Al-Ahwaz-Historical context

To understand the contemporary crisis in Ahwaz, it’s necessary to know some historical background. Oil was first discovered in Ahwaz, as elsewhere in the Middle East, in 1908, piquing the colonial greed of both the Persian state and the Western powers, with the then-British Empire seeking to expand its regional power and control in tandem with other European powers.

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Ahwaz also assumed a strategic importance for the nations involved due to its strategic location.

In 1925, the Pahlavi dynasty came to power in Persia, ousting the previous ruler of Persia, Ahmad Shah Qajar. Reza Pahlavi identified the geopolitical significance and resource wealth of Ahwaz as potential major assets, with the new rulers wasting no time in invading and annexing Ahwaz, deposing Sheikh Khazaal, in 1925. In 1936, the year of Khazaal’s execution, Ahwaz was given a new, Farsi name, ‘Khuzestan’, while Persia was renamed ‘Iran’ – ‘Land of the Aryans.’

As Persia’s new name suggested, the Pahlavi dynasty was founded on a strongly nationalistic ideology, with all of Tehran’s territories depicted as homogenous parts of a mono-ethnic, monocultural Persian whole. This resulted inevitably in deeply racist antagonistic policies towards the Arab peoples of Ahwaz as to other non-Persian peoples in territories under Iran’s control from the 1920s which continue to the present day, with all non-Persians essentially robbed of their culture and identity. This denial and eradication of non-Persian identity extended into every area of life, from language, dress, education to all aspects of culture. Following the 1979 Islamic revolution, these brutal proscriptions extended to religion, with non-Shiites (and Shiite dissidents) being persecuted and non-Shiite religious ceremonies and worship heavily punished by imprisonment, torture and often execution.

A History of Dissent: Ahwazi resistance continues in the second Pahlavi era under Mohammad Reza Shah (1941–1979) and since the ‘Islamic Revolution’.

The grievances of the minorities under Iranian rule (who combined comprise the majority) grew throughout the second Pahlavi monarchy (1941-1979) since Mohammad Reza Pahlavi adopted his father’s deeply chauvinist policy to ethnically restructure the country completely based on Persian ethnicity and identity. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi introduced even more extensive policies intended to subjugate, marginalize and eliminate the five largest minorities under Iranian rule: Ahwazi Arabs, Turkish Azaris, Kurds, Baluchis and Turkmen peoples.

In response to these brutal policies, Ahwazi Arabs and other oppressed groups launched both peaceful and armed uprisings to defy this policy of systemic subjugation and ethnic cleansing. In 1958, the ‘Arabistan Liberation Front’ was established with the objective of liberating the homeland from Iranian occupation, operating primarily in the cities of Abadan, Mohammareh and Ahwaz.

Two decades after this, in the initial period following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ahwazi Arabs felt inspired and hopeful of positive change as a result of the overthrow of the brutal monarchy. In light of this new spirit of optimism, a delegation of 33 leading Ahwazi figures representing all classes and points on the political spectrum was dispatched to Tehran in late April that year, under the aegis of the then-Ahwazi spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Taher Al Shobair Khaghani, for talks with the new provisional government, then chaired by Mehdi Bazargan. The delegates took with them a memorandum containing 12 demands for very basic reforms, as agreed by the vast majority of prominent Ahwazi political and social leaders, with the people pinning their hopes on the new rulers in Tehran to help Ahwazis attain their legitimate rights and achieve long-denied freedom.

Among the demands laid out in the memorandum were:

