahwazi and Western human rights organisations have noted that the primary objective of the regime’s illegitimate land confiscations is to enforce demographic change in the Ahwaz region, driving out the   Ahwazis and replacing them with ethnically Persian speaking Iranians such as lur nomadic clans so as to deny the legitimacy of Ahwazis’ claim to their homelands, which house all of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran.

Amnesty International and other international human rights organisations have periodically issued reports about the Iranian regime’s brutal racism towards the Ahwazi people, with a 2006 Amnesty International report stating that “Expropriation of land belonging to or occupied by members of the Arab minority is reportedly so widespread that it appears to amount to an unofficial policy aimed at dispossessing Ahwazi Arabs of their lands, and noting, “This is linked to measures such as zero-interest loans for land, not available to Ahwazis, which encourage or facilitate the relocation of non-Ahwazis to Khuzestan [the Farsi name for Ahwaz].” (83)

The 2006 report also included quotes from an interview with the then-UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing following a visit to Iran, in which he emphasised his concern over the effects of the Iranian regime’s massive ‘development projects, warning that these were leading to “the displacement of entire villages – with thousands of people not consulted on the projects, informed of the impending displacement, nor offered adequate resettlement and compensation”.

The UN Special Rapporteur also questioned the Iranian regime’s policy of transferring ethnically Persian citizens from other provinces of Iran to live and work in Ahwaz, asking pointedly why the jobs and houses respectively reserved and specially constructed for them (and provided with amenities not available to the Ahwazis) could not be allocated to the local Ahwazi population.

A 2008 report from the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organization (UNPO) in The Hague again makes it clear that the regime’s land expropriation policy is not limited or a new innovation, noting, “Land confiscation in Ahwaz continues, creating a new town in north Ahwaz called Gotwand. This is [the latest] new town after the Ramin, Shirin Shahr and Memko towns [to be] built in recent years.” (84)

It should be noticed that all of these ‘new towns’ were constructed and reserved for ethnically Persian immigrants to the region, attracted there by promises from the regime of well-paid jobs and good housing, both denied to the Ahwazi people.

The UNPO report explained that the town of Ramin was built on land confiscated from the Ahwazi villages of Sanicheh and Jalieh that previously stood there and which were razed to make way for the new one, with the residents of both villages, left destitute. It’s most probable that, like hundreds of thousands of other Ahwazis, they were forced to either move to shantytowns around the regional capital or other cities there or to go to other regions of Iran.

The report further noted that “The indigenous Ahwazis face losing more land every year”, adding that while the policy of expropriation of Ahwazis’ lands had begun under the rule of the Shah, it had been accelerated since the theocratic regime of the ayatollahs came to power, beginning under the Rafsanjani presidency in the years following the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Talking about Rafasanjani’s massive population transfer scheme, the UNPO report cited Reza Washahi, an Ahwazi researcher on non-Persian ethnic minorities in Iran, who recalled: “Rafsanjani ordered the building of huge sugar cane farms in [the Ahwaz region].” This loss-making initiative saw the regime forcibly expropriate more than 135,000 hectares of farmland to the south of Ahwaz city and the north of the historic cities of Muhammarah and Abbadan, along with more land and on both sides of the Karoon River, for sugarcane-farming and refining, using massive quantities of the river’s waters in the sugar-refining process, with the refineries built on the river banks. (85)

Following the refining process, the water, mixed with the toxic chemicals used to treat the sugarcane, is pumped back into the rivers, causing massive pollution. (86) Between that pollution, the run-off from the oil and gas refineries, and the regime’s massive river-damming and diversion projection which has seen much of the rivers’ waters’ blocked near their source upriver and diverted to other areas of Iran, the remaining waters that once irrigated fertile farmlands across Ahwaz are brackish, saline and often unfit for consumption even by livestock. (87) Even early on this led to massive protests as Washahi noted, writing, “The water in cities like Abbadan became unhealthy and salty [… and protests] broke out in Abbadan.” The regime reacted to these protests with its landmark brutality, with Washahi stating simply that many of the protesters “are still missing.” (88)

Washahi added that the situation did not improve under the successive presidents, Khatami and Ahmadinejad, with land confiscation increasing under both, as it has done ever since. In 2005, a leaked letter from a government official revealed that this was indeed not simply the result of terribly poor planning by the regime leadership but part of a very deliberate government plan to change the demographic composition in the area by driving out the locals and building more towns, especially for Iranian incomers from other regions of the country.

As Washahi explained, the regime “uses those lands for sugarcane farms, new towns, industrial estates and military facilities.” Referring to the massive oil and gas reserves which are the regime’s real main concern in Ahwaz and drive its demographic change policy, the analyst said, “The land we’re talking about here is not just ordinary land – one of the largest global energy reserves is under it,” adding, “In most cases, the government did not paid any compensation to Ahwazi land owners.”

Washahi explained that “These new towns built for non-indigenous immigrants, mostly Persians, have better facilities such as electricity, gas, and a healthy water supply than the old cities for the indigenous Arab population, adding that at the time of writing, according to the regime’s ISCA News Agency, at least 400, 000 people were living in shanty towns in the suburbs around Ahwaz city.

Whilst Ahwazis are denied the most fundamental amenities and basic rights, such as clean, drinkable water, the regime lavishes attention on the ethnically Persian incomers to the region, providing incentives such as low-interest mortgages to buy homes and lands, with the regime establishing a number of building societies specifically to help with this – although these are often the same homes and lands that the regime has driven the indigenous people out of, or homes built atop the rubble where their homes once stood.

