A 14-year-old Ahwazi child labourer from the city of Ma’shour in Ahwaz region, named only as Mohammed, became the latest tragic victim in an epidemic of suicides amongst Ahwazi children on Sunday, when he hanged himself in his parents’ home.
Mohammed, a keen student, had reportedly been forced to drop out of school last year due to his family’s inability to pay the school fees. According to reports from friends of Mohammed’s family, he had been forced to drop out of school last year due to his parents’ financial problems and to become the main breadwinner for his family. At first, he worked as a street peddler, then recently started selling purified water from a bicycle provided by relatives, but the Coronavirus pandemic and increasing poverty meant that, no matter how hard he tried, there were few customers most days and often none. In recent years, he’d worked as a bill collector at the Ma’shour football stadium to help fund his education – some of the players told the local Asr-e-Janoob news site that they remembered him from previous years when he had often pleaded with them for 5,000 tomans (12 US cents) simply to buy a notebook and pen for school.
Child suicides have risen in recent years amongst Ahwazis as poverty in the already impoverished region increases, with the regime’s brutal persecution of the Ahwazi people meaning that most live in medieval poverty, even though Ahwaz is home to over 95% of the oil and gas resources claimed by Tehran. Despite the city of Ma’shour, where Mohammed’s family live in one of the poorest neighbourhoods, being one of the oil-rich towns in the region, most of the Ahwazi population are struggling to survive, with many families, unable even to afford the price of bread, either malnourished or suffering starvation.
Denied jobs at the oil fields, petrochemical refineries and other regime-owned facilities, which are reserved for ethnically Persian incomers who are brought by the regime from different areas of Iran and housed in well-appointed specially built settlements, the majority of the indigenous Ahwazi people live in abject poverty, with many driven from their homes and lands to make way for oil and gas fields, refineries and regime settlements.
Since the establishment of the large-scale refineries and other petrochemical facilities, the Iranian regime has adopted an increasingly brazen de facto apartheid policy, marginalising the Ahwazi population while providing purpose-built, well-appointed settlements, as mentioned above, where hundreds of thousands of well-built homes are provided with all the utilities, amenities and infrastructure required, including their own well-maintained road systems and security. As well as free housing, other regime incentives introduced to tempt Persian Iranians to move to the region include state-subsidised hospitals, schools, cinemas, recreation centres and even restaurants, none of which are accessible to Ahwazis, except perhaps as cleaners. According to the latest statistics from 2016, the staff and management working at the ports, oil and gas fields, petrochemical refineries, government and security branches and other state facilities in the region, particularly in senior positions are almost exclusively Persian Iranians relocated there from central Iranian cities including Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz; along with their families, these incomers account for 40,000 of the total population of 200,000 in Ma’shour and the surrounding area. The 2016 statistics almost certainly undercount the number of Persian Iranians in the area with the last census conducted in 2005. These settlers enjoy excellent living conditions and a lavish lifestyle with all the aforementioned facilities, amenities and services denied to the indigenous Ahwazi population in a manner very reminiscent of the British colonial period decried by Iran’s regime.
None of the billions of dollars made annually by the regime from the oil and gas resources on Ahwazis’ lands are spent on infrastructure, health, education or anything else to benefit the Ahwazi people, whose only portion of the oil and gas industry is the choking pollution from the oil and gas fields and refineries. Any complaint about these monstrous injustices results in abuse of the complainants by the regime security forces, who target Ahwazis for their Arab ethnicity; this persecution is in keeping with the regime’s persecution of all non-Persian ethnic minorities or religious minorities who don’t follow the regime’s hardline theocratic interpretation of Shiism. Arrest, imprisonment, torture and often execution, all on the flimsiest of pretexts, such as ‘enmity to God’, are an everyday event for any Ahwazis who dare to protest.
Unsurprisingly, these deplorable conditions have resulted in a widespread sense of anger and despair amongst many Ahwazis, who feel betrayed twice over, by Arab leaders and by the Western governments which claim to care about human rights even while rushing to do business with the Iranian regime, giving tacit approval to its domestic oppression and abuse. This sense of hopelessness trickles down to children in the region, who see no future or cause for optimism under a regime that views and treats them as less than human for their Ahwazi ethnicity, and which criminalises any dissent. In Ahwaz, the Iranian ‘resistance’ regime’s claims to stand for the oppressed and downtrodden will be met with a cynical laugh at best.
In Ma’shour, the anger at this longstanding endemic injustice and vicious oppression bubbled over into protests in 2019, with the Iranian regime security forces reacting with typical murderous brutality, sending in tanks and heavily armed military personnel to carry out a massacre in which over 130 people, including women and children, were killed for the ‘crime’ of holding demonstrations against racial discrimination and poverty. Many of the victims were chased into nearby marshlands where the regime sprayed the vegetation with petrol and set it alight, burning many people alive. Many of the survivors sustained terrible injuries, and hundreds were arrested and imprisoned. The regime justified this barbaric slaughter and these crimes against humanity by slandering its victims as ‘separatists’ and ISIS supporters. The only condemnation of this heinous massacre from the international community came from the former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Even the regime’s own officials, who’ve long denied their brutality, racism and injustice towards Ahwazis, have recently admitted that the situation in Ma’shour is intolerable, with the First Vice-President, Ishaq Jahangiri, stating during a visit to the city on Saturday that “poverty and discrimination afflict the people”. Talking about the recent investment by the regime and its backers into oil facilities and refineries in the area, Jahangiri added, “It is not an honour for the officials in the Islamic Republic of Iran that in addition to the huge national investments that are being made in regions like Ma’shour, people do not have the minimum living means.”. It should be noted, however, that despite empty expressions of sadness at the poverty afflicting Ma’shour and the entire Ahwaz region, the regime refuses to accept its own responsibility for this tragic situation or to spend money on helping to improve the region for its indigenous Ahwazi people, including hundreds of children like Mohammed.