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Sunday, September 30, 2012

The battle for Syria is a battle for the entire Middle East

It looks a lot like the end. Just as viewers of a movie franchise

know the formula so well, they can tell when the
 final reel is under way, so we’re getting used to the way Arab revolutions unfold – and sense that the signs point to a denouement in Syria. The key moment came this week with the assassination of four members of the Assad ruling clique by a still-mysterious bomb. The rumor mill promptly generated two storylines whose equivalents had been heard in the final days of the ancien régimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya: the president’s wife had fled abroad (to Russia) and the president himself was nowhere to be seen. Assad surfaced eventually, but when the dictator has to appear on TV just to prove he’s alive, the end seems imminent.

Of course, there could be a twist to this sorry tale. Bashar Assad’s more pessimistic opponents recall the Desert Storm momentum that meant Saddam Hussein’s days were surely numbered in 1991 – only for those days to number another 12 years. The Damascus regime still has a mighty arsenal and, in Russia and Iran, two powerful allies. It could cling on, fighting a sectarian civil war that could last months or even, as in Lebanon in the 1970s, years.
But let’s assume that the House of Assad is crumbling. Its fall will obviously transform Syria, a country that has lived under the boot-heel of that clan for four decades. But it will also radically affect the wider region. Syria, which borders Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel, does not keep itself to itself. As one former Obama official says: "Syria won’t implode; it will explode.” Put simply, the battle for Syria is a battle for the entire Middle East.
Take the most probable consequence of Assad’s removal, a round of revenge killings perpetrated by Syria’s Sunni majority on Assad’s Alawite community and their Christian allies. They will be seeking vengeance, not only for the thousands slain in the current uprising, but for a history of brutality that includes the slaughter of up to 20,000 in Hama in 1982, the last time an Assad faced popular protest.
If that kind of sectarian violence erupts, don’t expect it to stay confined to Syria. Even if the killing does not spill over the borders, then Syrians themselves will, joining the 125,000 who have already fled as refugees. And that’s without Syria becoming the site of an all-out proxy war, with Saudi Arabia backing the rebels and Iran lining up behind the pro-Assad forces.
The west will not stay aloof for long. (Some say it is already involved, tacitly backing Saudi and Qatari arms shipments to the rebels.) Strikingly, the talk in the last 48 hours has shifted from direct intervention – for which there were few takers – to an international peacekeeping force to be dispatched after Assad’s exit. Former CIA official Bruce Reidel, who led President Obama’s 2010 review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, today proposed just such a force, noting the paradox that one of its first tasks would "be to protect the Alawite community and its allies from vengeance”. Both the US and Israel are also anxiously eyeing Syria’s supply of chemical and biological weapons, now said to be unlocked and on the move, fearing Assad may choose to go down in a lethal blaze glory.
So this is no domestic matter affecting Syria alone. The most immediate impact will be felt by Iran, which stands to lose not only its pivotal Arab ally but also the gateway Syria has long provided to Iran’s proxy force in Lebanon, enabling Tehran to put upwards of 40,000 rockets in the hands of Hezbollah. Without Syria, Iran will lose that vital strategic bridgehead into the Arab world (even if, thanks to the US-led invasion in 2003, it can now count Iraq as friendly). But it goes deeper than that.
Iran’s previous claim to lead an "axis of resistance”, inspiring Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas to stand firm against the US and Israel, will be silenced. "It was losing that already,” says Middle East analyst Daniel Levy, noting both Hamas’s defiance of Tehran to side with the Syrian rebels and an Arab spring that is rendering obsolete Iran’s previous claim that the Arab nations were uniformly led by autocrat-puppets of the US. Just six years ago, during Israel’s Lebanon war, the leaders of Iran and Hezbollah, although they are Shia, were popular heroes on the Sunni Arab street. That, says Levy, wouldn’t happen in the sectarian climate of today.
The fall of Assad will do more than diminish Iran. It will mark the passing of an entire political culture in the region. For Assad is the last representative of a form that dominated the Middle East for half a century: that of the secular strongman, the dictator backed by a merciless intelligence apparatus, what Chatham House’s Nadim Shehadi calls "a Stasi state, where everyone is watching everyone else”.
What began with Nasser in Egypt – or even Atatürk in Turkey – will end with Assad: the regime that represses local and ethnic difference in the name of nationalism centered cultishly on the leader. In its place, Shehadi says, will come at first the chaos of hundreds of new parties and an even greater number of "mediocre politicians”. But eventually, he hopes, it will pave the way for a post-dictatorship Middle East, a place where rulers stand or fall not on their ability to exploit problems as moves in a geopolitical power game, but to solve them instead.
It’s an optimistic prognosis for a region that could be about to explode in bloody violence. But the fate of Syria will be decisive either way. If Assad holds on, then the Arab awakenings of 2011-12 will only ever have been a partial success. But if the Syrian rebels succeed, they will have achieved a sweeping victory. They will have effected a revolution without the full-blown foreign intervention required in Libya and more completely than in Egypt, where the security apparatus remains in place. That the revolt will have taken so long may even be a sign of strength, proving a depth and resilience that overnight insurrections elsewhere could not match.
Syria is on the brink. What will follow is not clear, given the mixed and divided nature of the opposition. This much we know: on the fate of Syria hangs the fate of the earth’s most combustible region.

(This article was first published in The Guardian on July 20.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A group of around 50 Ahwazi Arab refugees are holding two protests in Canberra today, on Monday 24 September.

