Iran is an artificial country which includes a large number of ethnic groups: Persians, Azars, Kurds, Turkmen, Baloch, Arabs and more. The largest group, the Persians, is also the most dominant and makes up 60% of the population. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is Azari.
Southwestern Iran, the Khuzistan region, is home to the Arab minority group, but that is where most of the oil and gas resources are to be found underground, right under the feet of that Arab minority. They are Shiites, exactly like the majority Persians, but are treated with disdain by the government. In the past, the region was called Arabistan to allude to the ethnic group living there, but after the 1925 Persian Conquest, the Persians changed its name to Khuzistan in an attempt to hide its Arab character. Today it is called Ahwaz, the name of its capital city.
The area’s size is over 60,000 sq. kilometers, three times the size of the State of Israel, but its population, numbering 4.5 million, is half that of Israel. Although most of Iran’s gas and oil reserves are in the region, most of the Arab population gets nothing out of it, and probably even suffers from it.
The Arab rulers do not recognize the Arab group as an ethnic minority and forbids the official and public use of the Arab language. Arabs are not allowed to engage in any political or cultural activity that might advance any ideas of perceived solidarity.
Iran’s government built dams on the two main rivers of the region in order to bring the water to other regions within Iran, mainly Persian ones. As a result, agricultural lands near the rivers are starved for water and many of the Arab villagers found themselves without a source of income. Most of them moved to the cities where they live in abject poverty.
The oil fields in the Ahwaz region attract companies that drill, produce and refine the oil, both Western and Chinese, causing massive pollution – to the point where it is dangerous to remain in the region. The Iranian regime is indifferent to this population’s suffering, leading them to demonstrate in 2005 for recognition as a collective and cease operations whose aim is to steal the natural resources of the region. The regime dispersed the demonstrators, killing hundreds in the process.
There are several underground organizations active among the Khuzistan Arab population, at the forefront of which is the Ahwaz Patriotic Council, which makes no secret of its goal to free the area from Iranian occupation.
In August 2013 Iran executed six Ahwaz citizens. The region publicized that using the term “the Iranian enemy,” claiming they were executed because of so-called “terror attacks” when they were really uninvolved students in Iranian universities who at most took part in non-violent demonstrations. Executions carried out on the regions residents are not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, hundreds have been hanged and displayed on the streets to act as a deterrent to anyone who is dreaming of independence or civil rights.
This year, on March 6th, an Arab religious leader named Bakr Al Naami, was arrested by the Iranian regime. He lived in Ahwaz and not a sign of his whereabouts has come to light. The government does not say anything and even denies that he is in its hands, although not a few eye witnesses saw security men in civilian dress breaking into his home, removing him and speeding away with him in a car that belonged to the internal security service.
Security services have arrested him several times prior to this one and kept him in solitary confinement for months. The last time they also seized all his books and telephones. The regime considers him someone who “spreads anti-regime propaganda” and insults Islam, claiming that he left the Shiites, joined the Sunnis and organized readings of the Koran, prayers and holidays according to the customs kept in Sunni Arab countries.
Al Naami’s family has turned to international organizations, including the official in charge of the Iranian file at the UN Human Rights Council, Dr. Ahmed Shahid, but to no avail.
According to one of the underground organizations working to free Arabs from the Iranian yoke, “The Movement for Arab Struggle to Free Ahwaz,” persecution of the Arab minority is becoming more and more frequent and the regime has been forcibly entering the homes of activists and arresting many of them, including women: recently a female activist was arrested for three days and after her release was put under house arrest without being allowed to communicate with anyone.
The Iranian government put fabricated texts on her Facebook page, meant to prove her guilt. Her arrest led to a wave of protest among the Arab population in Iran and was publicized worldwide. The publicity forced the Iranians to release her and put her under house arrest, an indication that the regime is sensitive to publicity.
This sensitivity probably stems from the Iranian regime’s fear of a rise in the anti-government feeling in the Arab minority which could spread to other minorities, mainly the Kurds and Baloch – pouring oil on the flames of tensions between the Persians and all the minorities in the country and affecting the government’s stability.
The spokespersons of the organizations in the Ahwaz region use familiar terms, such as “rule of occupation” and “occupied land.”
The so-called “enlightened ” world normally ignores what the Iranian regime does in Ahwaz, just as it ignores most of the mass murders and wars in the Islamic and Arab world. As long as there are no migrant refugees fleeing en masse to Europe or the United States, the West does not lift a finger to put an end to the ongoing disasters.
In addition, the Iranian regime, despite its oppression of minorities such as the Arabs, Kurds and Baloch, has become the darling of the West, and Western nations are standing on line to do business with the country that has just had billions poured into its emptying coffers.
Instead of tightening the sanctions on the Ayatollah’s regime, the West has betrayed the persecuted minorities in Iran and allowed the Ayatollahs to believe that they can do whatever the wish to local minorities. The world does not bother to notice what goes on within Iran and wouldn’t care even if it did. The fate of the oppressed and unfortunate people doomed to live under the Iranian regime’s gallows does not interest them.
History will judge the Western leaders for their silence and “business as usual” with Iran, at the expense of the lives and welfare of millions of oppressed people forced to live under conditions that no one in the West would tolerate. There is no greater hypocrisy.