The struggle of Ahwazi Arabs for freedom in an Interview with journalist Rahim Hamid
Ahwazis are known as the poorest people living on the richest land! The vast wealth from massive oil and gas resources should give Ahwazis.
The Kurdistan Voice: Iran’s annexation and brutal occupation of Ahwaz has continued for 92 years to date under successive regimes, yet has consistently been widely ignored by the world’s media and human rights organisations. To what do you attribute this wilful ignorance?
Rahim Hamid: The Iranian state has imposed a tight blockade on the issue of Ahwaz and silenced any Ahwazi voices trying to reach the free world and international humanitarian bodies for many years, preventing the international media from accessing Ahwazi areas for fear that they’d see the tragic reality experienced by the Ahwazi people. This has taken place in tandem with an effective state of siege against any revolutionary Ahwazi voices, meaning that there is no Ahwazi presence regionally and globally, despite the fact that the people of Ahwaz have been and continue to be crushed under Iranian occupation, with at least 15 uprisings taking place over the 92 years of its duration, most recently in 2005. Thousands of Ahwazis standing up for freedom and dignity have been martyred and countless numbers imprisoned and tortured in Iran’s jails.
The mutual interests of the Iranian leadership and the world’s governments have, unfortunately, played a major role in the international community’s neglect towards the issue of Ahwaz, meaning that the international community has abandoned the Ahwazi people to face their fate in the face of the most brutal terrorist regime recognised by international organisations.
In recent times, thanks to the information revolution and the international spread of social networking and social media, Ahwazi people have finally been able to dramatically break down the wall behind which our just cause has been besieged and to reach out to the free world. This has enabled Ahwazis to deliver our voice, raise awareness of our people’s suffering and form links with international bodies. Despite this, the international community still doesn’t give adequate consideration to the just cause of Ahwazi freedom and, despite the just and noble nature of the cause it has failed to attain any attention in Western media. So we continue to strive to fill this void and deliver the voice of our people to the free world, with this initiative with your esteemed media organ being one way of reaching out to the free world.
The Kurdistan Voice: The oil wealth from the oil and gas resources in the Ahwaz region alone should mean that the Ahwazi people have a high standard of living, yet poverty and deprivation are endemic. Please tell us something about this and about Iran’s profoundly racist discrimination towards Ahwazis
Rahim Hamid : Ahwazis are known as the poorest people living on the richest land! The vast wealth from massive oil and gas resources should give Ahwazis a high standard of living, but in reality all we see is poverty and deprivation. We hope to see more coverage of the causes and also the status of the Ahwazi people and the racist discrimination practiced against them, especially since these haven’t been mentioned previously in Western media.
The massive injustice in this equation reveals the vast extent of injustice and oppression suffered by the Ahwazi people as a result of the looting of their natural wealth at the hands of the Iranian state, with this wealth, rather than being the cause of wellbeing, becoming a key factor in the tragedies which the people are subjected to through occupation and policies of aggression towards them.
Although the territory of Ahwaz contains more than 90 percent of the oil and over 86 percent of the gas claimed by Iran according to official statistics, the only share that the Ahwazi people receive of this wealth is the thick smog and environmental pollution from the oilfields. To add insult to injury, Ahwazis – the sons of the area – are denied employment, even as unskilled labourers, in the oil and gas companies.
In addition to this, Ahwaz also produces 50 percent of Iran’s wheat and barley crop and a large proportion of the domestic dates and fruits. Ahwaz also has mines producing metals including iron, steel and gold, as well as containing Iran’s five major rivers, making it the source and reservoir of freshwater supplies in the region; in recent years Iranian authorities have diverted massive quantities of water to the Iranian interior [via large scale dam-building and river diversion programs], draining the main rivers in the Ahwaz region. The best known of these rivers is the Karoon, which was known for its abundant fresh water; the diversion of its waters have led to environmental catastrophe and a serious drought in Ahwaz, displacing Ahwazi farmers and agricultural workers from their farms and villages.
All these deprivations are part of a systematic Iranian policy against the Ahwazi people, with large numbers deliberately displaced to the Iranian interior, with [ethnically Persian] settlers brought in to take their place in order to erase Arab identity and merge it in the crucible of Iranian imperialism.
Rahim Hamid, freelance journalist and human rights advocate and co-founder of Ahwaz Monitor website
The Kurdistan Voice: What do you see the Tehran regime’s objectives as being, both in Ahwaz and regionally, and what role do you see Obama’s ‘legacy deal’ playing in achieving these?
