Every so often, the issue of Iran's Ahwaz region, home to an oppressed Arab minority that seeks independence, comes up in the Arab press. On December 3, 2016, an international conference on Ahwaz was held in Tunisia by the Euro Arab Center for Studies, in conjunction with the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz. Titled "Ending the Occupation and Restoring the Country – An Historic Duty," it was attended by MPs, legal experts, and media figures from Arab countries and from around the world, as well as a large number of Ahwazi activists.
Speakers at the conference criticized the Iranian oppression in Ahwaz and called on the UN and human rights organizations to create an apparatus for overseeing human rights there and in other Iranian regions populated by non-Persian minorities. The conference's closing statement called for focusing on the importance of the Iranian occupation of Ahwaz, and considering it a pan-Arab matter close to the heart of the Islamic ummah and central to Arab security, like the Palestinian matter. It also recommended that the Ahwaz issue be internationalized, that preparations be made for the declaration of an Ahwazi government in exile, and that the issue of the Ahwazi Arab people's right to self-determination be raised in international forums. Yet another recommendation was teaching about Ahwaz in Arab schools, and making sure it is represented in Arab forums, chiefly the Arab League.
The following week, at a December 6-7 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting, Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz leader Habib Jabr sent a letter to the GCC member countries at the meeting calling on them to view the Ahwaz issue as the most important link in the chain of Arab resistance to the Persian-Iranian plan. He asked that they work to liberate the region from the claws of the Iranian occupier and eliminate the Persian plan because otherwise Ahwaz would have neither security nor stability.
It should be noted that in late 2015 and early 2016, MPs from Gulf states called on their governments, and the international community, to recognize Iran's Ahwaz province as an "occupied Arab country" and to provide aid to the Ahwazi Arab minority in its struggle for independence.
Also following the December 3 conference, 'Abd Al-Mohsen Hilal wrote in his column in the Saudi daily 'Okaz about the Arab history of Ahwaz and called for adopting the conference's recommendations. The Ahwaz issue, he argued, is older than the Palestinian issue, and the Iranian occupation of Ahwaz is no less barbaric than the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The conference in Tunisia ('Okaz, Saudi Arabia, December 4, 2016)
Following are excerpts from the column:
"Ahwaz was Arab land since the time of [the kingdom of] Elam, some 4,000 years ago, through the [time of] the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans, up until the Achaemenids, led by Cyrus the Great, invaded in 539 BC. Persian control [of it] lasted until the Battle of Dhi Qar, when the Arab tribes surrendered to the kingdom of Banu Lakhm, to the Islamic conquest [in the second half of the 7th century CE]. After that, the Arab principalities emerged in the region, one after another…
"Arab Ahwaz is mentioned in many Arab history books… In 1762, German explorer Carsten Niebuhr refused to recognize his contemporary geographers' designation of Ahwaz as an area [controlled by] the Persians, who never ruled the coast and were forced to leave it under Arab control. The Persians were always a minority among a diverse group of ethnicities [that included] Arabs, Kurds, Azds, and Baluchis. The Arab Gulf [i.e. the Persian Gulf] was a pure Arab lake until Britain betrayed its ally, the Emir of Ahwaz, and gave it to Iran when the two signed a pact in 1925 against the Russian expansion. Thus, this issue is older than the Palestinian issue.
"Both [of these issues] represent an historic moment of Arab weakness following the collapse of the Ottoman state and the desire of the successors of the 'Sick Man [of Europe]' to divvy up the treasures of the region in accordance with the terrible Sykes-Picot Accord. As a result, Ahwaz was handed to Iran, while Palestine was handed to the Jews – constituting the worst blow in modern Arab history. This is because 90% of the oil and 86% of the natural gas consumed by Iran comes from Ahwaz, but [with things as they are now] the lives of the Arabs of the region are not noticeably improved [by this].
"There is a pressing need to recognize the Ahwazi issue, in order to deal with Iran's efforts to eradicate the Arab identity [of the region] by expelling its residents, changing its characteristics, and obscuring its Arab identity. Its name was changed from Ahwaz to Arabistan and [later] to Khuzestan; it is home to 12 million Arabs, and is as large as Syria, Jordan, and Palestine combined. Al-Ahwaz deserves all of our support – and this is what the Tunisia conference demanded, with the aim of bringing about the end of the Iranian occupation, which is no less criminal or barbaric than the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
"The issue of Ahwaz deserves recognition and the rights [of its population] deserve mention in the school curricula in the Arab and Muslim world; [likewise], this issue deserves to be internationalized to global public opinion. Furthermore, the conference demanded that this region have the right of self-determination and the right to form a government in exile recognized by all Arab and Muslim countries, and that Iran's many crimes against humanity committed against the Arab people in our Arab Al-Ahwaz [region] be exposed."
 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), December 4, 2016.
 Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), December 7, 2016.
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1233, MPs In Gulf Countries Urge Recognition Of Ahwaz Province In Iran As Occupied Arab Country, March 9, 2016.
 Pre-Islamic battle waged in the 7th century CE between the Arab tribes and the Sassanid Persian army near Kufa in modern day southern Iraq.
 An Arab kingdom located in modern day southern Iraq.
 A term for the Ottoman Empire in its final days.
 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), December 5, 2016.
ٍSource: The Middle East Media Research Institute