An 18-year-old Ahwazi youth, identified as Mohammed Bin Nasser Al-Hussein Al-Makhlilif Al-Nessi, is believed to have drowned on Wednesday when he was swept away by floodwaters as he and his father searched for their buffalo which had been washed away by the torrential flooding in a rural area near the regional town of Toster [Shushter], which also destroyed much of their home, as well as their crops. Mohammad’s devastated father said that his son had been attempting to ford the deep, fast-moving floodwater separating their land from another area to search for the animals when he lost his footing and was swept away. His father is still searching for him at the time of publishing this report.
Mohmmad Bin Nasser Al-Hussein Al-Makhlilif Al-Nessi
Over 1.5 million people have been displaced by catastrophic flooding in the region of Ahwaz [southwestern Iran] since it began 11 days ago, while the Iranian regime continues to provide no food or humanitarian aid; many credible reports suggest that although aid has been sent for the people, much of it is being confiscated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and sold in regime-loyalist, non-Ahwazi areas. According to displaced residents, the regime has not even provided so much as a single rowboat to help rescue people trapped by the flooding.
Compounding the crisis, at least two Ahwazis have been shot dead by IRGC forces since the flooding began two weeks ago, the death toll has reportedly now risen to three dead at the hands of the regime, and countless others possibly carried away by floodwaters without any way of knowing. Many Ahwazis suspect that the regime is deliberately exploiting and exacerbating the flooding problem in order to confiscate more Ahwazi lands and homes as part of its massive river diversion and damming program, which itself aims to develop oilfields for the regime while displacing Ahwazi residents.
The people are extremely reluctant to leave the area despite the heavy flooding, fearing that the regime will use it as a pretext to permanently relocate them to other non-Arab areas, confiscating their oil-rich ancestral lands and rewrite the region’s demographics, a policy that the regime has pursued by every possible means and under various pretexts despite its clear illegality under international law.
When asked to comment, attorney and international law expert Aaron Eitan Meyer noted that “over 20 years ago, the United Nations called this precise type of forced displacement one of the most tragic phenomena of the modern world, and established principles of international law that specifically and categorically prohibited forced displacement by ‘“ethnic cleansing” or similar practices aimed at/or resulting in altering the ethnic, religious or racial composition of the affected population’. What Iran is doing is in flagrant violation of international law, and even for this rogue state, what it is trying to do to millions of Ahwazi people is breathtakingly illegal and utterly reprehensible.”
According to the state-run Mehr news agency, Mohammad Islami, Minister of Transport and Urban Development said, “The important thing in the recent flood was that the president in the previous meeting has emphasized at the previous meeting that homes, farms, and fish raising farms and businesses, residential homes that were located near to the rivers and sustained damaged will be rebuilt in new locations meaning that all homes will be moved to places that are more appropriate and safe to prevent other similar flood incidents, and the judiciary is also supposed to participate in this process so that the rebuilding and reconstruction project won’t be repeated in the same current flooded areas”.
Despite the transparent ploy of claiming forced relocation is for the benefit of the displaced Ahwazis, this clearly demonstrates the regime’s true intention of enforcing the demographic erasure of Ahwazis in their homeland, confiscating their lands permanently and forcibly relocating them to new areas as a means of denying them any sovereignty over their own lands or resources. This is of paramount importance to the regime, since over 95 per cent of oil and gas resources claimed by Tehran are in fact located in Ahwaz.
For this reason, many Ahwazis remain in their areas despite the flooding, so the regime is pressuring them to leave by depriving them of food, water, and medical aid. Other Ahwazis from surrounding areas have attempted to help their stricken brothers by bringing food and aid to the flood-ravaged areas, and the Iranian regime has responded by arresting dozens and barring them from entering the flooded areas, leaving hundreds of thousands hungry and thirsty, and without any medical aid.
So, for over 20 towns and cities and over 234 rural areas have been evacuated due to the surging water.
In an interview with the state-run Fars News Agency, Ghasem Sa’edi, the Parliament representative for the areas of Khafajiyeh and Howeyzeh in the Islamic Consultative said,“From the start of oil exploration and drilling in the wetlands, oil ministry turned the whole Hor Al-Azim wetlands into five reservoirs; while reservoirs 1 and 2 have a small amount of flooding water, but reservoirs 3, 4 and 5 are completely dry”.
“In recent years, when Ahwazi people were suffocating due to the rise of dust air storms from the dried wetlands because of building of dams on the Karkheh river the main water source for the marshlands, the ministry of oil was arguing that because of lack of enough water behind the dam they will not release the water to the wetlands, but now with the heavy rains, the dams filled wholly, and with opening the floodgates of the dams, Ahwazi people have been devastated, and the infrastructure of their cities and villages was damaged; the government and its officials are supposed to direct the water to wetlands, not the Ahwazi residential areas.”
Meyer called this further proof of ongoing crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the Iranian regime, and called the continuous diversion of water toward Ahwazi residential areas “a systemic violation of basic human rights that is crossing into the realm of ethnic cleansing.”
Before considering what consequences the regime should face though, we must focus on pressuring the Iranian government to permit aid to reach the Ahwazi people immediately. The floodwaters have already carried away too much; we must all work to save the people of Ahwaz from the floods and the Iranian regime alike.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. You can follow him on his twitter account: https://twitter.com/samireza42
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.