The persecution of the Ahwaz

Why Netanyahu should recognize an independent Ahwaz state.

Rachel Avraham

OpEds Village Kang in mountains near Mashhad, Iran
Village Kang in mountains near Mashhad, Iran

In 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the brave step of recognizing the right of the Kurds to establish an independent state.  Even though their independence movement was thwarted and no one else in the international community took a similar step, history proved that Netanyahu made the correct decision in recognizing the right of an oppressed people - truly oppressed and truly a people - to have a nation of their own.  And now, it would be prudent if Netanyahu would take a similar measure on behalf of the Ahwaz people, even if no one else in the international community will follow suite.

The Ahwaz nation, like the Kurds, presently live under the tyranny of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a sworn enemy of the State of Israel.  Like the Kurds, they too wish to have a nation of their own.  Although their cause has only received a fraction of the publicity that the Kurds got, this does not take away from the justness of their cause. 

Like the Kurds, the Ahwaz people are oppressed by Iran for they are non-Persian Sunnis, who aspire to have a future free of the reign of the mullah’s.  Like the Kurds, they are more liberal on women’s rights and do not share the Iranian mullah’s Islamist vision.  

There are Jews living among the Ahwaz and they also face discrimination: “The Jewish minority in Ahwaz cannot practice their religion freely and they hide their religious identity because they fear that they will be persecuted by the Iranian regime..."
Ahwaz activist Manel Msalmi, who recently organized a human rights conference in the EU Parliament in Brussels on the plight of the Ahwaz, stated in an exclusive interview: “Recognizing the right of the Ahwaz nation to statehood would support putting the peoples destiny back in their hands.   For a democracy, this is very important.  It is a move that will support their economic independence, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, women’s rights and children’s rights. Furthermore, Iran is a huge enemy of the Arab countries.” 

She argued that if Israel supports Ahwaz independence, it will help Israel engage in outreach to other Arab countries.   

The Ahwaz people are an Arabic speaking Sunni nation.  They have nothing culturally in common with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  “Ahwaz was colonized by Iran in 1925,” Msalmi noted.  “The people are living in poverty and were deprived of their resources.  They are discriminated against economically.   They are treated like second class citizens.  They are denied their own identity and their own language.  Ahwaz women also face persecution.  They are arrested because they support Ahwaz human rights.  There is a case of an Ahwaz pregnant woman, who was mistreated in prison.”  

“There are dozens of women in prison, just because they married Sunnis,” she added.  “Dozens of those who are in prison were arrested just because they are the sisters of activists.  The sister of Nasser Aziz, one of the Ahwaz leaders, was arrested just because she is a member of his family.   Fahima Badawi was a teacher who was imprisoned for 12 years just because her husband was an Ahwaz activist.”

Msalmi related that there are Jews living among the Ahwaz and they also face discrimination: “The Jewish minority in Ahwaz cannot practice their religion freely and they hide their religious identity because they fear that they will be persecuted by the Iranian regime. They are not permitted to leave the country.” 

She also noted that the Christian minority that lives among the Ahwaz similarly faces oppression by the Iranian regime: “There is no freedom of religion.  Iran wants to impose Shiism on the Ahwaz.   They deny the identity of a whole population.” 

Just recently, a number of Ahwaz activists were arrested in Denmark, allegedly for spying for Saudi Arabia.  Msalmi hinted that these were charges fabricated by the Iranian regime.  Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, stated in an exclusive interview: “We are surprised by the arrest of the leaders of the Arab Ahwaz by the Danish authorities claiming espionage in favor of Saudi Arabia due to information transmitted by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which aggressively violates the rights of the Ahwaz.   I urge the Danish government to release the Ahwaz leaders immediately and to prevent any harm to them due to their activities on behalf of the Ahwaz, and to ensure their safety and protect them from being harmed by the Iranian regime." 

"We know that the Iranian regime uses covert agents posing as refugees across Europe.  It is hoped that a nation that cares about human rights will prevent them from being used to exact revenge against Iran’s opponents, as it can be a dangerous precedent for all freedom fighters who flee from repressive regimes to the free world.”  

Prior to that incident, the Gulf European Centre for Human Rights issued a report on the plight of the Ahwaz, proclaiming: “The Iranian authorities committed a heinous massacre in the city of Mashour in Al Ahwaz on November 17, 2019 when a large number of Arab citizens participated in peaceful demonstrations demanding the cessation of Iranian policies to marginalize and impoverish the Ahwaz people.  As one young woman explained, ‘They sprayed the chests of unarmed protesters with bullets.’   New statistics showed that the number of deaths reached 1,500 people.”  

Issues such as this were discussed in the EU Parliament prior to Denmark arresting the Ahwaz leaders.  According to Msalmi, “I think that they are targeted for speaking about their cause in the EU Parliament.  There is a lot of pressure from the Iranian regime in the EU Parliament.”

Should Netanyahu recognize Ahwaz independence at this time, he would be showing the world that he does not support Iran’s covert activities in Europe, which seeks to frame peaceful Ahwaz activists for crimes that they did not commit.  He would also be hinting to the Arab countries that they have much to gain by overlooking Mahmoud Abbas’ objections to the ‘deal of the century” and to cooperate with Israel on Iran, regardless of the situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. 

Furthermore, if Ahwaz breaks off from Iran, that will weaken the Shia Crescent and could empower the Kurds to follow suit despite the lack of support in the international community.  This would thus strengthen Israel’s regional coalition against the Islamist regime in Iran.  For these reasons, Netanyahu should recognize the right of the Ahwaz to form an independent state at the soonest possible date.  

Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based human rights lawyer, represents the AHWAZI Human Rights Movement against Iran regime's human rights abuses and oppression. In accordance with her request, International Attorney Mordechai Tzivin joined her in the above-mentioned activities