The Iranian regime’s Bonyadeh Mostazafan’ Foundation (‘Foundation for the Oppressed’) has succeeded in demolishing several residents’ homes in the village of Abolnekhilat (AlboFazl in Farsi) near the regional capital, Ahwaz, leaving the residents – mostly women, children and elderly people – destitute in the searing summer heat.
Iranian regime forces have continued their campaign of persecution and intimidation against the village’s residents in the effort to force them to abandon their homes, with more than 130 Ahwazi men from AlboFazl village arrested for the ‘crime’ of refusing to be evicted from their homes for regime ‘redevelopment’ of the area.
Regime security forces even arrested the female journalist Kothar Karimi who bravely exposed the injustices of land confiscation by the ironically named ‘Foundation for the Oppressed’ in a report for the regime’s Mostazafan Foundation which she published in the regime’s own Mehr News Agency, although she was subsequently freed on bail.
This video shows traumatised children from the village standing amid the rubble of their demolished homes, with one young boy saying, heartbreakingly, ‘Look, they destroyed our houses – we didn’t have a chance to get our cows out of the house, and they died in their barn. They said they’ll come back to destroy the rest of the house.”
His sister standing beside him, along with their younger sister, says “Twenty days ago, they [the Mostazafan Foundation and regime security personnel] told us they would destroy our house, they said, ‘We won’t allow you to keep living here. My little sister here was crying with us – we had to escape from here and take shelter in a safe room away from the demolished house, and now we’ve returned to our destroyed home.
This above video footage shows, a family with their children; the little girl says, “They destroyed our house over our heads”, while her elderly grandmother, still in shock at the devastation inflicted by the regime, laments, saying, “We’ve lost all our possessions, we have nothing, they razed our house completely. My arm is broken – I fell on the rubble and debris of our ruined house. The senior man, the regime officials, they said beautiful words and empty promises, but there is nothing more dear than a house for us. First, they told us to leave here, and said ‘We’ll give you humane advice we will give you homes in other areas’, but we refused to let them to ruin our houses – but they finally did it.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one local human rights activist said, “More than 300 Ahwazi families live in the village, and if we consider the average size of each family to be 7 people, the total population of the village stands at around 2,000 people. All of these are at risk of being homeless. The calamity is not only the demolition of homes, although this is obviously crucial, but the regime’s normalising a racist policy for exterminating the local people.”
The activist added that “one of the reasons for the destruction of homes is that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has built a military base for drones in the area, as well as an oil storage facility near the village, with the people being regarded as a potential threat.”
“These already desperately poor people are thus being driven from their homes and lands and made destitute by a foundation that claims, without irony or shame, to stand for the poor and oppressed simply to protect the regime’s ultra-powerful military arm. We should call this Foundation as Iran’s Oppressive Foundation for the Oppressed.”
This video shows, a man in his sixties who walks with difficulty after being severely beaten by police and municipality personnel who were called by the Mostazafan Foundation to bring their bulldozers to destroy the villagers’ houses but who also participated in attacking and beating the desperate villagers who resisted them. The man who is on the verge of breaking down in tears, says in a trembling, feeble voice, “They beat me – the police forces and municipality personnel wanted to kill me. My body was bleeding due to their beating.” Showing his clothes to others nearby, he says, “I changed my clothes because they tore my clothes into several pieces.”
In other footage, this young villager tells a reporter from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting [IRIB], “These lands belong to us – we’ve been farming our lands for 22 years – where was Mostazafan Foundation in that time? why didn’t they not raise the ownership claim of our lands and properties at that time? We are the indigenous people in these lands and it is very hard for us to give up on our lands and abandon it. We were born and raised here – despite everything we won’t evacuate our homes and lands. Local people say they want to expand their settlement township building projects and they want to relocate it to other areas, but we say no to them.”
“We are here in our lands and will continue to farm our lands and build our houses, and we did not steal the lands of others, we are not usurpers, these lands belong to us. During the era of the Shah’s regime, they wouldn’t give any legitimate land ownership documents to Ahwazis. They’d say, ‘You’re farmers here, and you only can grow and cultivate and make a living from the lands’ – but you don’t have legitimacy or a right to claim land ownership.”
Reserving his criticism for the former regime as much as possible in order to save himself from persecution, the young man continued, “When the hated Shah’s regime was gone and when the Islamic Republic came to rule where we were proud of that. However, the Islamic regime officials this time said, ‘These lands belong to the SAVAK intelligence agency of the deposed Shah’s regime, and the lands must be confiscated and seized by the Islamic Republic. The Islamic Republic’s Mostazafan Foundation is doing the same crime the Shah’s regime committed against our forefathers. They denied the people any claimant legitimacy ownership for lands and properties. Why have they denied us land ownership?
Figures announced by the civil administration affiliated with the Iranian regime in Ahwaz revealed that, despite the regime’s efforts to change the demographic composition of Iran, the number of the aboriginal Ahwazi population still surpasses that of the Persian settlers across Ahwaz.
This reflects the realities of the demographic conflict which Tehran has long concealed. This comes at a time when the debate over the seizure of lands of the Ahwazis in several villages including Abolnekhilat village, whose name has been faked and changed to AlboFazl in northern Ahwaz surfaced.
This is in addition to the efforts of the regime to seize the lands of the Ahwazis in Dejet Abbas in the province of Elam and the lands of Ahwazi farmers in the city of Asaluyeh and Halilah and al-Minau village in the province of Bushehr in Ahwaz region, among other lands and properties.
The dispute over ownership of lands in Ahwaz has become one of the most important manifestations of the Ahwazi-Iranian dispute to this day. It is most glaringly evident in the purchases of lands by the Iranian institutions and Iran’s policy of seizing agricultural lands and villages under different pretexts including Mostazafan Foundation, which is affiliated directly with the supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
For example, the Mostazafan Foundation is the richest financial institution in Iran after the National Oil Corporation. It does not pay taxes, and the supreme leader controls its decisions.
It is worth noting that the supreme leaders granted several Iranian institutions, especially the Mostazafan Foundation, the legal authority to confiscate agricultural lands and properties.
These institutions audaciously perform their duties, displaying no fear or ashamedness. They seized lands and properties in broad daylight.
The dispute over ownership of lands in Ahwaz has been one of the manifestations of the Iranian-Ahwazi dispute over more than nine decades. Reports indicated that the Iranian regime, under the rule of the Pahlavi regime and the Islamic Republic, used some wealthy Persian characters to purchase vast areas of lands at mouthwatering prices.
But the two regimes faced complete opposition by the Ahwazis, and the plan had totally failed. Therefore, the current regime is advancing the policy of ‘the law of absent documents and title deeds’ to seize the lands of the Ahwazis.
What happened in Abolnekhilat village is another case in point. This village is adjacent to the outposts of the Iranian Air Force, which seized the residents’ lands and evicted them from their homes using the same legislation, as always without any right of objection or compensation.
The regime typically uses practices like cutting off farmers’ water supply in summer so they have no way to irrigate their crops or provide water for their livestock in an effort to make the areas it wants to seize uninhabitable for the indigenous Ahwazi people. In winter, meanwhile, during the rainy season the regime opens dams built upstream as part of a major initiative to divert the waters of the two main rivers in the region to other areas of Iran, flooding the farmers’ lands. These are two of many such inhuman strategies intended to drive the peoples from their lands and crush Ahwazi resistance to the mass evictions and compulsory purchase orders, which are repeated across Ahwaz, in Dejat Abbas in the province of Elam, and in Sioussa and Khodairat in the city of Ahwaz, as well as in the Ahwazi lands in Asaluyeh and other areas.
The regime also runs a tireless multimedia Farsi-language propaganda campaign denying the rights of indigenous Ahwazis to their indigenous lands, accusing them of being ‘separatist insurgents’ simply for demanding the fundamental rights granted to all peoples of safety and freedom in their homes and lands.
The regime’s eagerness to seize Ahwazis’ lands is largely driven by the fact that the region is the location of over 95% of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, with successive Iranian rulers keen to ensure that the demographic balance tilts in favour of ethnic Persians so that the indigenous Ahwazi population’ rights are more easily deniable.
It is, tragically, typical of the Iranian authorities to take inhuman steps and measures to facilitate the transfer of land ownership from Ahwazis to Iranians, safe in the knowledge that the regime in Tehran has absolute impunity granted by the international community. Leaked communications between regime officials and senior figures supportive of the regime have shown clearly that despite changes in Iran’s leadership since the autonomous emirate of Ahwaz was originally colonised in 1925, Tehran considers the rights of the indigenous Ahwazi people to be non-existent since the regime leadership believes that these lands are its possessions to dispose of as it sees fit.
