02 Aug 2018
Historical buildings in Ahwaz region are subject of neglect and sometimes destruction by the Iranian regime. Castles and palaces belong to the Arab ruling families and kingdoms in the past have either been ruined or completely demolished. These sites with social, cultural and political history form part of the conscience of Ahwazi people and their connection with their land. However, these sites are protected by law and recognised by the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handcraft and Tourism Organisation, no genuine protection was provided by the authorities.
Irina Bokova, former Director-General of UNESCO, described the destruction of historical sites as ‘a means to eradicate identity. You deprive [people] of their culture, you deprive them of their history, their heritage, and this goes hand in hand with genocide.’  The Iranian state is party to the 1972 World Heritage Convention and is under obligation to protect and preserve the cultural sites situated on its soil.
Videos posted on social media shows that the caravanserai, mosque and the castle of Shaikh Nabhan the First, located in east coast of Karun River in Ahwaz city whose age is as old as 300 years, have been left without conservation. They have become at the mercy of destructive natural and human impacts. Disappointingly, the city council calls these historical buildings a time-worn part of the city. The demolishing of old and historic monuments is interrelated with the negligence of the management of the Ahwaz Cultural Heritage Organisation towards its intrinsic duty, namely safeguarding, restoration and maintenance of monuments of cultural heritage. It seems that none of the officials is taking responsibility for illegal demolishing that recently has become a common practice. 
Five years ago, the advocates of cultural heritage in Ahwaz protested against the attempt of the new owner to demolish a caravanserai from the era of Sheikh Khazal called ‘Saraye Ajam’. It has been claimed the demolition is intentional since the site was deleted from Cultural Heritage List and then given to an investor who has a record of destroying historical buildings. Local experts criticised that the local officials of Ahwaz city including the provincial governor, the head of the Ahwaz city, members of the Parliament as well as the General Department of Cultural Heritage have turned a blind eye to all that happened towards cultural heritage in Ahwaz. 
According to Yousef Azizi Bani Torouf, ‘Saraye Ajam’ is part of the cultural and historical heritage of the Arab nation. For five to six centuries Ahwazi Arabs ruled this land, starting from the 16th century when Moshashaiyan established its first emirate until the last Arab ruler of this land the Sheikh Khazal Ibn Jaber. This land is full of historical monuments of that era. Previously, the regime demolished some of Khazal palaces including the Failiyah Palace located in Mohammarah city. This palace was destroyed by the Revolutionary Guard, however, despite the palace was registered in the Cultural Heritage Organisation in Iran, nobody was held accountable for such illegal action. 
Mr Bani Torouf added that the Palace of Sheikh Abdelhamid, the son of Sheikh Khazal was ruined years ago by the authority and become a car park for buses of Wahed Company in Ahwaz city. Other palaces and cultural sites in different parts of Ahwaz region are collapsed or left without minimum preservation by the responsible organisation. 
The Ahwazi activist Rahim Hamid pondered the reasons behind the state-sponsored destruction of Ahwazi heritage: ‘I do believe that the destruction and demolition of historic sites is a systematic effort to suppress the Arab identity of the region and create the false impression that Ahwaz has always been part of Iran. Through the destruction of heritage, the Iranian regime seeks to erase the historical record and suppress the fact that the Ahwazi people once governed themselves.’
 James Cuno, ‘Talk: The Responsibility to Protect Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones’ (The Getty, 15 March 2018) <http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/talk-the-responsibility-to-protect-cultural-heritage-in-conflict-zones/> accessed 30 July 2018.
 Donyaye Safar, ‘The dominoes of demolishing of historical sites in Khuzestan’ (11 March 2017) <http://www.donyayesafar.com/n/10090> accessed 30 July 2018.
 Manoto, ‘Demolishing historical site of Saraye Ajam in Ahwaz’ (11 July 2013) <https://www.manoto.news/report/fd4cxc/ugs8382> accessed 30 July 2018.
 Taher Shir Mohammedi, ‘The continuation of the protest against demolishing historical buildings in Khuzestan’ (Deutsche Welle, 16 July 2013) <https://www.dw.com/fa-ir/ادامه–اعتراض–به–تخریب–بناهای–تاریخی–خوزستان/a-16957080> accessed 30 July 2018.
By Abdulrahman Hetteh