River diversions: A tool for ethnic cleansing against the Ahwazis

At the moment, many people have become aware of the water crisis in Ahwazi land. For the new observers, it may seem like the shortage of water is a result of the drought and natural causes. However, studying the Iranian policy of building dams and changing the course of Ahwazi water from its basin to central parts of Iran illustrates the hidden ill-intention behind all these projects as the government calls them the ‘major construction projects of Iran.’ Ahwazi activists believe that the projects in question are part of the general the regime’s policy aimed at triggering forced displacement of Ahwazi Arabs from their home region to central part of Iran or to force them to become refugees in other countries. One of the main reasons for the Iranian state to promote forced immigration is to reduce the percentage of Arab population in favour of other ethnic non-Arab settlers in Ahwaz.

According to the Iranian news agencies, the deterioration of the quality of drinking water [1] has resulted in the poisoning of tens of local Arabs in Rofaye and Howeyzeh cities. [2] In addition, the shortage of water for agricultural use has caused enormous damage to palm trees of the farmers. [3] It also led to the death of the fish in the polluted rivers and ponds in Ahwaz. [4] The Iranian authorities are committing these crimes against human beings, environment, animals and fish without seeing any consequences or accountability from international community. The people of Ahwaz have nowhere to go to complain about these violations. And the authorities have been ignoring people for years. The Islamic Human Rights Commission in Iran is in reality part of the government and is not independent to file complaint against the state of Iran for these gross violations. Therefore, it is questionable whether the judiciary system in Iran be able to prosecute the most responsible officials for such abuses and to encourage the authorities to implement its international obligations towards Ahwazi Arabs. As a result, many people have moved to different cities in Iran and immigrated to Western countries, leaving their homes behind in quest for better future. They seek to find a living condition that is less harsh to what they have been experiencing in their homeland in Ahwaz.

Changing the demographic of Ahwaz can be traced back from the second half of 1930s when the Iranian authorities started shifting mainly Persian tribes from bordering land into Ahwaz territory as a strategic resolution to enhance the Persian character into the area. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of nomadic clans of Lur and Bakhtiari changed their directions and have colonised the North of Ahwaz with the unyielding support and inducement from Iranian authorities. Those colonising projects were suspended after the victory of the revolution of peoples in Iran from 1979 to 1992 as a result of the ongoing war with Iraq and the instability in the country.

The government however, initiated four national development campaigns to facilitate and accelerate the projects of settlement particularly in northern parts of Ahwazi land and its capital city of Ahwaz. [5] In this regard, the intention of Iranian government was revealed when a top-secret letter from Vice President Sayed Mohammad-Ali Abtahi dated 24 July 1998 was leaked to public. This letter contains procedure about the eradication of Arabic culture and identity. It includes plan of action to reduce the Arab population to less than third of the total residents within 10 years by relocating Ahwazis to other parts of the country and replacing them with other ethnic minorities such as Turks and Persian-speaking people. [6]

This letter sparked one of the largest Ahwazi uprisings in 2005 which was put down by the security forces and Revolutionary Guard. Tens of people were shot dead or executed in prisons and hundreds were jailed for their involvement in the demonstrations in streets. [7]

Following this strategy, the Iranian authorities are planning to divide the region into two or three separate provinces with the purpose of distracting and dismantling the social fabric of Ahwaz. The fragmentation and partitioning of this territory are interconnected and interrelated with the policy of colonisation and settlement of non-Arabs in northern parts of Ahwaz. [8]

International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) defines the concept of forced migration as ‘a general term that refers to the movements of refugees and internally displaced people (those displaced by conflicts) as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, (manmade tragedies…) or development projects.’ [9] According to international human rights law, states must prevent the forced migration of people. Therefore, the crime of forced displacement is in contrary with the right to freedom of movement and choice of residence under Article 13 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); [10] Article 12 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); [11] Article 5(d)(i) and (f) of International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); [12] Article 15 of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); [13] and Principle 14 of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. [14]

Also, the forced migration is a violation of the right to respect for the home and for privacy provided by Article 12 of UDHR; Article 17 of ICCPR; and Article 8(16) of Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). [15] Moreover, the forced migration caused by states is a breach of the right to an adequate standard of living, including food and housing that are guaranteed by Article 25 of UDHR, Article 11 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Article 5(e)(iii) of ICERD, Article 14(2)(h) of CEDAW, and Article 27 of CRC. Finally, the farced displacement could intrude upon the right to respect for the family under Article 16 of UDHR, Article 10 of ICESCR, Articles 17 and 23 of ICCPR; Articles 16 and 18 of CRC and Principle 17 of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.


[1] AsreJonoob News <https://www.instagram.com/p/Bjmbh-DnB-s/?taken-by=asrejonoob.news> accessed 17 July 2018.

[2] Khakzadegan<https://www.instagram.com/p/BlVMjhjBuwY/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=1hq2cghbcatqo> accessed 17 July 2018.

[3] AsreJonoob News <https://www.instagram.com/p/BkK9brxFW8l/?taken-by=asrejonoob.news> accessed 17 July 2018.

[4] AsreJonoob News <https://t.me/joinchat/AAAAADvTlTpiozx_8F6_jQ> accessed 17 July 2017.

[5] Committee of Studies and Research, ‘Brief Study: The Project of the Settlement of Lur and Bakhtiari Tribes in Al-Ahwaz’, page 2-3 and 7-8 (Ahwazna, September 2014) <http://ahwazna.net/index.php?page=filescenter&view=file&id=9&lang=1> accessed 18 June 2017.

[6] British Ahwazi Friendship Society, ‘Letter from Vice-President Sayed Mohammad-Ali Abtahi to government departments on the procedure to change the ethnic composition of Khuzestan (Al-Ahwaz) and eradicate Arab language and culture in the province’ <http://www.hic-mena.org/documents/Muhammad-Ali%20Abtahi%20ltr.pdf>accessed 17 July 2018.

[7] Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, ‘A Framework of Violence: Repression of the Arab Ethnic Minority in the Islamic Republic of Iran’ (Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, September 2014) <http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/1000000528-a-framework-of-violence-repression-of-the-arab-ethnic-minority-in-the-islamic-republic-of-iran.html> accessed 17 July 2018.

[8] Mohamed Hattab Al-Ahwazi, ‘The Project of Partitioning the Geography of North of Al-Ahwaz’, page 2-3 (Ahwazna, September 2016) <http://ahwazna.net/index.php?page=filescenter&view=file&id=23&lang=1> accessed 18 June 2017.

[9] Forced Migration Online, ‘What is Forced Migration?’ (27 January 2012) <http://www.forcedmigration.org/about/whatisfm/what-is-forced-migration> accessed 17 July 2018.

[10] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, GA Res 217 A (III), 10 December 1948.

[11] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), 16 December 1966.

[12] International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, GA Res 2106 (XX), 21 December 1965.

[13] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, GA Res 34/180, 18 December 1979.

[14] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, ADM 1.1, PRL 12.1, PR00/98/109, 22 July 1998.

[15] Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Treaty Series, vol 1577, p 3, 20 November 1989.

By Abdulrahman Hetteh


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