The protesters, travelling from Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and
Melbourne will hold a protest outside the Iranian Embassy from 12 noon to 2.00pm.
This will be followed by a protest outside the Australian Parliament House between 2.30 and 3.30pm.
Millions of Ahwazi Arabs live in an area of south-west Iran, once called Arabistan, but the Ahwazi Arabs are a persecuted minority within Iran. Arabs make up 70 per cent of the population of Khuzestan, but only 5 per cent of important administrative posts are Arabs.
There has long been demands for autonomy and independence for the region.
Arabic language is banned in schools and there are no Arabic language newspapers. Recently four Arab political activists, three of whom were brothers, were executed on June 18, 2012 in Ahwaz. (Reported by Amnesty International). Two months earlier, five other Arab activists in Khalafabad were sentenced to death. In the past year and half, at least five Arab political activists have been killed under torture in the province’s prisons.
Spokesperson for the Ahawazi Arabs, Ahmad Hamid, said, “We are protesting at the Iranian embassy for our human rights. There have been so many people executed.
“And we are also protesting at the Australian parliament about off-shore processing and sending asylum seekers to Nauru. There are many Ahwazi Arabs in immigration detention who are threatened to be sent to Nauru. We want Australia to help them.
“We are also asking the Australian government to raise our human rights situation and condemn Iran in the United Nations.”
There are at least 35 Ahwazi Arabs, 18 of them under 18 years old in the Christmas Island immigration detention centre.
For more information call Ahmad Hamid on 0434053847 or Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Ahwaz the arab spring's forgotten uprising news and discussion. Source:


Status: Indigenous Arab people within the province of Al-Ahwaz (officially known as Khuzestan) are a national, ethnic, linguistic and a cultural minority.
Population: Al-Ahwaz: 5.7 million (according 2009 estimate based on 2002 government census) whith approx 4 million are Arabs. There are about 2 million Ahwazi Arab war (Iran-Iraq) refugees in other provinces.
Capital City: Ahwaz
Area: 89,000km2
Language: Arabic
 Religion: Shi’a 70%, Sunni 24%, others 1%
Ethnic Groups: Arab (75%), Persian, Lurs, Jewish, Christian

The Ahwazi Arabs are one of the largest minority groups within Iran and are predominantly situated in the Al-Ahwaz province. Al-Ahwaz, also known as Arabistan or Khuzestan, is situated in the southwestern part of Iran. It borders Basra province, Iraq in the west, the Gulf, Shat al-Arab Waterway, and the province of Dashestan in the south, and the mountains of Lurestan and Kurdistan in the north and east respectively. Its capital is the city of Ahwaz. Nearly 90% of Iran’s oil originates from Al-Ahwaz, due to its location at the tip of the Gulf and the Shat al-Arab waterway. The Karoun River, Iran’s largest river, flows through Al-Ahwaz into the Gulf and is a major means of transportation through Iran. The Al-Ahwaz providence is one of the most lucrative provinces because of its natural resources and shipping ability. However, despite this wealth the Ahwazi Arabs of Al-Ahwaz receive very little of the profits and many are forced to relocate due to Iranian oil and dam develop

In addition to not being compensated for the loss of their lands, the Ahwazi Arabs face continued violence and repression by the Iranian government. Since the 1980s the Iranian government has imposed several discriminatory ethnic and religious policies that have banned Sunni Ahwazi Arabs from participating in government, limited their access to education and resources, and forcing them into abject poverty. In order to silence opposition, Iranian authorities have persecuted the Ahwazi Arabs through arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, deportation and destruction of property. The United Nations, European Union, and state governments have condemned the discriminatory and violent methods the Iranian government has taken against the Ahwazi Arabs. While Iran has faced severe criticism by the United Nations Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Council more recently for its treatment of Iranian religious and ethnic minorities it remains to be seen whether change is forthcoming.

In 2005 it was revealed that the central government had been pursuing a plan of requisitioning land from Arabs in Al-Ahwaz and selling it to ethnic Persians and non-Arab businesses with zero percent loans. The displaced Ahwazis remain undercompensated, and have been forced to relocate to shanty towns in the regional capital, Ahwaz. Some Ahwazis have even been deported across the country to the northeastern city of Mashhad. A government document revealing these plans and other “Persianisation” methods was discovered in 2005 and led to massive protests and unrest in Al-Ahwaz. The government backlash was severe and led to hundreds of arrests and dozens of executions. Since 2005 every year around the anniversary of the protests there have been preemptive arrests and executions. Since January 2009, between 30 and 100 Ahwazi (the former estimate is according to official government reports, the latter to human rights groups) have been executed for purported crimes varying from drug trafficking to Mohareb: “being enemies of God”. Mohareb’s interpretation is itself ambiguous and subjective and has been extended to cover a range of crimes, from petty theft to acts of terrorism. The majority of the people targeted for these arrests and the resultant executions are young men, many of whom have been involved in political activism.

In addition to being forced from their native lands the Ahwazi Arabs have experienced severe repression through the Iranian gozinesh law, passed in 1988, which makes access to education, employment, military and governmental services conditional upon a rigorous ideological screening to assure a devotion to the state’s official ideology of Islam. Both Sunni and Shia Ahwazi Arabs suffer under this discriminatory policy as they are seen as enemies to the Iranian state and not true practitioners of Islam. Many have been denied access to basic services, while several among them have been subjected to arbitrary arrests and imprisonment.

The elections that took place on June 12th, 2009 and the Iranian government’s aggressive response against protestors is a pressing concern for the Ahwazi Arabs. In Al-Ahwaz several Ahwazi Arab homes were raided after the elections and many individuals were subject to torture and wrongful arrests. The censoring of dissidents by the Iranian government through the removal of media outlets, arrest of news reporters and use of force, rape, property destruction and imprisonment of political activists continues to plague all those who voice their political opposition.



