Iranian regime security services, assisted by Iraqi militiamen, have reportedly arrested over 24 Ahwazi volunteer aid workers for providing aid to fellow Ahwazis in the flood-devastated region, where 20 towns and 250 villages have now been submerged by the surging floodwaters, with at least one and half a million people left homeless.
Officers of the regime’s infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), from the Abu Fadl Abbas security headquarters in the regional capital, Ahwaz, dragged the detained volunteers from their homes, accusing them of various fabricated charges, including having ties to unnamed foreign governments, working for Saudi Arabia to destabilise national security in Iran, and/or fomenting insurgency against the Iranian regime.
Large numbers of Iraqi militiamen have been assisting the IRGC in its brutal crackdown on Ahwazis who are already suffering terribly as a result of the flooding. Rather than helping the traumatised displaced people, the regime has exacerbated the flooding by opening the floodgates on dams built upstream on regional rivers, causing a humanitarian disaster. This has been done to reduce pressure on the poorly constructed dams, while simultaneously blocking off the river mouths flowing into the marshlands in order to protect the oil and gas installations there, and thereby diverting the floodwaters to Ahwazi towns, cities, villages and farmlands.
Large numbers of personnel from the Tehran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces militias( known as Hashd al Shaabi), trained, paid and armed by the IRGC, have been seen entering Ahwaz where they are being stationed at local IRGC bases in preparation to further crack down on Ahwazi protests against the regime, which have begun in response to the humanitarian catastrophe.
Tehran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces militias in Ahwaz
The suffering of those dispossessed in the floods has been intensified by the collapse of much of the region’s dilapidated sewer system, with the floodwaters polluted by raw sewage and other waste, leading to outbreaks of disease; in a bitter irony, there is no drinkable water in a region being devastated by flooding. Many have warned of possible disease epidemics if large-scale aid operations are not launched. Images from the flood-afflicted areas show Ahwazi children suffering from skin diseases and infectious diseases like measles and chicken pox, while children and adults alike are affected by heatstroke. The regime has not provided any aid and medical care.
Infants and children have been worst affected; a number have died or fallen critically ill as a result of drowning or of heat dehydration, skin diseases, a lack of clean water and food and of sanitary services.
One devastated father identified as ” Herieb Maturi” from Qal’at Chamim village, whose baby daughter was drowned by the floodwaters, is seen in a footage posted on social media appealing to the regime for any aid at all to save his remaining family, bitterly castigating President Rouhani for his decision to open the dams’ floodgates, saying, “She drowned while she was asleep – we are dying, no food, no water, no toilets, no roads. Rouhani, are you pleased now for flooding us? Let me at least make a tent and bury my baby!”
The father whose baby daughter was drowned by the floodwaters
In other heart-wrenching footage, parents who have been driven from their home due to the flooding are seen trying to comfort their one and half year-old baby son identified as Milad Chameli, who is in visible agony from burns to his skin, which is peeling off. The baby’s uncle says, “We do not have money to take him to a hospital, we are struggling to get food to eat, living hand-to-mouth.” The family, from Al-Atish village near Kot Abdullah city, explain that their only income is from seasonal fishing, with the father’s monthly income as a fisherman bringing in only around 1,000 Tomans per day (currently worth less than 10 cents). If the baby’s father does not catch any fish, the baby’s uncle says despairingly; he can not feed his children: “Our only job is fishing and nothing else, we do not have any financial power, now the routes are cut off as well.”
One and half year-old baby identified as Milad Chameli, who is in visible agony from burns to his skin
The lack of any food is adding to the people’s suffering, which has been feeding a growing sense of anger and despair, with many condemning the regime for exploiting the Ahwazis’ massive oil and gas resources – the region houses over 95 per cent of the oil and gas claimed by Iran – while leaving the people in poverty and facing further horrendous suffering and destitution. In another video posted on social media, one Ahwazi woman says, “Since yesterday we have not eaten anything – we have no food, no water. The flood swept away all our lives, and we do not even have a tent. We are left fending for ourselves – so where does Ahwaz’s oil money go when we are left to eat rotten leftover bread?”
Speaking about the IRGC’s latest arrest campaign targeting the aid workers, Faisal Moramzi, an Ahwazi human rights activist now based in London, told the Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC): “Iranian security forces arrested over 24 Ahwazi activists who were participating in voluntary efforts to rescue the flood-affected people on false charges like ‘spreading false news’. This comes as those detainees reported on the impact of the disaster on the flood-affected people”.
Shahin Hassanvand, the head of the regime’s ‘Internet[cyber] Police’ force in Ahwaz, claimed that the detainees were arrested due to their activities on social media, accusing them of fabricating stories, spreading rumours and inciting public opinion against the regime.
