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Ahwaz: The most polluted city in the world!
Conflict Politics

A Glimpse into the Struggles of the Arab People of Ahwaz

The first spark of revolution in the Ahwazi areas southwest of Iran took place when Sheikh Khazal bin Jaber was the ruler of Arabistan /Ahwaz emirate. He was deceived at a meeting with the Iranian officials on April 20th, 1925. He was besieged by the security forces. He was then exiled to Tehran. This happened under the supervision and support from Britain for establishing the new Iranian state under the leadership of an unlettered general named Reza Khan, who was completely toeing with the policies of the UK at the time.

After ousting the government of Sheikh Khazal, a political, social and administrative gap had been revealed in Ahwaz. The Persian authorities closed down the Arab schools in Muhmarra, the then capital of the emirate, along with other cities. The administrative headquarters in Ahwaz had become legally affiliated with the newly established Iranian government and the Persian nation-state project, which went down in history afterwards as the modern Iranian state.

The Persian state opened schools to teach Persian language only. No other curricula had been given to students, whether science or math. They have learned nothing but Persian literature for decades.

Following this transformative event in the history of the Middle East, which is ousting the Arab rule in Ahwaz, Ahwaz ushered in a lot of revolts, commotions and political events that strongly shook the Iranian nation-state project of fascist nature. It also threatened the Iranian expansion towards the Mediterranean.

In the following lines, a light will be cast on the most remarkable incidents still living in the memory of the Ahwazi people. Not all incidents were recorded in history pursuing the proper methods. While some of them were recorded in books of historians in some way or another, other incidents were omitted entirely. These events are an important part of Ahwazi history, especially when it comes to some groups who established, carried out activities, and halted them for some reasons. No one knew of these groups were mentioned by historians. Here I only record events that could encourage researchers and those interested in the Ahwazi issue in order to dust off the history of the people of Ahwaz, its organizations, and deep-rooted civilizational past and the Persian policies aimed to wipe out its historical presence.

King Abdul-Aziz’s visit to Muhmarrah where he was received by prince Khazal and the British Consul

Revolt of Sheikh Khazal supporters in 1925

Six months after Sheikh Khazal was exiled to Tehran, forces loyal to him led by two employees of the Al-Faily Palace, the residence of Sheikh Khazal’s rule in Muhammarah, named Shalash and Sultan, on July 20, 1925, led an uprising. During the revolt, the military forces loyal to the Iranian authorities stationed there defected. They fled to Iraq, while others fled to Kuwait by sea on small boats.

During the uprising, the city of Muhammarah for a few days fell into the hands of forces loyal to Sheikh Khazal. The incident went down in history as Sheikh’s Supporters Revolution. Political activist Abdul Mohsin al-Khakani, a resident of Muhammarah, attempted to establish channels of correspondence with the free world and the Arab masses in order to gain support for the reinstatement of Sheikh Khazal’s rule, but all his efforts came to naught.

The government of Mohie Zaybak in 1928

The battles and conflicts between the Iranian military forces and the Arabs of Ahwaz lasted until 1928 when the city of Hawizah came under the control of a commander named Mohie Zaybak who rose up against the Iranian regime and its policies especially the policy of replacing the Arab dress with the European one which entered the Iranian markets at that time. The commander installed a local government in the city. Six months after establishing the government, the Iranian army besieged the city and destroyed it. The government was removed from office.

Minao uprising and the battle of Jazan in 1930

The uprising of the Minao in 1930 is one of the major uprisings that took place in Ahwaz. It is a vast flat agricultural area in the north of Ahwaz. It has a considerable historical significance in the conscience of the Ahwazi citizens. The area had been the center of a heroic Ahwazi struggle against the Iranian occupation forces for decades.

The leaders of this uprising were local commanders and tribal leaders such as Haidar Bin Talal, Ibrach Al Khazraji, Kukz Al-Hamad, Mehdi Al-Ali, Daoud Al-Hamoud, and others. The uprising turned into an armed struggle several days after it began. The root cause of the uprising was letting feudalists, who were not indigenous, settle in the areas populated by Arabs. The Persian regime brought those people from Lorestan, Bakhtiari, Isfahan, Arak, and other Persian regions. It also seized agricultural lands of the indigenous people and developed a plan to expel Arabs to the Persian areas. The regime also sought to impose a blanket ban on learning the Arabic language. This had led to major protests where the Ahwazis took up arms and fired on the Iranian military forces.

This major uprising was quashed several weeks thereafter through a large-scale campaign on the area, including air raids. The military operation caused bloodshed against residents of villages located near the rivers of Diz, Hor Maleh, Hor al-Sedd, Jawar and Karkha. Also, mass executions were carried out against the leaders of the uprising in Sahar Castle located 45 kilometers away from Ahwaz, the capital city of the Arab region. A jet for the Iranian army was downed during the clashes that took place near a village. The village has since been named Al-Tayara, “jet”, village.