Rahim Hamid: Ahwaz is located in a site of great geostrategic and geopolitical importance in the Middle East overlooking the eastern coast of the Arabian Gulf with all its wealth and important islands. Thus, throughout history, control of Ahwaz has been key to those seeking to dominate the Middle East and control its resources. For Alexander the Great, for instance, when he was able to control Ahwaz he was able to extend his authority over the entire Middle East region. Similarly, the Persian emperors in earlier ages were able to extend their occupation to Iraq, Egypt and the rest of the region after controlling Ahwaz.
So the Iranians, by virtue of their proximity, realised the geostrategic importance enjoyed by Ahwaz and its direct impact on the countries of the region, particularly its Arab neighbours, which impelled the Iranian rulers to perpetrate a crime against the people of Ahwaz by launching a military occupation.
The discovery of oil in 1908 in the city of Masjed Suleiman in Ahwaz and the desire to benefit from this natural Ahwazi wealth in mineral resources, as well as in water and agriculture, were other factors in the occupation. Ironically by exploiting the wealth stolen from Ahwazi Arabs, Iran has been economically able to pursue its massively destructive objections in the region, with Arab nations witnessing this since the first days of the occupation in 1925, when tensions and conflict arose between the Arab countries and the Iranian state, with Ahwaz often being the battlefield where these were played out.
This was what we saw in the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian occupation of the UAE’s islands in the Arabian Gulf, and in other interventions up to the present in Arab affairs.
As for Obama’s policy towards Iran, all one needs to do is review the statements of US officials or allies of the US on his policies, acknowledging their catastrophic effect on the region.
Since its inception, the clerical regime ruling in Iran has adopted increasingly aggressive policies towards both Iranian citizens and the peoples of the region and world. It began with the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran, as well as carrying out terrorist operations in Lebanon against the French and Americans, bombing Al Mustansiriya University in Iraq, perpetrating bombings in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and possibly dozens of others. It’s also worked on the creation of political parties and groups and in founding multiple terrorist cells in the region and even worldwide, the coward assassination of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, the great iconic Kurdish political leader who was the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in 1989 by the agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with the bombing of the Jewish Centre in Buenos Aires in Argentina and the attempted assassination of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States being the best evidence of this.
Despite knowing all this, Obama rushed to make a nuclear deal with Iran, liberating billions of dollars of the Iranian people’s money which went directly to the mullahs’ regime without holding it accountable for its terrorist crimes, in effect rewarding them, and encouraging this rogue state to inflict more oppression and torture of Iranian and non-Iranian peoples and to continue with its blatant interventions in the region.
Since the signing of the nuclear deal, people in Iran especially Ahwazis, Kurds and Baluchi and others across the region have witnessed increased sectarianism and steadily rising levels of executions, arbitrary arrests, oppression and torture, and open intervention in Syria, Yemen and Iraq against the will of their peoples yearning for freedom and the chance of dignified lives.
The Kurdistan Voice: Do you see the current seismic changes across the region leading to greater oppression or greater freedom domestically and regionally, and if so, what are your predictions for what lies ahead?
Rahim Hamid : The Iranian role in all the existing regional conflicts has become clearly visible, and distinguishing Iran’s hands meddling in the destiny of the region’s nations and peoples doesn’t require a lot of effort; Iran had already established, trained and funded parties and sleeper cells in the majority of regional countries, which were activated following the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, with those cells working against the aspirations of the Arab people in an effort to destabilise the region.
The Iranian regime has supported Daesh, facilitating it logistically and using it as a means to extend its control in Iraq in order to pretend to fight it, shuffling the deck, so to speak, using [Daesh’s] terrorist actions in service of its own expansionist ambitions, putting [the Iranian regime] in a strong position to implement its own destructive project, which can only be achieved through regional chaos and the anarchy which Iran has worked to bring about. Otherwise, how could it be that Daesh’s terrorism could cross oceans and carry out attacks and killings in America, Europe, Australia, every single Middle East country – apart from Iran? How and who can infiltrate from Afghanistan through Iran to Iraq, Turkey or vice versa, yet is unable to fire a single bullet against Iran? This proves the Iranian regime’s involvement, along with the support and training of terrorist organisations, just as a court in New York proved Iran’s involvement in supporting the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks in 2011.
The Kurdistan Voice: In your opinion, is it possible that the Arab Ahwazi people can achieve their goals and bring about justice with the civil means like supporting a presidential candidate or any kind of strike?