Before the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th century, many Arab tribes have lived in different parts of Iran, each one retaining their own identity through language, culture and religion. According to Kasravi, a well respected Iranian contemporary historian, in his book titled “500 years history of Khuzestan” and to Tabari, the first Muslim historian, the Ahwazi-Arabs have lived in Khuzestan and other parts of southern Iran since the Parthian era, 4000 years ago. In 639 AD the Islamic conquest of Persia brought Islam to the area. Control of the region of Al-Ahwaz changed from Arab to Persian control multiple times, but throughout history the region maintained a majority Arab population. Muhammad Ibn Faalah Mashaasha independently ruled Al-Ahwaz from the 15th to the second half of the 19th century. The king of Iran during the time, Nasser al-Din Shah, acknowledged the autonomy and independence of the region,

It was from 1503 onward that Al-Ahwaz came to be known as Arabestan, signifying its Arab character as well as its Arab inhabitants. During this time the Al-Ahwaz enjoyed considerable autonomy as they were separated from the imperial power by the Zagros mountain chain. The local Arab sheiks were largely independent and the region was ethnically distinct from the rest of Persia.


By the end of the 18th century, the Bani Kaab tribe replaced the Mashaashaid as the new rulers of Khuzestan. Bani-Kaab ruled Arabistan until Sheikh Khazaal, the last Arab ruler, was removed from power in 1925. With the support of British officials,Reza Shah was placed into power. Reza Shah immediately began to forcibly settle the tribal groups of Al-Ahwaz, which presented a considerable conflict as the groups were traditionally semi-nomadic. Tehran commenced a heavy centralization process, imposing Farsi as the official language and banning the teaching of Arabic in schools. This centralization was exacerbated in 1936 when Al-Ahwaz was renamed Khuzestan by the central Iranian government, further attempting to deny the Arab identity of the province. Thus the Iranian government was able to put an end to the last autonomous province and emirate in the area and bring Arabistan (Al-Ahwaz) under its control.

Due to the endemic corruption and autocratic rule of the government, the Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown and replaced by the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran. However, the policies of the Islamic Republic, like its predecessor, were based on the elimination of the national identity of Ahwazi-Arabs and other nationalities such as the Turks, Kurds, Baloch and Turkmen. Upon its ascendance to power, the Islamic government responded severely and immediately cracked down on all federalist movements. Many ethnic minorities, including the Ahwazi, used this occasion to demand better representation and more autonomy from the new government. Systematic human rights breaches followed, on one day following the 1979 revolution, more than 800 unarmed Arab Ahwazis were killed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Islamic Republic did not alter the previous regime’s centralist policies towards Al-Ahwaz, and the Ahwazi Arab people have remained under political, cultural, social and economic control ever since.
In September 1980, following a long history of border disputes, fear of Shia terrorism and the desire of Iraq to become the dominant Gulf state, the Iran-Iraq War began with Iraqi forces invading Al-Ahwazi. While non-local inhabitants of Khuzestan escaped the war ravaged province to their original homeland, Ahwazis were subjected to the destruction of their homes, farms and lived under bombardments for eight years. Throughout this time the United Nations Security Council worked for a ceasefire, but it was not until 1988 that this was achieved and the last prisoners of war were not exchanged until 2003.
It is estimated that over a half of a million Iraqi and Iranian solders as well as civilians are believed to have died in the war with many more injured or wounded. At least 12,000 Ahwazi Arab conscripted soldiers in the Iranian Army died defending Iran’s border from the Iraqi invasion. However, despite their service and opposition to the Iraqi invasion, the Ahwazi Arabs have been labeled as terrorists and enemies to the Iranian state. The Iranian gozinesh law that was passed in 1988 was a direct effort by the Iranian government to weaken and repress the Arab minority within the state. Since then the Ahwazi Arabs have faced continued harassment, terror and discrimination by the Iranian government.

On June 12th 2009 Iran held its tenth presidential election in which the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was set against three challengers. The months preceding the vote saw increased repression, particularly against members of Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities, students, trade unions, and women’s rights activists. The censuring of the population created an intense situation leading up to the election. Presidential debates and information were restricted to only the state media. Many candidates were disqualified from running, leaving just four to contest for the presidency. Despite the limitations imposed by the Iranian government to discourage people, many individuals went out and voted. By the next morning the Islamic Republic News Agency, the official state news agency, announced that with only two-thirds of the votes counted, Ahmadinejad had won the election with 62% of the vote. However, within hours of the announcement outrage had erupted on the streets amongst widespread claims of voting fraud. The three defeated candidates alleged that President Ahmadinejad had ordered the fraud and voting discrimination. The government’s response was swift and severe with the blocking of satellite transmissions, internet access, banning of foreign journalists, and the severing of telecommunications infrastructure.

By the end of that week Iran’s Supreme Leader had ordered security forces to use violence and arbitrary arrests to suppress opposition. At this time ethnic minorities became targets of the Iranian military crackdown. Hundreds of Ahwazi Arab homes were raided and many innocent Ahwazis were taken into custody. It is estimated that at least 4,000 people were arrested during post-election unrest in Tehran, however several other arrests were recorded in Al-Ahwaz. The majority of those arrested were soon released, but many were held for weeks and some are still being held. It is still unknown how many Ahwazi Arabs were arrested and detained as the Iranian government continues to censure this information. According to international and local human rights groups, including Ahwaz Human Rights Organization, at least 780 Ahwazi-Arab known political organizers remain in prison from the 2009 elections.


