The Iran regime continued to use execution in an attempt to intimidate and break the spirit of non-Persians in Iran in particular. The Ahwazi people are the most targeted ethnic group in Iran, suffering greatly from oppression, despite having numerous natural resources. From the establishment of the Persian based state in Iran, non-Persians have strived to continue practising and exercising their social and political rights, however, every time they call on the regime to be able to do this, the response of the state is to suffocate activists’ voices.
The formation of the Iranian state
The Iranian state was established based on two main principles, which dominate society: Persian race and Shia religious identity. All those of non-Persian ethnicity and non-Shiites are deemed persona non- gratae with no right to recognition and denied the most fundamental rights supposedly guaranteed under international law to follow their own faith or freely practice their own cultural customs. They must follow Shia values (even though the majority of Iranians are neither Shia nor Persian) or face dire consequences. All must also follow the regime’s ‘official’ language and script, the lingua franca of its people, or Persian. Official documents, correspondence, and texts, as well as textbooks, must be in this language and script (1).
Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right states that in those States where ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language (2). In addition, article 30th of the Human Right Declaration confirms that States should take appropriate measures so that, wherever possible, persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue (3).
However, non-Persian people in Iran are being arrested, tortured and executed because of their demand for such civil rights, and additionally, many cultural institutions have been banned, closed down and their founders executed purely for trying to maintain their own culture and language. Some of these institutions include Al-Hewar, Eshragh, and Shams-Al Jonob which just months ago experienced the arrest of hundreds of activists by the Iran regime, including the founder of the Shams al-Janoub Cultural Foundation, as the state continues to wage war against all symbols of Ahwazi culture. One example is Muhammad Moemeni Timas Silawi, a prominent Ahwazi and founder of the cultural foundation, was arrested, along with his son Nasar, in retaliation for his persistent activism. Some unofficial news channels are even reporting that these two men have been executed, along with another 20 Ahwazi activists, although this news has still not been confirmed nor denied (4).
The Iran regime executed two teachers, Hashem Shaabani and Hadi Rashedi, the founders of the Al-Hewar cultural foundation in 2014 for the same reason, and to intimidate non-Persians into following Persian state values. Drewery Dyke, Amnesty International’s Iran expert, told the Guardian at the time: “The execution of Hashem Shabani can’t be separated from his role as an Ahwazi teacher and poet, a figure who had attempted to nurture an independently minded minority culture in harsh circumstances” (5).
Cultural Assimilation in Ahwaz
Since the introduction of the Persian state, Ahwazis have been demonstrating and taking advantage of any opportunity to show their refusal to assimilate with a process that alienates them and ignores their cultural and ethnic human rights, as well as the fact that this love of their own culture has and is being used against them by successive governments in Iran. The UNPO clearly mentioned the assimilation is being ordered in Iran against non-Persians in its report in 2011. “The people of West Balochistan, as the Ahwazi and Iranian Kurds, have suffered from inequality, injustice, and marginalisation within their own homeland. The Iranian government has been particularly focused on assimilating the Baloch people as the bordering Pakistani province of Balochistan shares stronger cultural, ethnic, and linguistic links with Western Balochis. Fearful of ceding authority, Tehran has worked to suppress ethnic Baloch identity” (6).
The Iran regime has used methods such as apartheid and annexation to try and force Ahwazis to assimilate into Persian culture. It began by excluding Ahwazi people in certain Persian regions during the time of Reza Shah, even changing the demographic structure of the country by acquiring Ahwazi territories and annexing them to government projects, employing and settling non-Ahwazi in them.
The state has, besides, prohibited Ahwazi education, therefore doing the equivalent of declaring full-scale war on Ahwaz ethnicity, culture and identity in Ahwaz. The regime has ruthlessly fought to curtail all aspects of Ahwazi culture in the region such as Arab festivals, Arab clothes, and Arab history. Moreover, it has even changed the names of regions, cities, and villages in an attempt to remove the entire Ahwazi people from as much of Iran’s history as possible. “Although Ahwaz region is one of the most oil-rich regions in the world and represents up to 90 per cent of Iran’s oil production, the Ahwazi community endures extreme levels of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy. Ahwazis are subjected to repression and racial discrimination, and are faced with land confiscation, forced displacement and forced assimilation” (7).
The Iran regime deliberately did not rebuild the fallen areas during the Iran-Iraq war to prevent the Arab population from returning to these areas, which is where their homes were. Instead, they tried to force them to remain in Persian areas and ‘integrate’ as well as accelerating migration from Ahwaz to Persian regions. Another of the Iranian state’s goals is to pursue these policies geographically, such that they are diverting rivers and drying marshes in order to minimise the Ahwaz population in their home areas.
The aims of the Iran regime towards its non-Persian population, particularly its human rights abuses towards Ahwazi activists, have been widely recognised worldwide. There is, however, a need to shed further light on the various methods by which people are oppressed, including intimidation, executions and geographical tools to deny Ahwazi their rights pertaining to their culture, ethnicity and identity. It is not too strong an argument to suggest that the aim of the Iran state is cultural genocide of the Ahwazi people. Even protests against these human rights violations are met with executions in a wholesale attempt to silence Ahwazis from protesting.
- The 15thArticle, CONSTITUTION OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, Foundation for Iran Studies, link:
- Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right
- Article 30 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right
- Iran: Mass Executions of Ahwazi Prisoners an outrage, by Ali Badri, Nov 11, 2018
- Execution of Arab Iranian poet Hashem Shaabani condemned by rights groups, Guardian, Feb13, 2014
- UNPO, Ethnic Nationalities of Iran, A Struggle for Universal Rights, Nov 24, 2011
- Refugee Review Tribunal AUSTRALIA, RRT RESEARCH RESPONSE, July 30, 2009
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.