Ethnic cleansing and oppression practices of Iranian regime against Ahwazi Arab villages
Since the former eras of Pahlavi dynasty until the emergence of the Islamic Republic regime we have seen that the Arab villages of Ahwaz region in the south and south west of
Iran have always been subjected to ethnic cleansing policies and systematically dragged into destruction. This report focuses on gruesome evidence of the ethnic cleansing practices carried out by the subsequent Iranian regimes against the Ahwazi Arab villages, which are mostly located on the border strip with Iraq. The crimes of Village destruction, house demolitions, destruction of farmland and palm groves, land confiscation. Access restrictions to natural resources are perpetrated by the Iranian regime to eradicate the Ahwazi Arab people from their historic lands.
Physical removal of rural areas by development projects based on security approach
Right after Iran’s dominance on Ahwaz region in 1925, various ethnic policies under the veil of the so-called development projects had been implemented in most of Ahwazi Arab residential and arable agricultural areas. Until end of World War II, the projects had been focused on the development of oil installations such as Abadan refinery and other oil facilities in the southern and northern parts of Ahwaz region. In 1950s, several so-called development economic plans had been set up in the Arab rural residential areas around Susa and Shushtar cities in which dozens of villages by the decision of the central government were completely demolished .In addition, vast agricultural lands belong to the indigenous Arab farmers were forcibly confiscated in order to establish joint agro-industrial projects like sugarcane plantations projects with collaboration with foreigners investors as the project literally named “Haft Tappeh(seven hill) Sugarcane Agro-Industry Co” , sugar factory, and paper mill. Under threat and intimidation by security forces the Arab villagers evacuated their homes reluctantly and were resettled in settlements, which had been constructed for accommodating Persian settlers. The Persian settlers arrived in the region to work in the above-mentioned projects; this paved the way for the central government to implement the first stage demolition of Arabic villages.
The Arab villagers were resettled in the settlement with forcible unwanted and incompatible harmony with those occupying Persian settlers who were recruited by the central government as workers and employees for the newly established projects. In fact, the Pahlavi regime was viewing the existence of Arab villagers as an obstacle for its colonial expansionist ambitions thus was attempting gradually and systematically to eradicate the social, cultural fabric of the Arab villagers. Therefore, after the destruction of many villages, the Arab villagers had been transferred to the settlements and resettled in such a poor social and economic areas deprived of having access to any basic services. While on the other hand all the services and amenities were provided for the Persian settlers. The Arab villagers were at a disadvantage with the Persian settlers because they were not able to speak the Persian language.
Also the Arab villager had faced another barrier; they could not share their culture or heritage with the Persian Settlers. The Arab population of that area found themselves in an unfair situation, as they had to work with low wages besides Persian settlers who were better off economically and knew Persian. The regime was partly successful in getting rid of the independent social and economic structure of Arab villagers who were used to at one time live in their homeland peacefully and without interference. They had abundant blessings of water, various crops, livestock, and were economically stable. The Pahlavi regime was attempting to spread the Persian language and Persian culture among Arab people as a systematic strategy to impose Persian language on Arab villagers in the settlements to assimilate the Arabic identity and culture of the Arab villagers. The regime assimilation policies led to the destruction of fabric identity and linguistic assimilation of Arab people.
Physical siege of rural areas
Physical siege of rural areas was a strategy which has obviously been implemented as the sugar cane plantations projects installed in both east and west part of Shoaybiyeh rural districts and in both sides of Karoon’s River banks along the roads between Ahwaz – Mohamerah and Ahwaz-Abadan. The establishment of Khomeini Sugarcane Project in the Shoaybiyeh district has resulted in the siege of dozens of villages by the Sugarcane plantations as the daily commuting of Arab people with Ahwaz and Shushtar cities was disrupted. This means that the residents of villages are stranded and isolated by Sugarcane plantations. In order for them to reach the main roads that lead to Ahwaz and Shushtar cities they have to walk about 5 to 10 kilometer along the sugar cane plantations.