1. Economic Situation

According to the Iranian government, Al-Ahwaz ranks third in Iran’s provinces in terms of GDP, largely due to its oil. The Yadavaran Field, one of the richest oil reserves in Iran, is located in Al-Ahwaz. The field is estimated to have up to 17 billion barrels of oil. In 2009 the Iranian government negotiated a 70 billion dollar deal with the Chinese company, Sinopec, in which the company would hold a 51% stake in the field’s development and the Chinese government would agree to buy 10 million metric tons of natural gas from the Iran. In 2007 development in the Yadavaran Field finally began and it is already estimated to make up to 185,000 barrels per day. However, the benefits of the rich natural resources of Al-Ahwaz do not reach the average Ahwazi citizen. Ahwazi Arab unemployment rates are officially between 15-20%, and illiteracy is above 50%. A million of the roughly 4 million Ahwazi Arabs live in urban slums, and more Ahwazi houses are destroyed every year by authorities to make room for government-sponsored business projects.

 Several Ahwazi Arab oil and gas workers have also been victims to the discriminatory policies of the Iranian administration. It has been reported that since 2009, the Iranian government started discharging all mid and high level Ahwazi Arabs from oil, gas, petrochemical and steel industries in Khuzestan to further intimidate Arabs and discourage their solidarity with the Kurdish, Baloch Human Rights movements in Tehran. Firings have been reported in several oil, gas, chemical and steel refineries, such as Abadan Petrochemical Complex, Razi Chemical (Bandar Imam Petrochemical), the Ahwaz Steel Plant, Ahwaz Carbon Black Plants and many others.

In addition to oil Al-Ahwaz is known as one of the agriculturally richest regions in Iran. The Karoun River flows directly through the province offering a renewable source of fresh water as well as shipping and trading routes through Iran and into the Persian Gulf. However, one of the greatest threats to the Ahwazi people has been the diversion of the Karoun River by the Iranian government in order to fuel massive oil and factory developments with hydro-electric energy and water. The diversion of the Karoun River has caused massive ecological devastation to the already impoverished countryside as marshlands have been turned into saltwater fields and the land has become desert. The loss of usable agricultural land has led to the severe malnutrition and high infant mortality rates in the Ahwazi population.

2. Human Rights

Like most human rights activists in Iran, those in Al-Ahwaz face constant oppression from the government, including arrests where torture and ill-treatment are routine and trial without access to legal representation. Moreover, due to their ethnicity, some are also falsely identified as separatists by the central government, which has maintained a suspicious stance towards Ahwazi Arabs ever since the Iran-Iraq war, despite the thousands that gave their lives during that war. Tehran still perceives them as being disloyal and infiltrated by foreign countries trying to destabilize Iran. In this sense, the mobilization of minority representation has been considered secessionist and strongly resisted by the authorities, despite the fact that Iran is a multi-ethnic country and the repeated Ahwazi affirmations to respect the territorial integrity of Iran.

Since the mass demonstrations in Al-Ahwaz in 2005 there have been multiple instances of Ahwazi activists being imprisoned with little explanation, charged with mohareb, “being enemies of God”. They are generally denied legal representation, and even in instances where lawyers are consulted, Iranian law is not properly followed. In many of these cases, the prisoners have been executed without any prior notification, contrary to the law stating that a prisoner and their legal counsel are entitled to 48 hours notification, and further objection, before execution.

Many Ahwazi living abroad have applied for refugee status from UNHCR and have received permission to travel to safe countries. There have been many instances in the past five years where Ahwazis granted refugee status living in Syria and Lebanon have been deported back to Iran to face criminal charges. Many of them have been detained indefinitely or executed. There are no official figures recorded of Ahwazi refugees put in this situation. The DSPA and other Ahwazi organizations have called for the Geneva Convention principle of non-refoulement to be applied when nations are working with Ahwazi refugees.

According to the Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation (AHRO), since the 2005 Ahwazi Intifada began, over 5,000 Ahwazis have been arrested, at least 131 have been killed and over 150 have disappeared.

3. Land Appropriation

In the years during the Iran-Iraq war, the central government confiscated some of the land in order to secure the region against the Iraqi invasion. However, 22 years after the end of the war, those lands have not been reallocated to the Ahwazi Arabs who are still waiting for their return. According to the Special Reporter on Adequate Housing, in his report in 2005, there were reports of approximately 200,000 to 250,000 Arabs being displaced in Al-Ahwaz region due to the development projects being carried out by the central government. He specified that there was no prior consultation with the Ahwazi Arabs about those projects and there was no adequate resettlement or compensation.

4. Living Conditions

Despite Al-Ahwaz being one of the richest regions for natural resources in Iran and generates a large amount of profits for the Iranian government, the Ahwazi Arabs continue to live in deplorable conditions. Due to the discriminatory laws put in place by the Iranian government, that limits Ahwazi Arabs access to social services they remain one of the poorest population groups within the state. One third of the urban population lives in shanty towns that are scattered throughout Al-Ahwaz.

Many Ahwazi Arabs live in areas where unemployment can reach up to 50%. The area of Dashte-Azadegan, where the majority of the inhabitants are indigenous Ahwazi Arabs, has the highest incidence of malnutrition among children in Iran. About 80% of children in Dashte-Azadegan suffer from malnutrition, leaving them with the consequences of stunted growth, health complications, and early mortality. Meanwhile in other areas of Al-Ahwaz hundreds of Ahwazis suffer from disease and poor living conditions due to Iranian discrimination and repression. Several Ahwazi Arabs have lost their homes and farmlands to oil mining and water developments projects in the region, leaving many in a desperate state unable to support their families.

