Last month, human rights organizations and many national parliaments commemorated the anniversary of the November 2019 protests in Iran and the raid that followed. The regime’s response included the murder of more than 130 Ahwazi Arabs.
The ethnic minorities in Iran are discriminated against twice – by the ruling regime and by the Iranian human rights community. While the regime and human rights organizations at home and abroad are at odds on many issues, they share a disdain for Iran’s ethnic minorities for unwilling to see them gain national rights. Thus, the government and its mainstream opposition share a common cause that strengthens the regime’s ability to remain in power and prevents democracy from gaining a foothold in Iran.
Repression is no longer enough to contain the anger of the Iranian minorities
Iran’s ethnic minorities face extreme discrimination beyond the restrictions imposed on all Iranians. They are not allowed to operate schools in their native language, are forced to use Persian in all formal settings, and are regularly ridiculed and ridiculed in the official media and school books. Ahwazi Arabs face government-sponsored repression of all expressions of their ethnic identity and culture, as well as open anti-Arab racism.
The approximately 8 million Ahwazi Arabs suffer from water shortages, environmental degradation, discrimination in the workplace and high levels of poverty, although they are the majority population in the oil and gas-rich province of Khuzestan. The Persian ruling class reaps the benefits of these abundant natural resources, while the local Ahwazi people suffer the health consequences and pollution of their production.
Although Iranian human rights organizations are formally committed to promoting democracy, they share the regime’s prejudice and racism. These organizations rarely report on the level of discrimination against ethnic minorities in Iran, the specific targets of the Ahwazi Arab protests or the political prisoners who campaigned for the rights of ethnic minorities.
For example, when listing the names of activists kidnapped by Iranian activists from their western exile, they forget to mention Habib Chaab, an Ahwazi activist and Swedish national kidnapped by the Istanbul regime. Chaab is being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison and faces imminent execution.
I personally have seen this double discrimination. As an Arab Ahwazi human rights activist, I was imprisoned and tortured to near death for supporting the right of Ahwazi children in Iran to learn their mother tongue, Arabic. I was lucky enough to escape and settle in the US in 2015. My fellow activists, Hashem Shabani and Hadi Rashedi, weren’t so lucky – they were executed in 2014. The physical scars of this torture, which run from my sternum to my groin, will never leave me. Even after several surgeries, I will continue to take medication for the rest of my life.
But despite all the evidence available, I was shocked to find that the Persian-dominated human rights organizations in the United States had refused to recognize the rights of the Ahwazis and other minorities, took over our struggles and blocked reporting on our plight.
Social media wars
With the Iranian regime imposing a total media ban on the Ahwazi issue, social media remains the only way for activists to raise awareness. But even here, activists are constantly abused and threatened not only by the regime, which uses trolls and bots to report the accounts of activists en masse, but also by Persian-speaking Iranian dissidents. At one point, I had three Twitter bans in less than 20 days.
Because of this media war, most people in the west are unaware of the ethnic diversity of Iran, where Turkish, Ahwazi, Baluch, Kurdish and Caspian minorities make up almost 40% of the Iranian population. Most Iranian human rights organizations in exile focus on attacks against Persian dissidents, while hardly addressing systemic racism against ethnic minorities.
When our young men dieFor their rights on the streets of Ahwaz, the Persian-dominated groups report these protests as an anti-government activity, deliberately ignoring the ethnic factor. This was the case with the widespread protests in November 2019 and the recent wave of demonstrations in July this year, led by Ahwazi youths. Such co-opting of our activism adds an insult to the hurt of the valiant sacrifices our young people have made.
The country’s Persian opposition is reluctant to recognize that Iran is a fundamentally diverse country and that its people have both a national identity and local sovereignty claims.These Persian opposition groups have succumbed to the idea that supporting the Ahwazi cause and recognizing their ethnic claims is a prelude to secessionism. Instead, they continue to ignore the demands of ethnic minorities in their own regions to promote a nation, centralized rule, culture and language – all Persian.
With this denial by Persian opposition groups both domestically and in exile and the continuation of the regime’s brutally repressive, restrictive and racist rule is the result of thethe subjugation of the country’s ethnic minorities and the disregard of their rights is predictable. The civil war that ravaged the former Yugoslavia is a terrible warning about how states along ethnic lines can break apart.
To avert such a catastrophe, Iran must give up its antiquated supremacist way of thinking and recognize its non-Persian minorities as equal actors and partners who form their own power base. The creation of a federalized democratic system would defuse tensions and open up the possibility of a just, genuinely progressive, modern state.
Even without its regressive theocratic basis, the current supremacist system in Iran is an inadequate and outdated relic that reflects a mindset that dates back to the 19th century.NS– Century colonialism. In reality, the Iranian state is a patchwork of races, beliefs and doctrines. As a result, Iran can choose to have a fair, stable, democratic and progressive 21stNS-Century state – which reflects this vibrant and diverse melting pot, in which each group can elect its representatives to participate in an equal, fair and federalized system – and collapses in fractionalism and civil war.
This double oppression that Ahwazis and other ethnic minorities face, and the refusal of the Persian-Iranian opposition in exile to recognize even the deeply rooted hostility of the regime or its own towards Ahwazis and other ethnic minorities, ultimately only benefits the regime, that easily thwart a fragmented opposition. In the end, we can only reduce oppression in Iran – and around the world – through unity and mutual respect.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own views and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial guidelines.