An open letter from the
Ahwazi-Human Rights Organization (AHRO)
to the European Union Human
Rights Commission in Brussels
CC; Mr. Kofi Annan, General Secretary of The
United Nations; Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; other
organizations that value human rights
August 23, 2003
We write to you because despite the
visit of EU Human Rights Committees on 14-15 March and the meeting of EU
Foreign ministers in Brussels on 21 July, no actions were taken against
the recent flagrant abuse of human rights and the repression of Iranian
national and ethnic minorities.
For example, last month during a
vicious wave of repression against political parties and political
activists of the Arab minority population in the southwestern province
of Khuzestan in Iran, tens of individuals were arrested, jailed and some are subject to
Individuals, political activists and
members of the “Islamic Vafagh Party” in the provincial city of Ahwaz,
and members of the “Arab House” in Tehran, were arrested and imprisoned.
“Islamic Vafagh” is a legal grassroots party officially registered in
Iran. “Arab House” is also a legal social-cultural club and a gathering
place for Ahwazi and Khuzestani Arabs living in Tehran. It is also
registered by the government and is supposed to be allowed to function
with the full knowledge of the Iranian Government. Among those arrested
was Mr. Ali Al-Jaldawi, an Ahwazi political and cultural activist,
charged with participating in a recent peaceful demonstration in Ahwaz.
The only two bilingual, Arabic/Farsi
newspapers, Soute-el-Shaasb and Al-Shoura, which were
published and distributed in Ahwaz, were shut down last month by Iranian security forces.
This last wave of arrests and overt
political repression is a continuation of cultural and political
oppression that Arab people of Arabistan (Khuzestan) have been subjected
to by the Iranian regime. Last year, this repression, according to
Amnesty International, resulted in public hangings of five Arab
political activists by the names of Fadhil Muqaddam, Rahim Sawari, Amir
Sa’idi, Hashem Bawi and Abbas Sherhani.
Also according to the same sources, 17
Arab human rights activists have been sentenced to death and may be
executed any day now.
According to news filtered from inside
Iran, in the past few weeks, more than 50 Arab political prisoners from
Khuzestan, who were sentenced to long jail terms many years ago and were
serving time in Ahwaz, have been moved in a suspicious manner to
military prisons. The
lives of these prisoners are in serious danger.
We, Ahwazi Arabs of
Iran, are an oppressed national minority who have been deprived of all
basic human rights, including the rights to study and speak our native
language, Arabic. We lack the cultural freedom to practice our customs
and tradition. We demand our cultural and linguistic freedom in
accordance with the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Our demands for basic
human rights, including education in our mother tongue, have often been
labeled as "separatist” and “secessionist”. We have been called
“stooges of foreign countries” and a “danger to territorial integrity”
by the Iranian regime. At best, our demands were totally ignored.
Our struggle for
democracy and social justice is part of a larger democratic struggle
that is happening throughout Iran. We demand peaceful coexistence with
other national, ethnic and religious minorities in a democratic Iran,
governed as a federal republic system of semi-autonomous regions. We
seek autonomy and self-rule for the Ahwazi (Arabistani) Arab people in
the Khuzestan province (Al-Ahwaz region).
National and ethnic
distinctions are strong in Iran among the non-Persian peoples that
comprise over 60% of the total population, and this is an irrefutable
reality. The Ahwazi Arab population of Iran, according to official and
un-official data, is estimated to be between 4-6 million (U.S. State
Department 2002 Human Rights report estimates their population to be
over 4 million).
In recent years (prior
to the latest wave of repression) a number of Azeri and Kurdish radio,
TV and newspapers have emerged and were tolerated by the regime. However,
these minor freedoms have not been afforded to Iranian Arabs. Since
1995, there have been over 30 official requests to the Iranian Ministry
of Education and Guidance to obtain licenses for establishment of Arabic
newspapers in Ahwazi Territory (Khuzestan). All have been denied.
This treatment from the
Iranian clerics, claimants of “real” and “true” Islam, is an anomaly.
The Holy Quran, is written in Arabic language and Islam is heavily
influenced by Arab culture, and yet, the Iranian “Islamic” government
does not allow its Arab citizens to employ Arabic as the official
language of the region.
The demands of the
Ahwazi Arabs of Iran are within the Iranian constitution, and primarily
are as follows:
Study and use of mother tongue.
Participation and sharing of economic
wealth and resources.
Participation and inclusion in the
socio-political process (Now, as in the previous regime, state governor,
state leaders, mayors and all high and mid-level state government
officials of Khuzestan have consistently been appointed from non-Arabs
outside of the native Arab population).
Allocation of some of oil revenues toward
the development and progress in Khuzestan (according to official data,
currently all oil revenues from Khuzestan flows to Tehran).
Expeditious de-mining of Arab inhabited
border areas remaining from the eight year Iran-Iraq war. These mines
still threaten the lives of Arab inhabitants, especially children.
