Iran occupied the Arab emirate of Arabistan and its capital in 1925 through an Iranian-British plot, in which the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Khazal bin Jaber Al Kaabi, was invited to a meeting on board a British yacht, where he was arrested and later transferred to a prison in Tehran, where he remained until his death in 1936.
During the Pahlavi era, the government approved a project, which was promoted after the end of World War I, targeting ethnic minorities in Iran so that they would be stripped of their ethnic identity, culture, heritage and language. The Persian language was imposed on them as the official language of Iran.
The torment and suffering of Ahwaz people began when the Iranian government tried hard to change their Arab identity in the crucible of Persian nationalism. Towns, villages, mountains, rivers, streets and Arab neighbourhoods were given Persian names and historic sites that testified to the Arab identity of Ahwaz were destroyed. Sheikh Khazal’s palace was also destroyed in an attempt to obliterate any sign of the Arab identity of the region.
Moreover, Iran systematically worked to change the demographic composition of areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, especially Arabistan /Ahwaz, by either forcibly displacing people to rural Persian provinces or relocating Persian families to minority areas and offering them financial incentives and work opportunities to encourage them to live in a “new homeland.”
The 1979 revolution, which brought the clergy to power, gave hope to ethnic minorities in Iran, as they believed that whoever raised Islamic slogans calling for the rights of ethnic, religious and sectarian minorities will end oppression and injustice. But the opposite happened.
The new system was harsh, unjust and oppressive to them and the leaders of this system inherited from their predecessors negative attitudes toward non-Persians, especially Arabs.
Arabs in Iran continue to struggle for their rights and to overcome ethnic and political persecution and get a fair share of development projects in the country. But the Iranian regime has ignored these demands. Instead, the injustice and oppression of the people of Ahwaz has increased.
The emirate of Ahwaz has been witnessing uprisings since 2005 after a document sent by former Iranian vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi to the military ruler in Ahwaz came to light. In the document, the military official was invited to start the displacement of two-thirds of the indigenous Ahwaz Arabs, with Persians to be brought to replace them.
Ahwaz Arabs, like the other non-Persians in Iran, are prevented from learning the Arabic language and there are significant restrictions on their cultural and literary activities. In the latest example of this policy, an Ahwaz folklore band was prevented from presenting its traditional show during the Heritage Festival in the Iranian capital. Perhaps the fact that the band members wore Arab dress was the reason for this.
Recently, the Arab city of Ahwaz witnessed something similar to the incident in Bouazizi in Tunisia that lit the spark for the Tunisian revolution at the end of 2010.
Municipal authorities in Al Muhammara (Khorramshahr after Persianisation) destroyed the pushcart of a 34-year-old Ahwaz vendor named Younis Asakereh. The cart was the only source of income for him and his family, and in protest he set himself on fire in front of the municipal building. He was taken to a hospital, where he died a few days later.
The incident caused a great deal of anger in Ahwaz, where demonstrations and rallies were organised to condemn the way the municipality had dealt with the young man.
Al Hilal match
Just two days later, on March 16, 2015, the city of Ahwaz hosted an AFC Champions League football match between Ahwaz Foulaz and the Saudi Al Hilal team.
Hundreds of young people in traditional Arab dress, known as dishdasha, turned out to welcome the Saudi team at Ahwaz Airport.
During the game, on March 17, 2015, the people of Ahwaz cheered the visitors by raising banners referring to their common Arab background and singing songs. This angered the Iranian authorities, who provoked the crowd after the game, leading to clashes between the two sides and resulting, according to some reports, in the arrest of more than a thousand people.
Reports said that the arrests mostly targeted people wearing Arab dress.
Iranian security services’ cars were set on fire and some police officers were injured.
A few questions
The tragedies suffered by the people of Ahwaz have not stopped Tehran from plundering the wealth of that land, which contains 90 percent of Iran’s oil and gas resources, turning the province’s cities into the world’s most polluted, depleting its water resources by diverting the water of Karun river to Persian cities such as Isfahan, and converting agricultural land to factories and residential areas for families moved from various Iranian cities.
Is it not enough that the people of Ahwaz are arrested and abused because they express their Arab identity or welcome Arab guests to their city?
Is Iran so fragile that the dishdasha poses a threat to the security of the province and anyone wearing it must be confronted with force and arrested for expressing his identity and the identity of the land?
Here we remind the Iranian regime that history and reality prove the Arab identity of this province, and whenever restrictions were imposed on its people they became more committed to their identity and expressed themselves more openly.
The people’s anger is reciprocating the regime’s oppression and torture; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction!
The author is a columnist and political analyst specialising in Iranian affairs.
by: Dr Mohammed Al Sulami