Geographical location plays a vital role in international relations and foreign policy, being a central factor in considerations of how best to build counter-extremism strategies and create economic, political, and even being a key feature in consideration of security relations for maintaining market stability. Geographical factors also constrain and affect the political and military planning of the world’s most powerful states and other countries in the region. For the superpowers, the geostrategic importance of many states and regions in the Middle East, including the Arabian Gulf region, is largely decided by their location. Ahwaz is arguably the most important of these in terms of its crucial geostrategic location, on the Arabian Gulf and stretching along the Bab al-Salam (Hormuz) Strait.
A free and progressive Ahwaz could have a positive influence on issues of global and regional importance, such as economic wellbeing, stability, security and other central aspects of international policy, helping strengthen peace and stability regionally and establishing positive, friendly relations with all the world’s nations, in contrast to the current situation.
Given its location on the Arabian Gulf, Ahwaz is located in one of the most sensitive geopolitical spots in the world, with the Bab al-Salam Strait controlling energy exports to the world, and mutual trade passing through the Arabian Gulf’s waters. Although the former emirate is abundantly blessed with geopolitically crucial features, including oil and gas, agricultural and water resources, it is afflicted by constant unrest due to the Iranian occupation, which has brutalised and impoverished the indigenous Ahwazi population, subjecting them to multiple injustices and exploiting their resources, which has devastated the area environmentally, as well as destabilising regional security and stability. Ahwaz’ crucial geopolitical location makes it a pivotal point for regional and global diplomacy. This situation enables Ahwaz to play a significant role in international and regional developments.
Ahwaz’s vast economic resources and, most importantly its situation on the Arabian Gulf coast, which give it immediate access to the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz give it immense geopolitical importance. Despite the abundant natural wealth, the indigenous Ahwazi population of around 8 million people, most of whom live in the coastal area, live in crushing poverty and are subjected to relentless racism and denied fundamental human rights by Iran’s regime.
Due to Ahwaz’s vital strategic location and its resources, successive Iranian regimes have sought to marginalise and destroy Ahwazis’ strong Arab identity and to subsume this to building a Persian identity that serves the interests of the Iranian state in Ahwaz region since the occupation of Ahwaz in 1925. As part of this effort, both the former monarchy and the current totalitarian theocratic regime in Tehran have attempted to erase Ahwazi culture, changing the names of towns, villages and geographical features to deny Ahwazis’ long history.
The Arabian Gulf is an important geostrategic location in the Middle East, as it meets the Indian Ocean across the Sea of Oman and connects to world markets through the Strait of Hormuz. The Arabian Gulf provides the largest oil resources in all parts of the world. Therefore, the Iranian regimes since 1925 see that destroying the social and national identity in Ahwaz is vital for them to continue occupying Ahwaz, stealing its wealth and threatening the regional countries.
The presence of many Ahwazi islands in the Arabian Gulf gives additional particular importance to the Ahwaz region. Around 100 large and small islands are located in the Arabian Gulf, with 34 of these belonging to Ahwaz. Among these islands, 17 are of geopolitical and strategic importance in terms of their location in the Strait of Hormuz’s international waterway. Among the most important islands in the region are Jessem, Bab al-Salam (Hormuz), Qais (Kish), Kharj, and Al-Arabi island (Farsi island), which are among the important islands in the Arabian Gulf that play an essential role in the geopolitical economy. Jessem island is the largest island in the Gulf, as the island’s size is equivalent to Bahrain twice. The Al-Arabi island (Farsi island) is the farthest island from the Ahwaz border, as it is located around the middle of the Gulf waters.
There is no doubt that the Arabian Gulf has played a crucial role in international relations for millennia; in the 16th century, the Portuguese army occupied several Ahwazi islands and other areas in the Gulf countries in an effort to impose control and dominate the global economy, but after Ahwazis defeated the Portuguese army, power returned to Arabs in the Gulf region.
In the past century, the Arabian Gulf has assumed even greater importance due to being the global energy centre, becoming one of the most critical and sensitive regions in the world in terms of its geopolitical position, oil and gas resources, and the related strategic calculations by various external powers, playing a pivotal role in the profound and continuous changes, conflicts and economic developments at the international level.
