Senior Cleric Slams Iran’s Treatment of Ahwazi Arabs

Denied drinkable water and breathable air, denied their birthright and their freedom, the Arab people of Al-Ahwaz survive on indomitable will alone.

With an average of five Ahwazi people dying per day from cancer and   chronic diseases due to air and water pollution in the region, Mohsen Haidari, in Iran’s Assembly of Experts, has sharply condemned the Iranian regime’s discriminatory policies against the Ahwazi Arab peoples and its failure to meet their demands or to allow them any share in the wealth accrued from the massive oil and gas resources in the region. 

Speaking in his Friday sermon, Haidari, who is also a cleric, strongly criticised the regime’s discriminatory policies against the Ahwazi people and its deliberate marginalisation of the region’s peoples. 

According to the state-run Fars News Agency, Haidari – in a sermon delivered following his appointment in the recent Assembly of Experts council election – pointed out that the province’s infrastructure, which was almost destroyed during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war,  has still not been repaired or replaced in the subsequent 28 years,  delaying or completely thwarting regional development. 

Haidari further stated that prior to the war, Ahwaz had been among the top three provinces in Iran educationally, with its peoples enjoying a high level of education, with that progress subsequently completely reversed, leaving the region’s overall education levels in 17th place at the bottom of the country’s education tables.

In the sermon, Haidari, himself an Ahwazi Arab originating from the region, questioned Iranian authorities’ policies in the region, including its draining of the once-diverse marshlands which has led to widespread desertification; he stated that this policy had a disastrous effect not only on the environment but on the lives of citizens who had made their living for generations from fishing and agriculture which were reliant on the now-vanished marshes. 

On a related theme, Haidari also condemned the regime’s diversion of rivers in Ahwaz to predominantly Persian areas in other provinces, expressing concern about this policy which has led to a severe lack of potable drinking water in the region, as well as intensifying the desertification problems and leading to further poverty as more farmer reliant on these rivers for irrigation are driven into destitution.

Haidari also reportedly slammed the regime’s discriminatory recruitment policies in the region, saying that despite the massive unemployment levels in Ahwaz, the vast majority of the managerial staff at the state-owned-and-run petrochemical plants there are from elsewhere in Iran, and are offered incentives including excellent salaries and accommodation, which are denied to Ahwazi peoples, to relocate there.   He added that the petrochemical studies college in the city of Howeyzeh operates blatantly discriminatory admission policies to discourage Ahwazi students from enrolling, with only four Ahwazi students studying at the college from a student population of over 400. 

Haidari stressed in his sermon that he did not wish his criticisms to be viewed as nationalist in nature, adding that he was simply raising his voice to demand Ahwazi Arabs’ rights and condemn those policies which have affected the region’s peoples negatively, vowing to pursue the rectification of these problems through Iran’s judicial channels. 

Haidari’s sermon represents a rare acknowledgement by representatives of the regime of the multiple injustices inflicted on the Ahwazi people and the catastrophic damage done to the region’s ecosystem by its policies.

As the senior cleric pointed out, the devastation left by the Iran-Iraq war is still clearly visible across the region, despite the fact that it ended 28 years ago, while poverty and deprivation are endemic across Al-Ahwaz.

The city of Abadan overlooking the famous Shatt al-Arab waterway, which was once a jewel in the crown of Al Ahwaz, is a typical example of how the scars from the Iran-Iraq war still haunt Al-Ahwaz, with much of Abadan still unreconstructed 28 years later and lacking basic amenities like a decent hospitals, homes, recreation facilities, parks and commercial and institutions. This is despite the fact that the city houses a well-tended state-owned oil refinery, one of the first constructed in the region.

Desperately ill patients brought to   the city’s dilapidated hospital are often treated literally lying on the hospital floor due to the lack of beds, a common sight across the region, where locals say the scenes more closely resemble abattoirs than modern hospitals.

Chronic air and water pollution from the massive state-owned-and-run oilfields and petrochemical facilities across the region – where over 90 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran are located – are exacerbated by the aforementioned desertification, with the associated rates of illness and related deaths reaching epidemic levels. Absenteeism from school and work due to severe illness is routine, with children and the elderly the worst affected by heart and lung conditions related to the terrible pollution problems. 

Rather than helping to resolve these problems or using even a fraction of the wealth from the oil and gas extracted from Ahwazi people’s lands to improving those people’s lives, the regime continues to exacerbate the difficulties by pursuing the same policies with the same catastrophic consequences. 

Although the pollution caused by all the above has plagued the region for decades, the situation is steadily worsening to critical levels, with thousands dying in recent years of associated illnesses.  In Ahwaz at present, an average of five people die of pollution-related illness every day. According to World Health Organization statistics, Al-Ahwaz is the most polluted region in the world.   Its peoples continue to suffer relentless discrimination and poverty, as well as to be routinely imprisoned and executed at rates far exceeding the already high national average.

All this is happening while the regime, which continues to make billions of dollars from the oil and gas extracted from the region, is encouraging foreign oil companies to invest there – with any subsequent income benefiting the regime rather than the long-suffering peoples, who subsist on an average income of 50 cents per day, far below the poverty threshold nationally or internationally.   Instead of being used to help improve the lives of the Ahwazi people, the hundreds of billions of dollars in income from the oil and gas extracted in their region is instead used to benefit the regime and to help it further fund murderous and destabilising terrorist activities throughout the Middle East.

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