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

LONDON: In November 1914, Sheikh Khazaal, the final ruler of the autonomous Arab state of Arabistan, might have been forgiven for considering the troubles of his folks have been over.

Oil had been found on his lands, promising to rework the fortunes of the Ahwazi folks, and Britain stood prepared to ensure their proper to autonomy. In actuality, the troubles of the Ahwazi have been simply starting.

Inside a decade, Sheikh Khazaal was underneath arrest in Tehran, the title Arabistan had been wiped from the map, and the Ahwazi Arabs of Iran had fallen sufferer to a brutal oppression that continues to this present day.

For hundreds of years, Arab tribes had dominated a big tract of land in right now’s western Iran. Al-Ahwaz, as their descendants comprehend it right now, prolonged north over 600 km alongside the east financial institution of the Shatt Al-Arab, and down all the japanese littoral of the Gulf, as far south because the Strait of Hormuz. 

Nevertheless, the unbiased standing of Arabistan was struck a blow in 1848 by the geopolitical maneuverings of its highly effective neighbors. With the Treaty of Erzurum, the Ottoman empire agreed to acknowledge “the complete sovereign rights of the Persian authorities” to Arabistan. The Arab tribes whose lands have been so casually signed away weren’t consulted.

Inside 10 years, nonetheless, Sheikh Khazaal’s predecessor, Sheikh Jabir, had discovered a robust buddy — the British Empire. 

Commerce within the Gulf was important for Britain’s pursuits in India and Sheikh Jabir was seen as a precious ally, particularly after his help for the British in the course of the brief Anglo-Persian warfare of 1856-1857 through which Britain repelled Tehran’s makes an attempt to grab Herat in neighboring Afghanistan.

Eager to take care of Afghanistan as a buffer, the British had backed the emir of Herat’s independence. Now, it appeared, Queen Victoria’s authorities meant to do the identical for the sheikh of Arabistan.

Learn our full interactive Deep Dive on the Ahwazi Arabs and their traumatic historical past in Iran right here

The British opened a vice-consulate at Mohammerah in 1888. By 1897, by which era Sheikh Khazaal had turn into the ruler of what the British known as the Sheikhdom of Mohammerah, imperial Britain was closely invested in Arabistan.

As a British International Workplace abstract of dealings with Sheikh Khazaal put it, “a necessary a part of British coverage within the Gulf was the institution of fine relations and the conclusion of treaties with the assorted Arab rulers, and the sheikhs of Mohammerah, controlling territory on the head of the Gulf, thus got here very prominently into the final scheme.”

With the would possibly of the British at his again, Sheikh Khazaal gave the impression to be steering Arabistan towards a vibrant, unbiased future.

However, in 1903, the Shah of Iran, Muzaffar Al-Din, formally acknowledged the lands as his in perpetuity. Then, in 1908, huge reserves of oil have been discovered on the sheikh’s land at Masjid-i-Sulaiman.

By 1897, by which era Sheikh Khazaal (pictured) had turn into the ruler of what the British known as the Sheikhdom of Mohammerah, imperial Britain was closely invested in Arabistan. (Provided)

In 1910, after a minor conflict between Arabistan and Ottoman forces on the Shatt Al-Arab, Britain despatched a warship to Mohammerah, “to counteract a certain quantity of lack of status suffered by the sheikh and likewise to make an indication in face of the expansion of Turkish ambitions within the Arabian Gulf space.”

On board was Sir Percy Cox, the British political resident within the Gulf. In a ceremony on the Palace of Fallahiyah on Oct. 15, 1910, he offered the sheikh with reassurances of Britain’s steadfast help, 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 best imperial energy of the time to protect his autonomy and shield Arabistan from the Persian authorities.

Within the letter, dated Nov. 22, 1914, the British envoy wrote that he was now approved “to guarantee your excellency personally that no matter change might happen within the type of the federal government of Persia, His Majesty’s authorities can be ready to afford you the help vital for acquiring a passable answer, each to your self and to us, within the occasion of any encroachment by the Persian authorities in your jurisdiction and acknowledged rights, or in your property in Persia.”

Learn our full interactive Deep Dive on the Ahwazi Arabs and their traumatic historical past in Iran right here

In truth, all of Britain’s assurances would show nugatory and, simply 10 years later, Arabistan’s hopes of independence could be shattered.

The issue was oil. The Arabs had it, the Persians needed it. And when it got here to the crunch, the British, regardless of all their guarantees of help, selected to again the Persians.