During the past nine decades, it can be said that successive regimes in Iran have exploited the geopolitics of Ahwaz to undermine the security and stability of regional countries; although the previous regime was involved in some regional destabilisation efforts, such as the 1971 occupation of the three Emirate islands, Abu Musa, Lesser and Greater Tunb, the theocratic regime that seized power following the revolution in 1979 has been far more regionally and globally malignant.
During the past four decades, the current Iranian regime has exploited the geopolitical location and resources of Ahwaz to target the security and stability of the entire region, from Lebanon and Syria on the borders of the Mediterranean Sea to Iraq, and Yemen in the Red Sea and the ocean, and to the Arabian Gulf states. Therefore, Ahwaz has become one of the most crucial focal points for strategic positions and calculations in the Middle East, where Iran has ravaged and destroyed a number of nations, killed or dispossessed millions of citizens, as well as threatening other countries, all helped by its exploitation of Ahwaz’s wealth and geopolitical location.
As a waterway and sea route, the Arabian Gulf is of incalculable value, playing a pivotal role in global trade that extends back several thousand years. This was the location of ancient Arab civilisations from the Elamite and Mosian to Dilmun. The presence of nearly 70 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, equivalent to 34.7% of the world’s total known gas reserves (Iran/Ahwaz 16.2%, Qatar 12.5%, UAE 3% and Saudi Arabia 3%), and other oil wealth, is undoubtedly the largest and most crucial energy reserve in the world.
Whatever happens with the advent of other forms of energy, the Gulf’s crucial importance in this area will continue for decades at least, while its pivotal location at the crossroads of continents is a constant feature. The vital need to ensure regional and global stability and harmony and the safe transport of energy supplies are two more reasons for the world is to support Ahwaz and stand by Ahwazis in their long struggle against colonialism and the Iranian occupation.
It could be argued, in fact, that Ahwaz is the definition of geopolitics, which is the study of the effects of geography (human and physical) on politics and international relations, given its crucial role and location. With an area of over 200,000 square kilometres and coastal borders on the Gulf and Sea of Oman extending for approximately 1,800 miles, Ahwaz has vast geopolitical significance in the region.
There is no doubt that the current Iranian regime in power since 1979 has sought to completely change the strategic and political landscape of the Arabian Gulf by imposing its authoritarian control and supporting terrorism as a tool of power in the Gulf states, as it does in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
The regime also threatens global transportation corridors by targeting energy carriers and American fleets, the Gulf countries’ allies. The 1979 Iranian revolution and more especially the hardline theocrats who used it to seize power and impose brutal totalitarian rule, produced seismic geopolitical transformations and now pose a direct existential threat to the sovereignty of regional countries, specifically the Arab Gulf states, with Iran already attempting, via its terrorist proxies, to destabilise the security and stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain and of Saudi Arabia by overthrowing the legitimate government in Bahrain in 2011. Following this move, Tehran’s regime received a strong rebuke and rejection from regional countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where the Iranian project was thwarted by sending the ‘Peninsula Shield Forces’ to support the Bahraini leadership’s legitimacy.
The other Gulf Arab states are also supporting Yemen in a war against the terrorist Houthi movement backed by Iran’s regime. All these developments make it very clear that all Iran’s interference in the region is taking place by exploiting the wealth and geopolitical location of Ahwaz.
Since 1979, the current Iranian regime has devised a strategy to establish proxies (terrorist militias) to target all the countries in the region, including Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Gulf countries, as well as Egypt and even African countries. These proxies supported the Iranian regime in a war against Iraq (1980-88). As we can see today, Iran’s regime has established several proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, with the use of these proxies being a distinctive element in the regime’s foreign policy.
The nominal change in leadership in Iran (although all political blocs and leaders are subservient to the theocratic Supreme Leader) will make no difference to this policy, with the incoming government also set to formulate new strategies to target the region’s stability, just as the Shah did in occupying the Emirate islands and threatening the sovereignty and stability of Iraq in the 1970s.
Domestically, the Iranian regime confronts all the protests by minority populations such as Ahwazis, Turks Azeri, Kurds, Balochis, Turkmen, as well as by Persian and other dissidents with brutal, murderous repression, imprisonment, systematic torture and execution on the flimsiest of pretexts.
