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Iran: World's leading supporter of separatism

By Nasser Bani Assad

Iran jealously guards its territorial integrity to the extent that members of non-Persian ethnic groups are imprisoned for merely expressing their ethnic rights under the constitution.

The Iranian regime and most Persian-led opposition parties like to peddle the myth that Iran is a country of ethnic harmony, that uniquely in this world Iran is devoid of ethnic prejudices. The reality is quite different and non-Persian ethnic groups have been economically and politically marginalised and subjected to forced Persianisation under both the Pahlavi and Islamic regimes. Expressions of dissent by ethnic groups are routinely derided as the dirty tricks of nefarious foreign powers intent on Balkanising Iran.

Nevertheless, Iran has played a significant role in advancing secessionist discourse in global debate as a means to undermine its perceived enemies and their allies. The regime supports an array of secessionist causes, more so than any other government. It has sought to create religious divisions among Arabs and further afield has aided separatist groups or given vocal support to secessionist movements.
  • Lebanon - The Iranian regime funds and arms the Lebanese Hezbollah, a Shi'ite fundamentalist group whose existence has prevented the country from seeking reconciliation under a unified secular state.
  • Palestine - Support for Hamas has destabilised the unity of the Palestinian territories and undermined Palestinians' negotiating strength, just so Iran can create a bridgehead into the Mediterranean through the creation of a feudal Gazan satrapy. Ultimately, this has delayed and perhaps destroyed the prospect of a sovereign and peaceful Palestinian Arab state.
  • Iraq - The Iranian regime has actively supported a quasi-federal system in post-Baathist Iraq, gerrymandering sectarian divisions in order to empower its Shia political allies and secure their hegemony over other groups. Tehran also has formal relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
  • Saudi Arabia - Iran has exploited the grievances of Shi'ites to weaken the Saudi state, which it regards as an existential enemy, by supporting Shia insurrection
  • Yemen - Iran is supporting the Shia separatist Houthi group in Yemen as part of its proxy war with Saudi Arabia.
  • Senegal - Iran supplies weapons to Casamance rebels fighting for independence in the ethnic Jola region that lies south of The Gambia, whose ruling dictatorship Tehran has successfully wooed in recent years.
  • Morocco - Iran formally recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as the legitimate government of the territory of Western Sahara in retaliation for Morocco giving sanctuary to the deposed Shah.
  • Canada - Iran has sought to utilise the debate over First Nations, notably separatists led by Terrance Nelson - a former chief of the Roseau River Ojibwe nation - who has supported the use of arms to secure a separate state with its own foreign policy and the removal of non-indigenous people. This is in retaliation for Canadian criticism of Iran's poor treatment of minority groups.
  • Georgia - While the Iranian regime has not formally recognised  the break-away states of South Ossetia or Abkhazia, it has welcomed the forging of relations with the governments of both states.
  • India - Ayatollah Khamenei has stated that he supports Kashmiri secession from India, although he remains quiet about the persecution of Shi'ites in Pakistan.
  • Indonesia - Iran has supplied arms to the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
  • Burma - Iran has given vocal support to ethnic Rohingya, who are seeking secession from Burma.
  • United Kingdom and Spain - Iran's propaganda outlets, notably Press TV, have reveled in the prospect of independence for Scotland and Catalonia.
Throughout the Middle East and in Europe, the Americas and Asia, Iran has actively exploited often genuine local concerns and national ambitions as part of its drive to extend its sphere of influence and control. Iran is turning Shia against Sunni and it is exploiting often legitimate grievances of ethnic minorities seeking representation and recognition. It often stands in the way of peaceful ethno-national conflict resolution.

In circumstances such as Scotland, Catalonia and the First Nations of Canada, it has regarded calls for independence as a weakening and fracturing of Western democratic powers that oppose it. However, it refuses to recognise that independence movements are seeking to advance their aims through the ballot box or via lobbying. Unlike in Iran, they can argue their positions without fear or violent intimidation.

In the case of the Middle East and Africa, Iran's position has been more malign, with an active campaign of destabilisation and secession aimed at turning Arab against Arab and non-Arabs against Arabs. Often this has involved supplying weapons in direct violation of international law and UN resolutions.

Yet, simple calls for respect for the rights of Ahwazi Arabs are met with accusations that even the discussion of ethnic rights is akin to military intervention. Talking about Ahwazi identity can lead to accusations of Saudi-backed Wahhabism, even though most Ahwazi Arabs remain nominally Shia and in reality indifferent to the religious schism.

Ahwazi human rights activists seeking peaceful means to express their criticism of Iran's institutional discrimination and policy of persecution either by activism in the NGO sector or attempting to contest elections have been imprisoned and hanged for "enmity with God" and "acting against national security". Often the regime is cheered on by Persian-led so-called opposition groups, whether Monarchist, Green Movement, Republican or Constitutionalist, leaving ethno-national groups only one option: secession.

Iran can no longer play the separatist card all over the world without feeling the backlash at home. Either ethno-national groups, including those who comprise the majority of Iran's population, are allowed their right to self-determination, as enshrined in the UN Charter, or they do not. If Iran violently crushes that right at home while repeatedly supporting armed insurgent movements seeking secession, it will soon feel the whirlwind of separatism. And those it has made enemies of through its military adventurism will be the first to give formal recognition to the aspirations of these ethno-national groups.

Countries where Iran has supported separatist movements,either with vocal support or with direct assistance to armed movements

Poverty and discrimination force Ahwazis into mine clearance


Anti-personnel mines are claiming lives of Ahwazi Arabs, according to recent reports.

Mine explosions were reported in Sahel Maysan, Dashte Azadegan in November as local Arabs were employed in mine-sweeping along border areas, according to the head of the local judiciary Hamid Azakereh.

One landmine expert told ISNA that 29,406 hectares of farmlands are affected by landmines with an estimated 16 million still lying in the region. In terms of landmine prevalence, Iran is rated second worse in the world with all the mines located in the provinces of Ilam, Khuzestan, Kermanshah, West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. In an interview Nader Torfi, the expert stated that two people were severely injured and one died during landmine clearance in November.

Landmines maim many local Ahwazi Arabs,
who often lose limbs and as a result suffer poverty
Land mines dating from the Iran-Iraq War occur in an large area of Al-Ahwaz, including Sahel Maysan, Al-Howaiza, Al-Mohammerah (Khorramshahr) and Shalamcheh. Land mines have claimed hundreds of lives and maimed scores more in the Al-Ahwaz region since the war ended in 1988.

Poverty and unemployment has prompted many Ahwazi Arab youth to work in the hazardous occupation of mine clearance, without adequate protection or equipment and putting themselves at great risk. At the same time, they are denied opportunities in the oil, steel and petrochemicals industries, which are the region's main economic activities.

"Al-Ahwaz will be next battle after Syria"

Al-Ahwaz Batallion of the Free Syria Army
Relations between the opposition to Syria's Assad regime and the Ahwazi Arabs are growing with both forging bonds to fight their common enemy, the Iranian regime.

With Iran now in effective control over its Syrian vassal state, the Syrian opposition have pledged to support the Ahwazi struggle in meetings with senior Ahwazi leaders.