As Washahi points out, “Every new town means a new wave of incomers to Ahwaz area, more jobs for non-indigenous Ahwazi, more poverty and pollution for indigenous Ahwazis.” (89)

The UNPO report also noted that kidnapping farmers and forcing them under duress to sign documents stating that they’re voluntarily giving up their homes and lands is a very common practice for regime security forces on the orders of leadership officials. As with the other practices documented, this one is still widely practised.

The sugarcane project is only one of the regime’s ventures designed to dispossess the Ahwazis and resettle ethnic Persians in their place in order to change the demographic composition and secure the region’s oil and gas interests for Tehran. Amongst others detailed in a 2007 report by the late Ahwazi rights activist Mohammad Nawaseri are:

  • The confiscation of 47,000 hectares in Jufair near the Iraqi border to establish a project for settlers disabled in the Iran-Iraq war
  • The confiscation of over 25,000 hectares of marshland to set up a fish-farming project to the south of Ahwaz city, established specifically for ethnically Persian settlers brought to the area to work there and provided with special housing. As with the Iranian regime’s other projects in the area, including the oil and gas facilities and related petrochemical refineries. refineries, the Ahwazis are denied jobs at this facility.
  • The confiscation of over 100,000 hectares of farmland to the east of the town of Howeyzeh extending to the north of Muhammarah city for military use by the regime’s 92nd Division. Several Ahwazi villages were emptied and razed for this, with thousands of residents forcibly displaced.
  • The confiscation of thousands of hectares of farmland around the cities of Khafajiyeh, Howeyzeh and Bestitin under the pretext of developing the Azadegan oilfields, over an area extending to the Majnoun oilfields in southern Iraq.

Flood Diversion

Thanks to a network of dams on the great rivers of Ahwaz, the Iranian regime can weaponise the water that flows through them. As with most things that the regime does, this looks to be realistic on the surface. Most civilised societies do have a network of dams so that they can provide water to the people who live there. In the case of the regime, this system is manipulated to flood Ahwazi local communities’ farmland, destroy crops, kill livestock, destroy homes and ultimately force the Ahwazi people to be reliant on a government that would just as soon see them dead. (91)

Sometimes the Ahwazi people are given warnings that the floods are going to occur, which causes mass panic and leads to civil unrest and death to people. There is nothing that they can do; if they are lucky enough to get a warning at all, then some of them can salvage some possessions, usually only what they can carry and attempt to get out of harm’s Way. Often when this happens, the government projects as though they are going to provide Aiden support, and then they order a media blackout and threaten anyone to dare speak out against them. These rural Ahwazi communities are left with nothing and often are forced to leave their lands. (92)

The remaining Ahwazi Arab communities in these rural areas have faced a sustained policy of dispossession through intentional flooding of their villages and the resultant submergence of their farmlands by the regime’s practice of opening the Dez Dam’s gates in Winter when the regime claims that the Dez Dam’s water reservoir reached its maximum capacity due to rain. Meanwhile, during the summer, regime officials routinely cut off the water supply to the villages, claiming there is insufficient water behind the dam, leaving the Ahwazi rural communities in constant thirst even as their livestock perish, and their summer crops dry up. These policies have also continued through the opportunistic flooding of Ahwazi-owned farmlands in the spring of 2019. (93)

The regime had diverted the waters to these lands, depriving the landowners of livelihood. While the increased environmental disasters are due to Iran’s overall mismanagement of climate-related policies, the diversion of waters was likely more than just another thoughtless gesture on behalf of the authorities. This diversion was systematic, with no compensation offered to the farmers. Furthermore, there was no effort to address the issue of the dams or to take mitigating measures that would prevent the destruction of the crops.

When asked to comment, attorney and international law expert Aaron Eitan Meyer noted that “much as I said over three years ago when Iran attempted to use flooding as a pretext to further erase the Ahwazi presence from their homeland, this is outright ethnic cleansing, in flagrant violation of every conceivable interpretation of international law. I’ll quote the experts of the UN Commission on the former Yugoslavia, who defined it as ‘… a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.’ Here, Iran has been working towards its thinly-disguised ethnic cleansing agenda by using a combination of coercive activity such as denying employment or social assistance to Ahwazis who must ultimately move away or starve, and forcible actions such as deliberately flooding farmland, burning or otherwise rendering other areas unusable. And now the regime has taken it to another level by not waiting for a natural disaster as pretext, simply violently demolishing a community outright. This is the natural result of Iran’s decades-long use of impunity. There is little to no international outcry, and no tangible ramifications for its flagrantly racist and illegal actions, and so the regime has no hesitation in escalating its unlawful policies.”

