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Massive demonstration in Brussels on anniversary of Iranian occupation of Al-Ahwaz

On Friday, 17 April 2015, a massive demonstration was held in front of the European Parliament in Brussels to commemorate both the 10th anniversary of the popular Ahwazi uprising of April 2005 and the 90th anniversary of the Iranian occupation of Al-Ahwaz (subsequently renamed ‘Khuzestan’) in 1925. The demonstration, in solidarity with Ahwazi Arabs living under brutal and oppressive Iranian occupation, condemned the persistent systemic injustice against them in the south and south-west of Iran.

Members of Europe’s Ahwazi community held the demonstration to condemn Iranian occupation and raise the long-oppressed voice of Ahwazi Arabs, who have suffered the most savage and racist persecution by consecutive Iranian regimes for 90 years, with the complicity of the “international community”.

The protest in Brussels was one of series of demonstrations and other activities undertaken by the Arab Struggle for the Liberation of Ahwaz in a bid to expose the abhorrent apartheid policies of the occupying Iranian regime. In addition, the demonstrations and other events will allow the world to hear the voices of the millions of Ahwazi Arabs who have been subjected to the brutal state policies of the Iranian occupiers for almost a century.

Hundreds of Ahwazis and Syrians took part in the demonstration. There was a significant presence of several Arab communities in the diaspora, including Palestinians, Iraqis, Yemenis and Lebanese, who came from different European countries. In addition, distinguished media figures and human rights advocates came from Arab Gulf states, while other nations from non-Persian communities residing in Europe who are also subjected to similar persecution were present to express solidarity with the Ahwazi cause: Turks from South Azerbaijan, Kurds from East Kurdistan and Baluchis from Baluchistan took part.

These representatives were there to denounce the Iranian regime for its criminal and barbaric policies, such as the cold-blooded murder and ethnic cleansing of their peoples. They condemned Iran’s mass executions, which are on an industrial scale against activists, not only from these groups, but also against their Ahwazi counterparts.

During the demonstration in Brussels, participants raised the Ahwaz national flag and the flags of various liberation movements. Photographs of Ahwazi martyrs and prisoners were exhibited, and numerous banners in Arabic and English denounced the Iranian regime’s continued forced displacement and policies aimed at changing the demographic structure of Ahwazi Arab areas through the construction of vast settlements exclusively for Persian settlers.

There were also banners condemning the environmental devastation wreaked by the Iranian regime’s policy of diverting rivers in the Ahwaz region to central areas of Iran by the construction of massive dams, leading to the desertification and devastation of large agricultural areas and marshlands in the Ahwaz region and driving countless farmers and fishermen into poverty.

On the fringe of the demonstration, the protesters stressed the presence of non-Persian political organisations, including those run by Turks, Kurds and Baluchis, alongside Ahwazi liberationist movements to increase the level of mutual coordination and to galvanise joint action in the struggle against the Iranian occupying regime. Action will continue until the full realisation of their just demands and the fall of the Safavid-Persian centralised government.

Across the Ahwaz region recently, Tehran has launched a pre-emptive campaign of raids and arbitrary arrests of Ahwazi activists and civic leaders aimed at terrorising the people into silence and preventing demonstrations from taking place as the anniversary of the 2005 Uprising approached. It was then, on 15 April, 2005, that thousands of Ahwazi Arabs defied the totalitarian Iranian regime and took to the streets in towns and cities across the region, to protest peacefully at Tehran’s ethnic cleansing policies.

The peaceful intifada (uprising) was initially very successful, but the regime soon reacted with its customary savagery, sending in security forces who killed over 100 of the unarmed protesters and arrested thousands more. The bodies of many of the detainees had to be retrieved from rivers where they had been thrown by security forces after being tortured to death. Many others were executed after being found guilty on false charges such as “waging war against God”. Those executed on such patently ludicrous charges included activists Ali Chebeishat and Sayed Khaled Mousavi, and two high school teachers, Hashem Shabani, and Hadi Rashedi.

The Iranian occupiers continue to deny Arab sovereignty in Al-Ahwaz, which was declared an Iranian province in 1925: eleven years later in 1936, the then-rulers in Tehran changed its name to “Khuzestan”. This occupation, like others in the region, was perpetrated with the full support of the British Empire, which sought to control oil resources; Ahwaz holds around 80 per cent of Iran’s oil and gas resources.

Successive Iranian rulers, both under the Shah and under the current clerical regime, have imposed a brutal and abusive occupation on the region. In April every year, Ahwazi activists in the homeland and worldwide diaspora hold demonstrations, vigils, and seminars to mark the anniversary of the occupation and theft of their lands.

Ahwaz City has some of the most notorious prisons in Iran, a state renowned for torture and extra-judicial killings. Secret security facilities are deployed to extract fabricated confessions. The majority of Ahwazi Arab political prisoners are incarcerated only for demanding their basic cultural, linguistic and civil and human rights; in response, they are subjected to summary trials in secret revolutionary courts, often lasting less than 5 minutes and without access to defence lawyers. The death penalty usually follows.

Although Article 38 of the Iranian Constitution prohibits any kind of torture in order to extract forced confessions, the authorities subject Ahwazi Arab detainees to every form of torture, forcing them to sign false confessions of illegal activities. Such confessions obtained under torture are broadcast routinely on national TV even before the end of the kangaroo trials, and are used as credible evidence in Iranian courts.

These broadcasts themselves breach Iran’s obligations under international law to provide a fair trial, including the presumption that defendants are innocent until proven guilty under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the regime is consistent in violating all human rights principles.

In recent months, the Ahwazi Arabs have been affected adversely by the environmental consequences of the Iranian government’s colonial river diversion projects; widespread sugar cane farming after extensive confiscation of Ahwazi Arab farmland; and industrial pollution. All are part of the regime’s misguided economic development policies targeting Ahwazis and their environment.

The Iranian government is seeking to eradicate Ahwazi Arab existence and presence in the country once and for all. As such, activists insist that international silence about the regime’s crimes implies international approval. They are calling for the international community to intervene unconditionally to stop the Iranian regime’s campaign of genocide; the relentless executions, torture and destruction of basic human and civil rights; the destruction of the environment; and the annihilation of the culture, identity and existence of an entire Arab nation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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