A company of the Free Syria Army's Dere'a Al-Jazeera in Al-Mayadin has named itself the 'Al-Ahwaz Brigade' in solidarity with the Ahwazi intifada in Iran. They were instrumental in recently liberating the area from the Iranian-backed Assad regime.

Alliance between Ahwazis and Syrian opposition
Meanwhile, there have been top-level discussions between the leaders of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. In September, ASMLA leaders met with Brotherhood Comptroller General Mohammad Riad al-Shaqfeh in Syria.

Both groups accused Iran of sowing sectarian strife in the Arab world and acting like a colonial power. ASMLA described its formal contacts with the Brotherhood as a "quantum leap in strengthening the relationship between the Ahwazi and Syrian revolutions" that would enable them to "work together to overthrow the existing alliance of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian regime, which continue to spill the blood of Arabs in Syria and Ahwaz."

Damascus' Ahwazi community

Ahwazi-Syrian unity on the streets
Syria had been a safe-haven for Ahwazi Arab refugees until Bashar al-Assad forged closer alliances with Tehran. On Iranian orders, Assad forcibly refouled several UNHCR-mandated Ahwazi refugees living in Damascus, including Faleh Abdullah al-Mansouri, the leader of the Ahwaz Liberation Organisation who now has Dutch citizenship. Assad ignored UNHCR statements that such actions were in contravention of international humanitarian law. Syrian human rights campaigners frequently condemned the deportations, while Persian-led "opposition" groups have failed to voice any protest.

Before the Syrian uprising, the Ahwazi community in Damascus was living in fear, but is now fully behind the revolutionary struggle. There have been frequent demonstrations in Syria by Ahwazi Arabs flying the opposition flag alongside their own.

"Al-Ahwaz will be the next battle"

Solidarity with Ahwazis in Tahrir Square
The Ahwazi struggle is attracting support from across the Arab world. In August, members of Egypt's Coalition for the January 25 Coalition held a demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square in support of the Ahwazi intifada. Palestinian, Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi and Ahwazi demonstrators condemned the "represssive policies practiced by the Iranian authorities against the Arab people in Ahwaz" and called for independence for Al-Ahwaz.

A press conference at the event was addressed by former Syrian opposition MP Mohamed Mamoun Homsi who voiced solidarity for the Ahwazi Arabs' struggle for self-determination, which he stated was a legitimate demand under international law. Homsi warned the Iranian regime that the struggle of the Ahwazis against injustice and oppression would be the next battle following the overthrow of the Syrian regime.

Ahwazi call for military intervention in Iran

Ahwazi Arab groups have urged the international community to consider Libya-style multilateral military action to remove the Iranian regime. In an opinion survey conducted by the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network (AASN) leading Ahwazi parties and activists were unanimously opposed to an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, but warned that sanctions will not be enough to encourage the regime to abide by its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in accordance with UN resolutions.

Only multilateral military intervention aimed at overthrowing the oppressive, terrorist-sponsoring regime will prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons, said the respondents who urged Western governments to work with them towards democratisation.

Discrimination against Arabs in Iranian football


Discrimination is starving budding Ahwazi Arab footballers of sponsorship and equipment, according to local coaches.


Rasoul Sayahi, the coach of the Jenobeh-Azadegan football team in the Arab populated town of Sosangerd (Khafajiyeh), told Farsnews: “Our players do not have a soccer shoes to play with. We managed to be within the first four teams in province's league division one without having support and managed to qualify for the provincial championship.”

However, Sayahi is unhappy with the lack of sponsor for the football club based in the Dashteh-Azadegan district. The poor financial situation could prompt them to withdraw from the championship.

He added: “Sometimes before the game the players have to eat Samboseh and Falafel [the cheapest take away in Al-Ahwaz], however the oil industry in the Dashteh-Azadegan area sponsors the Tehran Naft football team."

An Ahwazi footballer told Ahwaz News Agency: "Ahwazi teams are the best in Iran and are known for their 'Brazilian style'. Before the Revolution, most of the Iranian national team was Ahwazi Arab. Historically, when the British were residing in Abadan and Ahwaz they taught football to the Ahwazi Arabs. Nowadays even the local teams are excluding Arabs from their teams and facilities. We all know how non-Arabs get their children in the best teams and nominated for national teams."

Hospital overwhelmed by cancer epidemic among Ahwazi Arabs

Pollution caused by industry and war is leading to high rates of cancer among Ahwazi Arabs, according to local sources.

Dr Ali Ehsan Pour, the head of Ahwaz City's Shafa Hospital, which specialises in oncology, said many locals were dying due to lack of trained staff and sufficient medical facilities to deal with the high number of cases.

He said that cancer patients in the region have little hope and suffer due to the rudimentary services on offer.

'In the past the hospital did not have a shortage of staff and medical equipment,' he said. 'Due to the rising number of cancer patients, the situation is critical in terms of providing proper treatment.'

He added that Shafa Hospital was the only one in Khuzestan province that provides treatment for cancer. At present there are just 20 beds available in the hospital. The intensive care unit is still under construction.

Every month, 5,000 patients with cancer, haemophilia and thalassemia visit the hospital. Although it is funded by the government, patients have to pay for chemotherapy and radiotherapy and are forced to sell their valuables, including their homes, to pay for treatment. The charges are beyond the means of the impoverished Ahwazi Arab population and inflation has led to a 500 per cent increase in the cost of chemotherapy.

Amir al-Saedi, who specialises in oncology at a London hospital, said: "The area in Ahwaz experienced eight years of war and the Iraqi regime used chemical weapons that contaminated many farmlands. Mustard gas was used during the war. Added to this is industrial effluent with dangerously high levels of lead found in the Karoon River.

"Many Ahwazi Arabs experience short-term and long-term symptoms, such as prostate cancer among men and leukemia among children, infertility, chronic coughing and skin problems. The local environment has also been severely affected by pollution from the war with marsh biodiversity severely affected."

Iran's wave of arrests widens following pipeline explosion allegations

The Iranian regime has used a recent militant attack on a pipeline to widen arrests of Ahwazi Arabs with at least arrested this morning (18 November), including a prominent poet. The latest arrests confirm that the attack is being used by the authorities to frame and punish innocent people and non-violent activists, including those who use traditional cultural means to express Arab sentiments.

Renowned Ahwazi Arab poet Abdulal Aldoraghi, known as Abu Shaima, pictured, was among those taken from their homes in Ahwaz City's Kut Abdullah district. He had attended the funeral of another Ahwazi poet, Sattar al-Sayahi, who died in mysterious circumstances after being released from custody for questioning. Mourners held protests at the funeral, which attracted hundreds of Ahwazi Arabs.

Others arrested in Kut Abdullah on 18 November include:

  • Mohammad Sayahi
  • Kamal Moghadam
  • Saud Sayahi
  • Jasem Mazraeh (Mazreawi)
  • Latif Torfi
  • Hani Sawaedi
  • Hossein Motairi
  • Hatam Helalat
  • Moslem Shejirat
  • Kazem Bawi
  • Jawad Neisi

Arrests of at least 17 other Ahwazi Arabs were reported in Mashali, Darwishiya, Khozami and Hey-althowra on Sunday morning.