Manmade drought

When the regime is not able to use excess water as a weapon through controlled flooding, they often use drought conditions to achieve the same purpose. Being able to control how the water flows through populated areas also allows those who control the river water source to limit the volume of water flow towards specific regions. In the case of Ahwazi areas and its native Ahwazi people, the regime often looks to dry Ahwazi lands out, diverting water resources towards ethnically Persian and other favoured groups. Growing crops in Ahwazi areas is impossible when there is no water to irrigate them. This causes the Ahwazi people to have to pick up their things and attempt to find another place in which they might have a chance to survive, far from their homeland. (94)

One of the reasons for taking this extreme step to accelerate the process of depopulation was due to the increased entry of Chinese companies renting out the oil fields in the Ahwazi lands. (95) To prevent the return of the population to their areas and to avoid additional uprisings in reaction to this policy, the regime had invited its proxies from all over the region, including Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain. Since then, the policies aimed at expelling Ahwazis from their territories continued. These steps included, most recently, an order by the regime for the oil companies operating in the area not to hire any local Ahwazis and to hire Persians, who had been moving to the vicinity from the centre of the country for this specific reason. Moreover, the Ahwazi population presence and risks of revolts present a business risk to the 25-year China-Iran business deal revealed recently, which in addition to the oil-related arrangements, also includes elements of defence cooperation between the two regimes. (96) & (97)

Dam construction

Problems related to water resources have become one of the most significant economic and social challenges facing the people of Ahwaz. Despite the Ahwaz region being richly blessed with bounteous water resources, including three major rivers as well as wetlands, water shortages continue to worsen, with even groundwater levels being greatly reduced due to the devastating policies of the Iranian authorities. (98)  The regime officials claim the Ahwaz water crisis and worsening environmental condition is due to climate change but climate change alone could not inflict the horrendous damage caused by the regime’s actions, particularly by its massive river-damming and diversion programmes, which have seen the regime divert much of the water supply from the three main rivers to other regions of Iran. The regime greatly accelerated these projects since 2006, particularly on the Karoon River, leading to unprecedented and rapidly growing water shortages, drought and desertification in the once verdant region.

The damming and diversion programme is one of the most critical issues directly impacting Ahwazi citizens, whose lives, like those of all peoples, are reliant on the availability of clean water. (99)

As well as denying thousands of Ahwazi people the clean water essential for daily life, the construction of dams in Ahwaz has also displaced thousands of   Ahwazi people who previously lived in the dam basin areas. For the Iranian regime, this is only the beginning, with a recent report on the Iranian dam project showing plans to build 40 additional dams on the Ahwazi rivers and water basins, 33 of which will be completed by 2030. If work continues according to the regime schedule, it will cause the mass migration of many Ahwazis who live in areas where dams are planned or who depend on agriculture, fishing or livestock farming for their livelihood. (100)

These devastating and callous actions inflicted by Iran’s regime have caused numerous problems and created massive resentment not only among Ahwazi Arab people across the Ahwazi areas but across the border in Iraq whose peoples and natural environment are also suffering as a result. (101)

Although international law clearly states that legislation regarding inter-state waterways also applies domestically to the use of the country’s internal rivers, which means that the Iranian regime does not have the right to dam and divert the rivers of Ahwaz, leaving its people without clean or potable water and devastating its environment,  Iran’s leaders have simply disregarded international law, and indeed Iran’s own laws, repeatedly violating fundamental legal precepts and treating the law and the people with contempt.

Ahwazis view the regime’s dam-building and river-diversion programme as part of a deliberate long-term policy of ethnic cleansing aimed at changing the demographic balance in the region, due to its status as home to most of Iran’s natural resources such as water, oil and gas, through making the region uninhabitable for its native Ahwazi people, destroying the economy and ecosystem and leaving Ahwazis with no choice but to emigrate. In this process, the regime is also destroying the unique flora and fauna of Ahwaz, devastating its wildlife, and wrecking the immense biodiversity of the region, with environmental experts warning of ecological catastrophe if these problems are not addressed.

An additional new crisis is the massive damage done to the marine life in the Arabian Gulf by Chinese trawlers which the Beijing-allied Iranian regime has given carte blanche to essentially strip the once-teeming waters of their fish stocks, leaving many Ahwazi fishermen destitute and forcing others, along with their Iranian peers, to travel to Somali waters where they must pay massive bribes to pirates in order to be able to fish. (102)

The availability of freshwater throughout Ahwaz due to the clearly illegal actions of Iran’s regime is a critical issue and one of the most crucial challenges facing Ahwazis, with its importance set to increase in the future when it will undoubtedly result in mass migration.

The regime’s ongoing construction of dams in Ahwaz and the diversion of the region’s rivers should be subject to the rules of international law since these dams and the diversion of the  Ahwazi people’s water supply currently play a major role in harming these discriminated people, such as the spread of diseases, increasing poverty, unemployment and displacement among them as well as affecting the entire Ahwaz region’s ecosystem, such as impacting the water level and ruining the rivers and the marshes which is a clear violation of international law and fundamental human rights. (103)

Human Rights, Citizens’ Rights and the role of International Law in saving Ahwazi environment and the local Ahwazi Arabs. people

 The right to clean water for drinking, washing and ensuring economic well-being is a human right protected by international law. In 2010, the UN Human Rights Council adopted resolution 15/9, which “affirmed that the right to water and sanitation is derived from the existing right to an adequate standard of living” in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). (104)

Another article of legislation concerning freshwater resources, the 1997 Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN Watercourses Convention/UNWC), calls on countries to focus on development and avoid pollution, although this convention focuses on the relationship between state parties, omitting any focus on citizens’ human right to water, being more concerned with cooperation between states over transboundary water resources.

More importantly in this context, Article 13, paragraph 1 (a), of the Charter of the United Nations provides that the General Assembly shall “initiate studies and recommendations to encourage the progressive development of international law and its codification.