Allow formation of labor unions for the
oil, gas and petrochemical workers and permit creation of political,
cultural and trade organizations in the Khuzestan. After the fall of the
Shah and the triumph of the Islamic revolution in 1979, the Iranian Arab
people of Khuzestan, especially the petroleum workers who went on strike
to hasten the downfall of the Shah, played a prominent role in the 1979
Although the Islamic
Republic is marginally more tolerant of the national minorities than the
previous monarchist regime of Pahlavi in allowing some public forums,
seminars and conferences of writers, poets and artists, in Azeri and
Kurdish areas, it has resisted and consistently denied our requests for
the same in the Khuzistan province with the majority Arab population.
Prior to 1925, Khuzestan
(which for 500 years was called Arabistan), enjoyed full autonomy and
Arabic was taught as the official language. After the emergence of Reza
Shah and by enforcing centralization, the state adopted Farsi (Persian)
as the official language, which is spoken by less than 40% of the total
population. The government banned Arabic education in the province where
about 90% of the people were native Arabic speakers. The Iranian
government changed the name of the province from Arabistan to Khuzestan
The policies of the
current Iranian government, like its predecessor, is based on the
elimination of the national identity of Arabs, and to a lesser extent,
other nationalities such as the Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Baluchis, Turkomen
and Lor. The nature of this undemocratic and anti-ethnic policy is
based on an agenda of "Persianization” or “Farsization “, where
everything must be Persian. An invented supremacist, pre-Islamic Persian
chauvinist ideology aimed at the elimination of non-Persian groups and
cultures, inspires this policy.
The result of these
hegemonic policies was the economic, social and cultural retardation of
the non-Persians who make up 2/3 of Iran’s total population, which led
to a pervasive national identity crisis among Iran’s ethnic groups. This
bred resentment and severe feelings of oppression, distrust and
vulnerability among the country’s minority populations, especially the
The Islamic Republic
continues the policy of “Persianization”, however this time in the guise
of Islamic brotherhood and national unity. The current situations are
becoming alarmingly explosive by exacerbating existing ethnic and
religious crises and contributing to already dire social, economic, and
The Iranian government authorities in the
Khuzestan province refuse to register and issue birth identity cards to
Arab newborn babies who do not assume Persian names - names that
sometimes contradict their cultural and religious beliefs.
The regime refuses to consent to the
Ahwazi (Khuzestani) Arabs’ request to change the names of landmarks back
to their historical Arabic names. Names of cities, towns, villages,
rivers and other geographical landmarks were changed from Arabic to
Persian names during the previous Pahalavi regimes. These historical
Arabic names existed for centuries.
We demand that the government cease the
silence and lifts news blockades in the national and international media
against the Arabs in Iran. This silence has contributed to the
quelling of the Arab-Iranian voice and the voices of other human rights
activists who attempted to raise these issues among the Iranian populace,
and western media. This regime, like the previous one in Iran, prevents
any public mention of the Iranian Arab population and minority. However,
this is despite the fact that since modern Iran was established in 1925,
the question of Arabistan and Arab Iranians was one of the most
important foreign policy issues faced by the government because of its
direct effect on the national security and economy of Iran. The
importance of Khuzestan in domestic and foreign transactions is very
clear to the authorities in Iran. It plays an important role in shaping
Iranian policies and attitudes towards the Arab World, especially the
Arabistan is recognized for its unique
economic and strategic importance. It links Iranian territories with the
Arab countries and is located on the Gulf and “Shat El-Arab” (waterway).
Arabistan has huge petroleum wealth, which constitutes the main source
of income for the Iranian economy or about 90% of the total Iranian
income from oil. Despite being at the heart of economic prosperity in
the country, the Iranian Arab population is kept severely backwards,
with extremely high illiteracy rates, unemployment, abject poverty, and
drug usage among the youth.
We demand equitable compensation to
landowners whose property was forcefully expropriated by the Iranian
government. In recent years the central government in Tehran has
confiscated Arab lands in Khuzestan for the use of the failed “Sugar
Cane” plantation, while settling other non-Arabs, in particular Persians,
in the area.
We demand accelerating the process of
rebuilding cities and towns that were destroyed during the Iran-Iraq
war, safeguarding of the area ecology, and cleaning the drinking water
poisoned by run-offs from the “Sugar Cane” project. We demand that the
government must stop the proliferation of drugs among Arab youth and
We demand the immediate and unconditional
release of all political prisoners in Iran.
We hope that the above
information enables you to take concrete action in supporting the voice
of oppressed Arab people of Iran.
This is an urgent
matter. As you read this document, political prisoners are in
grave danger of execution. We respectfully urge you to take immediate
action on their behalf.
We stand ready to
provide you with further information and evidence to substantiate the
above and assist in preventing a human catastrophe in the making.
Ahwaz Human Rights Organization (AHRO)
P.O. Box 250572
New York City, New York
P.O. Box 17725 London