Ahwazis Remember Black Wednesday
This week marks the 27th anniversary of Black Wednesday, when the Iranian regime massacred 817 Ahwazi Arabs shortly after the overthrow of the monarchy. The Black Wednesday massacre led to the formation of Ahwazi insurgent groups, including the group involved in the Iranian Embassy Siege of 1980.
General Madani imposed a brutal clamp-down on Arabs in Mohammerah (Khorramshahr) in May 1979 which Ahwazi Arabs regards as a crime against humanity. At the time, Arabs were demonstrating for cultural rights and were supported by Ayatollah Mohammed Taher al-Khaqani, an Ahwazi Shi'ite mullah. Following the massacre, al-Khaqani was put under house arrest in Qom, where he died. His son Sheikh Mohammed Kazem al-Khaqani continues to campaign for secularism, religious tolerance and human rights. In March, Sheikh al-Khaqani addressed a meeting at the House of Commons in London (click here for further details). Meanwhile, Ahwazi groups have raised their demands for Madani's arrest and prosecution for the massacre which was intended to strengthen the power of the Islamic revolutionaries.
The following is the declaration submitted by the Ahwazi Arab delegates to the Interim government on April 1979 which was published in Iranian newspapers. The appeal centred on demands for regional autonomy and cultural identity, while demanding equal rights in a modern economy:
In the name of God, the most Compassionate, Most Merciful
Mr. Mehdi Bazargan, the respected Interim Premier of Iran,
The Muslim Arab people's delegates appeal to your ministry to listen to the demands of a consensus among Arab people, in cities and rural areas, that has emerged through demonstrations. These demands have been supported by Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammed Taher al Shobair Khaqani. The demands include the legitimate rights of the Arab people and their right to self-government, within the framework of the Islamic Republic, and maintaining the unity of Iranian territory.
The delegates assure you that matters relating to foreign policy, the army, defence of the country's borders, currency, international agreements and long-term economic policies are under the jurisdiction of the central state, and our people condemn all conspiracies designed to fragment the unity of Iran. We condemn imperialism, racism, reactionary ideologies and defend a political Non-Aligned Movement, and reject all colonial agreements, which are harmful to Iran national independence.
Our people believe in the autonomy of "Khuzestan", which was historically called Arabistan and geographically belongs to the Arab people.
The basic demands of the Arab people are as follows:
1. Recognition of the Arab people as a distinct ethnic group and enshrine this in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
2. Establish a local parliament in the autonomous area with powers to legislate and enforce laws and ensure the participation of the Arab people in the Iranian Constituent Assembly, the National Council and the cabinet on the basis of their proportion of tht total population.
3. Establishing an Arab-led judiciary in Arab areas, conforming with the laws of the Islamic Republic.
4. Arabic language should become the official language in the autonomous region, while the Persian language should remain the official language for all Iran.
5. The Arabic language should be taught in primary schools, while education in the Persian language will be conducted in the autonomous area.
6. An Arabic language university along with Arabic language schools and educational institutions should be established in the autonomous regime in order to enhance the role of the Arab people, with support given to young Arab people to study abroad.
7. Freedom of expression and publication should be emphasised with the independent publication of Arabic language books and newspapers and independent broadcasting on radio and television networks, without any kind of censorship.
8. Priority should be given to employment for Arabs in the autonomous area in public and private sectors.
9. Oil revenues should be used to develop the Arab region's industry and agriculture.
10. The names of cities, villages and districts should revert to their original Arabic names, which the fascist Pahlavi regime had changed to Persian.
11. Arabs should be able to participate in the army and local security forces, operating under the autonomous govenment, with the possibility of promotion to high military ranks, which had been denied under the Pahlavi regime.
12. A review of the agrarian reform law, with land redistributed to peasants, based on the laws of the Islamic Republic which say that "the earth is for people who cultivate it."
Finally, we ask the government of Mehdi Bazargan to refrain from negotiations with the opportunistic and reactionary elements on resolving issues related to the Arab people.
Delegates of the Muslim Arab people of Iran.