In addition, Adel Mowla Atshani (25, son of Ismaiel) was arrested by intelligence services in Hamidiyeh City on 12 November. According to recent reports, his family home has been raided and he is being tortured. At least nine Arabs, mostly from the Ka'abi tribe, were also arrested in the Khalaf Al-Moslem area near Shush this week on charges of involvement in a recent gas pipeline attack, which security forces have blamed on foreign governments. 

Arrests in Shush following pipeline explosion

The Iranian regime has rounded up a number of men in the Khalaf Al-Moslem area near Shush as it seeks to combat a growing armed insurgency among members of the persecuted and deprived Ahwazi Arab community.

The National Resistance of Al-Ahwaz, the political front of the militants, claimed responsibility for an attack on a gas pipeline in the Shush area.

Most of the men are from the Al-Kaabi tribe, which is dominant in the area. The names of nine men arrested by the intelligence services are:
  • Ali Chbeishat (Al-Kaabi), 46
  • Hussein Ali Chbeishat (Al-Kaabi), son of Ali Chbeishat, 28, married with one child
  • Salah Aldin Ali Chbeishat (Al-Kaabi), 22
  • Habib Silawi (Al-Kaabi)
  • Sayed Yasin Mousawi, 34
  • Salman Jayan (Al-Kaabi), 32
  • Mohammad Jayan (Al-Kaabi), 30
  • Karim Jayan (Al-Kaabi), 34
  • Aashour Shamakli, 33 from Alsarkha village
The families of the detainees gathered in front of the local intelligence services building demanding information on charges against them and calling for their release. They were dispersed after they were told the detainees would be transferred to the custody of the provincial headquarters of the intelligence services in Ahwaz City.

Two other arrested detainees (pictured right) were transferred from the Shawoor area of Shush to the intelligence services in Ahwaz City. Abdullah Abbas Al-Sarih (31), arrested on 19 August, and the poet Ahmad Ali Al-Kaabi (27), arrested on 8 September, have been subjected to physical and mental torture. Relatives of the men claim they have been forced to confess activities they were not involved in.

Ahwazi Arabs have frequently testified that they have suffered torture in order to extract false confessions. A secretly filmed testimony by four Ahwazi Arabs, who were executed earlier this year, alleged the direct involvement of state prosecutors in torture. Detainees are tortured into implicating innocent men and claiming they were acting on behalf of various foreign governments. Despite repeatedly claiming to have broken up the Ahwazi Arab insurgency, the Iranian regime has faced mounting social unrest and militancy within the impoverished ethnic group whose homeland contains one of the world's largest reserves of oil.

Iran alleges Western involvement in pipeline explosion

The Iranian regime has made a number of arrests in connection with last month's sabotage of a gas pipeline by Ahwazi Arab militants.

Quoting IRNA, Associated Press claims the suspects are being held on charges on planting bombs on behalf of 'foreign intelligence services'. The regime alleges that it had confiscated bombs and other weapons imported from an unnamed 'neighbouring Arab country'. Other official reports claimed that the arms were supplied by one of the Arabian Gulf 'littoral states', suggesting it may seek to blame Saudi Arabia. The number of arrests is unknown.

The pipeline was attacked near Shush (Susa) on 23 October by the Hasanein Brigade of the Brigades of the Martyr Mohiuddin Al Nasser, the military wing of the National Resistance of Ahwaz group. No-one was hurt in the attack.

A communiqué by the group claimed responsibility for previous unpublicised attacks, including a roadside attack on security forces on 15 April and a train transporting oil near Haftapeh station on 16 September, allegedly destroying the train and the railtrack.

The group aligns itself with the Syrian opposition, which has held talks with Ahwazi groups in recent weeks as the Syrian civil war takes on a regional dimension.

The regime has frequently accused foreign agencies of fomenting unrest among Ahwazi Arabs, who have long-standing grievances over poverty, ethnic marginalisation, religious persecution and aggression from security forces. However, no tangible evidence has been presented to support the claims of foreign intrigue.

Video of the pipeline attack


Recent statement by the Mohiuddin Al-Nasser Brigades

Eighth Ahwazi Arab killed under torture by Revolutionary Guards

Ahwazi Arab political activist Jamil Sowaidi became the eighth Ahwazi Arab political prisoner to die under interrogation so far this year.

Revolutionary Guards took the 47-year-old welder from his home and informed his family earlier this month that he had died, although his body was not released to them. He had never been charged with any crime.

Although his family were warned not to pursue the matter, they have struggled to confirm details of when or where he died. Officials at Sepidar Prison in Ahwaz claimed that no-one with his name had ever been admitted. The Revolutionary Guards are known to operate detention centres outside the official prison system where they conduct interrogations using torture.

Sowaidi is the eighth person to be killed under interrogation this year. Abbas Sawari, arrested in April 2011, whose body found washed up on the shore of the River Karoon in September. Alireza Ghobaishawi, 37 years old from Khalafiya (Khalafabad), was killed while in detention in AugustOther Ahwazi detainees killed under torture are Ghaiban Obaidawi from Hamidiyah, Mohammad Cheldawi from Ahwaz, Reza Maghamesi from Dezful, Mohammad Kaabi from Susa and Nasser Alboshokeh from Ahwaz.

Extrajudicial killings of Ahwazi Arabs are at least as frequent as official executions of political prisoners. The killings come amid a massive clamp-down on Arab activist and any sign of dissent in response to the uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. The Iranian regime is particularly anxious about the influence of a Syrian revolution on the indigenous Arab community as the Syrian opposition openly states its support for the Ahwazi cause.

Arrests at funeral for Ahwazi poet

Iranian security forces have detained dozens of Ahwazi Arabs at the funeral of Ahwazi poet Sattar al-Sayahi, who died in mysterious circumstances two weeks after his release from detention for questioning.

Arab activists widely believe the poet, popularly known as Abu Surror, was assassinated. The authorities had attempted to prevent him from involvement in a variety of Arab cultural activities.

Hundreds of Ahwazi Arab mourners turned out to Abu Surror's funeral where they expressed their sorrow and anger at his death. Clashes erupted between the mourners and the paramilitary forces of the Bassij as the funeral became an expression of opposition against the regime's anti-Arab policies.

Karim Abdian, director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation (AHRO), has called on international society to pressure the Iranian government into investigating Abu Surror's death and release those detained at his funeral. Abdian reiterated demands by the Ahwazi Arab opposition for UN Special Rapporteurs to be allowed access to Al-Ahwaz and investigate human rights violations.

In contrast to Abu Surror's suspicious death, the murder of blogger Sattar Beheshti, an ethnic Persian, in custody has prompted swift action by the authorities with a number of those involved in his interrogation now held in custody. Beheshti's case continues to dominate headlines across the world due to efforts by wealthy Persian groups who have ignored the plight of non-Persians suffering similar human rights violations. The authorities have failed to investigate eight deaths of Ahwazi Arabs in custody so far this year.

Video of the funeral of Abu Surror

Majlis: proposed final administrative annihilation of Al-Ahwaz

The Ahwazi Arab homeland will be broken up further into new provinces, if member of parliament for Behbahan Mohammad Bagher Shariati gets his way.