Rahim Hamid: I believe there are no candidates who can be brave enough to speak publicly about the injustice of Iran’s centralised power against minority ethnic groups in the country. Karroubi in 2009 during his presidency campaign had raised the subject of a few basic rights to be given to ethnic groups, but we all know what then happened to him. Since that time until today, he is under strict house arrest. Elections in Iran, like the constitution, are based on the Persian and Shiite doctrine only. Tehran’s centralist state rulers view the demands of the country’s ethnic and religious minorities with contempt – as if those minority demands are a threat to their own power. As such, they treat dissenting minorities as a state security threat and routinely propose the implementation of brutally repressive policies which further limit movements and restrict freedoms. I consider that the best way to respond to such injustices is to boycott the elections entirely. Unfortunately, the current president, Hassan Rouhani, and the other candidates do not have an acceptable stance on human rights issues. The Ministry of Intelligence, which is supervised by Rouhani, is a prime example of this, as they have arrested many journalists and civic activists without due cause in recent times. Hassan Rouhani, who during his presidential term, held large-scale arrests of activists and a massive number of executions mostly of those who belong to none-Persian minority ethnic groups such as Ahwazis, Kurds, and Baluchis. Plus, one of the main candidates in the Iranian elections is Ebrahim Raisi, who played a role in mass executions of 1988, and. Ibrahim has a black file on human rights issues, as his role in the mass executions in 1988 cannot be forgotten. His actions sent a group of young people to the graves simply because of their opposition to the regime. The families of these victims to this day have no information on where the bodies of their loved ones were buried.
The Kurdistan Voice: What is the policy of the Arabic countries towards the Arab Ahwazi issue? Do they support their demands or offer any kind of help particularly the financial one in the way of their struggle?
Rahim Hamid: Ahwazis do not get support from Arab countries because these countries view Iran from the perspective of international laws and regulations. What we really want Arab countries to do is to deal with Iran as Iran does with them. For example, we want Arab countries to hold an international position on the issue of how ethnic groups are treated in Iran. We want the Arab countries to support international action within international human rights institutions which condemns oppression inflicted upon Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Baluch, and Turks. What we are seeking from Arab countries is the public recognition of ethnic minority rights in Iran (including Ahwazis) and thereafter the establishment of cultural, educational, and political centres in the Arab countries for them. We want the Arab media to cover the suffering of our people and all people in Iran – not only from an ideological and national perspective, but from a human perspective.
The Kurdistan Voice: How Ahwazi Arab people look at the struggle of Kurdish people?
Rahim Hamid: The struggle of the Kurdish people is a shining example that the peoples of Iran and the people of Ahwaz look at with hope and aspiration. The Ahwazis hold a deep desire to build warm ties with the Kurds because: 1.) Their culture is similar to that of the Ahwazis – such as generosity, hospitality, and courage 2.) The Kurds have not oppressed the Ahwaz Arabs throughout history.3.) The Kurds are themselves an oppressed people and their suffering is the same as our suffering. The intention here is that ethnic minority status is becoming a form of significant mutual solidarity because we share a struggle and therefore fight common injustices. We hope that Kurds can form an alliance with the Ahwazis even after independence also because the Kurds need sea access and our port city of Muhammarah is close to them – overlooking the Arabian Gulf.
The Kurdistan Voice: What is the best path for the oppressed none-Persians ethnic peoples to attain their fair rights?
Rahim Hamid: if we want to realise our just goals we need to create coordination with regional peoples, political parties and organisations and building a coalition with them so as to unify the battle against the Iranian state as this must be a fundamental goal of all people in Iran especially the oppressed Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, and Baluchis and Turkish Azaris. In the past few years, various powers have worked to divide the region’s peoples from each other, often creating animosity as a tool of division and rule, but thank God and thanks to the media boom and the rise of social media and communication we can build bridges of communication on both the social and political levels.
The Kurdistan Voice: What action would you like to see from the international community, and what practical steps could readers take to help the Ahwazi struggle for freedom?
Rahim Hamid: The Ahwazi issue is a just cause requiring solidarity and support from all international bodies, particularly those dealing with human rights. There’s also a need for support and help from compassionate and conscientious people around the world.
As I said earlier, the Iranian state has succeeded for many years in making the issue of Ahwaz and the struggles of its people disappear and in muzzling the voices calling for Ahwazi freedom, rights and self-determination which are guaranteed by all international laws and by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Today, we are in dire need of reaching global media outlets to deliver our voice to the free world and for other voices of freedom to stand in solidarity with us and help in delivering the voice of a people whose sovereignty has been violated and who have been exposed to attempts to erase our identity and character, with Ahwazis subjected to ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Iranian state as was previously pointed out by the UN Special Envoy Miloon Kothari’s 2005 report to the then-Secretary General Kofi Annan.
About Ahwaz: Al-Ahwaz has been an Arab land for thousands of years…it is the eastern edge of the Arab homeland…the Arabs of Ahwaz are the owners of this region and its borders are: the Kurdistan mountains in the north, the Zagros mountains in the east, the sea of Oman in the south and the Republic of Iraq to the west…history attests that the original name of the region is al-Ahwaz, even before Islam, while the other names Khuzestan…and Arabistan are nothing but foreign names imposed by Iranian regimes imperialism on the region.
C: Rahim Hamid