Legal recognition of Ahwazi Arab nationality, to be acknowledged and protected under the new Iranian constitution.
The formation of a local committee to administer the affairs of the Ahwazi region as an autonomous, broadly independent territory.
Recognition of Arabic as the official language in Ahwaz, to be taught at school and further education level and the foundation of schools and universities for this purpose, with Arab students to be granted the opportunity of overseas scholarships.
A guarantee of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the freedom to establish Arabic newspapers and broadcast media, and an end to the draconian censorship policies of the Shah’s regime.
Abolition of discriminatory policies towards Ahwazis in civil service recruitment.
The allocation of sufficient funds from the oil and gas revenues from Ahwazi lands to help in development of the Ahwazi region.
The restoration and recognition of the Ahwazi people’s right to their Arab identity, i.e. through reintroducing the Arabic names of towns, cities, villages and geographic features rather than the Farsi names conferred under the Shahs’ rule.
Revisions and reforms to the previous regime’s agricultural legislation in order to allow land to be redistributed in a fair and equitable way among Ahwazi farmers, with their ownership rights to be taken into consideration.
During their week of talks in the capital, the delegates met with the then-Prime Minister and other ministers of the new government, as well as with the clerical regime’s religious leaders, including Ayatollah Khomeini. In these talks, they were assured of the new leadership’s full commitment to overturning the policies of the previous regime, renouncing violence and preserving the unity and integrity of the country. The delegates, on their part, reassured the officials that the Ahwazi people fully accepted that all state affairs concerning foreign policy, military issues, the monetary system, international treaties and economic plans should be exclusively the concern of the central state.

The Ahwazi delegates had hoped that even if all the demands laid out in the 12-point memorandum were not met, the new leadership would at least grant the Ahwazi people their basic rights and put an end to the Shahs’ decades-long policies of systemic brutal injustice and oppressive rule. During their meetings, however, the delegates came to realise that the new rulers were little different to the previous despotic regime in their racist attitudes and discriminatory policies towards Iran’s non-Persian population.

Following their return from Tehran, the delegates issued an official statement declaring that the new Iranian leadership had trivialized and undermined the concerns of the Ahwazi people. This led to widespread public anger among Ahwazis, who had been hopeful of real change following the revolution, with many taking to the streets for demonstrations against the continuing racism of the Iranian state to voice their disappointment and disillusionment. The protesters pointed out that the leaders of the Islamic Revolution had come to power with slogans promising a new openness and tolerance and making promises to fulfill the Ahwazi people’s long-denied demands for basic rights, all of which had turned out to be false. Instead, said the protesters, the new regime had shown the same contempt as the previous one, baring its teeth in response to their demands for freedom and rights.

In response to these protests and to the Ahwazi Arabs’ demands, officials of the new clerical regime immediately launched a propaganda and disinformation campaign, now widely known as a standard regime tactic, falsely alleging that the Ahwazi peoples’ protests were part of a regional and global conspiracy to separate Ahwaz from Iran, and asserting that any concessions to the Ahwazi people’s demands would undoubtedly threaten Iran’s territorial integrity, warning ominously that any such protests should be ‘neutralised’ at any cost.

The meaning of this ‘neutralisation’ became horribly clear on May 29th 1979, only a few months after the revolution brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, with the new clerical regime’s military, supported by affiliated voluntary extremist sectarian militias launching a murderous offensive on Ahwazi Arab dissidents, killing many hundreds, with thousands more imprisoned and forcibly ‘disappeared’ or forcibly displaced. The day subsequently became known amongst Ahwazis as ‘Black Wednesday.’

After every uprising

After every uprising, hundreds of bodies of Ahwazi dissidents arrested tortured and killed by Iranian security forces are recovered from the Karoon River where they are dumped. The detained prisoners are routinely held incommunicado for months, during which they are subjected to horrific torture and interrogation, with ‘confessions’ extracted under duress.

Ahwazi people have repeatedly sought to utilize every peaceful political means to attain even the most basic human rights, which are supposedly guaranteed under the current Iranian regime’s constitution, particularly in Articles 15 and 19, which stress the right to education in the native language of all ethnic groups within Iran, including Arabs, Turks, Kurds and Baluchis. This legislation is effectively superficial window dressing, however, since the regime refuses to implement these articles, with the result that more than half of Iran’s population who are ethnically non-Persian are denied the right to be educated in their mother tongue; this in turn means that, with an educational curriculum taught solely in Farsi, schools in the already marginalised non-Persian areas see high rates of non-attendance, with pupils dropping out at an early stage, leaving these populations further disadvantaged by widespread illiteracy and low education levels. Added to this, the criminalization of Arab culture, including proscriptions on Arabic language in both speech and education, along with the widely resented imposition of Farsi as the official language leaves students largely unskilled in both languages and suffering from a dual identity crisis.