In conjunction with the uprising, a military incident took place in Jazan, a village located between Ramez and Al-Khalifa in the east of the capital city Ahwaz. In the incident, Arabs residing in the area formed an army made up of brigades. They opened fire on the brigades of the Iranian army who were headed from Bahbahan to Shiraz. They planned to push towards Minao, but a surprise large-scale Ahwazi attack was carried out. It inflicted massive losses in the ranks of the Iranian army. The attack paralyzed the army’s movements and ceased a horrendous bloodshed that could have happened at the hands of the army forces.

Ghagari revolution in 1932

The uprising continued uninterrupted in the Arab areas. They can be referred to as Ghagaria uprising that took place in 1932. Ghagaria is a village located in the southern capital city of Ahwaz. The uprising was led by one of Sheikh Khazal’s son named Jassib. His aim was to regain the rule of the occupied emirate of Arabistan through unity and solidarity among tribes to form a unified political bloc. But this uprising was doomed to failure as the previous ones after military confrontations that inflicted heavy losses on both sides. The losses included the downing of an Iranian Air Force jet.

Names of Ahwaz region, its villages, and cities had been changed from Arabic to Persian in 1936 when Sheikh Khazal was assassinated. He was assassinated by the Iranian military intelligence while under house arrest. After the assassination, the Iranian government issued a decision to change the names of villages and cities of Ahwaz from Arabic to Persian.

The name of Arabistan emirate was changed to Khuzestan province. Arabistan capital city was Muhmarrah. At the time, the region included Khuzestan, a big part of Bushaher, Elam and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province.

Names of cities, villages, and public places have been changed from Arabic to Persian as follows: Muhammarah to Khorramshahr,  Falahiyeh  to Shadkan, Ghanwa to Kanawa, Mashour to Mahashhar,  Khafajieh to   Susangerd, Howeyzeh to  , Sus to Shoush, Tostor to Shoshtor Salehia to Andemshak, Khour Moussa to Sarbendar, Ramez to Ramhormoz, Khalafiyeh to Ramshir and so forth.

The uprising of Maysan in 1946

This is the year when a massive uprising took place in Maysan which includes the present-day Khafajieh, Howeyzeh, and Al-Basitin. The uprising was triggered after the Iranian security forces committed horrendous violations against the Ahwazis. They spoiled their lives by implementing an administrative system for naturalization and compulsory enlistment. The authorities also placed the Ahwazi lands at the disposal of the Iranian budget. They also applied a new Persian educational system, replacing Arab teachers with Persian ones across the educational system.

The fate of this uprising was no different than those that preceded it. It ended up with 16 tribal leaders being buried alive. Others were sent to exile in northern Iran. They went there on foot. Many of them died while on their way to exile for many reasons including hunger and confrontations with the Iranian forces.

Search for home rule in Moscow

Abdullah, son of Sheikh Khazal, sought to establish a home rule in the region. This came in conjunction with the uprising of the Kurdish people led by Qadi Mohammed and the Azeri revolt led by Jaafar Pishevari. This came based on recommendations from the Moscow conference about administering Iran, occupied by the Allied at the time. The conference was held on Iran and was attended by the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States on December 16-26, 1945. The conference reached six points of support for autonomy in the provinces of Ahwaz, Azerbaijan, and Kurdistan. But after toppling the Republic of Mahabad and the elimination of the movement of Azerbaijan by the forces of the Iranian central government army, the Ahwaz movement stopped as well.

Founding Saada Party of Ahwaz

In 1946, after the bitter experiences, the Ahwazis had gone through including the armed battles, some politicians opted to choose other means. Therefore, they decided to found the  Saada Party of Ahwaz. The party managed to have offshoots in Arab cities, including  Khafajieh. It was founded in June of 1946. The local police in the city issued a report on the activities of the party. But leaders of the party in Abadan came under attack from militiamen affiliated with Tudeh Party of Iran. The Iranian forces known as SAVAK and Tudeh militias besieged the house of Saada party leader Haddad Al-Kanani. His house was later set on fire by pouring gasoline on its walls. The house was burned down, killing all those inside it including Haddad and his family. This incident had sparked tensions between the military forces stationed in Abadan and the Arab population. This tension denigrated into a conflict.

 The supreme national committee

In 1958, some Arab politicians such as Mohyeddin Al-Nasser, Dehrab al-Shamil and Eissa Al-Nassari formed a political entity named the Supreme National Committee. Its aim was to regain the rights of the Arab Ahwazi people. Many among the founders and leaders of the committee were arrested and executed. Some of them fled to the Gulf states and others went to Iraq.

