An online Zoom webinar hosted by Dur Untash Center on Thursday 15 October entitled ‘The Impact of Insecurity on Human Rights in Ahwaz and the Region’ brought together prominent Ahwazi human rights figures with freedom activists and supporters of democracy from around the world to discuss the issues facing Ahwaz in light of the Iranian regime’s oppression and the best way to achieve freedom and work for Ahwazi human rights.
The event was hosted by leading Ahwazi human rights campaigner, writer and researcher Kamil Alboshaka, who began by giving a brief background summary on Ahwaz, reminding the participants that despite the Ahwaz region being responsible for providing 90 per cent of the energy resources claimed by Iran, along with 37 per cent of its water resources, the Ahwazi people continue to suffer horrendous poverty, persecution and systematic injustice at the Iranian regime’s hands.
The first of the distinguished speakers introduced by Mr Alboshaka was Michael Johns, an American conservative commentator, policy analyst, writer and former speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush, as well as a leader and spokesman in the Tea Party movement.
Mr Johns began by emphasising the danger posed by the Iranian regime, which he noted “represents an extraordinary threat in almost all respects,” adding that “it is in fact the largest state sponsor of terrorism globally and has inflicted extraordinary damage and taken the lives of many worldwide.”
In his eloquent address, he strongly condemned the Iranian regime’s appalling record of human rights abuses, and the “aggressive, totalitarian and abusive instincts of the mullahs”, further noting that Iran’s so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is “a major force behind [the regime’s] terrorist engagements around the world.”
The leading political analyst lauded the Dur Untash Centre for its important work for freedom and human rights, thanking Kamil Alboshaka and his colleagues for their endeavours, and expressing his enthusiasm for working with Ahwazi activists and their allies, voicing hope for further alliances to help bolster support for the cause of Ahwazi rights and freedom generally.
The next speaker was Brenda Shaffer, a leading American academic who holds positions as visiting researcher and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, as well as being a Fellow with the Atlantic Council and professor at the University of Haifa.
Ms Shaffer began by expressing her condolences to the victims of the gas explosion in Ahwaz city on 11 October in which five people died, and many others were injured, as well as thanking Rahim Hamid, another of the leading Ahwazi activists and writers present at the webinar, lauding him as an “excellent guide and teacher” on Ahwaz.
Revealing that she is currently engaged in writing a book about ethnic minorities in Iran, Ms Shaffer lamented the difficulties in obtaining credible information on this or other subjects from Iran’s regime, emphasising the vital need for reliable research data.
She also expressed optimism over the growing hunger for change amongst Iranian citizens, although she cautioned against the reluctance shown by the mainstream, predominantly Persian, Iranian opposition to acknowledge the rights of Ahwazis and other ethnic minorities in Iran to recognition and equal status, noting that the ruling regime “knows very well how to play these fears against the mainstream opposition” in order to maintain disunity between this opposition and the various ethnic groups that make up half of Iran’s population as a tool of ‘divide-and-rule’ amongst opponents of the current totalitarian system.
Following Ms Shaffer’s thought-provoking contribution, the next speaker was the prominent British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, originally from Australia, who has championed the Ahwazi cause for some years, as well as standing for other human rights causes globally.
In his address, Mr Tatchell first saluted the immense courage of Ahwazi activists, who he called “true human rights heroes”, noting that those still in Iran especially risk “not only their liberty but their lives” for the sake of freedom and human rights.
Amongst Mr Tatchell’s suggestions were encouraging participation by more female Ahwazi activists, placing a greater focus on Ahwazis’ Arab identity to gain more allies among the broader Arab community, and reaching out more to politically leftist human rights campaigners in the West.
Another of the proposals he put forward for consideration was that Ahwazi activists or human rights organisations should ask for the UN to send a fact-finding mission to independently assess the human rights situation and the abuses taking place there.
The veteran human rights activist also suggested that Ahwazi dissidents could bring a case against senior Iranian regime officials involved in “orchestrating, commanding, overseeing and supervising the oppression” in Ahwaz at the International Criminal Court, which he noted has “the capacity, ability and authority and a mandate to investigate and bring human rights abusers to justice.”
Following Mr Tatchell’s speech, the next speaker was the author and activist Tony Duheame, who has written about the Iranian regime and the Ahwazi struggle for freedom for media including Al Arabiya. Mr Duheame strongly condemned Western appeasement of Iran’s regime, lambasting the regime’s racism and suggesting that the financial profit to be made from doing deals with the leaders in Tehran seems to have left many leaders wilfully blind to the regime’s totalitarian nature, and asserting, “I don’t think you can deal with Iran in any way through making deals… I don’t think you’ll ever be able to get the Iranian regime to come to the table in any way until this regime is gone.”