The codification and progressive development of rules of international law relating to the non-navigational uses of international watercourses would help to promote and implement the purposes and principles set forth in Articles 1 and 2 of the Charter of the United Nations, taking into account the problems affecting many international watercourses resulting from, among other things, increasing demands and pollution. Expressing the conviction that the framework agreement will ensure the utilisation, development, conservation, management and protection of international watercourses and promote the sustainable use of present and future generations.” Invocation of this legislation could help put pressure on Iran to focus on development and work to avert or clean up the pollution in areas close to the Karoon and other rivers in Ahwaz. (105)

As mentioned before, it should also be noted that international treaties also apply to domestic water issues. On this basis, some articles of international law in relation to international waters also apply domestically to the Ahwazi situation. For example, in terms of the amount of water available compared to the annual water consumption, Ahwaz now suffers from severe water shortages, despite the region being home to most of Iran’s rivers.

From the viewpoint of international law, the Iranian regime is responsible for the loss of lives and economic well-being in Ahwaz. For example, the first article of international law addressing the human right to a healthy environment was the Stockholm Declaration, adopted in 1972 at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which states in its first paragraph that “human beings have the basic right to freedom, equality and adequate living conditions in the environment, which enables them to live an honourable and decent life.”

The Declaration also states in its second principle: “The natural resources of the earth, including water, air, plants and natural ecosystems, must be protected and safeguarded through careful planning and proper management for the benefit of present and future generations.”

Ignoring these and other principles, the Iranian regime has chosen to inflict devastating policies that have directly caused an increase in deaths, migration, pollution, diseases, poverty and homelessness among Ahwazis through its programme of dam-building and river diversion. Although the Ahwazi people, as well as Ahwazi and Iranian ecologists, numerous international reports, and Ahwazi MPs have been urging the Iranian regime to stop building dams and diverting rivers and to act in accordance with the principles of international law, the regime has flatly ignored all these appeals, leading to a crisis for the region’s Ahwazi people and devastation for their natural environment.

 Deadly diseases and lethal environment Pollution and damaging ecosystem

There are times when the powers that are in charge do not bother to manipulate the rivers physically; they just mass pollute them so that the food source of the people is affected. The people of this region use fish as a food source, and the rivers can become so polluted that the fish die in the water and wash up on the beach. Even with minimal foodstuffs, it is difficult for the Ahwazi people yet to attempt to consume these fish because they are acutely aware that they have died from the pollution.

Chronic water pollution resulting from the discharge of polluted water from oil and gas refineries, factories and municipal wastewater contaminated with detergents, chemicals and toxins, also leaves much of the remaining water supply unusable, further undermining the security of the Ahwazi people, adding to their suffering and severely damaging the region’s ecosystem.

Along with the river-damming and diversion programmes, the regime’s obsessive focus on oil and gas production and refining and the sugarcane-growing project in Ahwaz, which Tehran is keen to turn into a heavy industry centre (without any benefit for the Ahwazi people, as always)  have helped to devastate the once-renowned marshes of Hor Howeyzeh and Falahiyeh, which not only sustained generations of Ahwazi fishermen, but wrecked the delicate ecosystem of marshes and the unique flora and fauna there. The increased salinity of the Karoon, which has risen by a quarter due to the reduced water flow, has left much of the remaining marshlands parched and lifeless, killing off marine life and forcing many of the native birds to migrate. (106)

The level of the Karoon River, where oceangoing vessels once sailed alongside fishermen’s boats, ferries and yachts, has fallen by 80 per cent since 2000, showing the terrible effects of the regime’s dam-building initiatives. In some areas, the river is only 20 to 30 centimetres deep, while the stench of sewage in some parts of Ahwaz city which is bisected by the river, which is now too weak to carry the effluent away, makes the residents’ already tough living conditions even more difficult.  The continuing construction of more dams on the Ahwazi rivers upstream leads many to expect that in the future the river will simply be a sewage channel. (107)

The human and environmental rights organisations may ask why the regime would do these things.? The answer to that is once again simple; over 95% of the oil reserves in the region are located where the Ahwazi Arab people live. It is all about the exploitation of the natural wealth. The Iranian regime does not value human life over cash reserves. The end game is for the government is to physically attempt to starve out or force the people to move by any means necessary. They may not outright kill them, but they might sentence them to a life where they wish that they had died.

 After the IRGC launched its sugarcane project on confiscated Ahwazi agricultural land, hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland were forcibly seized and sold under the pretext of being essential for the project. Thereafter, the Revolutionary Guard sought to expand the project and began to grab more areas of Ahwazi land, claiming that this was the property of the nation and belonged to Iran.

The farmers were given no right of appeal against these seizures. In return for this involuntary surrender of their land for the sugarcane project, Ahwazis received no compensation, with their only ‘payment’ coming in the form of outbreaks of lethal, incurable diseases resulting from the dumping of untreated industrial pollutants into what remains of the region’s rivers by the refineries built on the river banks which use ruinous amounts of water in the refining process before pumping the effluent back into the waterways following the sugar-refining process; these waters are the only source of drinking and household water for millions of Ahwazis, leading to outbreaks of incurable diseases such as skin cancer that afflicts Ahwazis more than any group in the world. According to the regime’s own official statistics, “Every year more than 5,000 Ahwazis suffer types of cancer”, accounting for more than half the annual average of just over 8,000 cancer cases documented in Iran despite Ahwazis numerically accounting for less than a tenth of the country’s population. (108)

Due to this toxic natural environment, many of the Ahwazis who can afford to do so choose to migrate following retirement to the northern Iranian cities with a healthy environment far from the petrochemical companies and sugarcane farms to live far from diseases and epidemics.

