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Ahwazis’ suffering grows as casualties rise amid brutal regime crackdown

Two men have died and two other people, one of them an 11-year-old boy, were critically injured as a result of the horrific flooding that continues to devastate the Ahwaz region in southwest Iran on Thursday, even as regime forces have continued to arrest and otherwise block Ahwazi activists trying to bring aid and food to the stricken areas.

The first death happened when an Ahwazi man named Rahim Ahmad Nasseri, died of a massive heart attack whilst he was working as a volunteer helping others in the affected areas to build barriers using sacks full of soil in an effort to divert the floodwaters. Although Nasseri, from the Kora county area near the port city of Mahshoor, was rushed to the hospital, he died shortly after being admitted.

Rahim Ahmad Nasseri

Adding to the tragedy, 16-year-old Qassim Mansouri, who, along with other youth in the Qaleh-ye Sahar village in Elhayi Rural District of Ahwaz city, was helping consolidate and strengthen the flood barriers made by soil bags was swept away by the surging floodwater and drowned. After several hours of searching, local villagers recovered his body. Upon learning of the youth’s death, his grief-stricken father doused himself with oil, and it was only through the efforts of other villagers that he did not light himself on fire at the tragic loss of his son. Already, many locals have begun referring to Qassim as a martyr of the flood, honouring his memory.

Qassim Mansouri

The 11-year-old boy was also helping put soil into sacks in a desperate effort to build makeshift barriers to stop or even slow the floodwaters, and suffered a ruptured stomach as a result of exhaustion and carrying bags far too heavy for a boy of his age; he was quickly taken to a local hospital where surgeons operated to save his life, and he is expected to recover. Meanwhile, a volunteer activist who was trying to get food and humanitarian aid to areas cut off by the floodwaters was involved in a serious car accident caused by the flooding, resulting in the amputation of one of his legs. According to the latest reports, he remains in a critical condition.

This boy suffered a ruptured stomach as a result of exhaustion and carrying bags

The regime’s ongoing and deliberate failure to maintain the dilapidated and massively overburdened infrastructure and sewage network in the region means that the floodwaters are polluted with raw sewage and other forms of dangerous wastewater, which is leading to outbreaks of infectious disease that are particularly affecting the most vulnerable – infants and young children.

While the people trapped by the flood struggle to survive, the Iranian regime continues to deliberately withhold aid and food from the stricken areas in the predominantly Arab region and has escalated its ethnic cleansing by arresting Ahwazi citizens and rescue workers alike for trying to help their compatriots. Although international aid organisations have sent shipments of aid to help nearly two million displaced by the horrendous flooding, regime officials have been keeping this aid in storage rather than distributing it, or even sending it to areas unaffected by flooding, where it’s being sold. 

Ahwazi activists who have rushed to help their compatriots are now being targeted by the regime. Abdul Karim Dahimi, a prominent human rights activist, now living in exile in London, said that a group of human rights workers who were organising an aid campaign for the Ahwazi flood-stricken areas were arrested.  Dahimi noted that on the morning April 5, two Ahwazi relief activists, Ahmad Kaabi and Yaghoob Kaabi, were arrested by officers of the regime’s infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), known as the Sepah, while they were helping people displaced by the flooding in the village of Ghooriyeh.   The prominent human rights activist added that two days later, on the night of Sunday, April 7, nine volunteer relief workers who had travelled from Mahshoor (Mahshahr) to Ghooriyeh were also arrested by IRGC Personnel.

“Sepah officers arrested Ahmad Kaabi and Yaghoob Kaabi, who were helping people in the camp for unknown reasons, and we still have no information about the place they’re being kept in,” Dahimi revealed.  He added that the cultural activist Ahmad Kaabi from the city of Toster (known as Shushter in Farsi) is a married 36-year-old father of two and a law graduate, while Yaghoob Kaabi, also from Toster, is also a cultural and arts activist.

Ghooriyeh is situated in the Shoaybiyeh-ye rural district near Toster, and many from Toster and nearby towns and rural communities have been travelling to the stricken villages in recent days to help the people.

Dahimi told Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC), “We still don’t have accurate information about these relief activists’ arrest.  But according to the information from the people in this village, these young Arab relief workers wanted to bring food and other aid that they had collected to the displaced people and because of their arguments with officers they were arrested. Also, some say that IRGC arrested them because they are popular activists and have detention records.”

Regarding the tension between Ahwazi youth and the IRGC over the distribution of desperately needed food and relief aid, Dahimi said: “I was informed that security forces stopped Ahwazi youths from Hamidieh who tried to deliver food and blankets to people. They [the Sepah] asked them to step out of their vehicles and get into the security forces vehicle, stating that they would get them and their goods to the desired destination because the road is dangerous. But in the middle of the journey, they transferred the aid items to another car despite their protests, with only a small amount of the aid kept to be delivered to Ghooriyeh. In the past few days, there have been some skirmishes between IRGC, Basij forces and Ahwazi local aid groups about the means of aid distribution.”

