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 US State Department condemns racist land confiscation in Ahwaz

On Wednesday, 26 August, Iranian security forces tried to demolish the homes of the people of the village of Abo-Nekhilat (Abo-Alfazl) near Ahwaz city, the eponymously named regional capital of Ahwaz. When the villagers refused to leave their homes, Ahwazi sources revealed that the security forces used bullets and tear gas against them to force them to leave the area, leading to the injury of a number of people, including children, women and the elderly. The security forces also arrested dozens of the villagers whose only ‘crime’ was to refuse eviction from their homes.

The regime foundation attempting to claim ownership of the village, called, without any apparent sense of irony or shame, ‘ the Bonyadeh Mostazafan’ (The Oppressed) Foundation for the Islamic Revolution, has insisted that the villagers who have been living there for decades must evacuate the village so that the area can be ‘redeveloped’. With further bleak irony, this brutal assault involving the destruction of homes and the dispossession and shooting of their innocent residents takes place while the Iranian regime’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei mourns for the crimes perpetrated against Imam Hossein in the 7th century.

The US State Department has condemned the Iranian regime’s project to evict Ahwazi villagers from their homes in AlboFazl village and confiscate the land. In a Tweet on its Farsi language Twitter account, the State Department slammed the regime’s Mostazafan Foundation, which is leading the initiative to seize the land for redevelopment. The State Department tweet said, “Will the so-called Foundation for the Oppressed earn 36 trillion Tomans by making people homeless? This is not a foundation for the oppressed but a mercenary foundation oppressing the people and sticking out its tongue at them.”

According to Ahwazi and Iranian sources, the security forces attacked the village and tried to demolish homes. A few days before this latest attack, the security forces destroyed a few houses in the village. However, they encountered heroic resistance from the desperate villagers who have not even been offered any compensation for this brutal, but horribly typical effort by the regime to drive them from their homes, leaving them destitute. Residents of the village told local media that “their children and women live in tension and turmoil, in constant fear of destroying their homes above their heads.”  

According to a report from local news agency Akhbar Roz, the residents of the village of AlboFazl, whose 300 households are spread across a total area of 25 hectares, have provided ownership documents showing that from 1985 to 1991, the regime ‘gave’ many of the local villagers agricultural land around their own village to grow wheat, barley and vegetables. Subsequently, however, due to the destruction of the adjacent canal which irrigated their fields, the water supply to residents was cut off. Although these ownership documents clearly show that the villagers have lived there for almost 40 years, the Mostazafan Foundation presents itself as the owner of their lands and is preventing the provision of services to the villagers. [1]

Seyyed Yousef Mousavi, the Imam of AlboFazl village’s Amir al-Mo’menin Mosque and a spokesperson for the residents, said in an interview with Shargh Newspaper: “The Foundation has vast lands all over Iran. There are villas in Tehran and other places, so why do they want to demolish the homes of these people?” 

Mousavi confirmed that he had met Mohammad Saiedi Kiya, the former head of the Mostazafan Foundation, who was supposed to provide the necessary assistance in handing over control of the land which the village is built on to the villagers, but these efforts were thwarted following a change in the Foundation’s administration.” 

In recent months, the Iranian regime has significantly intensified the home demolition operations and seizure of property in most of the Ahwazi residential districts. The demolition of homes has always been carried out under the pretext of the owner not having a legal permit for construction.

The local people reported that their children are suffering from stress-related night-time bed-wetting and sudden epilepsy due to the trauma and terror they have had received during the home destruction operations. The security forces were intimidating the Ahwazi women and children by pointing guns at them during the demolition of homes.

Iranian security forces fired both live ammunition and tear gas to disperse Ahwazi civilian protesters.

Such cruel and unjustified policies are consistently conducted with forced displacement and migration of the Ahwazis who are extremely persecuted due to subjection to the outrageous ethnic cleansing policies of the Iranian regime.

 

 

In parallel with the demolition of the Ahwazi homes and confiscating of properties, the regime is encouraging Persian settlers to reside in Ahwaz, providing them with full facilities, housing units and job opportunities as incentives to settle them there.

Sayed Mousavi added: “Recently, some of the villagers were arrested but were released on bail. Residents of this village do not have unreasonable demands; they just want to live in their homes and have access to the means of life.” One of the residents of the village also said that there is no school or health centre in the village, so the people usually have to go to the military barracks near the village for any medical treatment. [2] 

Another resident of the village said, at midday, the security forces launched a brutal attack on the village to demolish the homes there, but the villagers refused to leave their homes. In response, the regime’s security forces shot at the unarmed people, wounding several residents, including children and women. Iranian authorities have rejected this claim, despite the presence of multiple eyewitnesses and photographic evidence, insisting that the security forces did not shoot anyone. “Officials from the municipality, along with the police, with the approval of the governor, went to the village, but the villagers resisted the police and the municipality,” Ali Biranvand, Deputy Prosecutor General of Ahwaz, said in an interview with the Iranian News Agency (IRNA) on Wednesday evening. However, the villagers stated that the security forces, along with the municipality officials, wanted to demolish their homes and to expel the residents, leaving them homeless despite the searing summer heat and the lack of any alternative accommodation if they leave the village, essentially forcing them into destitution.

Saeed Hamidan, former mayor of the city of Khalafiyeh in Ahwaz and now based in Sweden said in an interview with DUSC, “The Iranian regime deals with Ahwazis using racist colonialist logic. Therefore, many citizens, despite their customary and even legal ownership of agricultural and residential lands, are denied documents for their lands, and the regime does not want to provide documents to owners of these properties until the lands are seized by the regime one day. This is indeed a political plan so that the regime can displace people from their lands under the pretext that there is no ownership of lands or housings.”

