Civilisation as we know it began with the rise of agriculture, millennia ago. And for some, like the Ahwazi people, agriculture has remained a core pillar of ethnic culture. The first wheat plantations were seen in the city of Susa, the capital of Elam in 4500 BCE, and the Ahwazi farmer contributed to building civilisation in his homeland for centuries. Ahwaz is traditionally endowed with fertile agricultural lands enabling people to cultivate several plants and trees.
The multiple flowing rivers there helped agriculture to flourish for centuries on the banks of Karoon river, which passes through the Ahwazi capital city, as well as the banks of Karkheh, Dez and Jarahi rivers, which have a deep-rooted history since the dawn of civilisation. There are presently 69,000 hectares of cultivable land in Ahwaz, where all sorts of crops have been planted.
Agriculture is still an integral part of the life of the Ahwazi citizen. More than 40% of the people work in agriculture, directly or indirectly. Therefore, Ahwazi rural culture thrived, developing a rich folk literature that included poetry, stories, and tales, as well as folk theatre and other arts. These cultural arts have been a main component in solidifying and preserving Arab culture in Ahwaz, which is rejected and suppressed by the authorities in Tehran.
When the Ahwazi independence in this Arab region was undermined, agricultural development declined precipitously, leaving a negative impact on the economy, society and all the aspects of life in Ahwaz.
According to experts’ estimates, nearly 2.5 million hectares of the Ahwazi land should be cultivable. But the region suffers from marginalisation and the government-sponsored industrial projects which destroyed these lands. Huge amounts of water, routinely contaminated with fertilisers and poisons, are being used in an unsystematic way, especially in the sugar cane farmlands which Iran removed from native Arab cultivation in order to establish its own preferred projects thereon. Due to these destructive projects, through which Iran attempts to expel the Ahwazi farmer from his land, cultivating essential crops such as rice, wheat and fruits has become extremely difficult.
The Iranian government has been stripping Arabs of their lands for decades, extending to the present day. Thus, since 1925, successive governments have stripped the Ahwazi people of the potential for agricultural development in favour of other forms of regime-determined economic development that does not benefit the native people. Specifically, the discovery and exploitation of oil and gas resources in the region, have resulted in ongoing misfortunes for the indigenous people.
After Iran stripped the native Ahwazis of their lands, it also prevented them from obtaining work in oil and gas fields, or state-sponsored mass agriculture. The Ahwazis resorted to working in their fields which survived this massive looting, which raised the ire of the Iranian regime. It unleashed a massive crackdown on the people. The attack was mounted under the guise of carrying out new agricultural projects, which gave the government the opportunity to deprive the people of their strips of land. And so, a firm affiliated with the IRGC and the Persian settlers in Ahwaz seized a big portion of the Ahwazi lands.
We are specifically including the sugar cane company, which seized hundreds of thousands of hectares of the Arab farmers, along with IRGC cooperatives and farms operated by ethnically Persian settlers. It has caused poverty and social deprivation to spread. By pursuing this policy, the Iranian state contributed to pushing all aspects of life in Ahwaz towards deterioration, systematically depriving Ahwazis of cultivation, seizing their lands, denying them of water, seeds and agricultural machinery. For example, the sugar cane company allows polluted water, which is filled with salt and chemical substances, to seep into the palm-tree and wheat farmlands owned by Arabs. This has led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares, drying up palm-tree farmlands at a harrowing and dangerous pace.
This short film documents flagrant crimes under international law, such as the destruction of a village, destruction of farmland, forcible confiscation of land, and air and water contamination, along with denial of employment of Ahwazis and the creation of barriers and enclaves around their farmlands. Such crimes are openly and routinely perpetrated by the Iranian regime to eradicate the Ahwazis from their historic lands. In the film two locals, a young man and an elderly man, are talking about the distressful situation they are suffering from.
Young man: “Unfortunately, despite the passage of twenty years, the Arab people of this village are deprived of the most basic rights which are supposedly guaranteed to every human being.”
Elderly man: “As you see from this land, we have never granted or sold our lands. We have documents and legal rights to farm and cultivate this land.”
He goes on to say, “this land belongs to us, but all of a sudden – we don’t understand how – they [the occupying Iranian regime officials who established sugar cane plantations on Ahwazis’ land] came to us and forcibly confiscated our land. Okay, well when they came to seize and grab our land – as you see from our village, we don’t have power to fight and defend our land.”
“Now you [addressing the Iranian regime authorities] grabbed our lands, okay no problem, you appropriated our lands, you have the power to do so, it is okay, but why you are leaving us to die of thirst?!”
Young man: “You have confiscated the land here – okay, Bon Appetite! At least, bring our water back though, the only available source of water in here is the wastewater discharged from the surrounding sugarcane fields.”
