The al-Ahwaz district in Iran – which appears on the map as if it were the back of the Gulf region – is an Arab territory overlooking the Gulf and extending towards Iraq in the west. Its Arab residents have been facing continual repression ever since the Persian state assumed control of the region in 1925. The al-Ahwaz residents continue to be marginalized and excluded from the attention of the Iranian authorities; they suffer suppression and are deprived of their basic rights, and are even detained and executed without trial. This has been the case ever since the era of the Shah to the eruption of the Khomeini revolution in 1979, and until today.
Despite the numerous sincere attempts on the part of the district’s residents to revolt against their situation, which they deem to be tantamount to occupation, they have so far failed to achieve clear and overt international or Arab support for their cause. Al-Ahwaz is the mainstay of the Iranian economy; it is the center of its oil wealth and a factory for its industrial and agricultural products. However, the region’s overwhelming sense of Arab nationalism is a constant source of concern for the Iranian authorities. For some members of the leadership in Tehran, al-Ahwaz’s Arab identity is a grievous sin and a grave threat.
Iran has often sought assistance from the weapon of sectarianism, aiming to fragment the Arab region and provoke hostilities and differences. Iran has always tended to provoke the Arabs with religious sectarianism, and unfortunately they have often fallen victim to such a tactic and failed to resist it. As a weapon, sectarianism is highly effective with an instant impact, aiming to exploit certain causes and issues. This distracts the Islamic world’s attention from the real suffering and the need to maintain the value of the great Islamic faith, both outwardly and with regards to its considerable human value within.
The population of al-Ahwaz’s Arab residents is estimated at 8 million, some of whom are Sunnis, whereas the majority are Shiites. The Arab residents coexisted peacefully in the region, as was the case in Iraq prior to the subsequent US and Iranian occupations, and in Lebanon before Hezbollah entered the control room to dominate the state’s destiny. However, the Iranian authorities’ objective in al-Ahwaz is not primarily sectarian, but rather nationalist. The Iranians believe that it is an urgent priority to eradicate the Arab race in al-Ahwaz; a necessity for the state to be stabilized. This means that the authorities do not hesitate to tighten their grip on the district’s residents, prompting them to flee the country through various means of intimidation such as summary executions, detaining citizens, confiscating their salaries, depriving them of employment, and preventing them from speaking their mother tongue. The al-Ahwaz residents have persistently attempted to revolt in objection of their conditions, yet their attempts have all been in vain owing to poor media coverage and the Revolutionary Guards’ total domination of the district.
Because the Iranian authorities were apprehensive – ever since the last legislative election in 2009 – about the new round of elections that took place on Friday, and in view of the poor turnout of al-Ahwaz residents after they called for a total boycott of the “hoax election”, the authorities detained at least 70 of the district’s locals, three of which were killed as a result of torture. No one heard of such atrocities until after international human rights organizations condemned these acts, and it is highly probable that the al-Ahwaz residents will face harsher measures next month with the anniversary of Persian control over the territory, which began in April 1925.
Al-Ahwaz is an Arab district whose symbols have exerted great efforts to publicize their cause among Arab states. It is true that any sovereign state must refrain from foreign intervention in its internal affairs – and in the past we have seen numerous regional causes further complicated by the interference of politicians – yet it is imperative that the Arabs take up the al-Ahwaz cause, at least from the humanitarian perspective. They should recognize that al-Ahwaz residents are being deprived of their rights, and promote this particular cause as an Arab crisis.