UPDATED ON: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 22:28 Mecca time, 19:28 GMT Focus IRAN: AFTER THE REVOLUTION Iranian Arabs seek equal rights By Ahmed Janabi Ahwazi Arabs follow both Shia and Sunni Islam
Amnesty International has urged Iran to improve its human rights record as the country celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. Amnesty said that "some sectors of society – including ethnic minorities – continue to face widespread discrimination, while the situation for other groups – notably some religious minorities – has significantly worsened". "Those seen as dissenting from stated or unstated official policies face severe restrictions on their rights to freedom of belief, expression, association and assembly," the advocacy group said. Iranians of Arab descent, known as Ahwazis, who live in the south of the country, say they are one such ethnic minority who have been persecuted and marginalised by the government in Tehran. Seyed Tahir al-Seyed Nima, the chairman of the Ahwaz National Liberation Movement (ANLM), said Ahwazis consider themselves to be under Iranian occupation in much the same way Palestinians suffer under Israeli occupation. He said: "We were an independent state until 1925 when oil was discovered in our land and our ruler Sheikh Khazal was killed. Our land was then annexed by the Shah of Iran." Oil-rich Ahwaz Iranian Arabs complain of poverty despite their rich natural resources The Ahwazis live in the province of Khuzestan, which lies 850km southwest of Tehran and is considered an area of strategic importance because of its vast oil reserves and shared border with Iraq. Ahwazi Arabs have not been included in Iran's economic development and prosperity derived from oil exports, according to a 2007 Human Rights report published by civil rights organisations in Europe in coordination with the Belgium–based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation. The 52-page dossier says nearly 25 per cent of Khuzestan's population of 4.35 million live in shanty towns. A third of its urban population lives in poverty. "We are discriminated against, when it comes to jobs; we need [a] proper health care system, and our freedom," Abu Doulab, a member of the Al-Bu Nasir, a tribe in the town of al-Falahiya in Khuzestan, said. "We are suffering, poverty is everywhere, our children suffer malnutrition, we do not have proper education and [as a] result young men cannot have [a] future." Reaching out to Arabs Mohammad Sadiq al-Husseini, an Iranian political analyst who specialises in national security issues, believes that the focus on urban development has left some Iranian Arabs feeling disenfranchised. "I do not think there is an official will to marginalise Iranian Arabs or deny them their basic rights, however, there is an ongoing problem in Iran and most of the third world countries," he said. "These countries lack the proper vision on how to give rural areas their rights. The general system in third world countries focuses on urban areas." Al-Husseini believes that administrative inefficiencies are often wrongly blamed on religious or ethnic discrimination. "In Iran for example, this problem is not only with Arabs but with Kurds ... and other ethnicities as well, and all these groups live in far rural areas, and their complaints are usually taken from [a] political point of view." Al-Musawi acknowledges that Khuzestan does not enjoy its share of the oil revenues but expects that the Iranian government is working on a project to rehabilitate and develop the province. He said: "President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has received the plan to increase spending and share of revenues for Khuzestan and he is working on it." Violent protests Nevertheless, those in the Ahwazi minority say discrimination has increased in recent years. Nicole Choueiry, the Middle East and North Africa press officer for Amnesty International, says they have documented several reports of abuses against Ahwazis in recent years. In April 2005, violent protests broke out in Khuzestan when it was rumoured that Tehran wanted to disperse the Arab communities throughout Iran. Fourteen people were killed in bomb explosions in Ahwaz City two months later and attacks on oil installations in the province led to the arrests of hundreds of Ahwazi Arabs. "Ahwazi mercenary" Iran has sought to carve a larger role for itself in the region [Reuters] Geoffrey Cameron, a researcher at the London-based Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), told Al Jazeera: "A state's sovereignty implies a responsibility to all of its citizens, and Iran continues to trample on the rights of marginal groups." "If Iran wants to claim a leadership role in the international community it needs to begin by addressing the claims of women and ethnic and religious minorities to basic civil rights." However, the government, has categorically denied accusations they have been repressing the rights of minorities in Ahwaz or other parts of the country. Amir al-Musawi, an Iranian political analyst and former consultant to the ministry of defence, says foreign governments have been fuelling dissent in Ahwaz. "The Ahwazi people are supporters of the Iranian revolution, but there are some mercenaries who have been funded by foreign powers to create a situation where it appears there is a falling out between Iranian Arabs and the government," he said. "We know the British in Basra are fuelling some Ahwazi mercenary acts but we are sure they will get nowhere." Religious