The regime has also targeted others trying to bring aid to the stricken Ahwazi people, with Azerbaijani humanitarian activists reportedly summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence headquarters in their area of Iran and prevented from collecting funds and aid to give to the Ahwazis. According to reports from the Araz newsgroup in Tabriz and Urmia, the Azerbaijani activists from the Azerbaijan national movement were attempting to launch a fundraising campaign to help the Ahwazi people, they were ordered not to do so by the police and instructed to go to the Red Crescent or their local governorate offices if they wished to donate anything.

When the Azerbaijani activists did as they’d been instructed, and went to the West Azerbaijan governorate office, officials there claimed to be launching an initiative to help all peoples affected by flooding, falsely claiming that it is not only the Ahwaz region which is suffering from flooding. Those government officials then represented that they themselves are in charge of organising assistance for flood-affected people, and therefore launching any independent campaign would be troublesome and ‘unlawful.’ Using this argument, the authorities banned activists in the South Azerbaijan region from establishing any fund-raising campaign to help Ahwazi people.

When informed of this claim, attorney and international law expert Aaron Eitan Meyer responded by stating “every single action – and inaction – on the part of the Iranian regime has been directly contrary to international law and basic human decency alike, but for the regime to claim that private individuals and groups who are trying to do what the regime has refused to do, namely provide aid, is ‘unlawful’ is beyond the pale. This is precisely the type of impunity that the world cannot tolerate and there must be grave consequences.”

On Wednesday morning, several national activists in the cities of Tabriz and Urmia – who had rejected the regime’s callous injunction against helping their Ahwazi brethren, and continued with fundraising efforts to gather aid for the flood-stricken people – were summoned to the local Intelligence Service headquarters where they were interrogated and threatened by officials of the regime’s infamous intelligence division based on accusations that they had established a fundraising campaign, as if that were a purported crime.

This shockingly callous behaviour by the authorities is another reminder of how the policies and political system of the Islamic Republic regime and its security organs are expressly established in order to create and maintain divisions between the various ethnic communities in Iran. The very idea of coordination between its brutally oppressed minorities, who collectively make up more than half the country’s population, petrifies the leadership in Tehran.  The mass mobilisation to provide aid following the earthquake in Qaradaq in Azerbaijan, and the popular support of Turkish Azeris in South Azerbaijan for their brethren in Turkmen Sahara has caused serious concern for the Iranian security institutions, which ultimately prevented the continuation of popular campaigns to collect aid in the cities of Azerbaijan for the flood-affected people in Turkmen Sahara.

Similarly, it appears that the summoning of national activists in Azerbaijan to Ministry of intelligence headquarters and actively preventing the establishment of the campaign for collecting public donations from the Turks of Azerbaijan for the flood-affected Ahwazis once again illustrates the fear of the Islamic Republic’s security institutions of the convergence and solidarity between Turks of Azerbaijan and Ahwazi people. Clearly, this is no isolated reaction, but a deliberate and systematic strategy of the regime to maintain its superiority.

Speaking to Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC)  about how the West can help the Ahwazi people, Irina Tsukerman a New York-based International law attorney whose focus is on assisting human rights defenders said, “The US government can and should put pressure on the Islamic Republic by demanding an immediate release of foreign humanitarian aid, demand to allow entry of the Red Cross and international media, and demand an immediate cessation of all hostile activities against the Ahwazi population of the affected territories.”

“Officials who have misappropriated aid, attacked civilians, and possibly deliberately flooded Ahwazi lands should be identified and sanctioned for human rights violations, also the US should mandate the Voice of America to provide adequate coverage of this issue and to give voice to the Ahwazi perspective, regime apparatchiks currently dominate the VOA in Persian and the media is primarily driven by pro-regime agenda of their leftist and Islamist funders, supporters and intended audience, and the only way these vital details and accurate information will enter the mainstream discourse, is if President Trump, Secretary Pompeo,  and members of Congress mention it in their statements and tweets. This gross abuse of international goodwill and deprivation of the devastated Ahwazi communities represents Iran’s destruction across the Middle East.”  she added, “these blatantly illegal and dangerous actions are a threat to international security and US interests. For that reason, the best thing the US government can do is highlight that  this disaster is only a part of the bigger picture of the Islamic Republics hegemony and racist, colonialist oppression and  exploitation , and in terms of legal action, any organisation that has knowingly cooperated with the regime, even after the aid was stolen, should be investigated and sued.” she concluded that “Iran’s hegemony, internal or external, it’s aggression among various Middle Eastern peoples should be treated as same as its nuclear ambitions and be placed under maximum pressure, the same level of sanctions for these threats to security and human dignity, only when countries and companies which facilitate the abuses are held responsible will there be an impetus to change.”

As we have stated and reiterated, it is absolutely clear that the regime is seeking to displace and sacrifice the entire  Ahwazi population of around 8 to 10 million by opening floodgates in dams constructed upstream and flooding the whole Ahwaz region to not only safeguard the oil and gas facilities, but weaponising the flooding as a pretext for the large-scale ethnic cleansing of the Ahwazi population.

Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on his twitter account: https://twitter.com/samireza42

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