The majority of Ahwazi villages lack schools and over 70% of Ahwazi Arab students drop out from secondary school due to not being able to learn in their native language. In addition to this, vast stretches of Al-Ahwaz continue to be riddled with explosive mines and bombs left behind from the Iran-Iraq War. Several local Ahwazi people, including children, have been tragic victims to these land mines. According to a 2003 Landmine Monitoring Report by the Human Rights Watch, Khuzestan remains the “most landmine infested area” in Iran. While the Ahwazi Arabs have appealed to the Iranian government to de-mine the area, their pleas continue to be ignored.


1. How long have Ahwazi Arabs lived in Iran?

Ahwazi Arabs were an indigenous population in Al-Ahwaz before 639 AD. Throughout the centuries the region switched from Arab to Persian control; however the local Ahwazi population has remained consistent. Before Al-Ahwaz was officially renamed Khuzestan in 1936 the region was titled Arabistan which was meant to be a representative of the large local Arab population. The Ahwazi Arabs consider themselves to be native inhabitants of Al-Ahwaz and wish for their indigenous rights of culture, language, human rights and land to be respected and protected by the Iranian government.

2. Are Ahwazi Arabs connected to extremists and separatists?

The Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz do not consider themselves separatists. During the Iran-Iraq War the majority of the Ahwazi Arabs despite their opposition to the Islamic Republic, opposed the Iraqi invasion. Despite the accusations by the Iranian government that the Ahwazi Arabs are attached to Sunni extremists, agents working on behalf of the Israeli, US or Saudi governments, the Ahwazi Arabs have had no connection to radical extremism or violence towards the Iranian government. The goal of the Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz is to gain greater autonomy of Iran’s regions and transform Iran into a truly democratic federal state in which ethnic and religious minorities are equally represented and protected.

3. How has the International Community responded to the human rights situation in Al-Ahwaz?

The situation of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority has remained a topic of concern for human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, as well as the European Parliament, The United Nations, the US Department of State and the International Federation for Human Rights. Since 2005 several reports have been published by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regarding the ethnic genocide of Ahwazi Arabs by the Iranian government. Recently the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the actions of the Iranian government during the 2009 elections and its aftermath. While the plight of the Ahwazi Arabs has received greater international attention, the Iranian government has consistently refused to recognize Iranian Arab rights and instead continues to harshly repress them.



The people of Al-Ahwaz historically speak a dialect of Arabic identical to that spoken in Iraq. Ever since Reza Shah’s centralization and annexation of Al-Ahwaz in 1925, Farsi (Persian) has been the official language of the state and no other languages are taught in school or used by the government. Many Ahwazi Arabs drop out of school because they are forced to learn Farsi, and access to government positions is limited for native-Arab speakers from Al-Ahwaz.


Currently it is estimated that about 70-80% of Ahwazi Arabs are Shia and 20-30% are Sunni. However, there is no religious sectarianism between the two denominations among the Ahwazi, as the society is based more on tribal divisions than religious ones. There are also small numbers of Jews, Christians, and Mandaeans in Al-Ahwaz. Unemployment rates in Al-Ahwaz are very high due to the restriction on Ahwazi Arabic in the region.


Al-Ahwaz is famous in Iran for its natural beauty and its wealth of natural resources. Being situated in the mountainous regions north of the Ahwaz Ridge and the plains and marshlands of the south, the region has an abundance of rivers and rich deposits of oil and minerals. It is because of this that for centuries individuals have inhabited the area and the land is scattered with valuable archeological structures and artifacts. The Ahwazi Arabs have inhabited the area of Al-Ahwaz since 639 AD. However, the relatively recent oil mining, industrial and hydro-electric developments, coupled with the increased land confiscation by the Iranian government have spelled ecological and social disaster for the Ahwazi Arabs.

Oil mining and industrial development have radically transformed the Al-Ahwaz landscape as local mountains and river beds have been leveled in order to accommodate them. Local wildlife, such as the endangered Asiatic Cheetah and the Persian Fallow Deer, have had their populations severely reduced due to loss of habitat.

Fish populations as well have suffered as toxic runoff from the mines and factories pollute the local waterways. Recent research has shown high levels of mercury in the surrounding water supplies coming from the Bandar Imam Petrochemical complex. Local bird populations, especially the endangered falcons have shown extraordinary high levels of mercury in their bloodstreams. Signs of mercury poisoning are also evidenced in the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population in the form of birth defects, mental retardation, and a sharp rise in skin and respiratory diseases.

One the greatest threats to the Ahwazi people is the proposed diversion of the Karoun River by the Iranian government. The diversion project will hit the province's Arab majority hard, exacerbating endemic poverty in the region by reducing water availability. The region also contains extensive marshes and rivers that support endangered species of fish and migratory birds. In January 2006, local members of parliament threatened to resign their seats in protest at the diversion of the Karoun. They claimed that it would seriously undermine water security and the livelihoods of many farmers in the Arab-majority province. In December 2005, some Khuzestan MPs launched a petition to impeach Energy Minister Parviz Fatah over the project.

Nevertheless, in June 2007, Fatah rejected the United Nation Environment Program’s (UNEP) concerns over the environmental impact of the government's diversion project, despite claims that it will create an environmental disaster. According to local media reports, Fatah said that the government would instead step up its river diversion program, claiming that it "will not damage any part of the country and will not reduce the quota of water of any province." He said that Khuzestan would benefit from hydroelectric power stations that form part of the river diversion project.

