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Posts tagged ‘Ahwaz Land of Arabistan’

The Iranian government is killing Al Ahwaz’s environment

Yasser Assadi

Monday 3 July 2017

Many Ahwazis – Arab inhabitants who mostly live in southern Iran’s Khuzestan Province – believe that, over the course of nearly a century, the state intentionally neglected their lands, turning them into a desert and resulting in giant sand storms that have covered their skies and killed 2,000 locals from related illnesses in recent years.

It was in 1908 that oil was discovered in the area. In 1925, Reza Khan, the Shah of Iran, invaded what was then called the emirate of Al-Ahwaz, overthrowing the Arab ruler of the region and annexed the 330,000 square-kilometer area in 1934. The lands were confiscated by the state from their original Arab owners and then transferred to the government.

Since then, the state has systematically abandoned the land and people of the area, leading the fertile land to become a small desert and a source of pollution in the region.

These days, the drinking water delivered to homes in Al-Ahwaz city is so dirty and brown in color and the cost of repairing dated water infrastructure beyond the financial capabilities of the province, residents joke that they don’t drink water. They drink chocolate milkshake.

For Ahwazis, this is just one aspect of what they feel is widespread racism. Despite the fact that they make up the majority of those living in the province, they are often unable to get jobs because employers discriminate against Ahwazi candidates.

While the state builds first-class living facilities in the province for Persian newcomers, the poverty levels in Khuzestan remain among the highest in any province in Iran, despite the existence of oil, gas and other lucrative national resources.

So in the eyes of the Ahwazis, the discovery of oil and these other resources has been no less than a scourge and an affliction that has resulted in the occupation and environmental degradation of the lands they inherited from their ancestors.

Dusty, smoky skies

Today, the Al-Ahwaz city is ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world.

According to government reports, around 40 percent of gas which is extracted alongside oil in the province and could be used as an energy resource is actually burned off. This causes the emission of millions of tons of carbon dioxide gas in the air each year, further contributing to the air and environmental pollution already in Ahwaz as a result of the sand and dust in the air from desertification.

The Iranian regime appears to be concentrating solely on the process of extracting oil for income. Despite repeated appeals from the region’s parliamentary delegates, the Iranian regime has not even considered allocating a small percentage of the oil income made in the area to remedy the environment or build hospitals and other health institutions for the region.

In a remarkable speech last year, Ahwaz’s interim Friday prayers leader, Ayatollah Ali Heydari, warned international oil companies of excessive oil exploration in the province pointing out that they could endanger the Hor-El-Howayzeh wetlands.

He also said that excessive activity could create unprecedented security challenges in the area by triggering Ahwazi anger and confrontations with the state. It could even attract the involvement of neighboring countries who want to interfere to defend the Ahwazi.

Toxins dumped, fields burned

Oil extraction is not the only source of environmental damage in Ahwaz. The production of sugar cane in the region – which requires massive amounts of water and produces hazardous toxins when it is refined – has also harmed Alahwaz’s environment.

Not only are massive amounts of water from the Karoun River, the main source of drinking and irrigation water in the region, used in the process, but also the substances created in the refinery process are poured into the river. And the sugar cane companies set fire to the fields during harvest season, further threatening air quality and the ecosystem.

This industry, according to experts, is not economically viable for the government or the people of the region, but is purely designed to change the demographic balance of the region’s population, allowing the state to steal more Arab land.

By law, the state is allowed to take ownership of the land if resources are discovered. Owners are given two weeks notice to go to the state registry office and hand over their deeds. The state claims it will buy lands according to market value, but that rarely happens. Anyone who stands against this process is considered to be standing against the government and is heavily penalized.

The idea behind this policy goes back to the period of Mohammad Reza Shah, but it couldn’t be fully implemented at that time because of the internal instability and the eruption of the revolution. But eventually, it was implemented in 1988 by top-ranking politicians of the regime like Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president.

“The sugar cane project has had devastating effects on air pollution in the towns of Ahwaz and Al-Falahiya (Shadegan in Farsi) and their surrounding villages,” said Jawad Kazem Nasab, an Ahwaz city delegate in the Iranian parliament.

He added that, “the previous Iranian government had promised people of the region that it will take all measures and international standards to address these environmental risks and the collateral damage caused to the livelihood of the inhabitants of these areas”.

“However, as the delegate later confirmed, the sugar cane industry burnt its plants for economic purposes, which eventually caused even more air pollution in the region and left the lives of residents of the villages adjacent to these plantations under serious threat.”