According to the head of the Health Centre in Ahwaz, 16 per cent of Ahwazis suffer from pulmonary diseases, asthma and obstruction of the respiratory tract, almost double the percentage in other regions of Iran which does not exceed 9%. The medical official added that the prevalence of these diseases is caused by the sandstorms that regularly completely cover Ahwaz, with dozens of Ahwazis who work in the open air dying every year as a result of exposure to air pollution and suffocation by the choking clouds of fine sand caused by desertification. Even children are affected by these diseases simply from their daily travel to and from school and playing outdoors. (109)

A: Medical and health demographic change:

Another of the unforgivably cruel policies of the Iranian regime is a deliberate attempt to reduce the fertility rate amongst Ahwazis in the Ahwaz region, thereby reducing the regional percentage of the Ahwazi population in contrast to the immigrant Persians. This is effectively a policy of biological or medical demographic change adopted by the authorities against the Ahwazis. There is no other way for Ahwazis to resist this heinous policy except through international and universal intervention to protect Ahwazis from ethnic cleansing.

Birth through Caesarean section:

According to the global published statistics, we can see that the rate of Caesarean births in the rest of Iran and the world is only 10 to 15%. Meanwhile, Ahwazi activists and doctors in Ahwazi hospitals have reported that the percentage of Caesarean deliveries in Ahwaz is 60%, or 6 out of every 10 births. This means that the percentage in Ahwaz is six times higher than the global norm, according to which only one out of every 10 natural births is delivered via Caesarean. This high rate of Caesarean births has dire consequences for the mothers, their babies and the wider Ahwazi community.

This is in the interest of the Iranian regime since it is harmful to Ahwazis in every way. The adverse effects include the high expenses, with Ahwazi citizens forced to spend more on medical fees at government hospitals, the negative impact on the baby and the long-term consequences on the mother, with women subject to Caesarean surgery rarely able to bear more than two children. This leads to greatly reduced birth and fertility rates and increasing death rates among Ahwazi women. In addition, the Iranian authorities rely on family planning and population planning programs. These programmes are one of the subjects studied at Ahwazi universities which medical students must pass. Note: (Some medical sources in Ahwaz hospitals have not been identified in order to protect their safety).

Iran’s suppressive reaction to protests

The issue of diverting the courses of the region’s rivers to other Iranian areas is one of the most pressing and urgent challenges facing the Ahwazi people, especially during a period when the whole of Iran is confronted by the most severe drought in five decades due to low rainfall levels, which have fallen by over 60% compared to previous years’ levels amid surging temperatures. This has also impacted the Ahwazi dams’ production of hydroelectricity, affecting the entire Iranian republic, with Ahwazis doubly punished by seeing their precious water resources seized to power hydroelectric projects that don’t even provide them with power. The greatest dangers facing Ahwazis when it comes to drought and the diversion of their rivers, however, are the lack of drinking water, the destruction of their agricultural heritage, with even livestock dying due to extreme heat and lack of water, with thousands of Ahwazis forced to leave the region or emigrate to survive.

Protests have been almost continuously roiling the Ahwaz region every year. Protests are not a new phenomenon, with demonstrations increasing over the past 20 years against the regime’s weaponisation of water against the Ahwazi people and its systemic racism towards the Ahwazi people and the deteriorating living conditions.

In some years, Ahwazis’ frustration and despair at the regime’s relentless repression and the impossible situation they face has escalated to the level of attacks on government offices and facilities important to the regime. Many Ahwazis feel, with some justification, that the regime uses water as a weapon against them to force them to abandon their lands, with its diversion of the rivers causing devastating droughts and desertification in summer, while during the rainy season in winter, the sluice gates on the dams upstream are opened – though only after the regime has constructed berms to divert the water away from its lucrative oil and gas facilities – causing massive flooding of Ahwazi land and villages. This suffering is worsened by the collapsing infrastructure, with the effluent from the decades-old, woefully inadequate, often broken-down sewage systems mixing with the flood waters and polluting the drinking water supply, leaving the people simultaneously inundated and without potable water.

The Iranian regime’s response to any protests in any region of Iran, particularly in Ahwaz, is always harsh. It begins with dispersing protests, quickly escalating to terrorising protesters through firing live bullets at anyone participating in demonstrations. Mass arrests are standard, with dozens of Ahwazis summarily executed as a means of silencing dissent. (110)

The Ahwazi Arab Protesters are arrested simply for participating in demonstrations and subjected to kangaroo trials lasting a few minutes on fabricated charges before being given prison sentences that often extend to decades, or sentenced to death, with confessions obtained under torture; these grotesque ‘confessions’ are often televised on state TV, with the clearly terrified detainees, often with black eyes or other clearly visible signs of torture, reading a script by rote. Standard charges include ‘waging war against God’, threatening national security, supporting separatism, or being a spy for regional countries; under such charges, the ‘lightest’ sentence for Ahwazi detainees is years of imprisonment or a life sentence.

This may well be the strategy used by the Iranian regime to crack down on all the protests and demands of Ahwazis, with regime media already deploying their favourite conspiracy theories, accusing the Ahwazi protesters of being incited by regional and international powers, as though only a ‘foreign agent’ would want fundamental human rights, freedom and justice.