Lacks of basic infrastructures such as bridges and roads have caused some rural areas to be isolated and unreachable especially during rainy seasons. For instance, Shoaybiyeh rural districts are situated between the two rivers of Karoon and Dez. When the local people want to go to Ahwaz city, at first they need to go to Shushtar city to reach the road leading to Ahwaz. In recent years, due to the absence of bridge between the two rivers and long and uneven muddy routes many villagers (pregnant women due to internal bleeding and men with heart diseases) have lost their lives because of their delayed arrival to urgent medical assistance. This is a huge problem for many of the remaining villages which are resisting forcible displacement as their life has become harder than ever. They have been deprived of communication, transport facilities, facing racial discrimination, high unemployment, and many other deprivations that make their life a daily struggle.
Confiscation of agriculture lands owned by the villages
After the end of the war between Iran and Iraq which lasted from September 1980 to August 1988, most of Ahwazi cities particularly Al-Mohamerah had been destroyed. The entire Arab indigenous population have been displaced, and moved to Iranian provinces like Isfahan, Fars and other provinces. Despite wide infrastructure destruction of Ahwazi cities, Iranian regime has done nothing to reconstruct the cities. In return, they increased their ethnic cleansing policies against the rest of Ahwazi areas which survived the war.
During Hashem Rafsanjani presidency several so-called national development projects have been approved by the Iranian regime parliament to be established in Ahwaz region especially along Karoon River. The large Sugar Cane plantations projects were placed directly on the lands along rivers that have been homes of the Arab people after the Iranian regime forcibly confiscated their lands stretched from Shushtar to Al-Mohamerah city which estimated 200,000-250,000 Arab people were being displaced from their villages.
There are many Ahwazi Arab villages whose rural lives have completely been uprooted through the forcible confiscation of their arable lands by the aforesaid projects. It does not make sense for the regime to stop confiscating land from Ahwazi Arabs who owned the land, and had been living on it for centuries. In recent years it was typical as the regime simply declared the Ahwazi lands as state land for constructing military bases, development projects, or turning it over to Persian settlers.
Since 1990 and until this day the continued land confiscations of villages extended from Shush to Abadan. The Arab villagers which most of their lands were subjected to the expropriation not only have lost their lands but also it meant loss of their agriculture and lifestyle where they had to undergo such a wretched economic and social life transformation. Also their mass exodus to shanty areas around cities made them suffer under severe poverty and deprivation.
In contrast to the landless Ahwazi Arab villagers, the regime granted the confiscated lands to the Persian settlers. The settlements, which have been built on the confiscated lands, enjoy a high standard of living, modern infrastructure, advanced educational and cultural institutions, green areas, benefits, and other numerous services, and many well-equipped institutions designed to attract Persian families to the settlement. There have been ongoing systematic advertising campaigns related to favorable mortgage terms and inexpensive accommodations to attract Persian people to settle in these settlements.
In the past few months, the Iranian government approved a program under the name of “free agricultural zone”. This project will lead to the confiscation of five hundred and fifty thousand hectares of agricultural lands and recruitment of non-Arabs to work in it. Under the pretext of the project, usurping of agricultural lands extend from far north of Ahwaz in Mosian and end to Ras Albahr (Sarbandar city). The Iranian government announced that for this project, an annual enormous budget estimated at more than two billion and four hundred and eighty-three million dollars has been allocated. In addition, the Iranian- Chinese joint projects will fund this project for more than six hundred and thirteen million dollars. It is said that the north of Ahwaz produces annually fourteen and a half million tons of various agricultural crops including one million tons of wheat, but in the recent period, the Arab farmers are facing a lot of problems because of obstruction by the government projects which intended to seize their lands under flimsy excuses and grant it to the Persian settlers.
