The Ahwaz region is currently enduring cataclysmic flooding that has displaced hundreds of thousands of residents, with the latest figures showing that at least 1.5 million people have been displaced to date since March 29 this year. Whilst I lack the scientific or academic expertise to comment authoritatively on the subjects of climate change and the natural environment, I have observed at first hand the direct link between the Iranian regime’s political manipulation and the environmental devastation unleashed on Ahwaz, my homeland.
Since the first days of Iran’s annexation of the formerly independent emirate of Ahwaz in 1925, the people have resisted the efforts of successive regimes to forcibly assimilate them and eradicate their Arab heritage. This colonialist supremacism on the part of the rulers in Tehran towards Ahwazi people has led to generations of poverty, deprivation and resentment for the local people; despite the fact that Ahwaz holds more than 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran – with many Ahwazis believing that this was the primary reason for the annexation.
Decades of oppression, injustice and anti-Arab racism towards the Ahwazi people by successive Iranian regimes have left the people in no doubt that the ultimate objective of Tehran is a demographic change project to eradicate the region’s Arab character completely and deny its indigenous people their rights, culture or even their historical claim on their own lands in order to claim these natural resources for itself. The Iranian leadership has used every possible tool in its efforts to achieve this objective, including those selfsame natural resources.
The current regime has introduced a massive programme to dam and divert the rivers that once made the region a breadbasket whose farms exported dates, fruit and vegetables to the surrounding area, as well as providing abundant fish that were renowned across the wider region, sustaining generations of fishermen. The damming and diversion programme, which is set to continue until 2030 has seen the construction of a network of dams and immense water pipelines in the upstream areas of the three rivers feeding in the region, the Karoon, Karkheh and Dez, with the water being diverted to other, ethnically Persian regions of Iran. On the tributaries of the Karoon river alone at least 15 dams have been constructed to date. This has led to massive water shortages downstream and increasingly to desertification, as well as leaving much of the remaining water supply undrinkable, worsening the existing cycle of severe pollution from the regime’s oil and gas rigs, as well as from the industrial facilities that are built very deliberately on the banks of what remains of the vastly depleted rivers, pumping untreated industrial waste into their waters which serve as the sole source of drinking water and irrigation for the local peoples. All these factors have wreaked terrible havoc on the Ahwazi people and the natural environment, with the dams, whose construction has brought nothing but suffering, referred to scathingly as the ‘killer dams’ With climate change leading to once rare extreme weather events becoming routine, meanwhile, the Ahwazi people, suffering from severe drought for much of the year are also hit regularly by the sort of catastrophic flooding seen at present.
For Ahwazis, even before the latest flooding, whose disastrous effects were exacerbated by the orders of President Rouhani to open the floodgates on these dams in order to relieve pressure on the poorly built structures, this is simply further confirmation that the dams project and the resulting devastating human and environmental effects on the impoverished region, are being used as tools to help drive the Arab population from their lands, removing any demands for freedom and possible threat to Iran’s absolute control of their oil and gas resources.
As a contemporary Ahwazi saying puts it, “Iran deprives us of water in the summer and floods us with water in winter.” This maxim summarises the cynical cutthroat zero-sum game being played by the Iranian regime against the Ahwazi people.
The flood-affected people are confronting waters with their bare chests after barriers have been pulled down by the IRGC forces to flood villages and farmlands
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the regime’s military ‘right hand’, effectively owns the controlling interest in Iran’s businesses and industry, including the oil and gas industries which are the regime’s lifeblood. This means that its forces terrorise the Ahwazi people constantly, persecuting those whose lands and resources the regime is engaged in exploiting and stealing, inflicting a multilayered series of grotesque injustices.
Instead of offering aid to flood-affected people, the IRGC tanks enter Ahwaz to confront the Ahwazis
While state authorities, including the IRGC, work to some degree to serve the people in ethnically Persian areas such as Isfahan – so long as the people follow the regime’s fundamentalist Shiite doctrine and remain unquestioningly loyal to the regime – in Ahwaz and in other non-Persian regions, the state’s attitude towards the indigenous citizens is wholly hostile; for Iran’s regime, which has accelerated its anti-Arab racist rhetoric since Khomeini seized power in 1979, the Ahwazi people are an obstacle to seizing the oil, gas, water and other resources, which it doubly exploits to make money and to use in terrorising the indigenous Ahwazi people and driving them from their lands.
The regime’s decision to open the dam floodgates and divert the floodwaters to Ahwazi towns, villages and farmlands, while rushing to protect the profitable oil and gas facilities and sugar refineries (where, coincidentally, Ahwazis are not allowed to fill any but the most menial of positions), makes Tehran’s priorities and attitude to the Ahwazi people very clear indeed.
IRGC diverts floodwaters to residential areas of Ahwaz
The mission of diverting the floodwaters and protecting the aforementioned oil and gas facilities and sugar refineries was assigned to the IRGC, now correctly defined by the US leadership as a terrorist organisation, which is the primary beneficiary of the income from most of these facilities.
The IRGC, whose persecution and torture are infamous to Ahwazis and all Iranian dissidents, is a branch of the regime’s armed forces which effectively acts as the Supreme Leader’s right hand and is fiercely loyal to the regime leadership.
If the flooding afflicting Ahwaz had been left to its natural course without dams upstream being opened and the floodwaters diverted, losses would have been kept to a minimum, with the waters running unimpeded to the rivers’ mouths at the delta opening into the Gulf. Instead, the deliberate opening of the dams’ floodgates and the diversion of the floodwaters to Ahwazi towns, villages and farmlands shows that this policy is not simply about mercenary greed in protecting the regime’s financial interests, but is actively malign; this is no natural disaster, but the exploitation of a natural event to inflict suffering and drive people from their land.
