IF you are unaware that there are millions of Arabs subsisting in miserable conditions in the oil-and-water-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan, you can be forgiven. The shameful fact is that their plight goes under the Arab World’s radar and is rarely highlighted by either the Western or Arab media.
These are the forgotten Ahwazis of Arabistan, a region that was once under the dominion of the Ummayid and Abbasid Caliphs. In 1925, it was annexed by the oil-hungry Reza Shah Pahlavi who had its Arab ruler Sheikh Khaz’al of Muhammerah placed under arrest until his death.
As if life under the Pahlavi dynasty was not hard enough for the children of Arabistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran tramples upon every facet of their human rights, forces them to live in abject poverty and attempts to obliterate their Arab identity.
Many are in crisis mode unable to care for their families. Some 81 per cent of youths are unemployed because relocated Persians are given priority. They are beginning to lose all hope.
Last month alone a young Ahwazi husband and father was seen on YouTube setting himself alight before dying in hospital; at least four other family men chose to hang themselves to escape Iran’s persecution and ethno-religious discrimination.
Moreover, their environment is being ruined by the bad practices of oil and chemical companies resulting in desertification of farmlands, polluted rivers, dead birds and fish as well as a heightened prevalence of breathing difficulties.
Whenever they gather together to vent their legitimate frustrations the regime cracks down even harder, arresting demonstrators and often subjecting them to the cruellest of tortures.
Despite all odds, these virtual prisoners on the soil that bore their ancestors are genuine Arab patriots — barring a small disruptive minority of Communists and those with allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood — who view their communities as the first line of defence between Iranian expansion and a buffer between Tehran and Gulf Arab States.
No Persian banning of their language, traditional clothing or names has succeeded in casting a shadow over their Arab minds and souls.
There was little differential made between Arab Sunnis and Shiites prior to the 1979 revolution when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini constructed a Shiite underclass mirage to serve his own ends. The truth is that Iranians have been conned into believing Sunnis and Arabs are their natural enemies and the ruling mullahs are the defenders of Shiism.
Iran only stands up for Shiites when doing so happens to suit its economic interests or core agendas — the dissemination of its medieval ideology, converting Arab countries into Iranian puppet states with the ultimate goal of controlling Islam’s holiest sites.
A recent example of Tehran’s perfidiousness was during the ‘four-day war’, a conflict that erupted in April 2016 between overwhelmingly Shiite Azerbaijan and predominately Christian Armenia set on destroying a budding Azerbaijani-Turkish front. Iran that has long objected to western oil giants operating on the Caspian shelf, adopted a pro-Armenian position.
Likewise, Iran’s support of the Palestinian cause is another façade designed to win over gullible Arab nationalists as Abdullah Al-Otaibi pinpointed several years ago in Asharq Al-Awsat.
His article quotes former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani saying, “We have benefited from this process in presenting the Palestinian issue, which was forgotten, and we were able, through this process, to find new relations with the outside world and develop them.”
It is an inescapable irony that in spite of the high horse with respect to the brutal occupation of Palestine, its behaviour towards its own Arab citizens mirrors that of the country it terms “The Little Satan”.
The Ahwazis have brave hearts and strong voices which are not being heard because they lack support not only from the international community but also from the Arab World. Yes, just like the Palestinians they seek an independent state but they are also realists; that cannot be realized overnight.
In the meantime, they long for moral and diplomatic support from their Arab brethren, which until today has not been forthcoming. Specifically, they seek recognition by the Arab League in the form of a seat on the basis of associate or observer state status.
I have been pushing hard for just that for some time but it seems there are two objecting states. No prize for guessing which. They are the two that have been enchained and stripped of their national dignity by Iranian surrogate leaderships.
Put simply, the Arab League is being indirectly led by a long and obstructive Persian nose. That sorry state of affairs should be acknowledged and rectified with a rule change allowing for, say, an 80 per cent majority to carry resolutions.
Ahwazis have been let down time and time again and were stabbed in the back by the political-militant organization Mujahedin-e Khalq purporting to be their ally against the regime. Their situation has been discussed in Britain’s House of Commons attended by representatives of the UK Foreign Office, the US Embassy, human rights groups and parliamentarians but no action was taken.
Ahwazis are firmly with us. A young Ahwazi poet Ahmed Sabhan wrote heartfelt lines to the Saudi monarch HM King Salman bin Abdulaziz glorifying his leadership in liberating Yemen from “Houthis of Darkness,” before he and his wife were arrested and tortured.
In light of a disinterested community of nations and a shackled Arab League, I address my appeal to two compassionate Arab lions King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates.
Let us prove to these long-suffering people that they are not alone. Let us take up their banner and work for their cause. Let it ring loudly through the United Nations and be projected via our Arab media. Let us shout from the rooftops that we are all proud members of one Arab nation that refuses to forget the loyal Ahwazi Arabs of Arabistan.
By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor – UAE Businessman