Shariati has proposed subdividing Khuzestan province, which forms the largest part of the historical region of Arabistan that stretched along the north coast of the Arabian Gulf towards the Strait of Hormuz. He claimed the creation of new provinces would enable the better management of the region's problems, such as the adverse impact of river diversion on agriculture, high unemployment and the environmental crisis.

Nasser Bani Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), said: "The further political fragmentation of the Ahwazi Arab homeland will not resolve the region's problems, but rather exacerbate them. Creating new provinces will make it easier for the regime to exploit the region's resources.

"The heart of the problem is the disempowerment and persecution of the region's indigenous Arabs who are demanding more self-determination over their affairs. Self-determination would enable the indigenous population to identify and resolve the multitude of problems arising from Tehran's destructive rape and pillage of this land. The creation of new provinces is intended to undermine their historical claims and further alienate them in ever smaller administrative zones. This process would set barriers between Arabs as a community.

A map of historical Arab-populated areas,
once known in Farsi as 'Arabistan',
situated along the north of the Arabian Gulf
"Already, the historical Arab population is divided between Khuzestan, Bushehr, Hormuzgan and parts of Fars and other provinces with provincial borders that have little respect for historical and cultural ties and purposefully weaken the collective Arab voice.

"Alongside forced displacement, regime-enforced demographic change to make Arabs a minority in their own land and the eradication of Arabic as the mother tongue of ethnic Arabs, the political division of historical Arabistan is part of the regime's policy of ethnic cleansing.

"Without free and fair elections, without freedom of speech and without self-determination for Ahwazi Arabs, such administrative sub-division is meaningless and will only heighten the aggressive policy of Persianisation and economic exploitation that Shariati upholds."

Majlis member: anti-Arab discrimination is causing poverty

Abadan's member of parliament Mohammad Saeed Ansari has hit out against discrimination against 'native' workers.

Although the Ahwazi Arab homeland hosts many of Iran's oil, petrochemical, agricultural, ship-building and manufacturing industries, the native people endure high levels of unemployment. A member of the Energy Commission, Ansari said that in Asaluyeh, only half of those in employment are native Arabs while in Abadan less than five per cent of workers are from the region. Meanwhile, poverty and unemployment among Arabs in these cities remains high.

Ansari also accused the authorities of harassing native people involved in fishing and other traditional livelihoods and being denied provision for self-employment. Racism has also denied many Arabs opportunities to work in local government. Ansari denounced the provincial governor for poor management, which he claimed was making the situation for native people worse.

Ansari was supported in his claims by Nafeaa Alboghobiesh, the vice chairman of Showra council, who claimed that the youth of Mahshaher (Mashour) city were suffering high unemployment despite the presence of many petrochemicals companies.

Ahwazi Arab activist Nasser Bani Assad of the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) said: "A member of the United Front of Conservatives, Ansari has been increasingly vocal on the issue of Arab rights as his party has sought to undermine the beleaguered President Ahmadinejad. Having remained conspicuously quiet for many years, Ansari has recently spoken on lack of employment rights, racial discrimination and the destruction caused by the river diversion projects.

"Ahwazi activists are familiar with the tactics of factions within the Iranian establishment who periodically exploit Arab grievances for their own political ends. When such groups win power, they sustain violent persecution and imprison the activists that were deluded into believing there was a legal, constitutional method of winning their legitimate rights.

"When Ahwazi Arabs start peacefully mobilising and speaking up for themselves, they are silenced. There are hundreds of Ahwazi Arabs who have been imprisoned, exiled and executed because they were manipulated and then abandoned by Khatami's so-called 'reformists'. Nothing is likely to change whoever wins the presidency next year. The Supreme Leader will always win."

Ahwazi Arabs arrested in Eid clamp-down by Iran

The Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha was once a time for Ahwazi Arabs to celebrate their unique culture, but is now associated with the Iranian government's brutality. This year's Eid was marked by mass arrests as the regime sought to quash all public expressions of Arab identity.

Arrests were carried out in the districts of Kut Abdullah, Mohammareh (Khoramshahr) and Haidyeh throughout October with prisoners transferred to unknown locations. Human rights activists are concerned about their wellbeing and the probability that they are being tortured.

The Iranian socialist Union of People's Fedaian of Iran has published the names of eight of those known to be in detention:

  • Kut Abdullah: Towfigh Doraghi (36) and Ali Mazraa (41) were arrested on 30 October
  • Mohammareh (Khorramshahr): Jasem Khasraji (30, son of Mohammad), Amin Khanfari (20, son of Ghanem) and Hadi Abu Eissa (40, family name not yet confirmed) were arrested on 27 October
  • Haidyeh: Jabbar Abyat (38, married, son of Houssein), Ali Sayahi (27, married, son of Oodeh) and Abboud Manbohi (32, son of Sabhan) were arrested on 18-21 October

Ahwaz sugar workers reduced to slavery and poverty

Workers from the Ahwaz Sugar Refinery this week staged protests over months of unpaid wages as an unemployment crisis grips the region.

Employees and their families clashed with police outside the offices of the provincial governor as they demanded salaries, compensation for lost earnings and payment of their national insurance, health and pension contributions that the management has refused to pay to the Social Security Department.

While the Iranian government is keen to blame the country's woes on international sanctions, the company's long legacy of poor management and years of unpaid loans led to bankruptcy and mass redundancies. Meetings between workers and management, brokered by the provincial governor, have achieved no resolution to the dispute.

Led by Iraj Emani, the sugar refinery's trade union has been in dispute with the management for over two years, previously staging a protest against unpaid wages and lay-offs in March. Many of the employees have been working for the company for over 20 years and on top of poverty have found they have no healthcare cover.

Director of the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network Daniel Brett said: "The indifference of the management and the government towards Ahwazi workers enduring job insecurity demonstrates the callous disregard the regime has for the inhabitants of this region. In many companies, workers are expected to put up with hardship caused by irregular payment of wages by managers whose corruption is tolerated by their political benefactors. Workers have little recourse for action as trade union activity is heavily restricted in Iran and union leaders are subjected to harassment, intimidation and imprisonment."

Ahwazi speaks of massacre of his family at tribunal



Ahwazi Arab refugee Jalil Sharhani spoke of the massacre of 40 members of his family at a Hague tribunal on Iran's mass killings of political prisoners.

Sharhani told the court that his 65-year-old father was a simple farmer, but was arrested and executed along with 16 other close relatives during the violent mass purges under Ayatollah Khomeini. A further 24 distant relatives were also killed.

He said: "The executions were carried out because the persecuted Ahwazi Arabs of the oil-rich Al-Ahwaz region demanded their basic ethnic rights. I have submitted evidence to the court that the executions were brutal and carried out without a trial. Their corpses were thrown into fields only an hour after their arrests."

The Iran Tribunal campaign was established in October 2007 in response to a call by families of the political prisoners who were murdered and massacred in the prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the 1980s and the survivors of this human tragedy. Under a fatwa by Khomeini, all who were in opposition to the regime were labelled apostates and put to death. Up to 30,000 people were killed in the purges.

Suicide rate highest among Ahwazi Arabs and Kurds

Faced with poverty, discrimination and cultural dislocation, Ahwazi Arabs and Kurds lead Iran only in suicide, according to latest statistics.

