How Iran’s Ahwazi Arabs, betrayed, fell victim to oppression that continues to this day

How Iran’s Ahwazi Arabs, betrayed, fell victim to oppression that continues to this day
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Updated 07 January 2022

How Iran’s Ahwazi Arabs, betrayed, fell victim to oppression that continues to this day

How Iran’s Ahwazi Arabs, betrayed, fell victim to oppression that continues to this day
  • When oil was discovered in Arabistan in 1908, it wasn’t long before Ahwazi dreams of independence from Persia were dashed
  • In the century since losing their autonomy, the Ahwazi people of Iran have experienced persecution and cultural descrimination 

LONDON: In November 1914, Sheikh Khazaal, the last ruler of the autonomous Arab state of Arabistan, could have been forgiven for thinking the troubles of his people were over.

Oil had been discovered on his lands, promising to transform the fortunes of the Ahwazi people, and Britain stood ready to guarantee their right to autonomy. In reality, the troubles of the Ahwazi were just beginning.

Within a decade, Sheikh Khazaal was under arrest in Tehran, the name Arabistan had been wiped from the map, and the Ahwazi Arabs of Iran had fallen victim to a brutal oppression that continues to this day.

For centuries, Arab tribes had ruled a large tract of land in today’s western Iran. Al-Ahwaz, as their descendants know it today, extended north over 600 km along the east bank of the Shatt Al-Arab, and down the entire eastern littoral of the Gulf, as far south as the Strait of Hormuz. 

However, the independent status of Arabistan was struck a blow in 1848 by the geopolitical maneuverings of its powerful neighbors. With the Treaty of Erzurum, the Ottoman empire agreed to recognize “the full sovereign rights of the Persian government” to Arabistan. The Arab tribes whose lands were so casually signed away were not consulted.

Within 10 years, however, Sheikh Khazaal’s predecessor, Sheikh Jabir, had found a powerful friend — the British Empire. 

Trade in the Gulf was vital for Britain’s interests in India and Sheikh Jabir was seen as a valuable ally, especially after his support for the British during the short Anglo-Persian war of 1856-1857 in which Britain repelled Tehran’s attempts to seize Herat in neighboring Afghanistan.

Keen to maintain Afghanistan as a buffer, the British had backed the emir of Herat’s independence. Now, it seemed, Queen Victoria’s government meant to do the same for the sheikh of Arabistan.


Read our full interactive Deep Dive on the Ahwazi Arabs and their traumatic history in Iran here


The British opened a vice-consulate at Mohammerah in 1888. By 1897, by which time Sheikh Khazaal had become the ruler of what the British referred to as the Sheikhdom of Mohammerah, imperial Britain was heavily invested in Arabistan.

As a British Foreign Office summary of dealings with Sheikh Khazaal put it, “an essential part of British policy in the Gulf was the establishment of good relations and the conclusion of treaties with the various Arab rulers, and the sheikhs of Mohammerah, controlling territory at the head of the Gulf, thus came very prominently into the general scheme.”

With the might of the British at his back, Sheikh Khazaal appeared to be steering Arabistan toward a bright, independent future.

But, in 1903, the Shah of Iran, Muzaffar Al-Din, formally recognized the lands as his in perpetuity. Then, in 1908, vast reserves of oil were found on the sheikh’s land at Masjid-i-Sulaiman.




By 1897, by which time Sheikh Khazaal (pictured) had become the ruler of what the British referred to as the Sheikhdom of Mohammerah, imperial Britain was heavily invested in Arabistan. (Supplied)

In 1910, after a minor clash between Arabistan and Ottoman forces on the Shatt Al-Arab, Britain sent a warship to Mohammerah, “to counteract a certain amount of loss of prestige suffered by the sheikh and also to make a demonstration in face of the growth of Turkish ambitions in the Arabian Gulf area.”

On board was Sir Percy Cox, the British political resident in the Gulf. In a ceremony at the Palace of Fallahiyah on Oct. 15, 1910, he presented the sheikh with reassurances of Britain’s steadfast support, and the insignia and title of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire. 

In 1914, in a letter from Sir Percy, the sheikh had in his hand what amounted to a pledge by the greatest imperial power of the time to preserve his autonomy and protect Arabistan from the Persian government.