Even the head of the environmental protection department in the province, Sayed Amid Hajti, reportedly said recently that “the oil and petrochemicals, sugar cane and other major industries in the region did not positively contribute to the lives of the people of the region, but instead increased the proportion of pollution in the air and environment”.

Dried up marshes

As a result of both the oil and sugar cane production in the region, the marshes of Hawr al-Howeyzeh and Hor al-Falahiya – which were used for fishing, wildlife conservation and helped reduce dust pollution – dried out over the past decade.

Once the marshes dried out, large sandstorms regularly occurred, disrupting the lives of people at their homes and at work and, according to some experts, causing a major increase in cases of lung infections and cancer.

Even Ahmed Reza Lahijganzadeh, the region’s environment department chief, revealed that the proportion of air pollutants is 66 times above the hazardous threshold.

“Until 12 years ago, the phenomenon of sandstorm did not exist and it came after the drying of the marshes for the purpose of oil,” said Kordawani, professor and director of the UN’s Anti-Desertification Organization.

In an interview with Tasnim New Agency, Qasim Saadi, another Ahwazi Arab MP representing Al-Khafajiyeh (Susangerd in Persian) in the Iranian parliament, criticized government policies toward the Alahwaz region by saying they are deliberate and aimed against Ahwazi Arabs. He accused the energy and agricultural ministers of staying silent about the impact of the policies.

Letting the world know

In the absence of powerful laws to protect civilians in Iran and under an autocratic system, most ethnic groups in the country are exposed to systematic discrimination and persecution. The Iranian regime should respect its own people, take its international obligations seriously and avoid violating the rights of its own people.

Although the regime repressed the media and limited correspondents only to the capital or one or two Persian cities, social media and technology has allowed us to share what is happening and let the world know.

Ahwazi Arabs would like to know that the international community will take a stance and stop the Iranian regime from committing human rights abuses against them. Ignoring or neglecting people’s demands will only fuel their confrontation with the state and lead to dangerous escalation.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/iranian-government-ruined-my-region-s-air-and-water-because-it-s-racist-681919641.

The moral courage of an Arab boy

Friday, November 08, 2013

It was not a normal school day for Ahwazi Arab schoolboy Abbas Haidari. Dressed in traditional Arab clothing, common throughout the Arabian Gulf, nine year old Abbas made his way to school in Ahwaz and stepped into a controversy that challenged endemic anti-Arab racism in Iran.

Wearing traditional Arabic clothing at school or in the office is effectively banned in Iran, a country where racial hatred of Arabs runs deep. For an Arab to “assimilate”, even though they are indigenous to Ahwaz, he or she has to deny their traditions and heritage, although this is often insufficient to counter discrimination.

But a schoolboy decided to take a stand, proudly wearing the Arabic dishdasha and keffiyeh that made him stand out in a sea of blue uniforms as he queued for his class at Shahrak-Ahwaz. The brave yet peaceful act of defiance against a racist regime prompted the authorities to ban him from school.

As a result, Abbas has become a folk hero for many Ahwazi Arabs, prompting many to question and openly challenge social customs that effectively ban traditional costume. He takes inspiration from his mother, whose Arabic poem “Silent Divan” was published earlier in the year to wide acclaim within the Ahwazi Arab community.

While Article 15 of the Iranian constitution guarantees education in the mother tongue, there are no Arabic language schools in the Ahwaz region, ensuring that Arabs are second-class citizens in their own land. Arab students are often humiliated and abused at school, including being whipped in front of their schoolmates. Successive administrations have courted Ahwazi Arab support by pledging to implement the constitution, but there has been no effort to address the issue. This failure means that Arabs are often illiterate in their native tongue, yet struggle to learn in Persian, a language that is not their own.

Some educated Ahwazi Arabs have attempted to help impoverished youths learn Arabic through informal study groups, but this has proven dangerous with several Arabic teachers facing imprisonment and even execution. They include members of the Arabic civic group, Al-Hewar (Dialogue), who face imminent execution. Independent organizations seeking to celebrate Arabic culture are deemed “separatist” by the regime and banned.

Resulting low educational attainment is reinforcing discrimination and contributing to high levels of unemployment and poverty among the indigenous Ahwazi Arabs. Acts of defiance and civil disobedience, such as Abbas’ decision to wear Arabic dress to school, are increasingly seen as the only means to assert ethnic rights and challenge racial discrimination..

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.
Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/11/the-moral-courage-of-arab-boy.html.