According to the UNEP, the Hor al-Azeem marsh has transformed from one of the biggest marshes in the Middle East to a barren wasteland with soil that is too salty to sustain any plants. The marsh lies at the mouth of the Karkeh River on the Iran-Iraq border and also receives water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Iran's current project of transferring the waters of the Karoun River to decertified Iranian provinces will have major consequences for the marshland, according to environmental activists. Ahwazi Arabs in Khuzestan already suffer from poor health, low life expectancy, high rates of unemployment and pollution from the oil and petrochemical industries. The diversion of the Karoun would be a disaster for their livelihoods and well-being.

The Arab Spring swept across the Middle East last year, toppling authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, while violence still rages on in Syria. Global commentators speculated about whether the Arab Spring would reach Iran and reignite the anti-Ahmadinejad Green Movement that was brutally suppressed after it started protesting election results in 2009. However, as soon as protests started this February, the police moved in to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that unfolded a few years back. Foreign news coverage then became severely limited, after news bureaus were threatened with closure and their staffs with deportation if they dared print anything negative.

However, the clampdown didn't stop the protests. Two months later, Iranian Arabs in the western province of Ahwaz took to the streets of the capital, which is also called Ahwaz, and were attacked by the security forces, who fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing 15 and wounding dozens more.

Never heard of Ahwaz? That's because, officially, it's called Khuzestan and is home to one of Iran's longest running independence movements—a movement that Iran has been fighting and brutalizing to keep quiet. If the name rings a bell at all, it's probably from the 1980 Iranian embassy siege in London, which was carried out by Ahwazi separatists demanding the release of Arab prisoners in Iranian jails.

Ahwaz is a mainly ethnically Arab province that was an autonomous state before 1935. Ever since, Ahwazis have been protesting both peacefully, and not so peacefully, to regain their independence. But, surprise surprise, Iran isn't listening. And not only is it not listening, it's shooting protesters and often torturing and executing the ones it captures while branding them traitors and heretics.

Unsurprisingly, Ahwazis are getting tired of demonstrating, and there's now talk of armed insurrection. I got in touch with Kamil Alboshoka, who was forced to flee Iran and now works as an Ahwazi human rights campaigner, to find out exactly what's going on.

VICE: Hey, Kamil. Can you tell me a little bit about Ahwaz please?
Kamil: Ahwaz is a very rich and fertile land, with many rivers that help it sustain its vast agricultural output. Ahwaz is Iran's third richest province by GDP, but the country now suffers. Ahwaz is rich, but its people are not. We're not allowed to study our own language, not allowed to engage in politics, not allowed to wear our traditional clothes, not allowed to use our traditional names, and we're not allowed to have our own economy. The country is in a really bad situation.
How did it all start?
It was independent before 1925, then Iran attacked my country, occupied the land, and killed thousands of people. In 1935, Iran officially declared that Ahwaz was a part of the country, then they changed the name to Khuzestan in 1936. Since then, Iran has moved thousands of ethnic Persians to Ahwaz to change the demographic of the land. Now there are nearly two million Persians in Ahwaz, but they live in the centers of the towns and they don’t mix with people, exactly like Kosovo in the past, or like the West Bank. They're Persian settlements and they have the power to take agriculture from the people. The economy is run by them and they're supported by the Iranian state.

So the 1979 revolution changed nothing?
No, nothing changed. It just became worse, because, in 1979 Persians weren't supposed to take power again—it was supposed to become a federalist state. During the revolution, the ethnic Turks started the demonstrations across Iran, and Arabs blockaded the oil and gas in Ahwaz, so that made the previous regime close down. Before Ruhollah Khomeini took power, he told them he'd give them rights to speak their language, rights to be federalist, and rights to have a percentage of their economy, but didn't fulfill any of his promises. The only thing we have left now is self-determination.

Did anything change when Iran and Iraq went to war? Did Ahwazis fight for Iran or Iraq?
Well, the majority supported Iraq during the war, because Iraq wanted to help us as fellow Arabs. In Iran, every boy must serve in the army for two years, so many of them joined the army and were forced to fight Iraq against their will. We're geographically different to Iran, culturally different to Iran, ideologically different to Iran, our food is different to Iran and our mentality is different to Iran. Everything is different to Iran.

Do you know of any Ahwazis who went to Iraq to fight for them?
I know thousands of Ahwazis living in Iraq and they told me that 5,000 Ahwazis were killed fighting for Iraq. We had an army in Iraq and an organization, called the Arabic Movement for Ahwaz, but many of the Ahwazis who fought for Iraq are now in hiding because the Iranian intelligence services have been hunting them down ever since.

Are the Iranians killing them if they find them?
Iranian intelligence services are, yes, but Iranian services are now part of the Iraqi government. Malaki, Assad, Jafari and Hakeem are all agents for Iran. Iraq is not safe for our people at all.

How did you get involved in the Ahwaz independence movement?
On the 15th of April, 2005, I participated in a demonstration in Khailafia. It was a very peaceful demonstration to begin with—we simply wanted the world to hear our voice—but the Iranian regime began shooting at the crowd and ended up killing a lot of people. I believe more than 350 people were killed during 25 days of demonstrations.

Did they shoot at you while you were protesting, or when they found out where you lived?
No, they shot at us during the demonstration. They injured 6,000 and, according to Iranian reports, there have been 36,000 people arrested since then because of the demonstrations. Some only spent a day in detention, whereas others are still there. My best friend was arrested, along with his brother, and sentenced to 35 years in a prison outside of Ahwaz. His older brother was executed.