Government’s floods policy
In an interview with the Arab farmers who are residing near the bank of Karoon River along the road between Ahwaz – Mohamerah, they said that they are no longer farmers because their agricultural lands were confiscated by the Amir Kabir sugar cane project. Some farmers added that after the war, the regime is opening the dam’s gates deliberately so their homes can be flooded. The farmer’s agricultural lands were submerged several times which led to the demolition of infrastructure of their villages, and the soil erosion of fertile lands facilitating the displacement of Arab people. Other Arab villagers complained that during the rainy season due to absence of effective flood defenses the Karoon River had burst its banks often, and heavy floods hit their villages and destroyed their crops.
People said that for many times they have demanded the government officials to take appropriate measures to deal with the risk of flooding. However, the official stated that they could not cope with water that falls in heavy downpours. In a mocking manner they said that your ancestors should not have built their homes on flood plains, and now you are paying the price and have to go somewhere else.
According to Jahanpur Memariyan, the director of the agriculture bank in Ahwaz, the maximum damage of farming lands as a result of heavy rainfall in 2013 exceeded more than 600,000 hectares of arable lands in the districts of Ahwaz. Please watch the below link:
He also added that the agriculture bank is unable to pay compensation as a relief to more than 50 percent of the Arab farmers who have been exposed to heavy losses, in spite of agriculture insurance contract in the terms of loss that those poor farmers had with the agriculture bank.
The recent torrential rain fell on the arable lands in Ahwaz for about 24 hours without interruption, and had badly destroyed an estimated 600,000 hectares of Ahwazi Arab farmlands. Agriculture in Ahwaz is vulnerable to both surface and groundwater flooding, and is particularly vulnerable in the summer period when crops are nearing harvest and grassland for livestock is most productive.
According to figures provided by the district of agriculture department, soil erosion has annually occurred over 25,000 hectares of fertile lands in Ahwaz due to the incessant rain, along with floods and the overflowing of rivers that submerge the farmlands. The occupied Iran’s officials have not taken any remedial actions like building flood defenses to save the Ahwazi lands from more waste and damage in order to restrict the circle force on Ahwazi Arabs farmers. This would force them to abandon their lands and look for other alternatives to make a living. Therefor the occupied officials confiscate the lands to construct more Persian settlements to bring Persian settlers to change the demography of the indigenous of Ahwazi Arab population, and to turn them into a minority on their lands.
Depriving Arab farmers of irrigation system
While most of villages are close to the rivers, their farm lands are deprived of having access to irrigation system remained dependent on rainy season however in the current five years the Arab farmers were faced with massive setbacks due to lack of rainfall and long-term drought. For overcoming the problem, the local people without receiving any support from the government have tried desperately to dig irrigation canals from the rivers but they failed due to lack of adequate expertise and excavating machines. This was a part of regime’s policy to force Arab farmers to give up from their lands. Therefore, the farmers would have to sell their lands to Persian settlers at the lowest prices.
After a while, the Arab farmers look at their lands with deep regret as the government is assisting the Persian settlers in developing and reviving the lands by providing them with advanced engineering irrigation system, effective fertilizer materials, and agricultural devices. The lack of attention to the Ahwaz Arabs problems particularly those who live in rural areas is a planned discriminatory policy aimed to exert more pressure on rural people to abandon their own lands which paves the way for the regime to confiscate it.
Drying up rivers and water pollution
The great danger that threatens the whole existence of Ahwazi Arab villagers is the drying up of the Ahwazi Rivers by the excessive construction of dams and under way water diversion projects mainly from Karoon and karkha Rivers.
The water from these rivers gets pumped into the central Persian regions like Isfahan, Yazd and Ghom. Despite the drinking water crisis in Ahwaz it is estimated that 6 billion cubic meters of water will be transferred from Ahwazi Rivers in order to provide drinking water and irrigation supply for reviving agriculture lands in the regions of the central plateau of Iran.
