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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.