discrimination Though they comprise a mixed Shia and Sunni community, al-Seyed Nima says Ahwazis have also suffered religious persecution. He said Ahwazi Arabs have traditionally attempted to mark Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, in conjunction with Sunni Arab countries. "One of the ways we are able to feel the common bond and ancestry with our Arab brothers is to celebrate the religious holidays at the end of Ramadan and the Hajj pilgrimage when they do," al-Seyed Nima said. "However, during the last Ramadan season, Iranian security forces arrested people and banned us from marking the holiday unless we followed the government's Shia calendar" al-Seyed Nima said. The FPC believes that a group of "hard-line" clerics have enforced their version of Islam and that this has become the official doctrine of the government. "Iran's history is characterised by rich debate over the meaning of Shia doctrine and the implications of theology, and much of this diversity has been suffocated in the Islamic Republic," Cameron told Al Jazeera. "As a consequence, women and minorities are subjected to constraints on their freedoms: Bahais are treated as 'infidels' without rights, the private lives of women are regulated by the state, and Sunni Kurds are denied basic religious freedoms." Iranian officials were unavailable for comment. Al Jazeera's phone calls and emails were not returned. Iranian influence Some analysts have cautioned, however, that the Ahwazi claims of religious persecution should not be viewed through the prism of Shia-Sunni tensions which were exacerbated by the 1980-88 war with neighbouring Iraq. Abd al-Amir al-Rikabi, an Iraqi politician and author, says some within the Iranian government believe that the Islamic Republic has a larger leadership role to play in the Middle East. He said: "Iranians believe that Arabs led the Muslim nation for 1,000 years, and the Turks had that opportunity for several centuries until World War One. Tehran thinks the time has come for it to lead the Muslim world." In recent years, Iran has reached out to its Arab neighbours in the Gulf seeking to promote improved trade and cultural ties and play a greater regional role. Clamouring for leadership of the Muslim world, and indeed the Gulf region, has led to several conflicts in the past 50 years. In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, which had just overthrown its Shah in favour of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's late leader, and his religious followers. Iraq had made territorial claims on Khuzestan saying it was a predominantly Arab region. However, Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, failed to inspire an Arab rebellion in southern Iran. "In 1980 when the Iraqi army attacked Ahwazi cities, Ahwazi Arabs defended their cities despite the fact they had the chance to get annexed to an Arab country, Iraq. It is true the idea appealed to some Ahwazis but they were [a] minority," al-Musawi told Al Jazeera. Al-Seyed Nima denied that Ahwazis willingly fought with the Iranian army and said they had been hired as mercenaries or forced to enlist. Amnesty says it is concerned about the status of several Ahwazi Arabs who have fled to Iraq and are reportedly to be forcibly repatriated to Iran. The human rights group has called on Baghdad "not to return anyone to a country where they would be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment". Amnesty says it is preparing a 2009 report on the treatment of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran. Source: AlJazeera Feedback Number of comments : 19 Ahmad Gokce United States 10/02/2009 Iranian turks Okay, since it is missing in the article: Iranian is an artificial, fake identity. Farsi, who make slightly more than half of the population, is the ethnicity who rules Iran. Farsi is also the only education language in the country. One third or one fourth of iran are Turks who are repressed culturally like Arabs. Dawrish Costa Rica 10/02/2009 Invade Khozestain Okay, so the Us invade Iraq because the shiites and kurds were oppressed? why dint it invade Iran to help the so-called Iranian Arabs? It doesnt make sense to me ... and now the Iranian arabs are fleeing to Iraq ... the same country some dude in the article said fought against Iraq? Why is US media not covering people? Why only focus Gaza, gaza, Israel, gaza? Where is UN help them? Ali Canada 10/02/2009 Re: Ahmad Gokce Ahmad Gokce wrote: "Iranian is an artificial, fake identity". ... "Iranian" is a national identity of all ethnicities living in Iran, wheter they are Arab, Persian, Azeri, Jewish, Kurdsish, etc "One third or one fourth of iran are Turks who are repressed culturally like Arabs." ... I am an Azeri (Turkish Iranian) and I do NOT feel culturaly repressed! And what does that have anything to do with this article? In Iran, Arab & Kurdish minorities are discreminated against... which is a shame G Maldives 11/02/2009 Equal Rights to Minorities not possible yet. The fact is that minorities are not able to have equal rights in any country. Look at even in the US, UK, France, etc. It exists everywhere. In all these countries now, the Government is making sure that the rules of the majority is followed by the minority. It is understandable really as the Majority elects the government. Even in Maldives with its new democratic Gov, they are banning minority from praying their own Friday prayers at a time different from Government time. So its everywhere! Chris Sweden 11/02/2009 To