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Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Arab land, occupied

There is a land that has been populated by Arabs since the Muslim conquest.

In the 20th century, it was occupied and annexed by non-Arabs.

Now its Arab inhabitants are discriminated against. They have few political rights and their services and infrastructure are substandard. They suffer poverty and their children are malnourished. Water from the area is being diverted to the occupiers, causing severe shortages.

Not only that, but land has been confiscated from the Arab inhabitants, and some have been forced to move out of their homeland. The occupiers are building industries in this land that are meant to take away its own natural resources. Moreover, the occupying power has moved its own citizens into this traditionally Arab land as well.

Protesters against this discrimination and injustice have been beaten and killed. Hundreds have been arrested. Collective punishment has been meted against entire communities for the actions of some demonstrators.

Where are these violations of humanitarian law taking place?

In Al Ahwaz, in Iran:

The historic claim of the Ahwazi Arabs to their Arab homeland is solid. Al Ahwaz was once a thriving province of Mesopotamia known for its Muslim scholars, poets and artists. From the mid-7th century until the mid 13th century, its people were ruled variously by Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs, their numbers swelled by Arab tribes from the Arabian Peninsula. A Mongol-invasion devastated most of Al Ahwaz that was later occupied by the founder of the Timurid Empire Tamerlane and his successors until the early 16th century when it fell to the Persian Safavid Dynasty.

Al Ahwaz came to be known as the semi-autonomous region of ‘Arabistan' towards the end of the 16th century when it received an influx of Arab tribes from southern Iraq as well as a clan of the powerful Bani Ka'ab with origins in Central Arabia.

... On the cusp of 20th century, oil was discovered around Mohammerah when the British founded the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and entered into an oil exploration treaty with Shaikh Jabir's son Khaz'al. The UK guaranteed Arabistan's security and agreed payments to both Shaikh Khaz'al and the Shah of Iran.

What should have been a blessing for the Ahwaz Arabs was a curse. When Shaikh Khaz'al realised that Reza Shah's ambitions extended to Arabistan's oil wealth, he asked the British to defend the Ahwazi people and back their homeland's independence as an Arab state. Forced to choose, Britain reneged on its treaty with Khaz'al and supported the Shah.

Betrayed by the UK, in 1924, Khaz'al put his case before the League of Nations, but it was rejected.

With Britain's help, Reza Shah gained absolute control over the territory when he changed its name to Khuzistan.

...Tehran has discriminated against the Arabs of Al Ahwaz since their homeland's occupation and annexation by the Shah; they are being treated as third-class citizens, abandoned to primitive living standards and without even the basic political rights.

The Director of the Ahwaz Education and Human Rights Foundation, Karim Abdian, highlighted the Ahwazi plight in the UN. He explained that the Ahwazi population suffers from a shortage of drinking water, electricity, plumbing, telephone and sewage. Fifty per cent live in absolute poverty, while some 80 per cent of children are malnourished.

The dispossessed Ahwazi Arabs are under-represented in parliament and accuse the Iranian government of racially-based political and economic prejudice, which is why some groups are calling for Al Ahwaz to be liberated and recognised as an independent Arab state. However, the government is attempting to manipulate demographics by setting-up self-contained farming settlements and bringing in Persians to work there.

It is believed that the government is also trying to eradicate the Ahwazi culture. Iranian authorities will not register birth certificates to Arab new-borns unless they assume Persian names. Schools in Al Ahwaz are barred from teaching Arabic, which is also banned from parliament and ministries. Arabic media is forbidden in the territory. Journalists who write against this cultural barbarism are routinely imprisoned.

In 2007, six Ahwazi Arabs were subjected to kangaroo courts and put on death row on charges of converting to Sunni Islam, giving their children Sunni names, flying the all-white Ahwazi Arab flag, and as "enemies of God". Those and similar rigged trials have been condemned by the European Union, the UN and numerous human rights organisations.
Amnesty International says:
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 October 2005, a letter came to light, dated 9 July 2005, in which the Arvand Free Trade Zone Organization outlined plans for the confiscation of 155 km², including Arab land and villages, to provide for the establishment of the Arvand Free Trade Zone between Abadan and the Iraqi border.(9) All those living within this area will have their land confiscated. Under Iranian law, no challenge can be made to the confiscation, only to the amount of compensation offered, which in other schemes is reported to have been as little as one fortieth of the market value.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing said in an interview(10)following his visit to Iran in July 2005:

…when you visit Ahwaz…there are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity and no gas connections… why is that? Why have certain groups not benefited? ... Again in Khuzestan, …we drove outside the city about 20 km and we visited the areas where large development projects are coming up - sugar cane plantations and other projects along the river - and the estimate we received is that between 200,000 - 250,000 Arab people are being displaced from their villages because of these projects. And the question that comes up in my mind is, why is it that these projects are placed directly on the lands that have been homes for these people for generations? I asked the officials, I asked the people we were with. And there is other land in Khuzestan where projects could have been placed which would have minimised the displacement.

He also referred to attempts by the government to transfer non-Arabs into the area, as in the case of Shirinshah, a new town mainly populated by non-Arab inhabitants from Yazd province, and highlighted the discrepancy between the wealth generated from the oil resources of Khuzestan and the very deprived Arab neighbourhoods he saw.

According to Al Arabiya, Iran has stepped up its war against Khuzestan separatists in recent days, and hundreds are missing.

Where are the human rights protesters, the boycotters, the op-eds, the enraged college activists so concerned over the human rights of millions of Arabs? Where are the dozens of organizations dedicated to fighting injustice? Where are the UN agencies dedicated to the cause of Al Ahwaz? Where are the calls by the White House and the EU for an independent Arabistan/Al Ahwaz?

Why can I not find a single mention of Khuzestan, or Arabistan, or Al Ahwaz in any of the thousands of Wikileaks State Department documents so far released?

Most importantly, where are the Arab nations who are turning their backs on their own people being persecuted? Why isn't this issue being brought up at every meeting with Western leaders?

Why indeed?