In the 2021 protests, over 2,000 Ahwazis, mostly aged between 15 and 21, have been detained, with at least 12 shot dead by regime security forces.

Like previous protests led by Ahwazis, the regime responded by brutal forces and shipment of tear gas and even deploying snipers targeting the protesters, mostly in their necks and head and spinal cord. (111)

One of the Ahwazi Arab detainees was murdered under torture in Dezful prison. Mohamad al-Kanani, who was arrested in July following water crisis protests in the Ahwaz region, was reportedly killed under torture by IRGC. Mohamad and hundreds of other Ahwazi Arab protesters were kept in IRGC centres and received severe torture by Iranian security forces. (112) & (113)

In addition, the regime intelligence services placed conditions on the handing over of the protesters’ dead bodies to their families. The main conditions are that the families agree not to organise any funeral ceremony, that they bury their loved ones at night, and that they should not talk or have any contact with exiled human rights groups.

All of these measures routinely employed by the regime are illegal under international law, from the use of snipers to disburse peaceful protests, to the torture of prisoners, and even extend beyond the deaths of the regime’s victims.

Meanwhile, the regime may try a combined ‘carrot and stick’ approach, being aware of the growing rage not only in Ahwaz but among the Iranian public amid worsening living conditions and desperate to avert a societal explosion; this may lead to attempts by the regime to pacify protesters and appease them to some degree rather than unleashing even worse brutality, as has been seen recently. These efforts include the release of some detainees and sending water tankers to areas experiencing the worst drought.

At the same time, however, the regime won’t allow protests in Ahwaz or elsewhere to reach the extent where its economic interests could be challenged or its industrial and commercial activities disrupted, damaging the already-ailing Iranian economy; for Tehran, profit will always supersede humanity.

It seems clear that there is a direct correlation between Iran’s need to exploit the natural resources of Ahwaz and its burning desire to remove its people from their land. This is a rapacious and viciously racist form of colonialism that cannot be excused or tolerated. As we’ve said repeatedly, if international law – and human rights law in particular – is to have any legal value at all, the place to start is to end the Iranian regime’s impunity.

One thing is certain; the current regime will not change its policy of marginalisation and systemic racism towards the Ahwazi people, whose resources are its lifeblood. This means that, for Ahwazis, there will be no choice but to continue protesting, with the regime’s cruelty and refusal to address the root causes of the people’s anger making dissent and demonstrations inevitable.

 Selective recognition of colonisation and wilful disregard for Ahwazis’ status as a colonised people

The colonisation issue central to the Ahwazi cause and similar ones has been poorly addressed by the international community, creating a major challenge for Ahwazis in raising awareness of the historic injustice they face. (114) Despite being subjected to almost a century of brutal colonisation, Ahwazi people are confronted with the selective recognition of those demanding to know ‘Who is the colonised and who’s the colonist?’ who prefer not to hear Ahwazis explain the answer.

The decolonisation principle first recognised in the US in the 1960s has only been applied to those nations and territories colonized by European powers. According to International Law, those like Ahwaz, colonised by non-European states, are not even recognised or classified as colonies or colonised entities. Given the blatant injustice of this position, which makes a mockery of the concept of universal rights, it is imperative that the international community and United Nations adopt a new, genuinely universal model of anti-colonialism and decolonisation formulated to include those states, regions and peoples colonised and subjugated by non-European colonists. This again emphasises that International Law and International Relations are the product of a ‘white’ or Western-centric worldview, in which non-European colonialism is not even recognised or acknowledged.

Until they listen to and support the subjects of non-Western colonial domination like Ahwazis as equals and help to redress the historical injustices against them, as against victims of Western colonialism, Western supporters of decolonisation will continue to show their own lack of seriousness regarding this issue, emphasising that opposition to colonialism is, for them, not about any belief in universal principles, but a selective pose. Rather than listening to Ahwazis and other victims of non-Western colonialism or learning about their plight, these selective anti-colonialists have preferred to listen to and believe these peoples’ oppressors and colonizers, such as the Iranian regime, whether through misplaced guilt or for whatever other reason. So long as they continue to adopt this selective anti-colonialism, they will remain wilfully indifferent to the plight of the Ahwazis.

This wilful disregard has left these selective humanitarians incapable of even seeing or acknowledging the systemic injustice, state racism and brutal ethnic repression perpetrated against Ahwazis by successive Iranian regimes, together with the wholesale theft and pillaging of their homes, lands and resources. Even when these daily crimes are recognised by UN officials or international humanitarian organisations, they are downplayed by the international community, with Ahwazis simply dismissed, inaccurately and offensively, as an insurgent ethnic minority, the same terms used by the Iranian colonists. This lazy, reductive inaccuracy is yet another insult to the eight million Ahwazi Arab people, who remain the majority in their native lands despite almost a century of efforts by Tehran to drive them out or force them to accept Iranian identity and forget their Arab heritage. Despite 98 years of exclusion and denial, socially, economically, culturally and politically, Ahwazis continue to demand the recognition of the historic colonial injustice against them and to insist on the freedom that is their birthright.

