The Iranian regime recently began destroying another Ahwazi village, with heavily armed regime security forces backed by cars helping the Mostazafan Foundation or ‘Foundation for the Oppressed’ to begin the demolition of Abolnekhilat (AlboFazl in Farsi) on the outskirts of the regional capital, Ahwaz city.
The 300 families resident in the village who’ve lived there for over 40 years were given no warning, no chance of legal complaint or restitution and no offer of alternative accommodation; those who refused forcible eviction have been beaten and shot with rubber bullets, with over 130 of the villagers being arrested.
Like the majority of Ahwazis, the villagers of Abolnekhilat were already living in dire poverty even before the recent economic downturn; despite the region’s massive oil and gas wealth which accounts for over 95% of the oil and gas resources claimed by Tehran, the indigenous Ahwazi people are denied any part of the proceeds. Like countless other Ahwazis, the villagers of Abolnekhilat have eked out a hand-to-mouth living growing their own crops and keeping some livestock, with the loss of their homes and land meaning they will be left destitute.
Although a representative of the Mostazafan Foundation told the state-run Mehr News Agency in a report published on August 20 that the foundation or ‘Foundation for the Oppressed’ had issued warnings of its intention, the villagers have denied the foundation’s claims. Interviewed for the same Mehr article, the imam who leads the village’s Friday prayers, Seyed Yusef Mousavi, said, “If their claim is true, why didn’t they bring it up before? Why did they wait for 300 families, who have lived here for over 30 years, to build their homes, then remember their claim? These are hard times for the families because of the coronavirus pandemic, the harsh summer heat, as well as unstable economic conditions.”
The Mostazafan Foundation or, to give it its full name, the Bonyad-e Mostazafan va Janbazan (Foundation for the Oppressed and Disabled), which is run directly by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, is one of the wealthiest bonyads or charitable trusts in Iran and the region. As the second-largest commercial enterprise in Iran behind the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company and the largest holding company in the Middle East, the foundation’s assets and holdings are estimated to run into the hundreds of billions of dollars, with very few if any of these funds going to the nominal beneficiaries, i.e. the oppressed and disabled. Like the regime’s other bonyads, all of which are tax-exempt and not required to publish financial reports, the foundation operates in an atmosphere of opacity, making any assessment of the real extent of its wealth unknown. Also like the regime’s other bonyads, the foundation is associated with the infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), whose officials are awarded leadership roles, giving them de facto supervisory control of the bonyads on behalf of the Supreme Leader.
Some of the cleared lands whose Ahwazi residents have been evicted is subsequently redeveloped for new towns and villages constructed as an incentive to attract ethnically Persian settlers to move to the region from other areas of Iran; unlike the housing available to the indigenous Ahwazis, which is often denied running water, modern sewage networks or electricity, the homes in these settlements are provided with all mod cons while the residents are offered attractive financial packages to launch businesses or take up farming in the region or offered jobs in the oil and gas refineries and other facilities, all of which are denied to Ahwazis.
One such initiative at present involves the construction of a ‘free trade’ area around the Muhammarah and Abadan areas by another of the regime’s IRGC-controlled bonyads, the Khatam al-Anbiya Foundation, which recently signed an ‘agreement’ with another regime entity established to run the new enterprise, the ‘Arvand Foundation for Settlement and Free Trade’. The area of land confiscated by Iran’s regime for the ‘Arvand’ settlement project is approximately 37,400 hectares in total in districts of Muhammarah, Abadan and Sheikh Salbukh
According to the director of the Arvand Foundation, Ismail Zamani, the foundation will provide between 15 and 20 percent of the total cost of the project, estimated at 20 trillion riyals, in cash, with the rest funded by the monies raised by the sale of land ownership rights to the new colonists. Activists are warning that this project paves the way for the IRGC to annex still more Ahwazi land in order to build more settlements, dispossessing more of the indigenous Ahwazi people.
These are of course, not the only Ahwazi lands expropriated, ‘cleansed’ of their indigenous Ahwazi residents and ‘repopulated by the regime, with such incidents of land theft and dispossession being a routine occurrence for the long-suffering Ahwazi people, with other villages such as Jalizi, Beit Luci and Qal’at Naseer in Susa or rundown city neighbourhoods like the Khorosi district of Ahwaz city being similarly cleared and levelled, and their residents brutalised, forcibly evicted and often imprisoned for objecting.
Despite forced eviction and population transfer being illegal under international law, the regime is tacitly encouraged and enabled in its use of both policies, as in other crimes, by the complicit silence of the international community. Although some groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have periodically spoken out, the UN bodies established to uphold international law have been shockingly derelict in their duties, aligning themselves always with the powerful and ensuring that Iran’s regime can act with impunity.
By Rahim Hamid
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.