Oppression of ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East is a root cause of the current crisis.
Two regions leading human rights activists, Dr. Saad Eddin Ebrahim, a leading human rights activist and founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Egypt and Dr. Karim Abdian, executive director of Ahwaz Human Rights Organizations, an international NGO in support of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, will present two perspectives on the Issue. Venue: Geneva Intercontinental Hotel
Remarks of Dr. Karim Abdian:
Thanks for the organizer of this timely event as minority issue shave been sidelined, not only governments, again - yet, if you look at the current hot spots and the various crisis in the Middle east, invariably you’ll see that at the very hear of these crisis lay the disenfranchisement, marganizaliation, oppression and exclusion of non-dominant nationalities- which is some countries are minorities, and in some other countries are in fact majority – but are dominated by a one ethnic group at the expanse of others constituencies.
It us true in Syria, its true in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Turkey and certainly in Iran.
There is this misconception, promoted equally by the Islamic republic itself, and by its lobby groups and its supporters in the West that after the nuclear deal, and after the election- everything is – fine and rosy –that Iran will be open to outside investment and it democratize – not true, far from it.
Iran, despite its expansionist and its mini-imperialist posture in the region, , in fact it extremely unstable politically and economically and therefore remains explosive inside due to its ideological, exclusive and dictatorial rule – but yes, it remains a danger to its peoples, especially the non-dominant ethnic and religious minorities and nationalities and a danger to the region and the world.
With over 1000 executions last year under the so-called reformist president of Mr. Hassan Rouhani, in political repression and economic marginalization of non-Persian nationalities have increased many folds.
One of the six major ethnic groups that constitute Iran is the Indigenous Ahwaz Arabs of Iran. Located in the geopolitically sensitive and oil-rich Khuzestan province – called Arabian by the Safavid since early 16th century and changed by Reza Shah in 1936 to Khuzestan to negate its Arab character.
Arabs in Iran are about 10% of the population -scattered in several provinces but the majority southwestern Iran or the historical land of al-Ahwaz hence is called Ahwazi-Arabs. Ahwazis constitute an indigenous, ethnic, national and linguistic minority in Iran- numbering at last 5 to 7 million.
The Arabs in Iran have deliberately being kept semi-illiterate and backward. We have been subjected to the eradication of our national identity, our culture, language, and customs; and faced with forced assimilation, depriving Arab children from studying in mother language – all elements of a systematic ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide by the Islamic Republic against Ahwazi-Arab nation in Iran.
While Ahwazi land accounts for 90% of Iranian oil production, Ahwazi-Arabs live in abject poverty. No part of the oil revenue – none, 0% - is allocated to our area or to the local Arabs.
For the past 37 years, the clerical regimes put Ahwazi-Arab nation under political, cultural, social and economic subjugation. These regimes stripped indigenous Arabs of Ahwaz from their human rights and lowered their status to the ranks of 2nd and 3rd class citizens.
The policies of the Islamic Republic, like its predecessor, are based on the elimination of the national identity of Ahwazi-Arabs, and to a lesser degree, other nationalities such as the Turks, Kurds, Baluchis and Turkmen. The aim is "Persianization” or “Farsization”, where everything must be Persian. This policy is based on a supremacist and a chauvinist ideology aimed at the elimination of non-Persian cultures, especially the identity and culture of indigenous Arabs.
Socio-political structure of Iranian society is designed and subscribed to, and serves, the view that Iran is one nation with one language and one religion and one identity- but in fact Iran is the most diverse country in the region. A multinational state that is comprised of six major nationalities including Arabs, Baluchis, Kurds, Persians, Turks, Turkmen and smaller groups of other ethnic/linguistic and tribal groups. While no one ethnic group has a numerical majority nationwide, each nationality and ethnic group is the majority in its own homeland.. Iran is also home to Sunnis, Christians, Jews, Bahis, Mandanis, Zurestorians, Yazidi and others religious minorities.
These ethnic and religious groups comprise at least 50 to and by some estimates 65% of the population. Yet these groups, and especially Ahwazi-Arabs, have not been accorded equal citizenship – They are not being officially acknowledged. By constitution, Persian language is the sole official language, and –Jafari Shiai is the official religion- all others are ignored, oppressed, negated or at best marginalized. According to Mr. Hajbabaei, former deputy minster of education, only 30% of Iranian 1st graders entering school speak Farsi.
Using Shia theology and Persian literature, history, language and the education, the regime, strategically and deliberately, privileges one ethnic group over others, thus creating, inequality, exclusion, animosity and factionalism among various ethnic groups, hence stifling solidarity any chance of democratic transformation. But by being silent on these issues, Iranian media, writers, poets, Persian opposition groups and intellectuals are in fact accomplices to this perpetual ethnic and religious oppression.
Promoting aggressive nationalism in Iran by formulating the so called Iranian nation, meaning and using it synonymously as Persian nation- this aggressive nationalism often times manifest itself in anti-Arab racism, holding Ahwazi-Arabs of Iran accountable for so called lost mythical civilization and introduction of Islam to Iran.
I learned the pain and the agony and lack of identity by not being able to communicate, read and write in my own mother language. I remember my parents had to take a Farsi speaker in confronting the school administrators, a police officer or a judge in the court.
Ahwazi-Arab people have been one of the most excluded constituent nationalities in Iran and Socio-economically, rank at the very bottom.
Arab demands for basic human rights, including education in our mother tongue, social and economic justice has often been labeled as "separatist”, “secessionist”, “Wahhabis” or called “stooges of foreign countries” or “danger to territorial integrity”.