Mike, Canada Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1% Simple facts is stupid to lie about H Basravi Canada 11/02/2009 Iranian Arabs Iranians are by no means a homogenous group. Amongst Farsi speaking people are those of various color and genetic background. This is really not a human rights issue. It's an Urban Planning issue. The Persian culture doesn't have a history of racism and apartheid. Oasis Bangladesh 11/02/2009 Iranian Arabs seek equal rights It is really interesting to see, so many people read and write ... Well! To me, one thing we must keep in mind, we better not jump into conclusion hearing just one's story. If it is not possible to hear the other's version of the story always, we at least can keep in mind that there may be another side of the story(in most of the cases)! Thanks everyone. kasabali Turkey 12/02/2009 Iran's official religion and ideology is shia. Those who are not shia, especially sunni, are subjected to discrimination. We hear that sunni citizens, whose name are Omer or Osman, are forced to change their names, they face severe difficulties in government offices. They are like blacks in US. Nadem Switzerland 10/02/2009 Iranian Arabs What today is called Khuzestan, used to be called Arabestan, Land of the Arabs, for several hundred years. Deadly in rivalry with regional Arab chieftains in Iraq, the amir of Arabestan - Shaikh Khaz'al -was persuaded by the British into a temporay confederation with Persia in 1925. The name of the emirate was changed from Arabestan to Khuzestan in 1936. Nadem Switzerland T.D.Foster Great Britain (UK) 10/02/2009 Arabs in Awhaz It seems that every group suspects the other groups in the ME.Either they are considered to be unreliable "citizens" and treated accordingly or viewed as hostiles,in which case everything will be done to force them out.The facade of "Muslim Unity" is just that,a mere facade. Where the West derives its idea of an,that is one, islamic threat,is beyond me. But I do like the uniformity in the bowing! Mike Canada 10/02/2009 Ahmad Gokce is wrong "Farsi" is the language spoken in Iran. The population is 80%+ Persian, which is a real culture. The Persians controlled the entire middle east for hundreds of years. Iraq is a fake state - a mixture of all sorts of cultures practicing a multitude of religions. Pakistan could be said to be fake as well, though I don't think it is. But Iran? Iran is the backbone of the middle east as it has been for centuries. It is the second most successful state in the region, after Lebanon. You are wrong sir Turk zade United Kingdom 11/02/2009 Propaganda does not work any more Dear Ahmad Gokce Iranian leader Khamenei is a Turk half of the governments are Turks I am Turk since this revolution happened second language from English change two Arabic and everybody should learn Arabic and every reagent in Iran have their language TV and news paper Mr Ahmad sometimes is better to come to Iran. maral-Tehran Iran 11/02/2009 Ok. Iran Arabs have not equal right in Iran, their culture deprived in Iran such as other ethnics Iran(Turks,Turkmen,Baluch,Lor,Kurd). all of ethnic minotities could not read to their language and their languages banned in Iran, Pleas write about Iran minirities especialy about Turks. Tayyab Abbas Pakistan 11/02/2009 Very surprised to feel Aljazeera's negative attitude toward Iran, and ignorance of Simple Arab history that present supreme leader Khamanie and previous Khomeini both are Arab ethnically and Sayyed Arab are seen as most noble families. I think Aljazeera should use its precious resources to wake Arab leaders up. Imdad Shah United Kingdom 11/02/2009 Iranian Arabs seek equal rights If you are in any Arab country, you will find out how they treat other people who are from other poor countries. No Rights at all, you guys should be shame of critical of Iran. I think Iran is doing fine and let Iran to do the good work they are doing. Zhaleh United States 11/02/2009 I was born and raised in Khouzestan and this is the first time I hear iranian arabs being refered to as Ahwazi. Ahwaz is a city with mix population. If you see less improvement in Khouzestan than rest of the country is because this area was worst hit by 8 years of Iran/Iraq war and not because half of the population are arabs. Amnesty International needs to define what they see as discrimination. In Iran arabs can dress in their traditional attire, free to speak their language. Pure nonsense.... Amirarsalan Iran 11/02/2009 Future is Ours Yes, It is very bad to be a minority in any country. But Iranian Arabic-speaking people do have a better life than for example Persian (ajam) population in Bahrain, Or Kurds in Iraq, or Arabs in Israel. S Ali New Zealand (Aotearoa) 12/02/2009 Iran well iranians dont have the habit of supressing anybody....They are worderful people.... Mojgan Iraq 12/02/2009 Iran/Ahwazis For all those that claim Iran is an artificial country , let me remind you that actually Iran and Egypt are the only two countries with long history . One can claim that the rest are only a tribe with a flag ! And I don't know how any of you can claim that Iran is ruled by Persians .Listen to Iranian government official's accents , you here all accents except Persian . Of course there would be a harsh respond to any separatists group from any ethnicity in bed with traitors. --------------- Jusfiq Hadjar gelar Sutan Maradjo Lelo Allah yang disembah orang Islam tipikal dan yang digambarkan oleh al-Mushaf itu dungu, buas, kejam, keji, ganas, zalim lagi biadab hanyalah Allah fiktif.