The current regime with much more hostile policies in comparison with the previous Pahlavi system, has continued to carry out the ethnic cleansing policies through altering the demographic makeup of Ahwaz in south west of the country. In this era, the policy of changing the population structure of Ahwazi areas in numerous forms has been widely implemented. Among the means of forcible displacement and population transfer deployed by the Iranian regime against Ahwazi Arab peoples is to cut off or divert water resources from Ahwazi areas, forcing the peoples out of the affected areas in order to survive.
More than 10 villages are located in the oil-rich region “Crete” of Ahwaz city, but these rural communities are systematically subjected to harsh colonialism and even are deprived of having access to drinking water. The great degree of state -sponsored oppression imposed on the Ahwazi Arab rural communities apparently aims at erasing these people from their homeland.
The local inhabitants say that the suffering of Arab people in these rural areas is beyond description. They believe that their situation resembles that of the people of the African continent due to the difficulty of living a prosperous life without having a source of income or employment. 90 percent of the Ahwazi Arab people in rural areas are suffering from poverty and extremely low incomes. They are overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture and fishing for their food but these people have been left with no alternative source of income after their entire arable lands were forcibly confiscated by regime officials without any compensation. As a result, they are vulnerable to crisis and many of them migrated to cities seeking jobs that also require them living in shanty areas.
In an interview with the local people of the area, many had said: “most villages in the country may be lacking water piping, but the plight of these rural communities is a slightly different story. Let us start from the last 150 years, when the villages were enjoying the rain and divine blessings, and villagers were farming and involved in livestock.” “The villages did not have any water piping, but water wells, and blessed by seasonal rain there was enough for drinking and dry land farming. The bliss of the local people and their rural lifestyle ended at the time of the extensive discovery of oil in this agricultural region, the name of “fertile agricultural region” later has been replaced by “oil-rich region” due to its vast oil reserves.” “Oil installations, giant oil rigs for drilling wells, large pumps with thick pipes and numerous heavy machines were sent to excavate and engage in processing in the area. The entireties of the flat and arable lands were punctured by oil wells.” “Farming and growing wheat and barley in the entirety of the agricultural lands were suspended and stopped and were replaced by oil prospecting projects, because oil is more expensive than wheat and brings more revenues for the country. However, the Ahwazi Arab villagers gained nothing from it but pollution and its devastating ecological consequences.”
The authorities dominating the installations and oil and gas of Karoon companies in the Crete region forcibly expropriated the farmlands of the local Arab people and then without any permission of the local villagers and without giving any compensation to them, embarked on vast oil prospecting campaigns. However, the local Arab people had no right to protest because their voice was not being heard anywhere. After losing their farmlands, the local population remained without any source of living, grappling with intense poverty and destitution that cannot be described. They were also denied the possibility of working in the oil and gas companies around their villages. There is not one local Arab worker there, all of them are none-Arabs from other provinces who are employed and fully supported by the government.
Most of the young people in these villages are unemployed, a few of them had to sell all they have to buy a car and work as taxi drivers in Ahwaz city. The villages in this area have three elementary schools with hardly any chairs and desks and nothing by way of comfort save for a few rattling ceiling fans. The schools are left entirely neglected even without having running water, air conditioning and ventilation and as a result, the poor students have to bear very stifling and scorching heat as the temperatures have reached up to 50 degree Celsius here. Each of three schools have only one toilet and one water tank, and the drinking water is unhealthy and not suitable for human consumption.
Some students who want to study beyond primary level must go to Ahwaz city at a distance of 40Km but due to poor, narrow and unpaved roads and lack of cars and rare transportation, the majority of the students, often girls, quit the schools. The cruel thing is that access roads to the villages in this region all lead to one freeway that is controlled by police so, if one wants to go to Ahwaz city by their own car or other vehicles, they are forced to pay fees to the police.
People say that the most serious problem of the village is the lack of water in these communities, which are actually causing the living conditions to be very difficult and painful. In some years as a result of the severe drought, we do not have any water supply and water wells that were dug throughout history all are running dry. It is often mentioned that due to the region’s oil wells, we are not allowed to dig deep water wells and we are allowed to use only the remaining water supply. People are gradually selling their livestock because there is no source of water for humans, let alone for animals. The drying of agricultural lands and the impossibility of irrigation and cultivation have caused our farmlands to become completely barren lands. With the frequent dust storms, due to no cultivation to keep the dust particles down, the entire lives of villagers are influenced by a constant battle with unhealthy dust particles. This brings about respiratory disease to humans and even our domestic animals are ill and coughing chronically, with many of them perishing as a result. Another problem is lack of clinics in the villages. For emergency cases, the patient should be referred to the city, while there is a well-equipped Hospital of Crete in the region, but villagers are not allowed to enter it, let alone receive medical treatment in it because the hospital exclusively provides treatment for the staff of oil companies and their family members.