Tehran University sociologist Dr Saeed Moeed Far claims that the highest rates of suicide are in less developed areas such as the Arab-majority Khuzestan province and the Kurdish-majority Ilam province, particularly among women and young men due to the social and economic crisis in these areas. The benefits of industrialisation have largely excluded Ahwazi Arabs when it comes to employment and housing, while they continue to endure the negative health and environmental effects.

Statistics from Iran's Ministry of Health show that in deprived areas around 13 people take their lives every day with the average age at 29 years. Men outnumber women by 2.5-4.5 to one. Over a 20 year period, the suicide rate has increased 360 per cent. According to a police report for Ilam, the annual rate of suicides was 70.1 per 100,000 people, the highest in the country.

Hanging is the cause of most suicides, but self-immolation, drug overdose and poisoning are increasingly common.

Ahwaz militants 'sabotage Iranian gas pipeline'

Ahwazi Arab militants have claimed responsibility for the sabotage of an Iranian gas pipeline facility using improvised explosive devices near Shush (Susa). If confirmed, the attack suggests that Iran's attempts to quash ethnic insurgency through violent repression have so far failed.

The Hasanein Brigade of the Brigades of the Martyr Mohiuddin Al Nasser, the military wing of the National Resistance of Ahwaz group, claimed the attack carried out on 23 October was an 'Eid gift' to the Ahwazi Arab political prisoners and the resistance in Syria.

Located in the Sabe-atlal area, the pipeline is used to provide gas to a number of industrial facilities in the area. The government has given conflicting information on the cause of the pipeline explosion with some accounts denying any attack occurred and others blaming the explosion on 'sick-minded people'. No-one is believed to be hurt in the explosion.

In a communiqué, the separatist group justified the attack, claiming that the oil and gas industries were financing the Iranian government's persecution and ethnic cleansing of Ahwazi Arabs. The group has said it will soon release a video statement and has pledged to continue attacks on economic and military targets in Iran.

The attack was described in detail by the group, which has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on strategic targets in Iran over recent years. The communiqué also claimed that the Brigades were responsible for previous unpublicised attacks, including roadside attack on security forces on 15 April and a train transporting oil near Haftapeh station on 16 September, allegedly destroying the train and the railtrack.

Militancy has been used as an excuse by the regime to arrest, imprison and execute prominent Ahwazi Arab activists with no links to insurgent groups. The Iranian government has claimed that such attacks are the work of foreign forces, particularly Israel, the US, Britain and Saudi Arabia. However, it has failed to provide material evidence to support its claims.

Iran reduces Arab cultural heritage to ruins

The palace of a revered Arab sheikh is being demolished on the orders of the Iranian government as it continues its campaign of ethnic cleansing against Ahwazi Arabs.

The Hamidiya palace located in Hamidiya, 25km from Ahwaz City, was recorded as one of Iran's national historical buildings by the Cultural Heritage Department. After years of neglect under the regime, which renamed it 'Qajar palace', has decided to demolish the building, which belonged to the last Arab ruler of Arabistan, Sheikh Khazaal, before Reza Pahlavi became Shah in 1925. The palace was visited by thousands of tourists every year.

The destruction of the Hamidiya palace is part of the Iranian campaign to eradicate the region's rich Arab cultural heritage. Arab place names have been replaced with Perian substitutes and Ahwazi Arab children are forced to learn in Persian in an effort to suppress their identity.

A 12-point agreement on the historical palace's conservation in 2001 has largely been ignored by the Khuzestan Water and Power department, which owns the property. According to the agreement, the palace was to be restored and used as an office building, but has been left in a state of neglect.

Feilieh Palace: destroyed by the Revolutionary Guard
The demolition of the Hamidiya palace comes after the Revolutionary Guard destroyed the Sheikh Khazaal's Feilieh Palace in November 2010. The Feilieh Palace was built in 1917 and was also listed as a cultural heritage site.

Sheikh Khazaal, the last sheikh of Mohammareh, ruled with de facto autonomy, granted by the Qajar rulers of Iran who granted him control of the region known at the time as Arabistan, a Persian name meaning 'land of the Arabs'. Khazaal oversaw the region's rapid development, including the opening of the Karoon river to trade and navigation and the creation of the first oil refinery in the Middle East, located in Abadan, constructed by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the former name of British Petroleum. The sheikh was widely respected for uniting Arab tribes as well as forging alliances with Bakhtiari khans.

In his rise to power, Reza Pahlavi sought to centralise political control and remove Khazaal from power, prompting the sheikh to petition the League of Nations for the same recognition as nearby Kuwait. The British abandoned Khazaal and supported the Pahlavi regime, regarding it as a bulwark against the potential spread of Bolshevism in the Middle East. Khazaal is revered by Ahwazi Arabs who see him as a figure of Arab identity.

Two Ahwazis arrested by Iranian intelligence


Iranian intelligence arrested two Ahwazi Arabs in Hamidiya City this week, according to a report by the Ahwazna website.

Ali Ghanem Aloodeh (married, 27 years old) and Abbod Sahi Manbohi (32 years old) were arrested on 21 October. Manbohi is the brother of Ali Manbohi, a political prisoner exiled to a prison in Jiroft city, Kerman province.

The Iranian regime fears that the advent of Eid al-Adha could be used by Ahwazi Arabs to protest against the regime. Eid has traditionally been a time for Arabs to assert their distinct culture and call for political rights, including the right to self-determination. Past protests have been put down with brutal force by the security services. This year, public prayer attendance is being strictly controlled and arrests are being made to intimidate and pre-empt Ahwazi protests.

Al-Ahwaz's water crisis

Villagers forced to collect water from polluted sources
The issue of drought and water diversion in Al-Ahwaz has not left the headlines in Iran with the media focus on the destruction of fertile lands and the shortage of drinking water for residents.
The impact of dam construction on the livelihoods and welfare of Ahwazi Arabs forced the Energy Minister to visit Ahwaz for crisis talks with the provincial governor as public unease and opposition grows.
Energy Minister Majid Namjoo has played down the importance of the Ahwaz water crisis and dismissed local opposition, telling members of the Iranian parliament for the region that water was a national not regional concern. He added that two local representatives of Khuzestan were on the Water Supreme Council and could raise any regional concerns. While denying there were any problems in the water diversion project, he stated that sewerage works were being built in 14 of the province's cities.
However, Jam-e Jam Online reported that members of parliament for Khuzestan province are not optimistic over the solutions offered by the central government. MPs have repeatedly warned of a brewing ecological disaster caused by man-made drought that could prove catastrophic to regions beyond the province. Mohammareh (Khormashahr) member of parliament Abdullah Sameri told the news agency that the Karoon was "dying" due to dam construction reducing water flow and rising pollution from industries, hospitals, sugarcane plantations and agricultural drainage.