Ahwazi Arabs lead the campaign to Save Karoun River

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ahwazi Arabs are stepping up the campaign to Save the Karoun River, calling on the intervention of the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque.

Dr Karim Abdian, director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization (AHRO), first raised the issue of the Karoun’s diversion  at the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in May-June 2005, warning of the consequences of dams along the Karkhe and Karoun rivers on the indigenous Ahwazi Arab inhabitants.

Last year, he met with UN Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque and provided details of the impact of the dam program, which caused the forced displacement of thousands of Ahwazi Arabs and destroyed their farms and fisheries.

Ahwazi groups are calling on Special Rapporteur de Albuquerque to support the voice of the many hundreds of Ahwaz residents who are now demonstrating regularly along the river banks.

The destruction of the Karoun has brought together environmentalists, Ahwazi rights activists, scientists and others in opposition to the Iranian regime’s pillage of natural resources in the Al-Ahwaz region.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.
Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/10/ahwazi-arabs-lead-campaign-to-save.html.

Land confiscation sparks conflict between Arabs and Iranian security services

Thursday, September 12, 2013

At least 11 Ahwazi Arabs were arrested in clashes between locals and the security forces as they evicted and destroyed Arab farms in Sheyban, Bawi county this month, according to activist reports.

Defying local community opposition, the government ordered in bulldozers to destroy farms that had been owned by Arabs for hundreds of years. The move was brought about as an ethnic Persian woman made a claim on 35 hectares of farmland whose Arab owners, the Zeheri family, state has been in their possession for many generations.

The following members of the Zeheri family were arrested by the Security Services: Adel, Hadi, Adib, Amin Aataiee (Zeheri), Ali Hassan, Jawad, Hamid Jasem, Jaafar son of Aabiyd.

Land confiscation is carried out by the regime for the sake of establishing sugar cane plantations, fish farms, an industrial free trade zone and more military sites for the Revolutionary Guards. Arabs subject to government land confiscation are never given the true value of their land in compensation and often receive no payment and are left destitute and landless, according to former UN housing specialist Miloon Kothari after his visit to Iran in 2005.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/09/land-confiscation-sparks-conflict.html.

Retired Arab teacher humiliates Iranian President

Monday, August 26, 2013

President Hassan Rouhani was left humiliated and embarrassed after an elderly Ahwazi Arab publicly castigated the Iranian government for systemically ignoring his community’s long-standing appeals for jobs, education, clean water and human rights.

In a daring display of defiance in front of television cameras and a public audience, retired teacher Haj Ghasem Hamadi of Khafajyeh [correction: in the previous version of this report, the man was wrongly identified as a religious sheikh] lambasted the Iranian regime’s indifference to the plight of Ahwazi Arabs during a presidential visit to a local mosque. Rouhani was left speechless and the man was interrupted by a presidential aide.

Hamadi said: “In terms of agriculture, there is no water only salty water, no irrigation, no fertilizers and no seeds. They provide 20 bags of compost per hectares for Dezful, but we are given one per hectare. In terms of agriculture everything is below par. In terms of facilities in the area also is below par.

“We have got problems in education. Our situation is bad. No one asks about our hardship. Everyone who comes from there [from Tehran] says hello and goodbye. That is all.”

Rouhani asked: “You mean there is nothing?”

The man answered: “There is not anything. You are in Tehran, you don’t know this region is deprived. There is no farming, no reconstruction, no water, no prosperity, no one asks about us, you are in Tehran, shouldn’t you ask about the deprived regions? We have the oil, the water, the land but we are dying from hunger!”

President Rouhani created high expectations among Ahwazi Arabs and other ethnic groups after he promised to end discrimination and enforce linguistic rights during his election campaign.

Rouhani attempted to win over several Arab sheikhs who were invited to meet him in Tehran and voice their concerns. At the meeting, he appeared to accede to their demands for a 10 per cent share of cabinet seats for members of the Arab minority. However, he has failed to appoint any Arabs to ministerial positions.

Hailing from the north of Iran, the ‘pragmatic conservative’ sought to attract non-Persian vote with a list of 10 pledges to address ethnic discrimination, in accordance with neglected constitutional provisions. These included the right to learn in the native tongue, as stated in Article 15, and promoting a meritocratic economy based not on ethnicity or religion but personal strengths in order to leverage the best local human resources. Rouhani has also promised to promote local people into managerial positions.