Arabistan Liberation Front

The front was founded by those who managed to flee Ahwaz among the members of the Supreme National Committee. The front’s activities gained momentum in conjunction with the rise of nationalism in the Arab world, especially under Abdel-Salam Aref in Iraq. But these activities declined under Abdel-Rahman Aref as the relations between Iraq and Iran saw a boost and stability.

The National Front to Liberate Arabistan

It was founded by Rashid Khalaf Al-Khazal. It had political and diplomatic activities. It forged ties with the Arab League and several Arab leaders.

The Arab Front to Liberate Ahwaz

In 1968, a new front had been founded. It was named ‘The Arab Front to Liberate Ahwaz’ until the end of 1971. It promoted its political platform and attempted to establish ties with the Iraqi state. Iraq had allowed the front along with the other dissident organizations such as the Iranian National Front, the Kurdish groups and military figures such as Taimour Bakhtiar m the head of SAVAK, who sought asylum in Iraq after differences with the Shah of Iran, to work against the Iranian government.

The front also forged ties with the factions of the Palestinian revolution, the other leftist liberation forces and the leftist Iranian forces following Algeria Convention. Iraq and Iran agreed to remove tensions between the two countries, cease hostile activities against each other and settle the issue of Shat Al-Arab through the mediation of the Algerian president Houari Boumédiène.

After the Iranian-Iraqi agreement, the front was banned from political and media activities inside Iraq. It was also barred from launching attacks on the Iranian military personnel. Some members of the front moved to Syria, while others fled to Libya.

The front had carried out hundreds of military operations against the Iranian forces on several fronts. But it dissolved itself following the victory of 1979 revolution in Iran. This came in a statement where it declared its platform is not compatible with the new realities. It announced forming the preparatory committee for the conference of the Arab people of Ahwaz. The committee’s aim was to issue decisions that enable the Ahwazi people to get its national rights.

The political organization of the Arab Muslim people of Khuzestan

It was founded by a number of Ahwazi politicians in Muhammadah in 1979. This organization worked on mobilizing the masses and proposing a political program. At the time, it demanded autonomy for the province of Ahwaz. It was supported by Ayatollah Muhammad Taher al-Shibair al-Khakani. The name “Khuzestan” was also replaced with “Arabistan” in all its documents, after the intervention of a number of veteran politicians about the used label.

Ahwazis’ negotiations with Tehran politicians

The Ahwazi Arab people continued their political struggle until 1979 in conjunction with the demonstrations that swept through Iran, and this people, like other people, contributed to this political transformation. After the victory of the revolution, a political delegation went to Tehran supported by Ayatollah Muhammad Taher al-Shaibir al-Khakani Spiritual, the spiritual leader of the Arab people of Ahwaz at the time.   The delegation, which included 30 people, carried political, cultural and economic demands for the meeting. The Arab demands were utterly rejected by the newly formed Iranian government after the revolution, ie the demands that were accepted at the time had crystallized in some sort of autonomy.

The black Wednesday

After the negotiations between the Ahwazis and Iranians stumbled due to the Iranian politicians, on top of them come the members of the National Front and others within Freedom Movement of Iran who were at the time occupying senior posts within the regime. Popular conventions were held in Ahwaz, especially the city of Muhmarrah, where the Arab people of Ahwaz were informed their demands had been rejected by Tehran.

Protests in Muhmarrah in the aftermath of the Black Wednesday bloodshed where hundreds of Arabs were butchered at the hands of the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian army.

The move led the Ahwazis to stage mass protests peacefully. But the Persian national forces, led by Gen. Ahmed Madani, the military governor of Ahwaz and the IRGC forces led by Mohammed Jahan Ara and others decided to put down the peaceful protesters. This pushed people in Muhmarrah to defend themselves through continuing the protests. Special forces of the Iranian navy attacked Muhmarrah. The city was bombed from the air by helicopters. On that sad Wednesday, correspondent to May 30th, 1979, hundreds of innocent civilians had been killed in Muhmarrah, Abadan and other areas. The incident went down in Ahwazi history as the black Wednesday.

The Iranian-Iraqi war

Iraqi forces invaded Iran in response to the steady influx of Iranian trained troops to destabilize Iraq through bombings, hitting oil installations, moving tribes in the south, supporting Kurds in the north, and seeking to export the revolution and overthrowing the Iraqi regime. But the battle came to the land of Ahwaz more than anywhere else during the eight years of war.

The aforesaid war the claimed lives of thousands and wounded thousands among the Ahwazis, destroyed the infrastructure and prompted exodus from Ahwaz to several cities in Iran. At the same time, the Iranians leveled accusations against Arab activists and launched a crackdown on Ahwazi politicians under various pretexts, including combating the conspiracy with Iraq and other accusations, most of which were baseless. Thousands of young Ahwazs were killed by executions, and large numbers of Ahwazis were exiled into the Persian areas against their will.