Elderly man: “Really, really they gave this foul contaminated water to us, which even our animals cannot tolerate drinking, let alone humans. Please, you have a camera – film and document this water; is this water that we can wash our hands with? We are pleading to anyone who is honourable, and has a sense of manhood, anyone whether Muslim or non- Muslim, but with a sense of humanity, really see if this water is fit to drink? Is there any animal or bird who would drink such water?”
The elderly Ahwazi man is turning to the cameramen who is filming the terrible situation and pleading: “you are not drinking it, but you can see with your own eyes so you can judge this water. Is this drinkable water?! We stayed here. They besieged us and subjugated our lands and our village, this siege closely resembles that of Gaza in Palestine; I heard on the news about the blockade on Gaza, our situation is also very similar to that, we are surrounded, and under blockade by [sugar cane companies], we do not get anything out of it. What benefits have we got?”
Young man: “After the confiscation of our lands, the Iranian courts issued a decree stipulating that the sugarcane company, in addition to seizing lands from “Safha village in Falahiyeh city (Shadeghan in Farsi)” should offer compensation by granting the local Arab people good fertile land with the same value as those lands confiscated. The court also specified and determined the location of these lands.”
Elderly man: “At the beginning, they said they were going to give us everything – such as, we’ll give you houses, we’ll grant you farmlands, and we’ll give you pasture lands so that your cattle can graze on it. But they did not build houses for us, did not give us farmlands, nor any pasture land for our cattle, but they went ahead and even blocked it off and surrounded the remaining lands that we have legal documents proving our right of ownership of. I mean, they destroyed the water canal that we used to irrigate our lands with. It belonged to me it was on my own land. But they buried the irrigation canal, and sealed off my lands. You can see what they did with it and ask what happened to it.”
Young man: “The local young Arab people remain unemployed here; their only skill was animal husbandry and agriculture, but their lands were forcibly confiscated; now they can’t reach their lands to farm them, and they [the sugarcane refineries] employ guards that prevent local people to take their cattle for grazing. With the surrounding sugar companies denying the local Arab young people from getting jobs, confiscating their lands, depriving water of them and preventing their cattle and animals from grazing, how can it be possible to find a way to make a living?”
The elderly man adds: “It means that you stole our source of living, you exploited our means of living, and you, ironically, are Muslim. Okay, at least give us a chance to breathe; we have even been deprived of clean air to breathe because of the suffocating smoke from the burning of the sugarcane stubble in the fields that besiege us.”
“Look at these poor people, look at these children, look at our houses that are dilapidated and almost falling on our heads; if you look carefully, you will see that our houses are disintegrating and ruined. Look at the children in the village, they don’t even have access to clean water to wash themselves – is there in any country where you can find such sheer injustice and oppression that resembles our horrible situation? Is there any village that suffers such misery? Why should it be like this?”
Young man: “On the day when they set fire to the sugar farms, not more than 30 or 40 meters away from the village, they burn the sugarcane stubble that covers 25 hectares. Where does the smoke go? It completely covers the village. What can we do? We have no water, we can’t breathe the air; the suffocating smoke is around us; they confiscated our lands, and we cannot even farm and graze our animals.”
In the same context, Iran actively hinders the marketing of Ahwazi agricultural crops. The customs authorities don’t allow the export of crops cultivated in Ahwaz to countries such as Iraq and the Gulf states. Meanwhile, it allows crops cultivated in the Persian regions to be easily exported. Instead, Ahwazi crops are sold at very low prices on the Iranian market, preventing the Ahwazi farmers from exporting products to the outside world at a fair market price.
Historically, communication has always accompanied trade. This is but one of many ways in which the Iranian government hinders Ahwazi attempts to maintain economic and cultural communication with Arab neighbours. The other disaster facing Ahwazi farmers lies in the floods staged and engineered by the Iranian administration, which destroy millions of tons of the Ahwazi crops. Hence, the Ahwazi farmer suffers from poverty, marginalisation and belittlement on his own soil. Ahwazis who seek to raise cattle in order to produce milk and meat also suffer from huge restrictions and are facing a crackdown on all measures, which is imposed by these fundamentally racist policies of the Iranian regime.
As a result of Iranian policies aimed at removing Arab people from Ahwaz, Ahwazi villagers have continued to live in abject poverty, seeing no progress in their desperate attempts to seek livelihood. Thus, has the Iranian government worked to curb the increase and growth of Ahwazi population in their homeland, since population rates among destitute populations are typically low. At a time when farmers in the free world are enjoying their full rights, their Ahwazi peers are deprived of theirs, including the basic right to unionise. Iran does not allow the Ahwazis to set up agricultural trade unions, which naturally support the rights of farmers.
Hence, we see the Ahwazi farmer is barred from participation in the political changes happening in the world, relegated to living in a limited, restricted and besieged world. He is the target and victim of outright racism, forced to live in squalor in a desperate quest to survive in his ancestral homeland.
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.