In the letter, dated Nov. 22, 1914, the British envoy wrote that he was now authorized “to assure your excellency personally that whatever change may take place in the form of the government of Persia, His Majesty’s government will be prepared to afford you the support necessary for obtaining a satisfactory solution, both to yourself and to us, in the event of any encroachment by the Persian government on your jurisdiction and recognized rights, or on your property in Persia.”


Read our full interactive Deep Dive on the Ahwazi Arabs and their traumatic history in Iran here


In fact, all of Britain’s assurances would prove worthless and, just 10 years later, Arabistan’s hopes of independence would be shattered.

The problem was oil. The Arabs had it, the Persians wanted it. And when it came to the crunch, the British, despite all their promises of support, chose to back the Persians.

Britain’s change of heart was triggered by the Russian revolution of 1917, after which it became clear that the Bolsheviks had designs on Persia. In 1921, fearing that the failing Persian Qajar dynasty might side with Moscow, Britain conspired with Reza Khan, the leader of Persia’s Cossack Brigade, to stage a coup.

Reza Khan, as a British report of 1946 would later concede, “was ultimately personally responsible for the sheikh’s complete downfall.” 

In 1922, Reza Khan threatened to invade Arabistan, which he now regarded as the Persian province of Khuzestan. His motive, as US historian Chelsi Mueller concluded in her 2020 book “The Origins of the Arab-Iranian Conflict,” was clear. 




In a ceremony at the Palace of Fallahiyah on Oct. 15, 1910, he presented the sheikh with reassurances of Britain’s steadfast support, and the insignia and title of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire. (Supplied)

“He eyed Arabistan not only because it was the only remaining province that had not yet been penetrated by the authority of central government but also because he had come to appreciate the potential of Arabistan’s oil industry to provide much-needed revenues,” Mueller wrote. 

Sheikh Khazaal asked for Britain’s protection, invoking the many assurances he had been given. Instead, he was brushed off, and reminded of his “obligations to the Persian government.” 

Time was running out for the Arabs. In a despatch sent to London on Sept. 4, 1922, Sir Percy Loraine, British envoy to Iran, wrote “it would be preferable to deal with a strong central authority rather than with a number of local rulers” in Persia. This, he added, “would involve a loosening of our relations with such local rulers.”

In August 1924, the Persian government informed Sheikh Khazaal that the pledge of autonomy he had won from Muzaffar Al-Din in 1903 was no longer valid. The sheikh appealed to the British for help, but was again rebuffed.

Reza Khan demanded the sheikh’s unconditional surrender. It was, the British concluded, “clear that the old regime had come to an end and that Reza Khan, having established a stranglehold over Khuzestan, would be unlikely ever voluntarily to relinquish it.”


Read our full interactive Deep Dive on the Ahwazi Arabs and their traumatic history in Iran here


The British government was “now in an embarrassing position” because of “the services which the sheikh had rendered them in the past.” Nevertheless, for fear of Russian incursion in Persia, Britain had now decided firmly to support the central government in Tehran.

The Ahwazi were on their own.

On April 18, 1925, Sheikh Khazaal and his son, Abdul Hamid, were arrested and taken to Tehran, where the last ruler of Arabistan would spend the remaining 11 years of his life under house arrest. The name “Arabistan” was expunged from history and the territories of the Ahwaz finally absorbed into Persian provinces. 

Khazaal’s last days were spent in futile negotiations with Tehran, marked, the British noted, by a series of “gross breaches of faith on the part of the central government, which had obviously no intention of carrying out the promises given to the sheikh.”

The Persians, concluded the British, “were obviously merely waiting for the sheikh to die.” That wait ended during the night of May 24, 1936. 

In the almost 100 years since the Ahwazi people lost their autonomy, they have experienced persecution and cultural oppression in almost every walk of life. Dams divert water from the Karun and other rivers for the benefit of Persian provinces of Iran, Arabic is banned in schools, while the names of towns and villages have long been Persianized. On world maps, the historic Arab port of Mohammerah became Khorramshahr.

Protests are met with violent repression. Countless citizens working to keep the flame of Arab culture alive have been arrested, disappeared, tortured, executed or gunned down at checkpoints. 

Many Ahwazi who sought sanctuary overseas are working to bring the plight of the Ahwazi to the attention of the world. Even in exile, however, they are not safe.