Sameri added that cities such as Ahwaz, Khafajieh (Susangerd), Hamidieh, Dezful, Falahieh (Shadegan) and Mohammareh (Khuramshahr) are in a desperate state with water shortages causing rapid transformation of farmland into salt marshes. Mohammareh (Khuramshahr) has seen its agricultural exports collapse as a result, he claimed. His complaints come after he Head of the Environment Protection Agency Mohammadi Zadeh approved the discharge of waste water from sugarcane plantations into the marshlands of Khuzestan.
Water for irrigation is scarce in this once fertile land
Meanwhile, MP for Hendijan city Habib Aghajari said the problem of water supply is even worse in cities like Hendijan, Omidiyeh and Bandar Mahshahr due to the decline in the level of water the Jarahi and Zoherh rivers due to dam construction. 
Mehr News reported that the drying of the Karkheh river, the Hamidyeh district's source of irrigation water, has destroyed around 17,000ha of crops as the government diverts river waters from the Arab populated area to cash crop production in Persian-majority provinces elsewhere in Iran. Grain, poultry and fish farming in Hamidyeh have all been hit by low river water flow, which is also causing a shortage of drinking water. The cost has been both environmental and economic, with many Arab farmers left without a livelihood and high levels of personal debt. Many are migrating to the cities for work. The once fertile land of Hamidyeh city is now threatened with permanent desertification.
Elsewhere in Al-Ahwaz, drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce. According to Fars News Agency, residents in Montazeri town in Falahieh (Shadigan) have access to drinking water from 10pm to 6am every night. Tap water is routinely cut off during the day, despite hot summers when temperatures exceed 50 Celsius and humidity rises to over 90 per cent. The extreme hot weather causes water-born bacteria to breed at a fast rate and cannot be drunk and residents are forced to buy bottled water. Residents allege that no action has been taken to replace or repair the ageing and inadequate water supply networks since the 1979 revolution.


Teen Ahwazi Arab tortured for religious conversion


The teenage son of an executed Ahwazi dissident is facing torture in prison for converting from Shi'ism to Sunnism.

Tareq Salami (16), the son of Ghasem Salami (pictured) who was hanged in 2007, is facing charges of acting against national security for becoming a Sunni Muslim. Conversion to Sunni Islam is increasingly common among Ahwazi Arabs who are disenchanted by a Shia theocratic regime that persecutes them.

The teenage boy is currently under interrogation by the intelligence services at the notorious Karoon prison, where many Ahwazi Arab political prisoners are held and where his late father was executed. Arrested at his home on 28 July 2012, he is being denied legal representation because he cannot afford a lawyer.

Human rights activists are concerned that Tareq's life is in danger due to his relationship to Ghasem. It is common for the Iranian regime to persecute entire families and there have been instances of pregnant women and young babies being held in custody to extract false confessions.

Ghasem Salami's trial, after televised "confessions" to crimes he did not commit, was mired in international controversy. Salami's defence lawyer was threatened with charges of acting against national security in order to prevent fair representation. A communiqué by the European Council, supported by the EU as well as non-EU states Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Ukraine and Moldova, called for a stay of execution and criticised the prosecution. Meanwhile, a motion in the British parliament, signed by 49 MPs, condemned the execution of Ghasem Salami and nine other Ahwazi prisoners and highlighted the regime's refusal to grant them contact with defence lawyers and hold fair and open trials.

The trials and death sentences were also condemned by three UN Special Rapporteurs: Philip Alston (Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions), Leandro Despouy (Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers) and Manfred Nowak (Special Rapporteur on torture).

Despite international pressure, he was killed by the government aged 41, leaving six children including Tareq.

Iran regime to destroy unique wetlands

Ahwazi Arabs depend on the freshwater marshes
Ignoring warnings of environment experts, the Head of the Environment Protection Agency Mohammadi Zadeh has approved the discharge of waste water from sugarcane plantations into the marshlands of Khuzestan.

Mohammadi Zadeh claimed that the release of waste water would have no effect on the marshlands, which serve as an important habitat for wildlife as well as helping to regulate humidity and rainfall further inland. However, leading experts in the region disagree, stating that plantation effluent combined with dam construction and lower rainfall threaten a devastating ecological crisis in the marshes.

Academics and conservationists have repeatedly warned that discharging saline waste water into freshwater lagoons will have catastrophic effects on the ecosystem and the indigenous Arabs who have lived there since ancient times.

Iraq is now rehabilitating its marshes,
but Al-Azim continues to shrink
The Hawr Al-Azim marsh, which connects to Iraq's Hawr Al-Hawizeh marsh, is under threat from water pollution and the construction of dams on the Karkeh River which feeds it. The extent of the marsh has declined dramatically over the past three decades with disastrous consequences for the wildlife and communities that depend on it.

The extent of the marsh declined 53.7% to 295.6 square km between 1975 and 2000 with the area covered by permanent marsh falling 52.5%, permanent lakes shrinking 67.0% and seasonal and shallow lakes declining 98.0%. Some species, such as otters, have reportedly vanished from the marsh as a result. The situation since 2000 has continued to worsen with increased salinity, putrification of vegetation and widespread desertification.

Increased water salinity will exacerbate the crisis faced by the Hawr Al-Azim marsh, warn Iranian environmental experts. Dr Mehran Afkhami, a professor at the University of Tehran, said that fauna that evolved over thousands of years in the fresh water conditions of the marshes face extinction due to salination caused by waste water. He stated that the discharge of sugarcane waters with a salinity of 10,000µS/cm into a freshwater wetland would lead to the failure of the ecosystem.

Dehkourdi: Karoon's salinity at crisis levels
Fathallah Dehkourdi, the Vice Chair of Conservation and Utilization of Resources at the Khuzestan Water and Power department, also warned of the effects of Karoon River salinity on irrigation and water courses. He claimed that the salinity of the Karoon River, the largest tidal river in Iran, rose from 15,000µS/cm in 2011 to 22,000µS/cm in 2012. The situation has worsened due to a combination of drought, dam construction and untreated waste water.

According to international guidelines, the salinity of drinking water should not exceed 800µS/cm and over 2,000µS/cm is unsuitable for either drinking or irrigation for crops. Other rivers in the region are also facing increased salinity, including Bahmanshir where salinity is 4,000µS/cm in Abadan.

Mohammad Reza Fartousi's award-winning film "Iran Southwestern" documented the human impact of the destruction of the Al-Azim marsh.

 

Iran steps up anti-Arab execution campaign

Four more Ahwazi Arab political prisoners are facing execution following verdicts handed down by secretive revolutionary courts this week with three more given prison sentences, according to a report by the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation (AHRO).

Four Arab political prisoners have already been officially executed so far this year with a further seven killed extra-judicially under torture. With five Arabs sentenced to death in July, this week's judgment brings the total number of Ahwazi political prisoners on death row to nine. All political prisoners have been convicted of the same charges: enmity with God and corruption on the Earth.

The following men are sentenced to hang, although none have any previous convictions:
  • Abdulreza Amir Khanafereh, son of Younes, 25 years old, single
  • Abdul Amir Mojadami, aged 32, married
  • Shahab  Abbasi, son of Ahmad, aged 26, single
  • Ghazi Abbasi, son of Ahmad, aged 30, single
The following men have been sentenced to three months imprisonment in Ardebil:
  • Jasem Moghaddam Payam, son of Saeed, aged 27
  • Sami Jadmawy Nejad, son of Aziz, aged 29, single
  • Hadi Albo Khanfar Nejad, son of Abdul Kheder, born in 1360, married
The British government has condemned the execution campaign against Ahwazi Arabs. In a strongly worded announcement following the death sentences announced in July, Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "Iran's continued, widespread persecution of ethnic minorities, human rights defenders and political prisoners is a disgrace and stands as a shameful indictment of Iran's leaders. The Iranian government should know that its systematic attempt to curtail the freedom of its citizens will not go unchallenged by the international community and only adds to its isolation. I call on Iran immediately to commute these death sentences, to stop torturing its citizens and to end the systematic persecution of its ethnic minorities."