In Ahwaz, Iran’s regime has built ethnically homogenous, well-appointed settlements for settlers brought to the region from other areas of Iran, providing them with jobs and services unavailable to the indigenous population, as a means of effecting demographic change. The regime’s policies have also devastated the environment, draining fertile lands through a massive program of dam construction and river diversion, with most of the waters of the region’s three rivers now diverted to Persian cities in central Iran, impoverishing and marginalising the Ahwazi people, depriving them of the most fundamental rights of life, spreading poverty and unemployment, arresting and executing activists in order to destroy the Ahwazi society and enforce a Persian culture in Ahwaz.
The current Iranian regime or any future regime will continue the same policy against Ahwazis if there is no deterrent to stop them. All these factors mean that it is merely commonsense and fundamental human decency to support Ahwaz in regaining its sovereignty to remove the dangers and pave the way for a new, progressive and productive era for the region’s stability.
With freedom, Ahwazis can play a crucial role in bringing stability, building positive, progressive international relations and helping to resolve crises and conflicts between countries of the region, given Ahwazis’ expertise, fraternal regional ties and insight, and can use their vast natural wealth and geopolitical location to benefit the people, region and world rather than being used and maligned by regressive regimes which focus only on destabilising the region for their own benefit.
At present, Ahwazis continue to live in horrendous conditions due to the cruel, unjust and deeply racist arbitrary policies imposed by Iran’s regime to prevent them from the necessities of life. Ahwazis believe, however, that support from the international community, especially the democratic powers and the region’s other countries, could help in finally bringing about domestic and regional stability and ending the malignant threat of the Iranian regime. Although the regime persists in its efforts to crush all dissent, the public discontent in Ahwaz represents an inevitable challenge to the Iranian political apparatus, and the Ahwazi struggle against Iranian occupation and colonialism will continue, with the people seeing no other option, until Ahwazis are backed by the international community in regaining their sovereignty over their historical lands.
According to the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has developed a nuclear enrichment program to the level of developing nuclear weapons, although Iranian leaders have, typically, denied these claims despite the evidence to the contrary; one of the Iranian nuclear facilities is located in Ahwazi Abu Shahr province (Bushehr) on the Arabian Gulf coast. The failure to stop Iran and support new political projects to undermine the Iranian regime will pose a danger to regional countries and to the world.
This underlines, yet again, that the independence of Ahwaz within its natural borders extending from Zagros mountain and Iraq to along the Arabian Gulf coast would shift the regional balance from Ahwaz’ lands being used to pose a threat to a positive situation in which it could benefit not just the indigenous people but the region and help in ensuring stability and building progressive alliances with regional and global powers.
To conclude, there are many pragmatic reasons to support Ahwazis in gaining sovereignty in their country, as well as the ethical imperative to support long-denied freedom, justice and human rights. A free, sovereign Ahwaz would definitely preserve security in the Strait of Hormuz, help to resolve the Emirati-Iranian dispute over the three occupied islands, and reach a fraternal, mutually acceptable agreement with Iraq to expand international navigation in the Shatt al-Arab, accepting the responsibility on the Ahwaz side. Ahwaz can also play the role of a bridge linking the three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, and linking Arab countries with non-Arab countries, especially Iran. Ahwaz plays a vital role in building positive relations with the other long-oppressed peoples of the region, including Kurds, Azerbaijani Turks and Balochis, and has the capacity to absorb millions of people displaced by wars from the countries of the region. It has the potential to create millions of job opportunities for working expatriates from all over the world.
In Ahwaz, religious and sectarian tolerance has long been a central component of the Ahwazi culture, with centuries of peaceful coexistence among Muslims of all sects, Jews, Mandeans, Christians and others; the mindset of the current theocratic regime in Tehran, whose rule is based on promoting sectarianism, extremism, terror and hatred, is anathema to Ahwazis as to all good people.
For all these reasons, it is logical from a pragmatic as well as an ethical perspective for the international community to support freedom and sovereignty for Ahwaz, which can play a tremendous, positive and progressive role in stabilising the region and world and building a deep friendship with great democratic powers such as America and the European Union.
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.