Ahwazi peoples suffer from systemic exclusion

Ahwazi peoples suffer from systemic exclusion in every area of life and at all levels, with the regime continuing a policy of ethnic cleansing, arbitrarily seizing homes, land and property and ‘giving’ these to settlers from neighbouring Persian territories in order to change the demographic balance of the region; under the Iranian legal system, the Ahwazi peoples are denied any legal recourse to object to such grotesque injustices.

The key leadership positions in the region are dominated by Persians, with all such positions being off-limit to Arabs. There is no real representation of Ahwazi peoples at any political level in the region due to the ‘security’ concerns of the occupying Persian authorities in all affairs concerning the Ahwazi people.

Despite the region providing approximately 80 percent of Iran’s oil and gas resources, Ahwazis, the rightful owners of this wealth, are denied any share in the massive profits generated by their mineral or other resources.

The only part of the oil and gas production which is passed on to the Ahwazi people is the related air and water pollution and a related increase in dangerous diseases as a result of the toxic waste and toxic gases emitted by the oil and petrochemical facilities whose emissions are largely unmonitored, discharging massive amounts of harmful industrial substances into the surrounding environment.

Recent acid rainfall and dust storms in the region resulting from this large-scale industrial pollution have seen more than 50,000 Ahwazi people admitted to hospitals and medical clinics for treatment for related conditions, providing terrible and plentiful evidence of the environmental pollution in the region.

Successive Iranian governments have allocated far less than one percent of the monies from the region’s oil and gas revenues and related petrochemical projects to the development of Al Ahwaz; indeed the Iranian parliament recently rejected – for a fourth time – a proposal presented by the regional vice-consul to allocate 1.5 percent of the region’s oil revenues for the reconstruction of towns and cities in the region devastated in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which ended 27 years ago.

Following Reza Khan’s 1925 military invasion of Al Ahwaz in 1925 and the ousting of Sheikh Khazaal, Ahwazi independence and sovereignty were formally denied when Al Ahwaz was annexed to become part of the newly established nation of Iran in 1934.

Since then, several Ahwazi Arab uprisings have taken place and been brutally quashed, with both military and civil movements reiterating their determination to continue their resistance and struggle for justice and freedom from Iranian occupation and to restore Ahwaz to its previous sovereign status.

Each uprising has met with murderous brutality at the hands of the Iranian authorities, with massive numbers of Ahwazis being banished and forcibly transferred to Persian regions.

Ahwazis have now received harsh treatment at the hands of Iranian authorities for generations. In the wake of the first popular uprising following the initial annexation of Ahwaz, Persia’s then-rulers banished large numbers of the people, forcibly resettling them in Persian regions as part of an ethnic cleansing policy, as well as changing the name of the region to Khuzestan and conferring Farsi names on cities, towns, villages and even geographic features like rivers, as well as banning the wearing of Arab clothing and criminalizing the speaking of Arabic, all in an effort to deny and effectively eradicate the region’s Arab identity and history.

These policies continue to the present day, with Ahwazi people’s land and property forcibly confiscated to be redistributed to Persian settlers in an attempt to ‘Persianise’ the Ahwaz region. In the late 1940s, the Persian rulers introduced a policy of settling people of Persia’s nomadic ‘Lur’ tribes in areas with Arab majorities, particularly around the oil-rich cities in the Ahwaz region, while Arab residents were forcibly transferred elsewhere.

This systemic ethnic cleansing policy has accelerated in recent years, with the apparent objective of eradicating the Arab identity and culture of Ahwaz. Any popular political movement or uprising led by Ahwazi dissidents, such as the last major one in 2005, protesting against this institutionalized injustice and oppression is brutally quashed by regime authorities, with massive violence against demonstrators and mass arrests and executions of hundreds of the most prominent dissidents.

Iranian colonial projects in Al-Ahwaz

The Iranian regime occupiers to this day seek to increase the proportion of non-Arab settlers in Ahwaz, even changing the original Arabic names of cities, towns, rivers and other geographical features to Farsi names in an attempt to deny the region’s Arab identity.