People are employed in oil companies from everywhere in the country with the exception of the Ahwazi Arabs. One of the villagers, with a painful sigh said, “we are in hell, in real hell, all the villagers want to migrate, but the money is needed and they do not have money they want to emigrate to rescue their lives from the suffocating air pollution, the thirstiness and lack of water as well as long years of lack of any source to make a living.”
Another Ahwazi village which is very deprived area is named Mlygt, which is surrounded by oil wells. Its environment is extremely polluted, and many of the villagers are afflicted by cancer. The village, with a population of 554 people, is located 25 km from Ahwaz. Despite the 140 oil wells surrounding the village, the population’s share of this wealth is extreme poverty, pollution and epidemic diseases. The local people are numbed with appalling miseries and large scale deprivation. 10% of the 50 graves in the cemetery of the village belong to those who have died in the past few years due to cancer and respiratory problems, before reaching the age of 40. The factories which are established there are working on Completion and Stimulation Fluids and the process used is that of “acidification,” which actually the use of acids is in high volume and high pressure to stimulate oil production. These oil factories produce many kinds of petroleum derivatives. The factories are sub-national oil drilling companies that discharge all the dangerous and untreated pollutants near the passage of drinking water serving the village. Many oil and gas pipelines in the region are too worn, rusty, corroded and damaged. From time to time we have witnessed an explosion of one of the pipes. Ridiculously, the security forces blame the local people and accuse them of conducting sabotage or vandalism instead of admitting to the erosion of the pipes, after every explosion, they launched mass arbitrary arrest campaigns against our poor sons. Our suffering matches the old saying, “uneaten soup and burned mouth”. One elderly villager added: “With the explosion in the pipes, the area will be like a battlefield, as the villagers have to evacuate their homes for days due to risks of the blasts near their villages. Living in this area is very dangerous, we are worried about our children getting sick. The pollution caused by the smoke of oil installations is already toxic, in addition to that we fear that occurring explosion incidents in the pipes claim their lives. Our kids have become sick from the oil facilities based near our villages and only five of patients of our village have cancer, two of whom are children, and last year one child died and the other is a 12-year-old who has been receiving treatment for 8 years in the Shafa hospital, the only hospital for treating cancer in the whole region.”
“Regarding recruitment and job opportunities in the oil, gas and petrochemical companies in the neighboring village, people said that the companies are recruiting a lot of people from other central regions of the country but we are entirely denied working there, we cannot dare approach the gates of these companies as they are heavily guarded and the guards face us with electric batons, shouting racist and derogatory anti-Arab terms. The authorities employed many people for enhancing the security and safety of the oil, gas and water pipes of the companies, but there is no Arab local to be found among them. While the pipeline passes through the villages and the villagers can easily protect it from any damage.”
Regarding the problem of lack of water of the villages, people say “more than three water pipes having the diameter of 20 inches have been laid for the petrochemical and cooling facility of the companies, we repeatedly asked the authorities to give us a small branch of these water pipes to meet our daily needs but they refused. The water after cooling petrochemical plants is released into a hole dug next to the facility. It has become like a huge lake containing adverse toxic materials with a noxious smell. In these companies there is nothing called waste treatment, as a result the waste generated at the facilities will be brought in the villages and our villages have become the dustbin for these oil companies. Our lands were so green but now they have turned into a dustbins and salt marshes.” “Gas pipes from these companies have been conveying to all the regions of the country and even stretching abroad but the villages lack piped gas. In relation to the roads, people asked the authorities working in the surrounding companies to pave the roads for us but they refused and said it is not our business. So, the local people at their expense and with their participation, paved the roads leading to their villages. People said that the oppression that is inflicted upon them cannot be found anywhere in this area, there more than 150 oil wells and gas drilling, but none of the villages in this region have domestic gas for home consumption and the people are deliberately kept in large scale deprivation and exclusion, which forces them to migrate and abandon their land.”
Rahim Hamid, Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist