AHVAZ (KHOUZESTAN-IRAN) 20 Apr. (IPS) Unrests continued unabated in the oil rich Iranian province of Khouzestan, with local and international sources putting the death toll at about 30 people, including seven revolutionary guards and security men in plain clothes and the number of injured at five hundreds.
Though the authorities insist that they have the full control of the situation and calm had been restored, but an Interior Ministry’s spokesman confirmed on Monday some media’s reports that at least 2 more people had died on Sunday in clashes with security forces in the port of Mahshahr, increasing the number of dead at five people, according to official accounts.
According to the government, troubles in this south-western region of Iran situated on the borders with Iraq started last week after the distribution of a letter, attributed to Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the former Vice-president for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs calling for a “total persianisation” of the Province that is dominated by Iranians of Arab ethnic speaking an Arabic dialect of their own.
Troubles in this south-western region of Iran started last week after the distribution of a letter, attributed to Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the former Vice-president for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs calling for a “total persianisation” of the Province.
As a result, people turned their wrath on government, attacked banks, public buildings and properties, set fire on buses and burned tires in the streets of major cities and localities.
In the alleged letter, dated mid 1999 and addressed to Mr. Mohammad Ali Najafi, the then Head of Iran’s Budget and Planning Organisation, the mild, moderate and smiling Abtahi proposes, among other measures aimed at changing the population balance of the region, to transfer the Arabs to other areas of the country and changing into Persian the names of localities bearing Arabic names etc..
But a spokesman for the London-based Democratic Popular Front of Ahvazi Arabs had told the “Aljazira” Television of the Persian Gulf Emirate of Qatar that security forces had opened fire on the people participating at a peaceful demonstration called by the Front to protest “80 years of Iranian occupation” of the Province”.
The statement provoked the anger of the Iranian government that immediately ordered the “temporary” closure of the Television’s offices in Tehran.
“If it is proved that Al Jazira has committed a crime, it would be banned permanently and prosecuted”, the official Iranian news agency IRNA had quoted Mr. Mohammad Hoseyn Khoshvaqt, the General Director of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry as having warned.
For his part, Hojjatoleslam Ali Younesi, the Information (Intelligence) Minister blamed the violence on “foreign-based groups and televisions seeking to destabilize the Islamic Republic”, hinting, like several conservative lawmakers, indirectly at “Al Jazira”, the first media to report the clashes.
But as the Interior Minister, Hojjatoleslam Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari described the bloody incidents in Khouzestan as “a plot that has its roots outside the country”, Dr. Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of the outgoing President and leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the reformist’s main stream political formation accused the ruling conservatives for the dissemination of the faked letter in order to damage the chances of Mr. Mostafa Mo’in, the reformist’s leading candidate for the coming presidential elections due next June.
Whatever the reasons, political analysts and experts says the recent disturbances have their origins in both the antagonism of all Iranian religious and ethnic minorities with the fascistic and apartheid nature of the Shi’a-based Islamic Republic in the one hand and the growing unpopularity of the regime with the quasi majority of the Iranians on the other.
Iran is encircled by ethnic minorities like the Azeris on the Northwest, sharing borders with Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan; the Kurds and the Arabs on the West, bordering with Iraq, the Balouchs on the frontiers with Pakistan and Afghanistan and finally the Turkmen, a tiny ethnic on the borders with Turkmenistan.
With the notable exception of Azeris and some Arabs, all other ethnics are Sunnis Muslims considering the Shi’a as heretics.
For their part, the Shi’as loath the Sunnis. Until some three decades ago, the birthday of Omar, Muslims first Caliph, was the occasion in most households in Iran for Sunni-bashing that included the burning of effigies of Omar and chanting anti Omar songs
However, the Iranian Sunnis form a minority that has the worst of the situations since as Muslims, they can not be considered as a minority but at the same time they do not enjoys the same rights as the Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, which are officially recognized by the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, allowing them one representative at the Majles, the Iranian Parliament.
A spokesman for the London-based Democratic Popular Front of Ahvazi Arabs had told the “Aljazira” Television that security forces had opened fire on the people participating at a peaceful demonstration called by the Front to protest “80 years of Iranian occupation” of the Province”.
Contrary to claims, by both Iranian officials and some spokesmen of the ethnics, most of them self-appointed and acting as agent provocateurs for foreign powers, the demands are mostly cultural and social than separation. Even the Iranian Kurds that for decades fought for a Kurdish State have abandoned the idea longtime ago.
“What they (the ethnic minorities) want is the legitimate rights to teaching, write and read in their native languages, open cultural, social and religious activities, a greater share in running the economy of the regions they are in domination etc..”, experts observed.
But every time the minorities voices their criticism against the regime one way or the another, they are dealt harshly by the regime’s thugs, as seen recently in Iranian Kurdish areas where security forces attacked the population that was manifesting peacefully its joy over the election of Mr. Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of (Iraqi) Kurdistan as the first ever Iraqi President of Kurdish extract.
That might explain why more than 150 lawmakers have demanded the government to launch an immediate investigation over the troubles in Khouzestan, order Law Enforcement and security forces to better harness their members during popular manifestations and release all “innocent detainees”.
At the same time, some Iranian journalists and intellectuals have called on the authorities to review the closure of Al Jazira’s office, as also demanded by the Television that “regretted” the decision and confirmed that it would continue with its policy of reporting “based on diversity of opinions and coverage of Iranian affaires”, denying Mr. Younesis’ allegations that the “trouble makers were linked to outside-based groups and television stations”.
In the early months after the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the region was the theatre of violent clashes between Iranian forces and fighters of the so-called Front for the Liberation of Arabistan, a group backed by Iraq seeking the separation of Khouzestan from mainland Iran.
Commanded by Admiral Ahmad Madani, the Governor of the Province, the fighting lasted several days before the heavily armed Arabs, some of them Iraqi soldiers, were defeated and calm restored.
But 26 latter and despite the toppling of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’thist regime by the Americans and despite the election of a pro-Iranian Kurd to the presidency of Iraq and a Parliament and Government controlled by the Shi’ites in Baghdad, Iran and Iraq continue to accuse each other for intervening in their mutual interior affaires, as seen by recent declaration from eleven Iraqi political parties and groups denouncing Iran of being behind insurgent and terrorist groups in Iraq.
As expected, the United States charged the Islamic Republic with suppressing violently” Arab and other minorities and called on Tehran to exercise “more restraint in dealing with them”, according to Adam Ereli, a spokesman for the State Department.
However, as unrests continued unabatted by Wednesday in Ahvaz, Mahshahr, Khorramshahr, Abadan and other localities, leaving scores of injuries in clashes with the security forces trying to open roads and railways that had been blocked by demonstrators, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the Defence Minister, in a visit to the region on Wednesday 20 April, warned against the utilization of the incidents by foreigners accusing the Islamic Republic of ignoring the rights of its people, particularly the minorities.
“The Arabs of Iran are Iranian above all and have demonstrated their fidelity to the Islamic Republic and its leadership and they had been on the forefront of the Islamic Revolution and during the holly War (against Iraq)”, he observed, assuring that Iranian authorities have no intention of changing the ethnic balance of the province in favour of non-Arab Iranians. ENDS KHOUZESTAN UNRESTS 20405