The Arab Front for the Liberation of Ahwaz

It was founded on April 20th, 1980 after several Ahwazis left for Iraq on the heels of the Iranian bloodshed against Arabs. The Front fought on the side of the Iraqi forces against the Iranian forces, as it is the case for the Iranian opposition forces such as MEK and the Kurdish organization against the Iranian military personnel.

Describing Ahwazis as Gypsies

In 1985, mass protests broke out in the capital city of Ahwaz. This came after an article had been published in Etelaat newspaper where a columnist described Arabs as Gypsies, which raised the ire of local residents and stirred this commotion. Several protesters were killed and wounded. Some activists were arrested, where they were handed harsh sentences. This incident was known as the Uprising of Dignity. The Ahwazi activities continued secretly until it came to light in the form of attacks on oil pipelines and other operations.

Islamic Reconciliation Party/Reconciliation Committee

When the reformists took the lead on the political scene in 1997, the Arab political forces founded a political bloc known as the Reconciliation Committee. A year later, the Arab activists transformed it into a political party which they named Islamic Reconciliation Party. The party managed to pump new blood into the political and cultural arenas across the Arab cities and villages. The party managed to participate in the parliament elections and Islamic Consultative Assembly under the auspices and platform of Islamic Iran Participation Front. The party succeeded in getting one seat in the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Yet the party won all seats in the municipal elections in the Ahwazi capital city.

In 2004, Ahwazi street witnessed some protests after the Iranian forces stormed shops distributing recordings of Arab art. The situation did not last for a long time. Some changes happened in Iran and led the role of Reconciliation Party to decline. Some of its cadres believing in reform had defected. The party then withdrew from the political scene when the conservatives took power in 2005. This move also came after a court in Ahwaz issued a ruling to hunt down all those who were affiliated with the party.

The uprising of April 15th, 2005

This uprising happened after the reforms were halted in Iran and the Ahwazi political forces discovered that the Iranian regime’s openness is nothing but a process aimed to assimilate the Arab ethnicity into the Persian society within citizenship rights, ignoring the national rights of Arabs and circumventing what the Arabs did in Ahwaz. Another reason for this major uprising was the secret message issued by the Iranian government which exposed schemes of demographic change in Ahwaz for Arabs to become a minority had been discovered. Subsequently, the Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz, established in 2002, which obtained the message decided to get to the arena through mobilizing the masses on the streets, creating popular action and distancing the protests from radicalism. This led to triggering a massive uprising that spread across several Ahwazi cities and villages for the first time in the history of Ahwazi uprisings. Protests condemned the Iranian policies aimed to enforce demographic change in the region.

The uprising of April 15th is known as the turning point in the history of the Ahwazi struggle since it changed several conceptions and popularized the Ahwazi issue with major global institutions. It also laid foundations for a peaceful struggle based on the masses wishes for freedom and prosperity. Needless to say, this caused a severe headache for Iranian politicians.

Since then, Ahwaz has been witnessing quasi-yearly uprisings against unjust Iranian policies; they bear similarities with the uprisings of 2005.

The Ahwazi political organizations some of whom are still active in the political arena

1946: Union of Arab Farmers, the name of this organization was changed to “Arab Union.

1958: General Federation of Students and Youth

1960: National Front for the Liberation of Arabistan and the Arab Gulf

1967: National Front for the Liberation of Arabistan

1967: National Front for the Liberation of Arabistan

1968: The Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan

1979: The Arab Mass Movement in Ahwaz

1979: The Political Organization of the Arab People in Ahwaz

Arab Mujahideen Movement

Forces of 1981

General Federation of Students and Youth 1982

1983: National Council of Ahwaz

National Liberation Movement

Ahwazi Youth Movement

1984: Movement of Vanguards of Unity for the Youth Al – Ahwaz

The Cultural Committee

1986: National Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz

The Nasserite Gathering

1987: The Renaissance Movement

1987: Al-Resala Movement

1990: Ahwazi Popular Democratic Front

1991: Organization of Myaad

1999: The Arab Struggle Movement for Liberation of Ahwaz

2002: Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz

Democratic Ahwaz Solidarity Party

Ahwazi Democratic Party

Organization of the Revolutionary Masses in Ahwaz

Ahwazi Youth Movement

Center To Fight Racism and Anti – Arabism in Iran

There are also a number of human rights and cultural organizations in the Ahwaz area. Each one of them is active in a particular area in order to defend the right of the Arab people in Ahwaz, and perhaps there are many political, social organizations and institutions, which have been destroyed in one way or another and we never heard of them to this day.
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About the author

Nouri Hamzeh

Nouri Hamzeh

Journalist and political analyst focusing on Iranian affairs.
Mr. Nouri Hamzeh currently resides in Stockholm Sweden.

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