This systemic eradication of the Arab character and identity of the Ahwaz region and its peoples extend into every area of life, showing a thoroughly planned strategy to bury and erase the Arab culture and identity of Ahwazis once and for all via the illegitimate and forcible imposition of the Persian occupiers’ culture on the Arab peoples.

There is all too plentiful evidence of this policy which has led to the current bitter daily reality of the Ahwazi peoples. One of the earliest demonstrations of this policy was during the era of Reza Khan’s rule of then-Persia when the speaking of Arabic and wearing of Arab clothing in public were outlawed, with transgressors facing horrendous punishments.

Thereafter and to this day, Iran enforced an all-Farsi education curriculum in Al Ahwaz, with the teaching of the Arabic language forbidden and all studies in Arabic made illegal. This led to rampant illiteracy among the Ahwazi people, adding to the problems of widespread unemployment, with Ahwazis denied access to job opportunities on the pretext of their lack of educational qualifications. Through these openly grotesquely racist policies, the Ahwazi people were very deliberately weakened, losing any possibility of economic and social stability. These apartheid policies of successive Iranian regimes mean that Ahwazi people are still forbidden from giving their children Arab names or from wearing Arab dress, with the ultimate goal of eradicating all Arab identity and subsuming the Ahwazi people into simply another part of the Persian nationalist whole.


This majority has now shrunk to 70 percent, due to the regime’s policy of systemic and deliberate Persian immigration and colonisation of the region in order to alter its demographic composition.

The primary reason for Iran’s occupation of Al-Ahwaz is the region’s major oil and gas resources. The region also has extensive and fertile agricultural plains irrigated by the Karoon River.

Ahwaz is a tropical region located in the south and south-west of what is currently known as Iran, with the region being a major producer of crops, including dates, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons and other fruits and vegetables, as well as wheat, sugar and corn and many other cereal crops.

Despite all this natural abundance and its status as the center of Iran’s oil and gas industry housing massive industrial complexes, Al-Ahwaz is also the home of Iran’s poorest people, with 99% of Ahwazi Arabs living in extreme poverty and endemic deprivation. This destitution among the region’s indigenous people has its origins in the profoundly racist mentality of the Iranian occupiers, in whose eyes the Ahwazi people’s Arab identity poses a dangerous threat to the country’s national security.


“They have literally taken my entire life and family hostage. What would happen to me if in the future I agree on collaborating with the regime and as a consequence learn about their confidential facts and secrets? What would they take hostage this time to ensure that they can trust me?”

Al-Ahwaz: 90 Years of Occupation and Injustice by Iranian Goverment

Al-Ahwaz region of Iran is currently witnessing a wave of mass protests and demonstrations demanding freedom and an end to the Iranian regime’s multifaceted oppression of the Ahwazi people, which has been continuous since Iran first occupied the region by the use of military force.

Ahwazi Arabs are among the most brutally oppressed peoples in the Middle East. The population of the region in the south and southwest of Iran totals around 10 million, with the people united by race, culture and language. The Ahwazi Arab dialect strongly resembles the dialect in neighboring Iraq. The majority of Ahwazis are Shia and Sunni Muslim, although there are other sects and creeds, including Christian and Mandaean.

Ahwaz is a Persian-occupied Arab country located in the north and the east of the Arabian Gulf to the east of Shat Al-Arab waterway which has been occupied by Iran for more than eight decades and renamed ‘Khuzestan.’

The entire territory of Ahwaz, covering 324,000 square kilometers, is bounded to the west by Iraq, to the south-west by the Arabian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula and to the north, east and south-east by the Zagros Mountains, the natural boundary between Ahwaz and Iran. With an Arab population of ten million, Ahwaz is among the most resource-rich territories occupied by Iran, holding more than 80 percent of the country’s oil and gas resources.

The region has three major rivers, the Karoon, Jarrahi and Karkheh, which play a vital role in the lives of its people, with most Ahwazis long economically dependent on the three waterways for their income from both fishing and agriculture, with the waters used to irrigate the rich arable land.