Although the international community is aware of what is happening, it prioritises diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime over humanity, choosing selective blindness to the plight of the Ahwazi Arab people. Despite generations of activists and dissidents raising the alarm at increasing brutality by Iran’s colonial rulers, nothing of substance has been done to address the forced displacement and ethnic oppression practised against Ahwazis. Indeed, ever since the former emirate, once a peaceful and prosperous regional breadbasket, was first brutally colonised in 1925, the conditions of the Ahwazi people have continued to deteriorate, with the already dire conditions worsening in recent decades. With only two years to go to the centenary of Iran’s first colonization of Ahwaz and its relentless efforts to drive the people from their ancestral lands, addressing and righting this historic injustice should be a priority for the international community and for human rights organisations worldwide. Instead, the Ahwazi people, whose rich culture and heritage stretch back millennia, are being stripped of their very humanity as the world watches in apathetic silence.

Despite being repeatedly formally notified of Iran’s crimes, the United Nations has turned a blind eye and done nothing to answer the calls for help; like the international community, the UN, which is fully aware of the regime’s crimes, apparently prefers to remain wilfully blind to brutal colonial subjugation for the sake of diplomatic pleasantries than to oppose historic injustice.

As a result of the world’s wilful apathy and complicity, the Ahwazi people’s pleas for freedom and justice remain a tiny voice easily drowned out and silenced on the world stage by the Iranian regime. As the regime unites with other authoritarian states to threaten not ‘just’ Ahwazis, Iranians and the Middle East but the world beyond, it’s time for the international community to do what it should have done many years ago by showing real universal opposition to colonialism, giving the Ahwazi people the formal recognition and support necessary to enable them to reclaim their long-denied rights and control over the territory and resources stolen from them so they can once again live in long-denied peace, safety, prosperity, and freedom in their own homeland.

 By Rahim Hamid and Ruth Riegler

Edited by Aaron Eitan Meyer

Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi freelance journalist and researcher at the Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies.

Ruth Riegler is a freelance journalist and an investigative human rights researcher at the Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies.

Aaron Eitan Meyer is an editor, analyst and researcher at the Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies.


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(64): Amnesty International, 28th Apr 2015, Iran: Sweeping arrests of Ahwazi Arab activists, Whereabouts of more than 75 held after protests remain unknown. Link:

(65): European Parliament, 2006, The ‘Arvand Free Zone’ project in south-western Iran, adjoining Iraq, and violence by the Iranian State against the predominantly Arab Ahwazi population with the aim of driving residents away. Link:

(66): Huffington Post, 25th Jun 2014 Iran: The Violence of a Free Zone – From Farmers to Slaves, when asked what would happen to the locals, Turkan suggested they be made the gardeners. Having lost their wealth and been forcibly displaced from their land to live a life of misery in slum neighbourhoods, one-time farmers are now being invited back as the Arab slaves of their Persian masters.  Link: (67): Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies, 18th Dec 2022, Iran’s history of colonialism and land confiscation in Ahwaz. Link:

(68): The Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front (ADPF ), 2020, The Story Behind Abolfazl Village. Link:

(69): People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), 30th Aug 2020, Authorities to arrest 130 villagers who protested the illegal Demolition of their homes. Link:

(70): Asr Iran news agency, 2020, Order to destroy a village with 300 Ahwazi Arab households in Ahwaz with the complaint of the Bonyadeh Mostazafan, arrest of several villagers. Link:

(71): Al Arabiya Farsi, 20th Aug 2020, Judicial verdict to destroy a village after 30 years with 300 households with the complaint of the Bonyadeh Mostazafan in Ahwaz. Link:

(72): Countercurrents, 12th Sept 2017, Outrage Over Brutal Assaults on Ahwazi Women Protesting Against Regime Land Theft. Link:

(73): Fars News Agency, 15th Aug 2020, repurchase your houses/ the strange but real problem of Koi Modares(the Khorosi area) residents in Ahwaz. Link:

(74): Payamekhuzestan agency, 20th Aug 2020, Demolition of 30 unauthorised buildings in Shushtar city. Link:

(75): Islamic Republic News Agency, 28th Dec 2022, Implementation of the second phase of the 550,000-hectare project in Khuzestan and Ilam with funding from next year. Link:

(76): Jam Jam online news website, 01st Sept 2023, Chinese investment in the 550-thousand-hectare project. Link:

(77): https://javanehha human rights news website: Aggressive destruction of Arab citizens’ houses in Arjen (Behbahan) by Iranian security forces

In another crime, the houses of Arab citizens were also destroyed in Behbahan + video. Links: and

(78): YouTube account of Mr Faisal Maramazi, an Ahwazi Human rights activist, 20th Jun 2020, ‏Land expropriation in the Al-Ahwaz. Link:

(79) Human Rights Watch (HRW), 29th Apr 2011, Iran: Investigate Reported Killings of Demonstrators, Dozens of Protesters Reportedly Killed in Arab-Majority Province. Link:

(80): The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), 06th Mar 2008, Ahwazi: Iran Guilty of Land Confiscations, Ahwazi Arabs are being displaced from prime agricultural land as the spread of government farms twists Iran’s demography. Ahwazi Arabs are being displaced from prime agricultural land as the spread of government farms twists Iran’s demography. Land confiscation in Ahwaz continues by making a new town in the north of Ahwaz called Gotwand. This is a new town after Ramin, Shirin Shahr and Hore Ryahi towns built in recent years. Ramin town was built on confiscated land from Sanicheh and Jalieh villages, both belonging to Ahwazi Arabs. Link:

