A researcher from the Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC) participated in a seminar on the Ahwazi situation held in Rome, Italy, on 13th January 2021, with the event attended by a large number of Italian officials. There is no doubt that Italy is known for its reputation for spreading peace, rejecting conflict and opposing crimes against people. Italy has also shown a consistent commitment to supporting justice and standing against atrocities perpetrated against all peoples and for calling for assistance to those affected by disasters and tyranny. These many positive assets meant that the DUSC was keen to participate in the seminar in order to inform Italian officials of the political, legal, economic, and environmental crisis faced by Ahwaz, along with all the other violations inflicted by the Iranian regime.
Many distinguished Italian officials participated in the seminar held in Rome, including Senators, the head of a Parliamentary Committee close to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and a number of other officials, as well as a delegation from the Italian Foreign Ministry. Other participants included Mrs Manal Mslalmi, President of the Association for Democracy and Human Rights (EADM), who co-chaired the event, and a number of Ahwazi political and human rights activists, in addition to a delegation from the DUSC.
Co-chairing the event with Mrs Mslalmi, was Italian MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Fulvio Martusciello, who served in Italy’s Foreign Ministry during the former minister’s term. “We are here to protect human rights in Ahwaz – the Arab people in Iran – as well as protect the rights of women and children, freedom and democracy,” Ms Manal said at the meeting. Paolo Russo, Deputy of the Forza Italia party, also participated in the meeting, saying, “Human rights must be guaranteed everywhere” and calling for an end to discrimination against women.
Senator Maurizio Gaspari also noted that “Iran has caused great problems for humanity by violating human rights,” urging the creation of a European initiative to pressure Iran to end all violations against minorities. Another Italian senator put forward a proposal to establish an investigation committee that could clearly address the persecution of minorities in Iran to stop the massacres and violations that are no longer acceptable to Italy’s civilised values. Other senators attending the meeting indicated that economic and oil interests should not be used to silence condemnation of Iran’s humanitarian situation, emphasising that “the Iranian regime is a repressive, oppressive and violent regime.”
Ahwazi political and human rights figures also thanked the Italian representatives, telling them, “The Ahwazi people have suffered from the systematic and continuous crimes by the Iranian state since the occupation of Ahwaz in 1925.” The Ahwazi activists attending the seminar indicated that the Ahwazi people live below the poverty line, although Ahwaz is a land wealthy in natural resources such as gas, oil, agricultural lands and water, with 85% of the Iranian economy being dependent on the wealth of Ahwaz.” The delegates also discussed women’s situation and the policy of environmental destruction, impoverishment, and marginalisation in Ahwaz inflicted by the Iranian regime’s racist policy.
The Dur Untash Studies Centre also discussed the tragic situation in Ahwaz in the seminar:
On behalf of The Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC), I would like to thank you all for your invitation and for all the other invaluable participation in this conference on the situation in Ahwaz. I would also like to let everyone know that the Dur Untash Studies Centre was established in 2018 as an independent research study centre based in Canada.
I think it would be helpful to give a short introduction about the Ahwaz region and the suffering of the indigenous, ethnically Arab Ahwazi population (numbering 8-10 million people). The Ahwaz region is located on the eastern coast of the Arabian Gulf, starting from the east bank of the Shatt al-Arab in the north to the Jaghin River in the south, which is a natural border with the Baluchistan region. Ahwaz is separated from the Iranian territories by the natural barriers of the Zagros Mountains. The region is one of the most important regions within Iran, as it is rich in oil and gas, and its lands are characterised by agricultural fertility in addition to its having a strategic location with the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Bab al-Salam (Hormuz).
Ahwaz is considered one of the world’s wealthiest parts in terms of natural resources, including oil (85% of Iran’s oil) and gas (100% of Iran’s gas). With more than 155.65 billion barrels of crude oil (9% of the world’s crude oil reserves), it has the fifth-biggest reserves in the world. In addition, its reserves of 34 billion cubic metres of gas mean Ahwaz is ranked secondly globally (with about 18% of the world’s total gas reserves). Ahwaz’s resources also come from agriculture, minerals, petrochemicals, ports and trade. Ahwaz contains nearly a third of Iran’s agricultural land, and 50% of Iranian rivers including Karoon, Karkheh, and Jarahi. Ahwaz is also rich in livestock.
Despite all this natural wealth, however, at the same time, unemployment in the three Ahwazi provinces of Hormozgan, Khuzestan and Bushehr, in addition to Mosayan region in Elam province, is at the highest rate in Iran after the Baluchistan region. As mentioned, Khuzestan province occupies the second position, Hormozgan the fifth position and Bushehr the eighth position in terms of the companies and petrochemical facilities.
On human rights, Ahwaz has suffered for long decades from systematic persecution. According to the regime’s tallies, 1,250 civil and political activists have been arrested in north Ahwaz (Khuzestan) over the past three years on charges of having a separatist ideology from Iran (from 2017-December 2020). However, this number does not include 1,000 Ahwazi who were arrested between September and November 2018 alone, with the Iranian regime executing 22 Ahwazis in November 2018 after trials at grotesquely unfair kangaroo courts and without the knowledge of their families. Amnesty International condemned these death sentences and executions, noting: “The secret executions of these men would be not only a crime under international law but also an abhorrent violation of their right to life and a complete mockery of justice.”
Hundreds of Ahwazi political detainees are languishing in Iranian regime prisons. Also, the Iranian security forces and the regime’s so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) killed about 180 Ahwazis, most of them in Ma’shour (148 people), including women and children. The regime has arrested hundreds of demonstrators in the widespread protests that swept across most parts of Iran’s political geography in November 2019.
As to the environment, the situation is even far worse. Ahwaz is ranked among the most polluted regions globally, in addition to suffering horrendous drought and sandstorms in summer and torrential floods in winter, which lead to hundreds of thousands of Ahwazis losing properties and crops.
The Iranian regime has demolished and destroyed many historical monuments in Ahwaz, some centuries or millennia old, in order to target and eradicate the identity and heritage of the Ahwazi people. The regime has also confiscated agricultural and residential lands from a large number of citizens, causing an increase in poverty, homelessness and marginalisation in Ahwaz. I would like to mention that the Iranian regime has displaced many Ahwazis by destroying their homes, especially in rural areas, to change the demographic composition of Ahwaz.
I would like to conclude by noting that the Iranian authorities’ goal is to turn Ahwaz into a security zone under the control of the IRGC and the security services, and to crush any Ahwazi protests and objections. The Iranian regime intends to target the identity and heritage of Ahwaz by sabotaging their historical monuments, deliberately displacing Ahwazis by harming their environment. The Iranian regime is deliberately making Ahwazis face poverty and marginalisation. Hence, the Iranian regime is committing crimes against humanity in Ahwaz.