Meanwhile, the Ahwaz region’s supply of water is significantly dwindling due to the over-pumping of water from rivers to other parts of Iran. Mismanagement of water resources and pollution are also major contributors. In the past few years, due to the acute declining of the river’s water levels the authorities of Water and Agriculture Department constantly prevented the Arab farmers from having irrigation for their land; and in other areas they have increased the water tariffs to triple for each hectare of agriculture land.
Discharging a high proportion of saline effluents and wastewater from the sugar cane projects into the rivers has exacerbated the situation by causing high salinity into the water of rivers that have seeped into the agricultural lands, which were irrigating from the rivers. Consequently, it has decreased the fertility of Ahwazi agricultural lands and there is a significant decline in the rate of agricultural productivity.
In this regard, based on official reports the rate of wheat production in 2013 has decreased significantly in comparison with the previous years. Due to the severe water pollution, high water salinity and shortage of water’s Karoon and Karkha Rivers millions of palm trees belong to villages of Mohamerah, Abadan and Mahshor which are adjacent to the Karkha and Karoon Rivers have been destroyed. This is a looming environmental crisis threatening the existence of the villages. In the past, the Ahwazi Rivers were flowing into wetlands like Hawr Al-Azim, but the drying rivers have caused half of Hawr Al-Azim wetland which is situated in the west of Ahwaz region on border strip with Iraq to be totally destroyed.
The destruction of Hawr Al-Azim wetland due to water scarcity and oil drilling projects that caused oil leaking has adverse impacts on the economic life of rural people who were inhabited around the wetland because they were economically dependent on the natural resources like fishing and hunting migratory birds of the wetlands. As a result, dozens of villages, which were next to the wetland, have completely disappeared because its Arab people forcibly relocated to other places to find an economic source for living.
The climate change is getting worse and worse as the drought of Hawr Al-Azim caused suffocating sandstorms hit all of Ahwaz region and degradation of ecosystem due to the dryness of the wetlands brought about destructive and massive dust storms. The Ahwazi villagers, which were inhabited around the wetlands, had to move to other places because the dried wetlands were the primary source of the sandstorms exposing their lives to serious risks.
Lack of access to clean drinking water of villages
According to the Islamic Republic governmental agencies, around 1100 villages are deprived of having access to clean drinking water in Ahwaz region. Over 50 villages around Susa city with approximately 20 thousand people are deprived of having water pipe system, and to carry the required water to their homes, men and women of these thirsty villages have to travel to distant areas in order to get access to potable water while they are located near the “Dez River” which had high water level. However, there are also many villages whose living condition remained miserable and have to drink untreated water from polluted rivers, streams, and small muddy ponds.
Please watch the below video:
One rural woman of Susa who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity said briefly that “there is absolutely no supply of potable water available for us”. She said; “everyone let us down, nobody cares about us, we are forgotten people, it seems that we are not human being in the eyes of government authorities”. As her tears begun to roll down her face, she went on; “what should I tell you, where should, for those people who are not familiar with our sufferings maybe it is hard for them to believe how is it like for us to live without access to water, while we are resided near Dez and Shavor rivers. Our miseries are obvious come and see; we are deliberately neglected by government”.
She indicated that most of rural women are suffering from chronic headache as they walk a few kilometers to reach clean water. Therefore, they have to carry water on their heads with huge pots; but some of women are a little bit luckier because their families have vehicles like a tractor to bring water to their house. She added that Arab villagers often suffer from deadly gastrointestinal diseases, and the children suffer more than others from drinking unsafe water.
According to official statistics, there are 4015 villages in Ahwaz region; only 2917 villages have access to drinking water, and 1098 do not have access to clean water. The rivers near these villages are too polluted to provide drinking water for the people. Also the people of these villages are unable to obtain clean water by water tankers from urban governmental centers due to high cost of water delivery. These problems have made the Arab villagers to find other methods of getting water such as digging water wells so they can have access to groundwater in order to supply their agricultural lands and their livestock. Digging wells is a difficult task for the villagers.