Ahmad Mola Nissi, one of the founders of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, fled Iran with his wife and children and sought asylum in the Netherlands in 2005. (Supplied)

In 2005, Ahmad Mola Nissi, one of the founders of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, fled Iran with his wife and children and sought asylum in the Netherlands. On Nov. 8, 2017, he was shot dead outside his home in the Hague by an unknown assassin.

In June 2005, Karim Abdian, director of a Virginia-based NGO, the Ahwaz Education and Human Rights Foundation, appealed to the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

The Ahwazi, he said, had been subjected to “political, cultural, social and economic subjugation, and are treated as second and third-class citizens,” both by the Iranian monarchy in the past and by the current clerical regime. Nevertheless, they still had “faith in the international community’s ability to present a just and a viable solution to resolve this conflict peacefully.”

Sixteen years later, Abdian despairs of seeing any improvement in the position of his people. “I don’t see any way out currently,” he told Arab News, though he dreams of self-determination for the Ahwazi in a federalist Iran.

In the meantime, “as an Ahwazi Arab, you cannot even give your child an Arabic name. So, this nation, which owns the land that currently produces 80 percent of the oil, 65 percent of the gas and 35 percent of the water of Iran, lives in abject poverty.”

The forgotten Arabs of Iran
A century ago, the autonomous sheikhdom of Arabistan was absorbed by force into the Persian state. Today the Arabs of Ahwaz are Iran's most persecuted minority

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Ahwazis

The Ahwazis are descendants of Arab tribes who had ruled a large tract of land in today’s western Iran. Al-Ahwaz extended north over 600 km along the east bank of the Shatt Al-Arab, and down the entire eastern littoral of the Gulf, as far south as the Strait of Hormuz.


Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
Updated 28 May 2022

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
  • State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5

The Iranian army has given some details — but not the exact location — of an underground base for its military drones, state media reported on Saturday, amid simmering tensions in the Gulf.
State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5, which it said were fitted with Qaem-9 missiles, an Iranian-made version of air-to-surface US Hellfire.
“No doubt the drones of Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are the region’s most powerful,” army commander Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said. “Our capability to upgrade drones is unstoppable,” he added.
The Iranian state TV correspondent said he had made the 45-minute helicopter flight on Thursday from Kermanshah in western Iran to a secret underground drone site. He was allowed to take blindfolds off only upon arrival at the base, he said.
TV footage showed rows of drones fitted with missiles in a tunnel, which it said was several hundred meters underground.
The TV report came a day after Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf, in an apparent retaliation for the confiscation of Iranian oil by the United States from a tanker held off the Greek coast.
Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, due to European Union sanctions. The United States later confiscated the Iranian oil cargo held onboard and plans to send it to the United States on another vessel.
The Pegas was later released, but the seizure inflamed tensions at a delicate time, with Iran and world powers seeking to revive a nuclear deal that former US President Donald Trump abandoned, reimposing sanctions on Tehran.


Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media
Updated 28 May 2022

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media
  • A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in Abadan, Khuzestan province crumbled on Monday

TEHRAN: Iranian police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse protesters in the southwestern city of Abadan where a tower block collapse killed 28 people, local media reported on Saturday.
A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in Abadan, Khuzestan province, crumbled on Monday in one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years.
It was the third night of protests in Abadan and other cities of the province which borders Iraq, local media reported.
Security forces in Abadan “used tear gas and shot in the air near the collapse site” on Friday night to disperse hundreds of protesters, who were mourning the lives lost and demanding justice for the perpetrators of the incident, Fars news agency said.
A number of people shouted “death to incompetent officials” and “incompetent officials must be executed,” similar to calls in protests on Wednesday and Thursday nights, it added.
Elsewhere in Khuzestan another protest, in the city of Bandar-e Mahshahr, saw people chanting while banging on traditional drums and hitting cymbals, images published by Fars showed.
People also took to the streets further afield including in the central Iranian cities of Isfahan, Yazd and Shahin Shahr on Friday to express sympathy with the victims of the tragedy, Fars news agency said.
On Thursday night, a shop in Abadan belonging to the family of the building’s owner “was set on fire and destroyed by unknown individuals,” Tasnim news agency reported earlier.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who is in Abadan, said on Saturday that “two more bodies were recovered” and sent for identification, raising the death toll to 28, according to state news agency IRNA.
Officials, however, have not announced how many are people still trapped under the rubble.
The number of suspects has also risen.
Khuzestan’s provincial judiciary said on Saturday that 13 people have now been arrested in relation with the incident, including the mayor and two former mayors, IRNA said.
In a statement posted on his official website on Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for those responsible to be prosecuted and punished.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber told state television that “widespread corruption existed between the contractor, the builder, the supervisor and the licensing system.”
In January 2017, 22 people, including 16 firefighters, died in a blaze that engulfed the 15-story Plasco shopping center in Tehran.


Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court

Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court
Updated 28 May 2022

Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court

Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court
  • Rached Ghannouchi heads the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party that has dominated Tunisia’s post-revolution politics

TUNIS: A Tunisian court has imposed a travel ban on the speaker of the country’s now-dissolved parliament, a court spokeswoman said.
The interdiction against Rached Ghannouchi is part of an inquiry into alleged obstruction of justice in connection with the assassination in 2013 of two left-wing figures, the court spokesman said on Friday.
The travel ban was imposed on “34 suspects in this case, including Rached Ghannouchi,” Fatima Bouqtaya, spokeswoman for the court in the Tunis suburb of Ariana, told AFP.
Ghannouchi heads the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party that has dominated Tunisia’s post-revolution politics.
Ghannouchi, 81, is a fierce critic of President Kais Saied who in July 2021 suspended the Ennahdha-dominated parliament, sacked the prime minister and assumed executive powers.
Saied then dissolved parliament in March this year. His moves have stoked fears of a return to autocracy in a country where a revolution in 2011 triggered the pro-democracy Arab Spring movement in the wider region.
Tunisia’s judiciary in January opened an investigation against the suspects for allegedly “concealing information” linked to the killing nine years ago of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.
The Daesh group claimed both killings but Ennahdha critics including a brother of one of the victims accused the party of having “manipulated and slowed down” the case.


US, Netherlands back UN aim to raise $144 million for Yemen’s Safer tanker emergency operation

US, Netherlands back UN aim to raise $144 million for Yemen’s Safer tanker emergency operation
Updated 28 May 2022

US, Netherlands back UN aim to raise $144 million for Yemen’s Safer tanker emergency operation

US, Netherlands back UN aim to raise $144 million for Yemen’s Safer tanker emergency operation
  • In the event of an oil spill, the cleanup alone is expected to cost $20 billion

The US and the Netherlands support UN efforts to address and avert the economic, environmental, and humanitarian threats posed by Yemen’s Safer oil tanker in the Red Sea region.

Dutch Ambassador to the US André Haspels hosted a meeting joined by US Special Envoy Lenderking, Yemeni Ambassador to the US Mohammed Al-Hadrami and representatives from the diplomatic community in Washington, on Friday.

They stressed the importance of raising $144 million to fund the UN’s operational plan, which includes $80 million for an emergency operation to offload the oil from the decaying tanker to a temporary vessel, an official joint statement said.

At a pledging event co-hosted by the UN and the Netherlands earlier this month, nearly half the funds required for the emergency operation were raised, but more was urgently needed to move forward.

Safer is a rapidly decaying and the unstable oil tanker that could leak, spill or explode at any time and could severely disrupt shipping routes in the Gulf region and other industries across the Red Sea, unleash an environmental disaster and worsen the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

By October, high winds and volatile currents will make the UN operation more dangerous and increase the risk of the ship breaking apart. In the event of a spill, the cleanup alone is expected to cost $20 billion.

“We urge public and private donors to consider generous contributions to help prevent a leak, spill, or explosion, whose effects would destroy livelihoods, tourism, and commerce in one of the world’s vital shipping lanes,” the statement read.

Last month, Lenderking and Dutch Ambassador to Yemen Peter Derrek Hof joined UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly on a trip in the Gulf to increase awareness of the imminent risks the Safer poses to the entire region.

“The international community, private sector included, must take action now to address the imminent threats posed by the Safer,” the statement said.