Did you get arrested?
Yeah, I was detained for 28 days. I was blindfolded and had no idea where they had taken me. They began torturing me on the first day with electric cables, wooden blocks, and lead pipes and continued until they had to release me on bail, due to lack of evidence. I had to sign in at the police station every month and say I wasn't part of any dissident group. I was, of course, but I had to keep it a secret.

 Iranian security forces have put down peaceful demonstrations and intensified their wave of arrests of Ahwazi Arabs ahead of Eid ul-Fitr, the Islamic celebration that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
On Friday August 17 [2012], Arab demonstrators protested in different parts of the Al-Ahwaz region demanding the release of political prisoners and respect for the bodies of those executed in recent months. The protests were swiftly put down and were followed by arrests.
Cafe owner Saeed Dehimi (25) from Hamidiyah was detained at an unknown location on Friday. Security forces also targeted Arab residential districts of Ahwaz City: Kut Abdullah, Kantex, Malashiya and Hey Althawra in an effort to intimidate local residents. A number of Sunni Arabs were arrested, but only the names of two are known at present: Heidar Meisi (25) and Ahmad Hazbawi (28).
Seyed Dhahi (Zahi Mosawi), aged 28 and married with one daughter, was arrested at his home in Ahmadi Street, Hey Althawra this weekend. He was accused of inciting protests and distributing anti-regime leaflets as well as calling for Eid prayers and arranging a popular Ahwazi game played during Ramadan, known as Mehebes. He is being held at an undisclosed location.
Check points were set up in Malashiya district, where at least six men were arrested on Saturday August 18th [2012]: Jamal Khasraji, Mahdi Khasraji, Naji Khalifa Al-Shemeri, Ayoob Khasraji, Hakim Khasraji and Khalil Khasraji. Shawoor district, a suburb of Susa, has also been the focus of a crackdown with an unknown number of arrests made.
The Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network (AASN) has received the names of 46 Ahwazi Arabs arrested over Ramadan, but believes many more have been detained. A 12 year old girl was also killed by security forces in Sariya, a suburb of Khafajiya (Susangerd) on July 21. The prospect of peaceful protests on and in the days after Eid ul-Fitr could push the number of arrests into triple figures, says AASN.
 Meanwhile, 11 political prisoners from Hamidiyeh are set to be put on trial at Branch 1 of the Ahwaz Revolutionary Court:
Eidan Shakhi Sayyahi (son of Abdulkazem)Ali SaediRedha Obaidawi (son of Nezal)Jawad BatraniJalil NaamiJasem Obaidawi (son of Jomaa)Hassan AbiyatHadi Abiyat (son of Abdulzahra)Hassan Menabi (son of Rashed)Mostafa Koti (son of Sabah)
The men have been held in custody and subjected to physical and psychological torture for over one year. They appeared on Press TV, the Iranian government's English language propaganda station. According to sources, none of the men have been appointed a legal representative and the trial will be conducted in secret in front of Judge Ebrahimi, who has links to the security services.
Five Ahwazis are currently facing execution for "enmity with God" and there are reports they are being tortured by the Ministry of Intelligence, even after being sentenced to death. Four Ahwazi political prisoners were executed in June on the same charges. Six Ahwazis have also been tortured to death in extra-judicial killings by the security services, although none were charged with any crime.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Turkish PM says Syria has become ‘terrorist state’

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad attend a news conference after their meeting in Istanbul on June 7, 2010. (Reuters)Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has created a “terrorist state”, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, accusing the outside world of indifference which was adding to the massacres there.
Erdogan for years cultivated good relations with Assad, but after the Syrian uprising began 17 months ago, became one of his harshest critics. The Turkish leader has long called for Assad to step down, but his latest comments were some of his strongest yet.

“The massacres in Syria that gain strength from the international community’s indifference are continuing to increase,” Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling AK Party.

“The regime in Syria has now become a terrorist state.”

Turkey says it is struggling to cope with an influx of around 80,000 Syrian refugees and is pushing for a foreign-protected safe zone inside Syria.
But the proposal has gained little international support and Ankara has become increasingly vocal in its frustration at the U.N. Security Council and its failure to take concerted action.
At the same time, Turkey, with some half a million men under arms, appears so far unwilling to act without international support. Erdogan said Turkey could not afford to remain silent.

“For the Syrian people, Turkey is not an ordinary country. We are a country with a 910 kilometer border and tied by relatives,” Erdogan said.

“For Syria, we are not the USA, nor are we England, nor Iran, nor Russia. A country in Asia can remain indifferent over Syria, but Turkey does not have that luxury,” he said.

Turkish tanks conducted exercises along the border with Syria on Wednesday, a clear warning to Damascus. The exercise was the most “comprehensive” of its kind recently, state-run Anatolia news agency said, and involved maneuver and attack drills which could be seen from inside Syria.

Aside from the influx of refugees, Ankara is also concerned the crisis in Syria has emboldened separatist Kurdish insurgents within Turkey and has accused Assad of arming them.

Turkey has raised the possibility of military intervention in Syria if the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought in southeastern Turkey for almost three decades, were to launch attacks from Syrian soil.

“Opposing us is a sub-contractor organization without any humane values, which does not recognize anything holy and which strikes from behind in a cowardly way,” Erdogan said referring to the PKK.

“This group is directly supported abroad by enemy countries,” he said, hinting at Syria.

Turkey, the United States and the European Union all list the PKK as a terrorist organization.