The Islamic Republic government, under president Rouhani, continues the forced resettlement policy to force the Arab population out of Arabistan by providing economic incentives and enticements to settlers from provinces of Isfahan, Yazd and Rafsanjani. As in the previous regime, governor general of Khuzestan, all other province’s political, military and security commanders and officers, mayors and all high and mid-level government officials of Khuzestan have consistently been appointed from non-Arabs outside of the native Arab population. We haven’t had an Arab governor for a majority Arab province for the past 90 years since the rein of Shaykh Khazaal. Names of cities, towns, villages, rivers and other geographical landmarks were changed from Arabic to Persian during the previous Pahalavi regimes.
Now, as under Ahmadinejad, and ironically especially in the past year since the election of Mr. Rouhani, the regime intensified its campaign of repression against Arab freedom fighters, human rights and political activists by officially and publically executing nearly 50 Arab activists including writers, poets, teachers and other political and human rights activists.
Displaced from their traditional lands and crowded into slums, the Ahwazi Arabs endure human development indicators that fall well below those of the Iranian national average. Illiteracy among Ahwazi Arab men is around 50-60 per cent for men, higher for women, compared to 14-18% for Iran.
Added to this are the lingering effects of the Iran-Iraq War, with landmines continuing to kill and maim Arab farmers and contamination from chemical weapons leading to high rates of birth deformities.
Levels of poverty among Ahwazi Arabs outstrip many African countries yet; these African levels of deprivation are occurring in a province that has more oil wealth than the UAE and Kuwait combined.
Institutional racism and ethnic cleansing has recently escalated into full-scale cultural genocide and violent repression against an awakened Ahwazi-Arab nation.
Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, Amnesty International states that Ahwazi Arabs have little or no access to clean running water, sanitation or other utilities such as electricity ... land expropriation by the Iranian authorities is reportedly so widespread that it appears to amount to a policy aimed at dispossessing Arabs of their traditional lands. This is apparently part of a strategy aimed at the forcible relocation of Arabs to other areas while facilitating the transfer of non-Arabs into Khuzestan and is linked to economic policies such as zero interest loans which are not available to local Arabs.”
In a visit to Khuzestan in July 2005, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Miloon Kothari verified the fact that land confiscation was been conducted to set up housing and industrial projects that excluded the Ahwazi Arabs. He said: “...thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity and no gas connections... and the estimate we received is that between 200,000 – 250,000 Arab people are being displaced from their villages
Ethnic cleansing has been stepped up under the Ahmadinejad administration with the creation of the 155 sq km Arvand Free Zone, a military-industrial zone along the border with Iraq’s Basra province. Entire villages are being eradicated to make way for petrochemical projects
The confiscation of indigenous Arab-owned land by the Iranian government has been an established policy since 1925. The confiscated lands are typically given to non-indigenous Arab settlers. In the past fifteen years alone, over 60,000 hectares, and in total some 200,000 hectares of indigenous Ahwazi Farmers land have been forcefully taken over,. This scheme is designed to break up and change the ethnic structure and racial mix of the province and de-populate the towns and villages of Khuzestan from indigenous Arabs.
Since 2004, the Iranian regimes has undertaken a huge settlement by displacing Indigenous Ahwazi Arabs and resettle over a million non-Arab Persians from northeastern provinces to Khuzestan. This scheme under the name of "RAMIN-2 TOWNSHIPS" is officially directed by the Khatami government and is managed by Mohsen Rezaie, a former supreme commander of Iranian Revolutionary Crop, and a current member of the Iranian Expediency Council, a well-known anti-Arab and an ultra-nationalist personality. This project is aimed to resettle and ethnically cleanse 2 million Indigenous Ahwazi Arabs within 10 years.
Under a government ethnic cleansing policy called “Hmemyesh Sarzamini” (Land Experimentations), 1.2 million Ahwazis were forcefully displaced to central provinces and 1.5 million non-Indigenous Persian have been resettled in government paid, resettlement towns of Ramin, 1, 2 and 3, Shirin-Shahr in Arab cities and towns of al-Ahwaz or Khuzestan.
The average malnutrition rate for Iran is 11%, but in the Arab district of Susangerd the level is around 80%. Unemployment among Ahwazi Arabs is around 50 per cent, compared to Iran’s national average of 12 per cent.
Ahwazi Arab students drop out of schools at 30% during elementary, 50% during secondary and 70% during high school because they are forced to study a so called official language, a language that is not their native. Not surprisingly, this is the outcome of an imposed single-language educational system in a multi-lingual, multinational/multicultural society. This policy has led to economic deprivation, political sidelining, and negation of cultural identity.
The dominant body of national (Persian) literature is overtly racist and anti-Arab in nature.
According to an informal survey, 80 to 90% of prominent Persian writers and poets are anti-Arab and have insulted Arabs and Arab culture in their work.
Ahwazis cannot wear their national and ethnic dress and costume in official centers. They are a people ignored, they are non-official.
Twenty-nine years after the war with Iraq, the Arab-populated border cities destroyed during the Iran-Iraq war have largely been untouched. Because this helps perpetuates the policy of assimilation, ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide.
Diversion of Rivers that Cross Arab Land: The regime erected dams and diverted the waters of our rivers such as Karoon River to non-Arab areas provinces of Isfahan, Yazd and Kerman. This diversion takes place while Khuzestan severely suffers from the shortage of drinking water. Thus depriving the desperately needed agricultural and drinking water to Arab farmers.