The European ParliamentNobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi and leading international human rights organisations have voiced increasing alarm at the number of death sentences imposed and carried out by the government in recent months.

Shortly before their execution in June, three brothers - Taha Heidarian, Abbas Heidarian and Abdul-Rahman Heidarian and the friend Ali Sharifi secretly filmed an appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed calling for his intervention to halt the campaign. They vehemently denied the murder charges against them and detailed three months of torture, sometimes in the presence of the public prosecutor, in which they finally agreed to sign false confessions. They also voiced their opposition to terrorism and violence, saying their only interest was to protest against the persecution of their community.

Five others condemned to death following trials condemned as deeply unfair are Hadi Rashedi, Hashem Shabani, and Mohammad-Ali Amouri and two brothers Seyed Mokhtar Alboshokeh and Seyed Jaber Alboshokeh. According to Human Rights Watch, the five were arrested by security forces in February 2011. They have all been accused of belonging to a terrorist organisation and involvement in shootings that authorities say occurred in and around the town of Khalafabad in Khuzestan province in 2010. Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson stated that there was no evidence presented against the men and no transparency in the conviction and sentencing. Human rights groups such as Justice for Iran are calling for Iranian officials involved in the persecution of the country's Arab minority to be subject to international sanctions.

French Parliament Listens to Iran's Persecuted Ethnicities


Life after the Iranian regime was the topic of debate at an Iranian federalist conference at the French parliament this month.

The ground-breaking symposium was led by ethno-national parties representing the Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Balochis and Azerbaijanis who together comprise more than half Iran's population.

Historical change

Referring to the revolutionary fervour of the 'Arab Spring' of 2011, French Socialist MP Pouria Amirshahi told the conference that the Middle East was far more complex than portrayed in the international media. He stated that supporting the movement for change was a moral duty and had historical significance which is only just being understood.

Gilles Riaux, a senior researcher the Strategic Research Institute of French Military School, spoke on ‘the reconfiguring of relations between the centre and the periphery under the Islamic Republic’ in the context of ethnicity in Iran. He spoke about the rising strength of ethnic movements, while other issues such as women's rights had failed to lead revolutionary change in Iran. Mr Riaux emphasised that non-Persian nationalities and ethnic groups did not fully support or whole-heartedly participate in the 'Green Movement' as its leaders had failed to address their aspirations.

In his speech on ‘the evolution of Turkish-Iranian relations before and after the Arab Spring’, Professor Nuri Yesilyurt of Ankara University talked of the changing relationship between Turkey and Iran following a golden period of co-operation for a decade. As the relationship between the two countries has cooled, Turkey assumed the role of mediator between Sunni groups and Western powers during a recent series of ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings. Prod Yesilyurt claimed this would inevitably challenge Iran’s policy towards minorities in the region.

International importance of ethnicity

Veteran Kurdish leader Mustafa Hijri addressed the French Parliament
Kendal Nezan, President of the Kurdish Institute of Paris, reiterated the bias in the Western media towards covering issues related to Iran’s nuclear weapons, as opposed to more pressing concerns such as human rights atrocities against ethno-national groups.

Nasser Boladei, First Secretary of the Baluchistan People’s Party, reinforced Mr Nezan’s view by pointing out the failure to report on the death sentence of nine Baluchis by the Iranian regime earlier in September. He believes that both the Iranian national and the international media, including Iranian human rights organisations, would have initiated a solidarity campaign had the death sentences been handed out to Persians. He also commented in detail about the nature of poverty and deprivation among the Baluchis of Iran, concluding that the Iranian regime’s silencing of an ethnically diverse population is pushing the country to a political fate that could potentially be worse than Syria or Yugoslavia.

Hedayat Soltanzadeh, a leading member of the Democratic Federal Movement of Azerbaijan, highlighted the  discrimination against non-Persian peoples during humanitarian aid following the recent earthquake in Iranian Azerbaijan. He said the outcome of discrimination was far worse than any consequences of international intervention in Iran.

Persecution of Arabs is an Iranian sickness

Karim Abdian and Yousef Azizi Bani Torof
Dr Karim Abdian, representing the Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz, raised highlighted the failure of the Iranian regime to leverage the country's vast human and natural resources to tackle severe social and economic underdevelopment, the lack of freedom and democracy, perpetual corruption and injustice and the succession of dictatorships, both monarchist and theocratic. In a passionate plea, he compared the highly centralized Persian dominated nation-state of Iran with a misdiagnosed sick person who embodies the misery of its multinational state comprised of six major nationalities including Arabs, Baluchis, Kurds, Persians, Turks and Turkmen and other smaller ethnic groups. The fight for freedom and democracy will continue for as long as Arab identity is culturally and politically repressed in Iran

Dr Abdian further added that Ahwazi Arabs, who constitute about 10 percent of the population and live in an oil-rich region with 110bn barrels of oil reserves, have been put under political, cultural, social and economic subjugation for the past 87 years. These regimes have not only stripped the Arabs of Ahwaz of their basic human rights but have also treated them as second or even third class citizens in their own lands. The Ahwazi Arabs have endured one of the worst examples of brutal persecution and ethnic cleansing imaginable by the monarchist regimes of Pahlavis and the clerical regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Speaking on the right to autonomy, Yousef Azizi Bani Torof, Chairman of the Centre for Combatting Racism and Discrimination Against Arabs in Iran, pointed out the Islamic Republic’s outright rejection of the 12-point demands made by 6-7mn Ahwazi Arabs to the interim government of Mehdi Bazargan in 1979. He said that at the time, Ahwazi Arabs had demanded autonomy within the framework of the Iranian constitution. Given a chance, the Arab nation was willing to recognize and respect the Iranian constitution, but unfortunately the Ahwazi Arabs faced severe repression from General Ahmad Madani.

Highlighting the injustice, gross inequality and discrimination against the Ahwazi-Arabs, Mr Bani Torof drew attention to the main rivers such as Karoon and Dez that have been diverted to Persian provinces while Ahwazi Arabs suffer from drought and lack of clean drinking water. According to an UN survey, Ahwaz City has been declared as the most polluted city in the world. Besides, it is also the seat of cultural repression with the Islamic Republic engaged in a xenophobic drive to substitute the Arabic names of cities and streets with Persian names.

In the light of such basic human rights violation, Mr Bani Torof reiterated the political solution that has been presented by the diverse ethnic groups: the establishment of a federal system in Iran. Mr Bani Torof ended the session on a passionate note by stating that the anniversary of the 2005 Ahwazi Arab Intifada is honoured by many Ahwazis, who as a result are willing to endure detention, execution and unreported disappearance.