Historically the Semitic Elami tribes, the first known peoples of the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq, settled on Ahwaz’s riverbanks and valleys, establishing a great civilization, particularly the ancient city of Susa, now known as Shush.

Since the initial annexation of Ahwaz by Iran, then known as Persia, 90 years ago, the humanitarian situation of the Ahwazi Arab people has steadily worsened, with the level of murderous repression by the current regime rising daily, extending to the level of systemic ethnic cleansing as policy, forcible eviction of the Ahwazi indigenous people, and the construction of exclusive apartheid-style settlements for non- Ahwazi, non-Arab settlers; these settlers are offered multiple economic and social incentives to move there and given guarantees of a promising future, while the Ahwazi Arab indigenous peoples are further marginalised, alienated and denied the most basic rights in every field.

Historically the catastrophic suffering of the Ahwazi people first began after Reza Khan, the then-ruler of Persia, now called Iran, and invaded the Emirate of Al-Ahwaz in 1925, overthrowing the last independent Arab ruler of the region, Sheikh Khazaal Alkaabi, who was subsequently imprisoned in Tehran for 10 years before being murdered in 1936 by strangulation on the orders of Reza Khan.

The current theocratic Iranian regime has imposed authoritarian rule on Al-Ahwaz region by the harshest measures, in a bid to isolate the Ahwazi Arab people from their origins and their historical association with the Arab nations, simultaneously imposing an absolute media blackout on any reporting of the suffering of Ahwazis.

As is widely known, the Iranian regime provides no official statistics on the number of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran, but studies conducted by Ahwazi activists confirm that the current total Ahwazi population stands at between 8 and 10 million. American historian William Theodore Strunk in his work about Ahwaz: The Reign of Sheikh Khazal ibn Jabir and the Suppression of the Principality of Arabistan: A Study in British Imperialism in Southwestern Iran, 1897-1925, Unpublished PhD thesis, Indiana University August 1977, wrote that during the discovery of oil 1908 in Al-Ahwaz region, Ahwazi Arabs made up roughly 98 percent of the regional population.

I don’t think there are any journalist left in Iran, because most of them are in jail!

Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, a prominent Iranian journalist, activist and former political prisoner, has reportedly been arrested and detained in Evin Prison.

Agents from the Iranian Intelligence Ministry arrested Tabarzadi in a Tehran street on Tuesday, May 17, according to the Democratic Front of Iran, a banned party of which Tabarzadi is the secretary-general.

His son, Ali Tabarzadi, wrote on Facebook that his father had left the house in the morning and had not returned by evening.

The reason for the arrest is unclear. Iranian authorities have repeatedly detained Tabarzadi over the past 20 years for exercising basic civil liberties, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. He has spent a total of more than 12 years in prison, and was only released in July 2015.

Then, on March 12, 2016, Tabarzadi announced on his Facebook page that he had been summoned to the prosecutor’s office.

“If they arrest I won’t talk during the integrations, and I will immediately go on hunger strike,” Tabarzadi wrote. “I will defend my human rights whether I am free or not. Yes, I will talk. I will talk about injustice, tyranny, discrimination, cronyism, and violations of other people’s rights. I will defend the right to freedom of speech, religion, assembly and elections. I will defend the rights of prisoners of conscience, political prisoners and social movements. Do not frighten us with prison, torture and execution. I have given up on everything for years but I have also troubled your sweet dreams. I announce right now that I am a candidate for the next presidential election.”

Tabarzadi was most recently arrested when he took part in the Green Movement protest rallies in the wake of the disputed 2009 presidential election. Before being imprisoned, he was the managing editor of the magazine Payam-e Daneshjou (Students’ Message). He also took part in the Green Movement protest rallies following the election. A Revolutionary Court sentenced him to eight years in prison on charges of conspiracy, insulting the supreme leader and propaganda against the regime, and banned him from participating in any social or political activity for 10 years.

After serving five and a half years in prison, Tabarzadi was released on June 30, 2015, but he is still banned from engaging in social and political activities. In an interview with Journalism Is Not A Crime one day after his release, Tabarzadi said: “The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom to belong to political parties, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Until we achieve these I cannot remain silent. Writing and talking is my job. I will continue my activities.”