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

Reza Khan, as a British report of 1946 would later concede, “was finally personally liable for the sheikh’s full downfall.” 

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

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

“He eyed Arabistan not solely as a result of it was the one remaining province that had not but been penetrated by the authority of central authorities but additionally as a result of he had come to understand the potential of Arabistan’s oil trade to offer much-needed revenues,” Mueller wrote. 

Sheikh Khazaal requested for Britain’s safety, invoking the numerous assurances he had been given. As an alternative, he was disregarded, and reminded of his “obligations to the Persian authorities.” 

Time was operating out for the Arabs. In a despatch despatched to London on Sept. 4, 1922, Sir Percy Loraine, British envoy to Iran, wrote “it could be preferable to cope with a powerful central authority quite than with numerous native rulers” in Persia. This, he added, “would contain a loosening of our relationships with such native rulers.”

In August 1924, the Persian authorities knowledgeable Sheikh Khazaal that the pledge of autonomy he had received from Muzaffar Al-Din in 1903 was not legitimate. The sheikh appealed to the British for assist, however was once more rebuffed.

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

Learn our full interactive Deep Dive on the Ahwazi Arabs and their traumatic historical past in Iran right here

The British authorities was “now in an embarrassing place” due to “the providers which the sheikh had rendered them up to now.” However, for worry of Russian incursion in Persia, Britain had now determined firmly to help the central authorities in Tehran.

The Ahwazi have been on their very own.

On April 18, 1925, Sheikh Khazaal and his son, Abdul Hamid, have been arrested and brought to Tehran, the place the final ruler of Arabistan would spend the remaining 11 years of his life underneath home arrest. The title “Arabistan” was expunged from historical past and the territories of the Ahwaz lastly absorbed into Persian provinces. 

Khazaal’s final days have been spent in futile negotiations with Tehran, marked, the British famous, by a collection of “gross breaches of religion on the a part of the central authorities, which had clearly no intention of finishing up the guarantees given to the sheikh.”

The Persians, concluded the British, “have been clearly merely ready for the sheikh to die.” That wait ended in the course of the night time of Might 24, 1936. 

Within the virtually 100 years because the Ahwazi folks misplaced their autonomy, they’ve skilled persecution and cultural oppression in virtually each stroll of life. Dams divert water from the Karun and different rivers for the advantage of Persian provinces of Iran, Arabic is banned in colleges, whereas the names of cities and villages have lengthy been Persianized. On world maps, the historic Arab port of Mohammerah turned Khorramshahr.

Protests are met with violent repression. Numerous residents working to maintain the flame of Arab tradition alive have been arrested, disappeared, tortured, executed or gunned down at checkpoints. 

Many Ahwazi who sought sanctuary abroad are working to convey the plight of the Ahwazi to the eye of the world. Even in exile, nonetheless, they don’t seem to be protected.

Ahmad Mola Nissi, one of many founders of the Arab Battle Motion for the Liberation of Ahwaz, fled Iran together with his spouse and youngsters and sought asylum within the Netherlands in 2005. (Provided)

In 2005, Ahmad Mola Nissi, one of many founders of the Arab Battle Motion for the Liberation of Ahwaz, fled Iran together with his spouse and youngsters and sought asylum within the Netherlands. On Nov. 8, 2017, he was shot lifeless outdoors his dwelling within the Hague by an unknown murderer.

In June 2005, Karim Abdian, director of a Virginia-based NGO, the Ahwaz Schooling and Human Rights Basis, appealed to the UN Sub-Fee on the Promotion and Safety of Human Rights.

The Ahwazi, he mentioned, had been subjected to “political, cultural, social and financial subjugation, and are handled as second and third-class residents,” each by the Iranian monarchy up to now and by the present clerical regime. However, they nonetheless had “religion within the worldwide neighborhood’s capability to current a simply and a viable answer to resolve this battle peacefully.”

Sixteen years later, Abdian despairs of seeing any enchancment within the place of his folks. “I don’t see any means out at the moment,” he advised Arab Information, although he goals of self-determination for the Ahwazi in a federalist Iran.

Within the meantime, “as an Ahwazi Arab, you can’t even give your little one an Arabic title. So, this nation, which owns the land that at the moment produces 80 p.c of the oil, 65 p.c of the gasoline and 35 p.c of the water of Iran, lives in abject poverty.”