Despite the Iranian regime’s increasingly brutal efforts to crush the freedom of Ahwazi Arabs and other minorities in Iran, the people of Ahwaz refuse to be terrorised into silence, staging unprecedented mass protests for freedom and human rights during Eid al-Fitr.
Even while the regime stepped up its usual repressive measures for Eid, putting security forces on standby and outlawing any public assemblies or demonstrations in the region, hundreds of young Ahwazis took to the streets across Ahwaz for peaceful demonstrations, wearing their traditional Arab garb in defiance of regulations forbidding any public expression of their Arab identity and heritage. Around 30 of the protesters were reportedly arrested and imprisoned for the ‘crime’ of wearing their traditional Arab garb, with most of those detained being longtime Ahwazi civil rights activists who had previously been imprisoned for organising peaceful protests and cultural events.
This year’s Eid al-Fitr was different to preceding years, with the protests spreading beyond Khuzestan province (the name was first given to the Ahwaz region by the Shah’s regime in 1936, 11 years after Iran’s British-backed annexation) to reach the coastal province of Bushehr on the Arabian Gulf, where confrontations between demonstrators and regime security personnel were reported.
Within Khuzestan province itself, Ahwazi people in towns and villages across the region defied regime bans on Arab cultural events to celebrate Eid with musical evenings, poetry readings and other events expressing pride in their Arab traditions and heritage. As expected, none of these events were covered by any Iranian state media or media outside Iran, but this media silence failed to dampen participants’ enthusiasm.
These events have grown in popularity year on year despite the regime’s brutal crackdowns in 2005 and 2006 when tens of thousands of Ahwazi demonstrators took to the streets in protest following the publication of leaked official documents detailing a regime plan for mass displacement and of Ahwazis and settlement of Persians in the region in order to change the demographic balance there in favour of non-Arabs. Thousands of demonstrators were brutally beaten, with many killed or injured, and hundreds arrested and imprisoned in the regime’s efforts to crush the protests.
Ultimately, the message from the Ahwazi people to the regime and the world on Eid al-Fitr is that, despite decades of brutal subjugation and systemic injustice, the Ahwazi people are still standing, still proclaiming their Arab heritage and still demanding their freedom and human rights, whatever price they have to pay to attain them; the regime can and does kill people, but it can’t kill the idea of freedom.