Lack of basic amenities services (electricity, drinking clean water and gas for cooking and heating, and communication devices) in most Ahwazi Arab rural areas:
In this issue, the report aims to shed light on health, sanitation condition, and essential/basic amenity services in the Ahwazi village known as “Al-Nadafiya”. The village has a population of more than one thousand Arab citizen who reside in “Mollathani County” 25 km away from Ahwaz city. The people of the village are suffering from deep, long, rooted poverty, and marginalization as they are deliberately deprived of having basic amenities services like electricity, drinking clean water, gas for cooking, heating, and communication devices.
In interviews with the residents about their daily sufferings, they said “our miseries are as clear as day but everyone let us down, everyone turned a blind eye to what is happening to us”. An old woman who was sitting on a shabby bench said “for years we are going through very severe distressing situation as we have no domestic gas pipeline network, no sewage system, with frequent interruptions in electricity and water”.
Another young Arab man said “the absence of domestic gas network caused us to suffer seriously during winter when the temperature is below freezing which driven us to chop wood for cooking and heating our homes.” He added “the flowing untreated waste water into the streets caused deadly diseases like inflammatory bowel disease outbreaks among children. But in summer season, our sufferings get worse and worse due to the regular power cut as temperature exceeds 55 degree. In addition, our livestock are subjected to serious losses; most of our new-born lambs die because of heat and freezing temperatures.” He said “the sufferings of Arab people here are beyond description but I think our situation resemble African people, because how is it possible to have a prosper life without having a source of income or employment. Ninety percent of Ahwazi Arab people in rural areas are suffering from poverty and weak income. They are overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture and fishing for their food but these people have been left with no alternative source of income. After the regime officials with very low compensation forcibly confiscated their entire arable lands by the east bank of Karoon River. As a result, they are vulnerable to crisis, and many of them migrated to other cities seeking jobs along with living in shanty areas”.
For completing our report, we went to have an interview with the village women to ask them about their situation. One young pregnant woman said, “Most of the women and children are suffering from severe chronic malnutrition and 90 percent of Arab pregnant women have iron deficiency. Their children are often born underweight as a result of inadequate nutrition before and during pregnancy”. She added, “They do not have access to health or medical centers, and have to travel to distant areas in order for them to receive treatment”. Please watch the pictorial report on Al-Nadafiya village in the following link:
Deliberate neglect of rural school infrastructures especially in Susa rural areas
The schools in Susa villages are suffering from deliberate neglect by the regime officials where those schools are no longer fit for use. The parents are worried that the roof could collapse due to leaky celling during the rainy season. One Ahwazi Arab female teacher who asked to remain unknown said that “the age of many schools in and around Susa city are more than forty years old and we have not received any attention from the officials for rebuilding and repairing the infrastructure of these schools. Nobody takes responsibility for highlighting this serious problem while our children are the ones paying the price as last year the roof of one classroom has collapsed during the rainy season forcing the students to evacuate the classrooms, and stay at homes for a long period. They waited for the reconstruction of their school, and still we do not know when we will have a safe and permanent building to teach in”.
In another interview with a local resident located in an outskirt of Susa city called Khazraj, “many of the schools in rural areas need repair and reconstruction, and there are a lot of villages that are deprived of having schools. Arab students are facing difficulties and challenges that push them to travel every day to long –distances. They have to go to schools of neighboring villages to save themselves from illiteracy”, he said.
There is a Need to mention that Susa city has the highest number of rural areas which suffer from lack of basic services like educational facilities. Statistics indicate that there are more than 650 thousand Ahwazi Arab Illiterates but the real numbers may be larger than the mentioned figure.