After Mr Duheame, the next speaker was Graham Williamson, the British director of the Nations Without States group. Mr Williamson urged Ahwazi activists to focus on raising awareness of the cause, stressing the importance of awareness-building and citing the case of Tamil activists in Sri Lanka who managed to raise global awareness of their own struggle through campaigning.
Warning that the greatest danger facing Ahwazis and other ethnic minorities in Iran is that of enforced demographic change by the Iranian regime, Mr Williamson noted how other totalitarian states such as Soviet Russia and contemporary China had used and, in China’s case, are still using population transfer as a tool in suppressing ethnic minorities’ aspirations for freedom and self-determination.
After Mr Williamson, the next speaker was American human rights lawyer Aaron Eitan Meyer, an attorney, admitted to practice in New York State and before the United State Supreme Court, and a researcher and analyst who has written extensively on lawfare, international humanitarian, and human rights law.
Mr Meyer focused particularly on the legal mechanisms available to bring Iran’s leadership and associated figures involved in human rights abuses to justice in US law, which he said offered a number of possible ways of doing so.
He noted that a primary problem with bringing Iran’s regime to justice at present is China’s determination to protect its significant interests in the country, particularly its oil and gas interests which are centred in Ahwaz.
The leading attorney and legal expert warned that Iran is determined to cling to Ahwaz since the leadership in Tehran is aware that, other than these resources and the vital coastal access via Ahwaz which allows it to control much of the Gulf waters, it does not have much else to offer China, on which it is now largely dependent on economically, adding, “the ultimate spectre behind [Iran] is going to be China.”
He explained, however, that from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, China’s sole interest in Iran is to use it as a part of its New Silk Road initiative, a crucial component of its foreign policy; as he noted, China’s leaders do not care who rules Iran so long as Beijing’s own interests are not adversely affected, suggesting that this possibility for flexibility in China’s policy on the issue represents “a potential opportunity” for Ahwaz.
Following Mr Meyer, the next speaker was the Canadian lawyer and political advisor Kofi Achampong., who explained that his professional interactions with Canadian political officials had afforded him a chance to raise the issue of the Ahwazi people’s struggle with various senior dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, parliamentary secretaries and a number of MPs on different occasions. Mr Achampong said he is keen to see far more media coverage of the Ahwazi cause to bring it to public attention, adding that his primary goal at present is to raise the issue with the parliamentary standing committee on Justice and Human Rights.
After Mr Achampong, the next speaker was Naji Haraj, the Executive Director at the Geneva International Centre for Justice and a university lecturer in international law and human rights. In his address, he focused particularly on the sectarianism and chaos unleashed by Iran’s regime and its proxies across the Middle East in recent years, in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, and on the devastating and destabilising effects of the regime’s militias in Iraq and across the region.
Echoing previous speakers, Mr Haraj also emphasised the importance of joint international action against the regime.
The final speaker was New York-based American lawyer and analyst Irina Tsukerman, who has written extensively about foreign policy and security issues for a variety of local and international think tanks. She began with a brief overview of Iran’s decades-long history as a global sponsor of terror and its assassination of Ahwazi and other dissident activists in Europe, along with its other regional and global terror attacks.
Warning about Iran’s totalitarian expansionist objectives and its destabilising activities across the Middle East and in the South Caucuses, Ms Tsukerman emphasised, like previous speakers, that the most critical issue at present is to take action and to raise awareness of the very real dangers facing Ahwazis and other minorities in Iran. While counselling unity and advising against internal factionalism within the Ahwazi and wider Iranian opposition, she voiced hope for the future and for Ahwazi freedom.
This is, of course, a greatly truncated version of the two-hour webinar which can be seen in full at this link, with all the speakers putting forward eloquent and heartfelt suggestions and showing great mutual support and enthusiasm to work for the advancement of the cause of Ahwazi freedom, and to hold further webinars and hopefully face-to-face meetings in the future.
A key point voiced by all the speakers was a shared admiration of the Ahwazi people’s resilience and heroic determination to attain their long-denied freedom and human rights that are their and all people’s birthright. When that long-awaited dawn of freedom comes, they can hopefully work together with other Arab peoples across the region to liberate it forever from the curse of theocratic totalitarianism and finally achieve the democracy, peace and freedom so long and so cruelly denied.
Reported by Rahim Hamid and Ruth Riegler
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.
Ruth Riegler is a Scottish writer, editor and supporter of universal freedom, democracy and human rights who previously lived in the Middle East