Tuesday, February 10, 2009
22:28 Mecca time, 19:28 GMT      
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] 

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 

"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 

"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 

"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 

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 

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 
 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.

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?

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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

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!

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     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.

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....

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
well iranians dont have the habit of supressing anybody....They are worderful 

Iraq     12/02/2009
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.


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