"Disappeared" Ahwazi man's body found dumped in the Karoon

The body of Abbas Sawari, arrested in April 2011, was found washed up on the shore of the River Karoon this week, according to Ahwazi human rights activists.

Sawari was involved in demonstrations in the Hay al-Thawra district of Ahwaz City. The protests commemorated the sixth anniversary of the Ahwazi Arab intifada and expressed solidarity with the Arab Spring uprisings.

Sawari's family received no further information on him following his arrest and there are no known criminal charges against him.

The cause of his death is as yet unknown. His death represents the seventh extra-judicial killing of an Ahwazi Arab detainee so far this year.

AHWAZI SURVEY: CALL FOR MILITARY INTERVENTION

The international community should consider multilateral military action to remove the Iranian regime, say Ahwazi Arab opposition groups in a survey of opinion conducted by the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network (AASN).

The survey of leading Ahwazi parties and activists found unanimous opposition to an Israeli strike on facilities related to the Iranian nuclear programme, but warned that sanctions will not be enough to encourage the regime to abide by its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in accordance with UN resolutions. Only multilateral military intervention aimed at overthrowing the oppressive, terrorist-sponsoring regime will prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons, say the respondents who urged Western governments to work with them towards democratisation.

The Ahwazi opposition is comprised of a number of disparate groups. Among those surveyed are the Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front (ADPF, a secessionist, secular socialist party), the Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz (DSPA, a federalist secular liberal party), the National Liberation Movement of Al-Ahwaz (NLMA, a secessionist party that advocates moderate Islam against what it sees as an extremist regime), the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) advocacy group and leading intellectuals and opinion-formers within the Ahwazi Diaspora. These groups have different ideas about the future of Al-Ahwaz or Arabistan, an autonomous Arab region until 1925. The central differences within the Ahwazi movement are whether to seek an independent state or greater autonomy within Iran and whether or not to wage an armed struggle.

The report remarks: "On the issue of the response to Iran’s nuclear programme, there are areas of consensus that the international community should heed. Living in an oil-rich region, the five-million strong impoverished and persecuted Ahwazi Arab minority will play a crucial role in regime change and they deserve to be heard."

SANCTIONS

There is broad support among Ahwazi groups for the toughest possible sanctions regime against the Iran government, including sanctions that would effectively shut down the Iranian economy to foreign trade. Ahwazi groups are unanimous in their opinion that sanctions have no negative impact on the welfare of Ahwazi Arabs, who are already suffering long-standing economic and social marginalisaton.

There is overwhelming support for the EU’s oil embargo, but also a belief that the international community should go further in using sanctions to penalize human rights abuse and facilitate democratic change.

The DSPA states that the current sanctions regime has had a “serious impact on the development of Iran’s nuclear programme” and says “we are pretty sure that the majority of political activists in Al-Ahwaz support sanctions against Tehran.” It adds that “the Ahwazis suffer deprivation rarely seen in the world and for decades have suffered economic sanctions imposed by the regime on their cultural, political, social and economic life.”

The ADPF is more sceptical about the effects of sanctions, stating that they “believe that sanctions won't work with this regime”. The party further adds that “we do not support any negotiation with this regime, which will prolong its life and make it stronger.”

The NLMA calls for a toughening of the sanctions regime, including a naval blockade to prevent all oil exports in order to bankrupt the Iranian government and destroy its ability to oppress its own people, particularly non-Persian ethnic groups. Such sanctions would wreck Iran’s nuclear programme and undermine its support for international terrorism, says the group.

In its list of demands, the NLMA effectively calls for a complete trade embargo with sanctions against any state trading with Iran. These sanctions should be backed up by military force, including a naval blockade of Iran’s sea ports and closure of all banking operations.

The NLMA acknowledges that “undoubtedly there are negative effects on the lives of the people of Ahwaz Arab due to these international sanctions, but our people will welcome them so long as they lead to the legitimate demand for an independent Ahwazi state including their national rights, working in accordance with international law […] and in the interest of international peace and security.”

Prominent Ahwazi journalist and commentator Hamed al-Kanani remarks that Ahwazi Arabs are unaffected in material terms by the sanctions due to their marginal status. While he supports the current sanctions, he says it has not been effective in preventing the development of the Iranian nuclear programme and on their own will not topple the regime just as sanctions failed to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. He adds that “the previous Iraqi regime was not overthrown by the Iraqis themselves. If the US and other Western countries were not [militarily] engaged, the regime would still be in power.”

BAFS criticizes the overwhelming emphasis on nuclear proliferation at the expense of human rights and good governance. It called for Western “investment” in Ahwazi Arab NGOs to build a stronger civil society that is better able to bring the regime to account.

MILITARY ACTION

The prospect of unilateral Israeli military action or strikes aimed at the nuclear sites is regarded with deep scepticism by Ahwazi groups. There is a consensus that unilateral action would be ineffective and that attacks by Israel tend to make its enemies stronger. Hamed al-Kannani points to the 2006 Lebanon War, which “made the terrorist group [Hezbollah] stronger than before.”

The NLMA believes any Israeli strike would be limited and would not lead to the toppling of the regime and therefore would have no positive impact on the liberation of Al-Ahwaz or other non-Persian peoples. It makes a parallel with the Israeli strike on Iraq’s Tammuz nuclear reactor in 1981, which had no impact on the regime itself. It also points out that an Israeli strike would simply escalate the security threats to Israel in the form of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories while Israel has no leverage to threaten the territorial sovereignty of Iran. Moreover, Israeli military action would “lead to a large public outcry in the Muslim world and Iran would be perceived as a hero, which would act in its favour.”

The DSPA shares this sentiment and states that an “Israeli strike would strengthen the regime politically as many Muslim countries in the area will find a religious motive to stand with the Iranian regime.” It believes that “if a military strike is the only solution to get rid of the Iranian regime then it would be better if it were carried out by NATO without Israeli involvement.”

The DSPA states that it would support a full invasion of Iran aimed at regime change in order to overthrow the oppressor of Ahwazi Arabs. The NLMA emphasizes that a decisive and quick war against the regime would be achievable simply by usurping Iranian control of Al-Ahwaz, which contains most of its oil production and therefore its main source of revenue. It believes that independence for Al-Ahwaz would establish peace in the Middle East and worldwide.

BAFS warns that military action comes with significant risks that should be thoroughly assessed along with careful planning of post-war scenarios. It points to the years of chaos following the invasion of Iraq due to an overly optimistic belief that a stable democratic system could be created from nothing and would be immune from corruption, terrorism and foreign intrigue.

Says BAFS: “Any risk assessment needs to be conducted with the involvement of a diversity of civil society groups in Iran. As they live in the most oil-rich and geopolitically sensitive area of Iran, Ahwazi Arabs should be central to any consultation over strategic military planning, particularly if action is aimed at regime change.

"Military action may be initially intended to take out sites involved in the nuclear programme and perhaps some command and control centres. However, any initial strike of any scale carries with it the potential to escalate into an all-out war that will include the unconventional methods Iran and its Hezbollah ally have mastered, including the use of terror cells in Arab and European states and elsewhere. As such, we urge Western military commanders to engage in consultation with Ahwazi human rights and opposition groups to tap their knowledge and support well ahead of any assault.”