The arrests are an apparent effort by the regime to suppress the realities exposed by the video footages and reports emerging from Ahwaz about the horrendous magnitude of the disaster there and the regime’s role in exacerbating and exploiting the crisis. They reveal the enormity of the IRGC’s and Ministry of Petroleum’s longstanding involvement in aggravating the flood catastrophe in order to reduce pressure on the dams – built as part of a project to divert the Ahwaz region’s waters to ethnically Persian areas – and now to defend oil facilities, at the expense of devastating millions of people’s lives.
Those driven out of their homes and villages have voiced anger at the regime’s negligence and refusal to provide aid, with much of the aid sent by other states for the people there reportedly being diverted to ethnically Persian areas where there is no flooding to be sold for profit. The only source of assistance has been from other Ahwazis, who are now themselves being targeted for aiding their compatriots. Meanwhile, thousands of Ahwazis are stranded without food, medicine or shelter in the plains and mountain areas.
In this footage, an Ahwazi woman dispossessed by the catastrophic flooding across the region, contrasts the dreadful conditions with the massive oil and gas resources in Ahwaz, where over 95 per cent of the mineral resources claimed by Iran are located, saying, “We have wealth like Kuwait, Dubai and Saudi Arabia – we do not expect to live like them, but at least the regime should give us our rights!
Come see our situation?! Come, let us see our situation because of floods! Children and old people, we all as women and all other groups suffer. Look at their [other people’s] faces, see how they affected by the crisis! We have no water for washing, drinking and sanitation. Where is the government? Do they only take our wealth? Are they willing to leave their families to live with this situation? The government did not even give us tents where we can stay?! They are only stealing the oil and wealth of our country. Let them bring their families and live in the same place for only two days to feel the problems that we are suffering from in this flooding crisis. As you know, we will be stuck here for at least for another month. As you can see, people are literally living in trenches that belong to the [1980-88] Iran-Iraq war period.”
Ahwazi activists inside Ahwaz whose names are withheld to protect them from possible persecution told DUSC, “there is a regime crackdown. The Iranian regime is not only refusing to provide aid to the stricken areas, but is actively increasing our suffering by diverting the surging floodwaters to Ahwazi residential areas in order to protect oil and gas facilities downstream. We are pleading with the international community to put pressure on the regime to stop diverting the waters in this way, with millions of more people in the region at risk of being driven from their homes as the flooding approaches our regional capital, the city of Ahwaz, with its population of approximately three million”.
Ahwazi children plead from inside Ahwaz to the United Nation
They added, “Now, displaced Ahwazi villagers are facing a critical situation. Despite Iranian attempts to suppress coverage, a number of videos have emerged documenting not only that the Ahwazi people are lacking food, medical care and basic shelter, but that the Iranian regime has provided zero assistance to the Ahwazi flood-ravaged citizens. People only had a chance to flee the flood, leaving behind their homes, possessions, livestock, and farmlands. All these are destroyed, and their children sleep on the ground without blankets or even a carpet.” The situation is rendered even more critical due to the fact that there are hundreds of infants who need milk, or medicine, many disabled children who need oxygen and nursing care, and many patients of all ages who lack their daily medications such as insulin and blood pressure pills.”
They concluded, “Clearly, the regime is fully willing to displace the Ahwazi population by opening floodgates in the dams constructed upstream and flooding the whole area to safeguard the oil and gas facilities, and it is callously using the flooding as a pretext for the large-scale ethnic cleansing of the Ahwazi population. Many of the flooded areas are entirely cut off from safe areas, with countless people receiving no food or medical aid; many infants are in desperate need of milk, and diapers while large numbers of infirm or ill people are unable to obtain the medicines they need to survive.”
The Ahwazi Centre for Human Rights has also condemned the arrest of the volunteer aid workers and demanded their immediate release urging international human rights bodies and the international community to condemn “these terrible practices.” New York-based attorney Aaron Aaron Eitan Meyer agrees completely, and commented that the only questions are a) how many different crimes against international law are being committed by the regime against the Ahwazi people and their supporters and b) how soon will the regime be held accountable for these inexcusable violations of fundamental human rights.
Ahwazi activists are now trying every way possible to appeal to the international community, most recently by launching an online petition to President Rouhani signed by many of Ahwazi academics, international law experts and others worldwide via Change.org to try to increase awareness and support. In the petition, the university professors and their supporters urge Iran’s leaders to dismantle the barriers blocking off the marshlands and to permanently restore the waters there in order to end the flooding and save the people of Ahwaz from a catastrophe, as well as to protect the environment and wildlife and sustain manageable living conditions across Ahwaz.
They also urge Iran’s government to fulfil its duties to preserve the Ahwazi people’s lives and properties and prevent what they term “a looming environmental catastrophe that endangers the lives of the entire population and the devastation of the entire region.”
The petitioners further assert that any economic activity, especially in the field of oil and gas excavation, should be committed to the necessity of protecting lives and preserving the irreplaceable natural environment, wherever it takes place.
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.