Turkey captures the new leader of Daesh in Istanbul raid

Turkey is keen to up the ante against its NATO allies in order to show its commitment to counterterrorism efforts. (AFP)
Turkey is keen to up the ante against its NATO allies in order to show its commitment to counterterrorism efforts. (AFP)
Updated 28 May 2022

Turkey captures the new leader of Daesh in Istanbul raid

Turkey is keen to up the ante against its NATO allies in order to show its commitment to counterterrorism efforts. (AFP)
  • Ankara aligning with Western security priorities to remind NATO allies of common terror threats, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Turkey captured the new leader of the militant group Daesh in a raid in Istanbul, local media claimed on Thursday.

Turkish dissident news website Oda TV claimed Abu Al-Hasan Al-Hashimi Al-Qurayshi was caught in an operation directed by Istanbul’s police chief, Zafer Aktas, after days of surveillance and preparation, though no official statement has yet been made.
According to Turkish press reports, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to unveil details of the operation in the coming days.
The previous leader of Daesh, Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurayshi, was killed in northwestern Syria on Feb. 3 by US forces.
In recent months, Turkish police have systematically carried out raids against Daesh cells across the country. Earlier in May, a prospective suicide bomber allegedly linked to the group was arrested in Urfa on the Syrian border, while three more people were detained the same week in Bursa.
On Thursday, another Daesh member was shot dead by police while allegedly trying to blow himself up in front of the police department in the southeastern province of Gaziantep.
Experts note that this most recent operation could be used as leverage by Ankara to up the ante against its NATO allies in order to show its commitment to counterterrorism efforts.

It is not a coincidence that Ankara allegedly captured the top figure of Daesh amid ongoing debates about NATO enlargement and Turkey’s accusations against some Nordic countries about their alleged support of terror groups.

Soner Cagaptay, Analyst

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, thinks that the timing of the operation in Istanbul is telling.
“It is not a coincidence that Ankara allegedly captured the top figure of Daesh amid ongoing debates about NATO enlargement and Turkey’s accusations against some Nordic countries about their alleged support of terror groups,” he told Arab News.
According to Cagaptay, Turkey is aligning with Western security priorities and trying to remind its NATO allies that it helps them against common terror threats.
Turkey is also part of the large international coalition of nations that has spent years fighting Daesh.
During the latest ministerial meeting of the coalition in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also brought up Turkey’s own concerns, saying the fight against Daesh cannot be won with the help of other terror groups.
This was widely interpreted as a reference to Kurdish groups such as the People’s Protection Forces, or YPG, which has received some support from Sweden, which is applying to join NATO — a move Turkey is, as a result, opposing.
“This latest operation in Istanbul is instrumental for Ankara to urge the Western alliance that it is now their turn to understand Turkey’s domestic terrorism concerns that cover not only Daesh but also other terror groups including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party — PKK — and its Syrian offshoot YPG,” Cagaptay said.
The reported capture of Al-Qurayshi also coincided with the gathering of the National Security Council, chaired by Erdogan, on Thursday, where details of Turkey’s impending operation against YPG militants in northern Syria was discussed.   
“The operations currently carried out, or to be carried out, in order to clear our southern borders from the threat of terrorism, do not in any way target the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our neighbors and they pose a necessity for our national security needs,” the meeting’s final communique said.
Ankara believes it faces security threats from Manbij, Ain Al-Arab and the Tal Rifat district of Aleppo, which it considers bases for hostile groups.
Erdogan announced on Monday that he would launch the offensive into northern Syria to push back the YPG, and secure a 30 kilometer safe zone to settle Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.
However, a potential military operation — after three previous offensives — does not seem to have received approval from the US for the time being.
“We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on Turkey’s southern border, but any new offensive would further undermine regional stability and put at risk US forces and the coalition’s campaign against ISIS (Daesh),” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on May 24 in a press briefing.
Colin P. Clarke, director of research at The Soufan Group, thinks that anti-Daesh operations in Turkey can have a significant impact on the group’s presence in the region.
“Even when Daesh still held its territorial ‘caliphate,’ it was dispatching operatives to Turkey to lay the groundwork for financial and logistical support networks. Those networks have paid off for Daesh, as it’s allowed the leadership consistent access to money,” he told Arab News.
According to Clarke, the Turkish government should be incentivized to crack down even harder on Daesh, but there is some concern about a backlash, including terror attacks inside Turkey.
Daesh members have carried out a number of attacks across the country, including at least 10 suicide bombings, seven bombings, and four armed attacks, which have killed 315 people and injured hundreds of others to date.