(81): Tasnim news agency, 05th Dec 2018, Shush(Susa), is the largest nomadic lur clans’ settlement centre in the country. Link:

(82): AlAhwaz Organisation for Human Rights, 26th Apr 2020, The city of Abd al-Khan Susa and the confiscation of agricultural lands of its Ahwazi residents without any justification or legal right. Link:

(83): Amnesty International, 16th May 2006, Iran: Appeal case: Land Confiscation and Population Transfer: The case of the Ahwazi Arabs. Link:

(84): The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), 06th Mar 2008, Ahwazi: Iran Guilty of Land Confiscations, Ahwazi Arabs are being displaced from prime agricultural land as the spread of government farms twists Iran’s demography. Ahwazi Arabs are being displaced from prime agricultural land as the spread of government farms twists Iran’s demography. Land confiscation in Ahwaz continues by making a new town in the north of Ahwaz called Gotwand. This is a new town after Ramin, Shirin Shahr and Hore Ryahi towns built in recent years. Ramin town was built on confiscated land from Sanicheh and Jalieh villages, both belonging to Ahwazi Arabs. Link:

(85): Ahwaz Monitor, 08th Jan 2017, No grief over the death of Rafsanjani, the “Iranian fox” amongst Ahwazi Arabs. Link:

(86): Countercurrents, 03rd Nov, Iran Inflicts Environmental Catastrophe in Ahwaz Region. Link:

(87): Global Voices, 14th Feb 2018, Pollution in Iran’s Ahwaz Region Turns Deadly. Link:

(88): Middle East Monitor, 03rd Jul 2018, Ahwazis ask for clean water but get live bullets from the Iranian regime instead. Link:

(89): Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies, 11th Aug. 2023, Ahwazi Arabs protest at Iran’s sugarcane company’s racist employment policies and ecocide. Link:

(90): A report by Mohammad Nawaseri, 2008, Iran and Obscurities of the Demographic Distribution in Ahwaz, Link:

(91): Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies, 08th May 2019, Iran’s regime using flooding as cover for demographic change in oil-rich Ahwaz region: reports. Link:

(92): Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies, 06th May 2019, IRGC terrorist militias prevent aid to displaced Ahwazis, attack and imprison aid workers. Link:

(93): Ahwaz Monitor, 02nd Apr 2019, IRGC forces kill an Ahwazi farmer protesting against forced eviction. Link:

(94): Dialogue Institue for Research and Studies, 06th Jul 2021, Dying of thirst in Ahwaz region: Iranian regime ecocide exacerbates climate crisis. Link:

(95) Countercurrents, 25th Jul 2016, Dozens of Ahwazi Villages Dispossessed as Iranian Regime’s Ethnic Cleansing Intensifies. Link:

(96) The Algemeiner, 29th Apr 2019, Once Again, Iran Tries to Disrupt Mideast Peace and Sow Terrorism. Link:

(97) Middle East Monitor, 25th Apr 2019, Iran Guard’s flood-relief PR stunt won’t wash away their hideous reputation. Link:

(98): Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies, 19th May 2023, Gotvand Dam Environmental Catastrophe and Human Tragedy in Ahwaz Region. Link:

(99): Middle East Eye, 27th Jul 2017, The Iranian government is killing Ahwaz’s environment. To Ahwazis, the discovery of oil and other resources has been a scourge that has resulted in the occupation and environmental degradation of their ancestral lands. Link:

(100): Fars News agency, 6th Dec 2017, Ayatollah Mohsen Haideri, a representative of the people of Ahwaz in the Assembly of Experts for Leadership, said, “The government is looking to build 30 dams on the Karkheh River/ The government wants to turn Ahwaz into a desert full of discontentment”. He added: “The government is looking to transfer more than 55% of the water needs of the Karoon and Dez rivers catchment basins and build more than 30 dams on the Karkheh River.” Link:

(101): The Guardian newspaper, 29th Jan 2023, Death in the Marshes: environmental calamity hits Iraq’s unique wetlands. Link:

(102): Radio Farda,9th Jul 2020 Liberty Chinese Fishing Trawlers Cleaning Out the Gulf, Iran Daily Reports. Link:

(103): The New Arab, 6th Oct 2021, Arab Residents of Iran’s Ahwaz region supplied with ‘sewer water’: MP. Link:

(104): UN, 2010, The human right to water and sanitation. Link: <>

(105): UN, 1997, Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. Link: <>

(106): Iran Wire, 16th JUL 2018, Gotvand Dam: An Environmental Disaster. Link:

(107): Researchgate, Jan 2005, Pollution of Karun-Arvand Rood River system in Iran. Link:

(108): Tabnak Khozestan news agency, 2015, Cancer statistics in Khuzestan, Link:

(109): Iranian’s Students’ News Agency (ISNA),2017, Head of Khuzestan health, increasing numbers of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma due to dust in Khuzestan, Link:

(110): Amnesty International, 23rd Jul 202, 1Iran: Security forces use live ammunition and birdshot to crush Khuzestan protests. Link:

(111): BBC, Jul 2021, Iran protests: One killed in water crisis demonstration. Link:

(112): Iran Wire, Jul 2021, One of the Ahwazi Arab protesters was killed in Dezful prison. link:

(113): FDD, 18th Jul 2021, The Impact of the Ahwaz protests in Iran. Link:

(114): Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies, 4th Aug 2023, Iran’s concrete barriers and spatial segregation system in Ahwaz. Link:


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