Neglecting landmines and other war legacies in rural areas
During the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian military forcibly evicted Ahwazi Arabs from their villages, which were located along the border strip with Iraq. The inhabitants of these Ahwazi Arab villages, which mostly located on the border strip with Iraq, have not been able to return to their villages so far due to landmines and explosive remnants of war which puncture their lands. Over 26 years after the of war, the Iranian regime still keeps the Arab rural areas neglected intentionally without any concrete action to clean the area from mines so that the inhabitant cannot return to their homes. The Iranian regime not only has not taken any step to clean up the Ahwaz region from unexploded bombs and mines but instead they deployed the land-mines as war against Arab local people to fulfill their agenda in confiscating the lands of Ahwazi Arabs which are on border strip.
In the recent months, the regime officials have prevented a large number of Ahwazi Arab villagers from returning to their own villages around Al-Mohamerah city. These people were internally displaced when they were driven from their villages during the war. The Ahwazi Arabs have been insisting to settle in their villages once again which are situated in a war-stricken town called “Shalamcheh”.
The local people have told that they came to their villages in order to plant their agricultural lands, which were abandoned against their will over 26 years ago during the Iran-Iraq war.
The local villagers said that “they are facing two predicaments for reviving their lands including, the deliberate neglect of regime policy which is clearly reluctant in removing the mines from their lands, and the scarcity of water due to excessive diversion of water ‘rivers from their main flow and redirecting it to Persian regions like Isfahan, Yazd provinces”. The local Arab people are wondering about the goals and intentions of the regime officials, who refrain from demining and cleaning the lands from mines and other legacies’ war. At the same time, they are threatening and placing pressures on Arabs to evacuate and sell their lands to regime’s institutions with very cheap prices.
It is noteworthy that the agricultural arable lands in Shalamcheh used to be one of the most exporters of dates, palm, and other crops; but after the Iran-Iraq war, many of palm groves had been destroyed forever, and in return were planted with a lot of land mines. The regime has adequate tools to remove the land mines; the Iranian regime keeps this region neglected intentionally without any serious action to clean the area from mines, which are left over 26 years after of war between Iraq-Iran.
In fact, the Iranian regime not only has not taken any steps to clean up the Ahwaz region from unexploded bombs and mines but instead they deployed the land-mines as a weapon against the local Arabs to fulfill their vicious ethnic cleansing policy in confiscating and grabbing the Ahwazis’s lands which goes in line with changing the demographic structure of Ahwaz region.
Creation of the military-industrial Arvand Free Zone (AFZ) at borderline
Since 2005 due to the creation of the military-industrial Arvand Free Zone (AFZ) project it has been estimated that up to 500,000 Ahwazi Arab villagers have forcibly been displaced, their arable farmlands, and Palm groves have been confiscated in the south of Ahwaz region around predominantly Arab cities of Al-Mohamerah (Khoramshahr), Abadan, Salbukh Island and Ghosbah (Arvand Kanar). The project also has made a large number of villages in the region face the threat of eviction of their home and land.
In this report there was a detailed coverage about the condition of the Ahwazi people whose population stands eight million. These people were living peacefully on their land until Reza Pahlavi arrived and had a plan in mind. His plan was to change the demographics of the Ahwaz region, remove the Arab people from the land and bring Persian settlers to take over the land. The Ahwazi people lost most of their land and every day more land is being confiscated and given to the Persian settlers in the area. The Arabs do not have clean water, even though there are many rivers in Ahwaz like Karoon and Dez, they are being dried up and the water is moved to Persian areas. The Arabs are left drinking polluted water, which makes them very sick. The Iranian regime oppresses the Arabs by making it difficult to get employment, get an education, or live with dignity. The Persian settlers constantly humiliate Arabs. This is a vivid manifestation of deliberate plan of ethnic cleansing to exterminate the Arabic identity of Ahwaz region by the decision-makers of murder and terrorist cleric regime that seems will never stop its injustices and tyrannical practices against Ahwazi Arab people. But rather, its inhuman crimes are still ongoing which include forcible requisitioning of arable lands belong to Arab farmers and awarding them to the non-Arab settlers.
Written By Mehdi Hashemi and Rahim Hamid
Ahwazi Centre for Human Rights