 Hamidan explained that Iranian regimes since the era of the Pahlavi regime have openly given certificates of ownership and residency to many settlers and Iranian state institutions enabling them to seize and take control of already settled Ahwazi lands from their rightful owners, with the indigenous Ahwazi people denied any right of legal complaint or compensation for this naked theft. He added that the current regime is continuing with the same policy as the Shah’s regime to seize the Ahwazi lands, with the attempt to demolish the Ahwazi houses in the village of AlboFazl being one more part of the Iranian regime’s plans to seize Ahwazi citizens’ properties. 

Hamidan emphasised that the policy of confiscating or demolishing houses in Ahwaz is a systematic crime and is part of a larger criminal effort by the regime to change the demographic nature of Ahwaz and deny its indigenous AHwazi people agency or ownership. He further noted that this is illegal even under the regime’s own constitution, saying “Even in Iranian constitutional law there is no legislation that allows state institutions to seize people’s lands or destroy citizens’ homes.” 

He added that any state institution must provide conclusive evidence of tenure in order to claim ownership of lands, and that even in cases where the regime is permitted to seize land, according to the Iranian regime’s own constitution, state institutions must provide adequate alternative housing to residents, who must have the right to choose where they wish to settle. However, he added, the village of AlboFazl is not among the properties over which the Mostazafan Foundation has institutional power because, according to customary law, the citizens of the village are the owners. However, due to the policies of the Iranian regime, the residents do not have official documents. 

The former mayor stated that the residents of the village had been farming in the area since before the establishment of the Mostazafan Foundation, and had decided to build homes there to be near their agricultural lands, which he said shows that the Foundation’s claim of ownership of the village is both illogical and illegal. He added that the Foundation’s crisis with the residents of the village is a political, not a legal one, because there is no law that allows the Foundation to threaten citizens, evict them from their homes and destroy their properties, as this is purely a political move and is wholly illegal, warning that this policy will be extended to other areas in Ahwaz if the Foundation’s efforts are not stopped. 

The former mayor stated that even after the end of the Iranian war on Iraq in 1988, the land on which AlboFazl was built and the lands surrounding it were arid, barren and far from the city. However, with the passage of time, and with the outward expansion of the suburbs surrounding the city of Ahwaz and the encroaching construction work taking place near this village, the value of the land increased dramatically. For this reason, he explained, the Foundation had claimed ownership of the land and tried to evict the residents of the 300 households living there. A number of village men who opposed this policy had been arrested simply for refusing eviction for themselves and their families, he pointed out, adding that the goal of the Foundation is clearly to destroy homes, occupy the land there, and displace its people, a dangerous policy that directly contradicts international law.

It is worth noting that the Mostazafan (‘Oppressed’) Foundation was established shortly after the 1979 revolution on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic’s regime, with the Foundation being one of the largest economic institutions in Iran, possessing assets worth several billion dollars. 

BBC Persian reported that in 2017, when the financial balance of the Foundation was published for the first time, it was revealed that the Foundation had spent a total of 534 billion tomans in international aid money in 2016, of which around 326 billion tomans went to the supreme leader’s office while the rest of the funds went to other institutions affiliated with the regime. Recently, Parvez Fattah, the head of the Foundation for the Oppressed, criticised some senior Iranian government officials for seizing the Foundation’s properties without payment, Mr Fattah later apologised to these officials. 

While senior officials in the Iranian regime routinely define themselves as servants of the oppressed (usually referring to low-income people), Khomeini’s heir and the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei recently gave a different interpretation of the ‘Oppressed’, saying: “The oppressed means imams and potential leaders of the human world and clerics.” [3] Therefore, believes that the new definition of the oppressed by Khamenei will open the hand of the Foundation and the Revolutionary Court to seize people’s lands and properties in order to change the demographic composition of Ahwaz in the Iranian regime’s favour.

When asked to comment, attorney and international law expert Aaron Eitan Meyer noted that “the term Orwellian is horribly overused, but to see an organization called ‘Oppressed’ which is an outright tool of horribly racist oppression fits the bill. Only the thoroughly hypocritical and utterly bigoted Khomeneist regime would do something like this. I applaud our state Department for calling it out, and hope to see action follow these words.”

These home demolitions are not rare but an everyday occurrence for Ahwazi families. They have no legal recourse to any action against the regime for these flagrant abuses of international law.

The regime offers no notice, no chance to challenge the home demolition decision, and no compensation; whilst presenting itself, with no apparent sense of shame, as the leader of an ‘Axis of Resistance’ supposedly fighting for justice for oppressed people while commits unspeakable crimes and injustices against the indigenous Ahwazis and shows an openly contemptuous anti-Arab racism and supremacism to its victims.

Unlike many other oppressed people who can at least receive some international support, Ahwazis are prohibited by the regime from campaigning or raising awareness of their suffering, a double persecution that not only subjects them to vicious institutionalised racism and injustice but silences any effort to raise awareness of its existence.

Many Ahwazis feel that, for all the regime’s empty rhetoric about revolution and fairness, the regime is simply a carbon copy of apartheid South Africa, crushing the indigenous people underfoot and treating them as subhuman due to their ethnicity.

 By Kamil Alboshoka &  Rahim Hamid

Kamil Alboshoka is an Ahwazi researcher and international law specialist. He tweets under @KAlboshoka

 Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.

Reference

[1] Akhbar Rooz, 26 August 2020. Link <https://bit.ly/2D4gRiT>

[2] Shargh Newspaper, 26 August 2020. Link <https://bit.ly/3jo2jd9>

[3] BBC Persian, 27 August 2020. Link <https://bbc.in/34EwCIC>

The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.

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