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Iran: The Violence of a Free Zone - From Farmers to Slaves

The Iranian regime has stolen the land of thousands of indigenous Ahwazi Arab farmers located in the Arvand Free Zone (AFZ) and is now inviting them back as serfs.

The "moderate" President Hassan Rouhani's senior economic advisor Akbar Turkan spoke casually and romantically of the Iranian regime's anti-Arab ethnic cleansing programme on television this week. He urged citizens from around the country to buy AFZ land that has been forcibly acquired from Arab farmers by the regime and turn it into their personal gardens.

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.

 
Akbar Turkan: turning farmers into serfs

Ethnocide in a free zone

The AFZ has seen the mass expulsion of Ahwazi Arabs, the destruction of their villages and the creation of an exclusive military-industrial zone. In all, up to 500,000 indigenous Ahwazi Arabs are being displaced by the creation of a 5,000 square kilometres security zone along the left bank of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, of which the AFZ is just a part. Due to the international sanctions regime, investment in the zone has been lacklustre, but relaxations in sanctions are now drawing interest from China and there are plans for an Chinese-Iranian industrial zone in the AFZ.

"Free zones" throughout the world are often characterised by extreme violence and exempting authorities and investors of their responsibilities to the local population. Forced displacement, the waiving of labour rights, money laundering, environmental destruction, militarisation and grotesque tax-free profiteering are standard features of free zones across the world.
The Arvand Free Zone covers a large area of land between the cities of Mohammerah and Abadan

In its violence and the human catastrophe for the enrichment of Iran's rulers, the AFZ is on a par with the Serbian cleansing of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population. But it is merely a part of a long-standing plan by the Iranian regime to reduce the indigenous Arab to a third of the population of "Khuzestan" province, revealed in a letter by former Vice-President Mohammad-Ali Abtahi that was leaked in 2005, sparking the Ahwazi intifada.

The fascist dream

The humiliation instilled by the plunder and state robbery seen in the Arvand Free Zone is justified in terms of "economic development" and modernisation, but is rooted in national ethnic chauvinism that regards the indigenous inhabitants with contempt.

The ethnocide of Ahwazi Arabs goes back further than the current regime. It is the culmination of a national dream - a nightmare for the Arabs - that began with the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925 and remains central to the unquestioned prejudices that underpin national life.

A sense of national victimhood was cultivated and exploited by career soldier and military coup leader Reza Mirpanj who became the founder of his own Pahlavi dynasty (1925-79) and the inventor of modern Iranian nationalism. Economically and politically, the country was weak and on its knees. Persia was the first victim of the nascent Cold War between the West and Soviet communism. The Great Famine of 1917-19, which was largely the result of British and Russian intervention, wiped out a sizeable portion of the population of Persia and nearly destroyed the country.

The newly enthroned Reza Shah Pahlavi, backed by pseudo-academic scholars, sought to restore pride to a broken country. He adopted proto-fascist notions of racial supremacy that were already taking hold of Europe.

The Persian empire belatedly entered the modern era as "Iran", land of the Aryans, the official name established by the Pahlavi regime. Unfortunately for the autonomous region of Arabistan in the southwest of the Persian empire, the Arabs as non-Aryans were the chosen enemy in the new national story weaved by the Pahlavi regime.

What the nationalists could not find in ancient texts such as Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, which overflows with bilious hatred of Arabs, they forged. Those texts that contradicted national myths were destroyed. A famous example is the forged letter of Yazdgerd III, the last Sassanid emporer, to Caliph Omar". This violently anti-Arab screed circulates among Persian chauvinists in the same way as the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion still forms the basis of Antisemitism in the West.


 Persian monarchists rely on myth and forgery to justify hatred of Arabs

Portrayed as aliens and invaders, the indigenous Arabs lost control over the resources of their homeland. Sheikh Khazaal, the dynastic ruler of the emirate of Al-Mohammerah who presided over the establishment of Persia's oil industry, was deposed and his seat of power was renamed "Khorramshahr". Other place names were also Persianised, Arab tribal sheikhs lost power, farmers lost land and Arabistan became "Khuzestan", a place of plunder for whatever tyrant was ruling in Tehran, whether shah or mullah.

Khazaal and previous rulers of Arabistan have been virtually eradicated from history, their influence and importance destroyed as successive regimes have destroyed archives, literature, monuments and palaces.