The IRGC’s very calculated policy of working to ae the region uninhabitable for its people can be seen in many other areas, including environmentally disastrous projects that have poisoned and dried up the once-famed Al-Azim and Al-Dawrak marshlands which were famous for their marine life; now the natural life that flourished there is long gone with the areas hosting IRGC bases and barren expanses used for practising military exercises.
The devastating environmental effects of the regime’s policies are cyclical, with the desertification leading to sandstorms that spread the polluted untreated waste from the oil and gas rigs and refineries, leading to further desertification and killing off more plants and wildlife in a spiral of ecological destruction, in addition to turning whole villages and rural areas into uninhabitable wastelands whose inhabitants are forced to flee for survival . Meanwhile, the regime’s manmade erosion of the marshlands that once covered thousands of acres means there is no natural barrier to stop these pollutants from seeping into the Gulf.
This toxic cocktail of wholly manmade destruction and toxic pollution has left what remains of the region’s ecosystem struggling to survive, with the latest floods further damaging the already devastated balance of nature.
The IRGC’s central role in this cataclysmic situation for the Ahwazi people and environment cannot be understated.
It is arguable that one of the most critical blows to the Ahwazi environment was the IRGC’s construction of the Khatam Al-Anbiya Air Defense Base, the centre from the which the Revolutionary Guards oversee the dam-construction program, which profits from selling the Ahwazi peoples stolen waters as well as their oil and gas resources. Given their elevated status as the regime’s enforcers, the IRGC has absolute impunity, with no hope of any punishment for their blatant and overt crimes in Ahwaz or anywhere else across Iran. Numerous official documents confirming the IRGC’s massive corruption have been seized as soon as they are exposed, with critics automatically arrested and imprisoned.
Whilst the Ministries of Irrigation and of Agriculture are nominally answerable only to the government in Tehran, they are in fact under the de facto control of the IRGC, with their operations largely dictated and supervised from the Khatam Al-Anbiya Air Defense Base in Ahwaz.
In addition to all the above factors, the IRGC also routinely seizes farms and lands from Ahwazi peoples; some of this land is ‘given’ to ethnically Persian settlers as a reward for their service to the regime, or used for building ‘Persians-only’ settlements for Persian settlers who are offered financial inducements, jobs and homes to move to Ahwaz as part of the regime’s demographic change project; these settlements are provided with facilities and amenities not available to Ahwazis. Other areas of confiscated land – for which Ahwazis receive no compensation – are turned over to sugarcane farming or sugar refineries, another of the regime’s projects.
All the above clearly show the leading role which the IRGC plays in devastating the natural environment of Ahwaz.
Media worldwide have consistently ignored the IRGC’s brutal persecution of Ahwazis. Another example of this was shown in recently leaked secret recordings of discussions between senior IRGC officials in which they openly called for greater efforts to divert floodwaters to residential areas of Ahwaz in order to accelerate the regime’s demographic change project while ensuring the protection of the state, oil and gas facilities.
Ahwazis, who are painfully aware of the IRGC’s brutality, duplicity and racism from daily first-hand experience, need nothing but patience to find new items of evidence corroborating what they already know.
The clashes that took place in the villages of Jalizii and Shakaria in the Khafajiyeh area on the shores of the Karkheh river a few days ago were further evidence of the IRGC’s contempt for the Ahwazi people, with the Revolutionary Guards attacking residents of the village with live bullets and tear gas for erecting sand barriers in an attempt to stop the floodwaters reaching their homes and land. Rather than show any empathy, local people reported, the IRGC used the flooding to clear the village, even planting explosive charges to destroy the berms erected by the desperate villagers, preferring that the villagers lose their homes and crops and be forced to flee than that the floodwaters affect nearby oil and gas facilities and sugar refineries. Many local people were reportedly wounded in the IRGC’s ferocious attacks on villagers who protested at this, with at least one, a farmer named as Abboud Rabiei shot dead in the IRGC troops’ indiscriminate gunfire on April 4. At the same protest, IRGC security forces arrested an elderly villager, Sheikh Khalaf Marawani for the ‘crime’ of trying to divert the waters away from the village, with the IRGC apparently furious that any diversion might damage a nearby sugar refinery.
IRGC forces killed an Ahwazi farmer protesting against forced eviction
In conclusion, it is clear from all the aforementioned facts that the final authority for inflicting the current and previous horrendous suffering on Ahwazis lies with the IRGC and their master the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
The projects being carried out on the regime’s behalf to limit or even eradicate the Arab presence in their ancestral homeland of Ahwaz are always assigned to the IRGC due to its massive capabilities and military power. With the carte blanche given to it by the regime leadership, the IRGC can literally get away with murder. From the regime’s viewpoint, the Ahwazi people’s efforts to protect their homes and lands are a potential security risk to oil and gas production and other industrial facilities. The IRGC’s presence in Ahwaz is wholly destructive, being toxic to the people and the environment. Its crimes against Ahwazis and their lands and natural resources will continue to cause instability, hatred and resentment so long as they and it continue. It is long past time for all people to stand against this criminal extremist terror organisation and demand that it be held to account under international law for its crimes against humanity and against the environment. It is time for the world to stand for civilised values and stand alongside Ahwazis who have suffered and continue to suffer so terribly at the IRGC’s hands and to hold them to account.
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.