The continued usurpation and confiscation of lands
The Iranian regime’s implementation of the ‘absentee property law’ or the legislation on the ‘absence of documents and title deeds’ is part of a longstanding Iranian regime policy to seize more agricultural lands, historical sites, properties, ports, and other territories from Ahwazis in the Ahwazi provinces from Dejat Abbas in the province of Elam to Khuzestan, Bushehr and Hormozgan.
All the underhanded strategies used by the regime in a coordinated fashion mean that Ahwazis are left without services, eventually being forced to abandon their homes and lands for survival, moving to the cities in Ahwaz or to other regions.
The seized lands are often ‘given’ to ethnically Persian settlers tempted to the region by inducements offered by the regime such as good jobs in the oil and gas fields and related refineries and petrochemical complexes. Some of the lands are used to construct ethnically homogenous settlements for these incomers which are provided with the facilities, amenities and infrastructure deliberately withheld from the indigenous Ahwazi people, who are prevented from living there. Ahwazis who still manage to cling to their lands scrabble to make ends meet.
Despite calls launched by Ahwazi activists to rescind and cancel all the laws and internal statutes legitimising the regime’s seizures and confiscations of Ahwazis’ lands and homes, all their pleas are unheeded, with citizens in AlboFazl and elsewhere resisting eviction in the face of live bullets with bare chests and empty hands.
The decision of the Iranian government to implement recently introduced ‘absentee owners’ or absent title deeds and documents’ against Ahwazis constitutes a breach of international law, especially the fourth Geneva Convention, which includes the rights of the citizens to possess properties.
The implementation of this law will lead to confiscating Ahwazi properties on a large scale.
To conclude, according to all the aforementioned evidence, this ominous law is the achievement of one of the objectives of successive Iranian regimes since the 1920s, providing a pseudo-legal cloak to transfer ownership of vast swathes of Ahwazi lands to the Iranian regime.
The Mostazafan Foundation is headed by Perviz Fattah, with its revenues increasing by 34% in the last year even as most Iranians get poorer, hitting 360 trillion rials in 2020.
The foundation, which was established on a decree from Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 supposedly to eradicate poverty, has become a plague for the peoples in Iran, being responsible for seizing the lands of the poorest Ahwazis, especially those in the agricultural sector, with the foundation’s name and claim to stand for the oppressed becoming a very bad joke.
The foundation’s corruption is nothing secret or new, with differences over ownership of lands confiscated since the 1979 revolution reaching the highest levels within the regime.
Fattah, the head of the Foundation, has openly named several prominent figures and government entities, including the IRGC, the armed forces, the Expediency Discernment Council, heads of state and other legal dignitaries and entities, as having conducted illegal seizures of the properties of citizens, the public resources and budget.
Indeed, Fattah literally said:” All the properties seized by the Foundation were owned by legal persons and entities. They were dispossessed after the revolution. Confiscation happened after executing many real owners of these properties and locking up others. Some of them left Iran after the revolution, but there is a difference over the ownership of many of these properties. Several heirs filed complaints against the foundation with the Iranian courts to take back their properties.”
Attorney, research and activist Aaron Eitan Meyer did not find Fattah’s open admission of regime wrongdoing to be anything positive. “This merely underscores how the regime does not even see a reason to pretend it’s acting in a legal capacity. Whenever we see any of its leadership bothering to mention flagrant illegal acts, it’s always because of an internal power struggle, never any genuine attempt at exposing a pattern of unlawful dispossession and worse. Remember, the same person pointing fingers at various others within the regime is overseeing the illegal demolition of an entire village as we speak, without any regard for the people being left homeless and destitute. As an attorney sworn to uphold the law, I find Iran’s actions particularly repugnant and an obscene distortion of the rule of law. But even more, as a human being, I am completely horrified and disgusted at the regime’s ongoing crimes against humanity, and again because it does not even pretend to disguise its crimes but flaunts them, daring an uncaring world to take action.”
The Ahwazi presence in the south and southwestern Iran has a long history even before the birth of Christ and well before the Persians entered the Iranian plateau, but the regime tries to falsify history in favour of Persian nationalism, and to erase the Ahwazi people from their land. The people of Ahwaz are looking for help from the honourable people of the world and the major countries to curb the mullahs’ regime and take action against the injustices being perpetrated by this unlawful regime.
By Rahim Hamid
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @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.