The AFZ is a final assault on an indigenous population that has been subjected to 90 years of ethnocide. And it is a policy that is supported by both the regime and its self-proclaimed "opposition" - the hapless Green Movement and embittered monarchists, both of which are upheld by Western governments as agents of change.

 Ahwazi Arabs: pushed to the margins

Ahwazi Arabs are Iran's most restive and rebellious people
Once a relatively wealthy population, Ahwazi Arabs now live on the social, cultural, economic and political margins of Iranian national life, both in Iran and within the diaspora where racial chauvinism thrives. Ahwazi Arabs paid a massive price for the tragedy of the Great Famine, even though their farms supplied much of the grain that kept many Persians alive.

In spite of miseries they suffered in the Iran-Iraq War that was fought in their homeland, the Ahwazi Arabs remain reviled, distrusted or patronised by the ethnic Persian intelligentsia, both at home and abroad.

The silence of the ethnic Persian-dominated Iranian "opposition" over the AFZ reveals the superficiality of their human rights agenda. Any serious opposition movement needs to first confront the racist myths that support nationalist ideologies that are used as a ruse for the violent robbery of the Ahwazi Arab homeland's resources.

Pushed to the margins by successive regimes, oppressed Ahwazi Arabs are creating their own alternative narrative. A largely ignored struggle is now finding its feet within the story of contemporary Arab struggles against tyranny. Enslavement is being answered by a liberation movement that threatens to rock Iran. The unreformed chauvinism that sought to unify Iran after the tragedy of the Great Famine could, a century later, lead to Iran's extinction.

Daniel Brett
Economic and political analyst

Trial by Media, Death by Press TV


Article written by: Daniel Brett
 
The executions of Ahwazi Arab cultural activists Ali Chebeishat and Yasin (also known as Khaled) Mousawi in the past few days will add to the gruesome body count of executions in Iran, which are occurring at a rate of at least two a day under the "moderate" President Hassan Rouhani.

The hangings were carried out in secret and in defiance of appeals by UN Special Rapporteurs. Both faced
trial by media. UN human rights experts stated: "The accused were convicted either primarily or solely on the basis of a televised 'confession' which appeared on Iranian State TV in June 2013." The men were put on trial and sentenced in September 2013.

The "confessions" were later broadcast on Press TV in order to gain international support for the Iranian regime's slaughter of Ahwazi Arab cultural activists. The men were compelled to admit responsibility for the sabotage of gas pipelines by Ahwazi Arab rebels.

Far from being hardened terrorists, according to accounts by those who know them the Arab men have humble backgrounds. They sought to give Ahwazi Arab children educational opportunities that are often denied to members of the community. As members of the Al-Shabab (Youth) Cultural Institute of Shush, they were active in building schools in 11 villages in the Ahwaz region through donations with a focus on educating girls and celebrating Eid and Arabic folklore and culture. The organization was constantly threatened by the security services from the time it was established in 2004.

Former members of the cultural organization, who have fled Iran, tell me that Ali Chebeishat never went to school but had learned how to read and write in Arabic, while Yasin Mousawi only completed primary school. Living in a close-knit rural community where there are no secrets and little privacy, they deliberately avoided political activity. However, this did not stop the Iranian authorities taking interest in Arab cultural activities, which are regarded with distrust by a regime that fears ethnic uprisings in one of the world's most oil-rich regions.

The two family men were among nine members of the group who were were arrested in November 2012. Chebeishat was beaten and tortured in front of his sons while they were in the custody of the intelligence services.

In the Press TV broadcast, the men were forced to confess in front of their families, who in the face of massive intimidation were also made to testify that the men were involved in separatist groups. Relatives told me that the family were deceived into believing the film was being made as an appeal to Supreme Leader in order to secure a pardon. They feel they have been humiliated in front of the country and the world and made to share the guilt for crimes the men never committed, leading to social ostracisation within their small community. If they had known the film would be made public, they say that they would never have agreed to participating in the documentary, which showed young children watching their household heads confess to crimes they did not commit.

Press TV: A Tool of Torture and Humiliation

The cases of Chebeishat and Mousawi mirror those of five other men who were all members of the Al-Hewar Cultural Institute, two of whom were executed earlier this year: Hashem Shabani and Hadi Rashedi. According to Justice for Iran, Al-Hewar gave tuition to children and promoted cultural activities in the Khalafabad area. Press TV featured their forced confessions in a broadcast in December 2011.
They were made to admit they were involved in separatist bomb attacks and, following brain-washing by "dark forces", supported Ba'athism in Iraq. The cultural activists, who were all university educated, were also made to confess assistance from Hosni Mubarak and Muammer al-Qadafi, the former rulers of Egypt and Libya.