The West's failure in dealing with Iran

Randa TakieddineThe talks about an Israeli military strike against Iran serves the latter’s interests in raising oil prices to the level $116 per barrel. European and American oil sanctions on Iran affected the Iranian oil exports; in July and August of last year, Iran was exporting 2.2 million barrels per day, whereas in July this year, the Iranian oil exports decreased to 600 thousand barrels per day, and in August these exports have fallen to 1 million barrels per day. This means that, in the past two months, Iran has lost more than half of its oil exports in comparison with last year's rate.
Iran's oil revenues are still high. PIRA, the American energy market consulting firm, estimated Iranian oil revenue was 40 billion dollars for the first eight months of this year, while it had reached 60 billion dollars during the same period last year. Iran's oil exports have been reduced to 60 percent of the level before sanctions, while revenue level has actually dropped by 30 percent only because of the increasing oil prices.

French diplomats are aware that this is a weak point in the sanction system imposed on Iran, because high oil high prices are still helping Iran to withstand these sanctions. Oil prices are expected to remain high in the next two months due to speculative oil trades on the short run that would raise the prices as a result of this constant tension.
Moreover, oil prices have reached $116 per barrel because of tension in the petroleum global markets. In the first and second quarters of this year, several refinery process units have witnessed maintenance operations, causing a very low oil stock; some refineries in the Atlantic basin have been shut, reducing the volume of products supplied, so the market witnessed an elevation in oil prices. This will help Iran to counterbalance some of the losses resulting from the oil embargo imposed by the west. So, the sanctions are not always efficient and influential on a dictatorial regime such as the Iranian regime.
There is no doubt that the West is facing a dilemma regarding the Iranian nuclear file. The West wants to carry on the dialogue with the Iranians, and at the same time, increase the pressure on the latters through sanctions.

However, Iran wants to delay the pointless dialogue so it can have the time to speed up and develop its nuclear program. The West can neither deal with this issue nor with the Syrian crisis. Western countries fear a military strike against Iran, because it would increase the region’s disturbance and threaten Obama’s presidential campaign.

This military strike would also reflect the weakness of the so-called “major” countries who have endured the bitter experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan due to their ignorance in dealing with this region, especially in their reliance on officials such as Paul Bremer, who created a state of confusion in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and subsequently left the country in the hands of Iran. There is no doubt that the failure of the six major countries dealing with Iran regarding the latter’s nuclear file will give Tehran more time to build its nuclear program, especially since the administration of Iran's supreme leader is aware that the fall of Iran’s Syrian ally has become very near.

Iran on the verge of severe financial crisis: intelligence report

Iranian protests during the country's 2009 pro-democracy demonstrations. A purported Iranian intelligence report that has been leaked online warns of an imminent financial crisis in the country that would cause nation-wide upheaval. (Reuters)An apparent classified Iranian intelligence report that has been leaked online warns of an imminent financial crisis in the country that would cause nation-wide upheaval.
Excerpts of the report, posted this week on several Iranian websites, revealed that the government might not be able to pay the full salaries of its employees in the coming three months, which threatens the eruption of massive popular protests across the country.

Large portions of the population might suffer from starvation, the report said, adding that riots are expected to take place in border cities where living conditions are rapidly deteriorating.

According to the report, Iran’s reserve of foreign currency might run out within the coming six month owing to extreme budget deficiency.
Other official reports have stated that Iranian factories are working on only half their capacity, and that a large number of them have declared bankruptcy.

Under international sanctions, inflation in the country has reached 33 percent and prices of meat, chicken, and milk saw
an unprecedented hike that reached 80 percent last year.
The European embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil is costing the country an estimated $133 million in daily revenues, and the Iranian riyal has also witnessed an unprecedented drop.

The governor of the Iranian Central Bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, has announced a raising the official rate of the riyal against the dollar over the next 10 days in order to deal with the “international developments.”

But according to Iranian bankers, the official rate – 12,260 riyals to the dollar -- was only a reference. There was a wide gap between the official and actual rates, which reportedly increased the prevalence of corruption within the Iranian government, since purchasing dollars with the official rates has become extremely profitable.

U.S. senators concerned Iran aiding Syria via Iraq

Senators John McCain (pictured), Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham told reporters in Baghdad that while Tehran had told Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki the planes were carrying humanitarian aid, the U.S. believed they had military equipment on board. (Reuters)Three U.S. senators voiced concerns to Iraq’s prime minister that Iran has resumed using Baghdad’s airspace to fly weapons and equipment to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, they said on Wednesday.
Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham told reporters in Baghdad that while Tehran had told Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki the planes were carrying humanitarian aid, the U.S. believed they had military equipment on board.

Their comments came as the New York Times reported on Wednesday that Iran had resumed transporting the equipment, citing unnamed U.S. officials, after the Islamic republic stopped such overflights earlier this year.

“We did raise concerns with the prime minister and the foreign minister (about overflights),” Lieberman said.

“The prime minister has said that he had testimony, or promises from the Iranians that they were just flying humanitarian assistance, but we believe otherwise.
“I think we should present him (Maliki) with... as much evidence as we can, to show why we believe those Iranian cargo and commercial planes... are carrying items... that enable Assad to kill his own people.”
McCain added that the issue was a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, and said Maliki told the senators that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had said Washington would provide Baghdad with proof regarding the cargo, but such evidence had not yet been handed over.

McCain said he believed the transport flights resumed after a July 18 suicide bombing on a heavily guarded security headquarters in Damascus killed four top regime officials, including defense minister General Daoud Rajha and Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat.

In March, Baghdad informed Tehran it would not permit arms shipments to Syria to pass through or over its territory after Washington said it was concerned about Iranian cargo flights through Iraqi airspace.

The U.S. said at the time it had warned Iraq that the planes might contain arms that could be used by Damascus to crush the uprising in Syria.

At the time, Maliki insisted that all items transported through Iraq to Syria were humanitarian goods.