The president has failed to address some of the more urgent development issues that concern ordinary Ahwazi Arabs who feel increasingly estranged from their co-opted tribal leaders, namely the region’s man-made environmental crisis and political issues. Rouhani’s failure to engage with ordinary Arab workers and farmers indicates that his administration will continue to seek to use political and financial patronage to win the allegiance of tribal elites with little attempt to engage with the masses.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/08/arab-sheikh-humiliates-iranian-president.html.

Ahwazis unite against Iran’s dam project

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The drying of the River Karoun is becoming a rallying point for Ahwazi Arabs, who have accused the Iranian regime of presiding over an ecological disaster on a par with the destruction of the Amazon.

Environmental campaigners in Ahwaz City formed a human chain along the Karoun this week in protest at the river diversion project. The mega-project involves the construction of dams and tunnels to divert water away from Iran’s largest river which flows through the city and is essential for farming, drinking water and the local ecology.

Controversy surrounds the Koohrang-3 tunnel, which is currently under construction and is set to transfer 255 million cubic meters of water per annum to Zayandeh Rood in Isfahan. The diverted waters will be used for agro-industrial projects, instead of irrigating traditional Arab lands where food staples are grown, such as rice and wheat. Already, three tunnels transfer around 1.1 billion cubic meters of water from the Karoun and its tributaries to Isfahan every year.

Currently, there are seven dams and tunnels diverting Karoun’s water with a further 19 dams under construction as well as 12 dams on Karkheh river basin and five dams on Jarrahi river basin. Twelve of these dams have built in Lorestan province in the Karoun and Karkheh basins, which store 800 million cubic meters for local use. Two dams have built in Ilam province on Karkheh river basin with annual storage capacity 1.04 billion cubic meters. Three dams have been built in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province on Jarrahi River with annual capacity of 1.24 billion cubic meters. So far, 25 dams with total capacity of 10.44 billion cubic meters have into operation in the Karoun basin. These dams are located in Chahar Mahaal and Bakhtiari province, Lorestan province and the north part of Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan).

Due to the dam projects, around half the Karoun’s water flow is now waste water. This will reach 90 per cent when Iran’s dam building project is completed, according to Iranian scientists. The Karkheh and Jarrahi tributaries are now almost dried up and Ahwazi activists fear the Karoun – Iran’s only navigable river – will now dry up. Already, the region’s marshlands on which many Ahwazi Arabs traditionally depend for their livelihoods are a fraction of their former size due to the dam projects.

One of the groups campaigning against the destruction of the Karoun, the Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz (PADMAZ), has claimed that as a result of the dam projects “the Ahwazi environment will be destroyed and Ahwazi Arab will be forced to move to other cities in addition to contracting intestinal and renal diseases and different kinds of cancer… This will speed up the Iranian colonial plan of ethnic cleansing of Ahwazi Arabs.”

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/10/Save-Karoun-001.html.

Iran: Ex-Defense Minister attacks regime’s record in Al-Ahwaz

Friday, August 16, 2013

Former Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, an ethnic Arab who rose to the top of the Revolutionary Guards during the Iran-Iraq War, this week made unprecedented criticism on the Iranian regime’s treatment of Ahwazi Arabs while visiting a mosque in Ahwaz City during Eid celebrations.

Regarded as a regime loyalist and the only Arab to have held a cabinet position in the Islamic Republic, Shamkhani accused the regime of “sectarianism” for launching a new television channel, Ahwaz TV, which is intended to counter Ahwazi Arab opposition.

Often praised for his role in the fight against Iraqi forces, Shamkhani accused the government of failing to reconstruct and develop the Ahwazi Arab region for the benefit of the people following the end of the 1980-88 war, which saw many towns devastated and still has a legacy of one of the world’s worst landmine problems. He highlighted various challenges facing the region in relation to good resource management and human development, but although government officials have often acknowledged the problems they have failed to act.

In a side-swipe at the ruling theocracy, Shamkhani claimed that native people had felt marginalized by the government’s decision to import extreme Shia fundamentalists from Arab countries, such as Tunisian theologian Muhammad Al-Tijani, to confront Sunnis. He claimed these theologians had little understanding of local Arab society and had proven to be counter-productive, fueling conversion from Shi’ism to other faiths.

Instead of progandising with religion and television channels, Shamkhani called on the government to deal with discrimination and resolve problems of poverty, which motivate disloyalty among Ahwazi Arabs. He claimed that in spite of frequent changes of administration and 15 different provincial governors, the policies in the region have not changed.

Source: Ahwaz New Agency.

Link: http://www.ahwaziarabs.info/2013/08/iran-ex-defence-minister-attacks.html.

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