In a letter smuggled out of prison, Shabani wrote that he had written blogs and essays critical of the treatment of minorities in Iran, including "hideous crimes against Ahwazis perpetrated by the Iranian authorities, particularly arbitrary and unjust executions. Through this reporting, I was defending the legitimate right that every nation in this world should have which is the right to live freely with full civil rights. With all these miseries and tragedies, I have never used a weapon to fight these atrocious crimes except the pen."

The Iranian regime's execution campaign demonstrates that any form of Arab civic organisation in Iran is portrayed as terrorism, enabling it to impose the death penalty. Ahwazi Arab activists maintain this is part of the regime's campaign of ethnic cleansing against indigenous ethnic Arabs.

In spite of the ban on broadcasting in the UK over similar controversies, Press TV still operates from plush West London offices - albeit using a front company - where British MP George Galloway is filmed in his weekly talk show. British guests are either unaware of the torture confessions that routinely appear on the English language channel or have few moral scruples.

Human rights activists fear that in spite of its complicity in human rights abuse, Press TV may soon be back on the airwaves, broadcasting more forced confessions and propaganda at a time when President Rouhani is presiding over a bloodbath of political prisoners.

UNESCO Discusses Multilingualism in Iran for the First Time

Paris, France. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, hosted a conference on multilingualism and multilingual education in Iran on International Mother Language Day.
Representatives of NGOs, human rights organizations, civil society and political organizations belonging to non-Persian nationalities in Iran met with educational and linguistic specialists at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on February 21, on the occasion of International Mother Language Day 2014. UNESCO hosted this event on the right to multilingualism in Iran, where over two-thirds of the population has a mother tongue other than Persian.

Representatives of non-Persian nationalities--Arabs, Balochi, Kurds and Turks--each addressed the problem of the inability to use and study their native languages in Iran. They protested that their languages are banned in the country’s schools, Iran’s education system and in social media.

Maud Vanwalleghem, UNPO Program Manager, attended the conference and highlighted the case of non-Persian languages in Iran and called for further support and solidarity. UNESCO officials also insisted that all indigenous peoples in Iran have the right to education, access to social media and to practice their cultures in their native languages. 

Irmgarda Kasinskaite-Buddeberg, Programme Specialist in the Knowledge Societies Division, and Serena Heckler, Small Islands & Indigenous Knowledge Section, both showed their sympathy and stated the necessity of education in one’s mother language.  They registered the concerns of delegates and received their reports.

Nasser Boladai, Spokesperson of Baluchi people, Ayda Karimli, South Azerbaijan director of communication, and Amir Saedi from Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation attended. Each participant presented the issue of mother languages in their respective areas.
Boladai spoke about the suffering of Balochi people as the Iranian regime disallows Balochi children to be educated in their mother language, the Balochi language.

Saedi presented a report on the denial of the Ahwazi-Arab people’s right to education in their Arabic mother tongue. He showed recent statistics about the dropout rates among Ahwazi-Arab children in the Iranian education system. The rate of illiteracy among Ahwazi Arabs is four times the national average in Iran. Saedi also discussed the fact that the right of education in one’s mother language is an essential human right and that the Iranian government refuses to implement Article 15 of the Iranian constitution which states that local non-Persian languages are allowed.

Non-Persian nationalities, who make up at least half, and by some accounts, two thirds of the Iranian population, have intensified their demands for education in their mother languages despite the objection of the “Institute of the Literature and Persian Language”, a government sponsored institution that claims that education in non-Persian languages weakens the Persian language and damages the so-called territorial integrity. This Institute also claims that the demand for mother languages is a foreign “conspiracy” which will lead to the country's break-up along ethnic lines.

The Azeri-Turkish activist, Ayda Karimli, discussed the suffering of Turkish-speaking Iranians who constitute about a third of the population. She said that according to Hajbabaei, the Iranian former Minister of Education, about 70% of students in Iran have a non-Persian mother language, and yet, the Persian language is the only sanctioned language and the sole declared official language of Iran.

Rouhani, the newly elected president, claimed during his presidential campaign that he will address the fact that the central government denies the basic right of education to non-Persian students, but he has never implemented his promises, Karimli said.