The Iranian regime often draws upon its “resistance” credentials, frequently condemning Israel’s forcible expropriation of Palestinian people’s lands and homes as well as the expulsion of the people themselves, referring to these acts as crimes against humanity and systematic ethnic cleansing. Iran also makes regular and vociferous arguments that the international community should take punitive action against Israel by introducing sanctions.
However, the Tehran regime is conducting itself in a manner that bears a striking similarity to the Israeli government that it indicts for crimes against the Palestinian people. Iran does this by forcibly expropriating the lands, farms and homes of the Ahwazi Arab people of the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan, and “giving” them to Persian settlers who are offered generous financial incentives by the regime to move to the area.
With Ahwazis denied basic rights, any compensation or any effective legal recourse against the regime’s decisions, the dispossessed Ahwazis are left destitute while ethnic Persian settlers seize their homes and lands in a manner not dissimilar from Israeli settlers in Palestine.
Anti-Arab racist policies
In the past few weeks, Iranian authorities have confiscated 20,000 more hectares of agricultural land from Ahwazi farmers in areas near the eponymous regional capital of Ahwaz. As always, the farmers and their families – who were given no notification or opportunity to raise legal objections to this abusive injustice – have been left with nothing. The land surrounding the village of Al-Tawil is set to be used for another massive sugar cane-growing and processing project, the eighth such initiative in the region, where the regime’s existing sugar cane-farming industry already operates at a loss.
The regime confiscated the lands and dispossessed the indigenous Arab farmers, with those interviewed by MEMO anonymised to protect them from regime persecution. These Ahwazi farmers say that they have worked the land for generations, while Iran has acted with casual indifference to their suffering, threatening to penalise and imprison any who protest against regime abuse.
The Iranian government claims that, far from being Ahwazi property, the land was actually “state-owned” and had been reserved for the construction of new settlements for incoming Persian settlers to the area. Tehran has already announced that these new communities will be furnished with a road network, mains water and electricity supply as well as facilities which were unavailable to the people who had been driven out of their homes.
One of the women dispossessed from her family home, Maryam, said that the Persian-dominated Iranian regime attempted to stop people from returning to their homes by securitising the area: “We didn’t just lose the lands that the regime stole from us; they created a ‘security zone’ all around our villages.”
Another young man, Karam, said starkly:
We have nothing, just our lands [and] without this we can’t survive; this land provides food for our families by growing vegetables, tomatoes and cereal crops. Now they [the Iranian government] has taken almost all our lands, we’re facing the same fate as other rural areas, with the people left in poverty with no source of income.
Another despairing young rural man, Ali, who had been driven from his land, said that his family had been forced to migrate from their village to the capital Ahwaz, before Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) confiscated the remaining 40 hectares of land they owned and built a “Fajr” garrison on their land, referring to a group of Iranian paramilitaries.
My father did his best through the court and got a document saying that the land is ours – then the family got a threat from the intelligence services that if we didn’t stop pursuing legal action to reclaim their lands, we’d be imprisoned for many years.
Regime restrictions on the use of land for agricultural purposes have left thousands of rural families driven from their farms hungry and destitute, with many becoming ill as a result. Many children living in these communities are showing signs of stunted growth, with medics warning that conditions are regressing rather than progressing.
‘Axis of Resistance’?
In recent years, and in particular following the eruption of the Syrian crisis, Iran has been accused of creating a theatre out of its opposition to Israel in order to garner wide-spread regional support for its activities. Iranian leaders habitually threaten Israel – or “the Zionist entity” as it is commonly called in the Iranian media – but its actions that are perceived as being as expansionist and imperialist have garnered it increasingly intensifying criticism.
Speaking to MEMO, Ruth Riegler, a Scottish journalist, said that “Iran’s ‘Axis of Resistance’ rhetoric has been a monstrous cynical lie since the start,” and accusing Iran of “exploiting the cause of Palestinian freedom for its own political ends while continuing to be a vicious occupier and oppressor of another Arab people in Ahwaz.”
Meanwhile, Raed Baroud, a Palestinian rights activist, told MEMO:
The regime that occupies the land of our brothers in Ahwaz and crushes them under its boots can never be a supporter of the Arab Spring or a liberator of Palestine.
Although regional Arab powers do not effectively shed light on the Ahwazi cause, there are calls for the world to boycott Iran for its human rights abuses against the persecuted Arab minority.
Iran is now being criticised for at once claiming to support the rights, freedoms and liberties of Palestinians against Israeli colonisation, whilst simultaneously oppressing its own ethnic minorities and confiscating their lands.
Rather than address these concerns, Iran has instead sought to blame the increasing unrest in the Ahwazi populated region on Britain, Saudi Arabia and Israel. According to Tehran, these nations are conspiring to create “unrest by instigating a foreign plot in Khuzestan”.
However, with a number of Iranian minorities claiming persecution, including the Kurds and Baluchi people in southeastern Iran, those supportive of Ahwazi rights are instead suggesting that their cause is not an isolated instance of abuse, but something that impacts upon most non-Persian Iranians in a case of there being “no smoke without fire”.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.