Following are excerpts from a debate on the Arabs of the Al-Ahwaz province in Iran, which aired on ANB TV on September 7, 2007.
Musa Al-Sharifi of the Al-Ahwaz Democratic Solidarity Party: With regard to our Arab region of Al-Ahwaz, the [Iranian] government's policy is to expropriate lands, to deport the indigenous Arab inhabitants to other regions, and to replace them with people from the Persian provinces of central Iran.
Interviewer: How is this done? The Arabs own the lands, which are expropriated by government decree, or what?
Musa Al-Sharifi: Yes, this process began in the days of the Shah with the sugar cane projects and so on. They would take the lands from the Arab farmers and establish on them camps for the army or the security agencies, or fictitious economic projects and so on. This process began in the time of the Shah, and intensified in the Islamic Republic.
Mansour Al-Ahwazi, political activist: Various methods are used in the ethnic cleansing. We did not claim that there were killings... There are killings, indiscriminate executions, and all that, but not like what happened in Yugoslavia and other places. They are trying to finish off our existence.
The first city of Persian settlers is called Shirinshah. You can find it on the map, or you can open Google Earth and see this Persian city in the heart of the Arab region. Lands in this region were expropriated under the pretext of the sugar cane project and were used to build the city of Shirinshah. The first settlement in the time of the Shah was called New Yazd, but after the revolution, the Iranians who were brought there fled from New Yazd. When the Iranian regime believes that the Arab or international situation allows him to get away with these things, it intensifies its actions. After the Arab defeat by Israel in 1967, they carried out the first settlement plan of New Yazd. They brought people from Yazd, and settled them in Al-Ahwaz. They did this when they saw that the condition of the Arabs deteriorated, even though the Arabs completely ignore our cause. Now that Iraq is no longer competing with Iran, and now that Iran has gained a monopoly over the strategic situation in the region, they have stepped up the expropriation of lands in Al-Ahwaz. The Iranian regime – despite all its claims to support the Arab causes and so on... Whenever it identifies some weakness in the [Arab] nation, it escalates its ethnic cleansing policies in Al-Ahwaz.
The Al-Ahwaz issue highlights the contradictions of the Iranian government. The Iranian government professes to call for unity, to avoid sectarianism, and to defend the Shiites. It tries to use the Shiite bargaining chip in some Arab countries in order to promote its plans and in order to extract some concessions from the U.S. or from some of the other Western powers. If Iran really defends the Shiites, why does it oppress the [Arab] Shiites of Al-Ahwaz? The majority [of the Arabs] there are Shiite. If it really defends the [Arab] peoples in Lebanon and Palestine, why does it oppress its own Arab people? This is the greatest contradiction in the policy of the Iranian government. This issue highlights the contradictions of the Iranian government on all levels – on the sectarian level, as well as the Islamic level. The Iranian government is, in fact, coming to a dead-end, not only in terms of its foreign policy, but domestically as well. For example, some time ago they closed the Al-Ashraq cultural institute, which was the only Arab cultural institute in Al-Ahwaz. It was closed two days ago, as you can read on the Internet. This was done for no reason whatsoever. It did not support violence or any political organization. All it did was to distribute Arab and Islamic books. It was attacked and was closed down. This is part of the faltering policy of the Ahmadinejad government. Just like it chose to run ahead with its nuclear program, it failed to start a dialogue with its [non-Persian] peoples, and to find a formula of compromise in this regard. It has now begun to escalate its indiscriminate arrests and its attacks. There have been many more executions in recent years, since the rise of Ahmadinejad, and many cultural institutes were closed down. [The Iranian government] has begun to push matters towards a dead-end, and to encourage people to rise up and create unrest. What is happening now in Baluchestan... I am sure that you have heard about the kidnappings. In Kurdistan, two helicopters were attacked. They blame the West for all this unrest, and try to say this is the result of conspiracies, but it is the result of their own policy.
Iran rules Al-Ahwaz by virtue of the status quo alone. It enjoys no historical, political, or even popular legitimacy in Al-Ahwaz.
As the international situation deteriorates for the Iranian government, its control will weaken. Their fear of this leads them to escalate the oppression in Al-Ahwaz.
The unity of Iran has begun to face very grave dangers, because the broadest common denominator – the religious or Shiite element – has weakened greatly.
Interviewer: In what sense has it weakened? They derive strength from this.
Mansour Al-Ahwazi: No, this element has weakened greatly, because the government's policy. Take, for example, the issue of the veil. They impose the veil, but in the early days of the revolution, it was worn out of personal conviction, and no one imposed it. Iranian women seek any opportunity to express their rage at the policies of the Iranian government, which imposes the veil. In the past, Iranian women wore the veil out of personal conviction. Now, it has become a matter of oppression, and you can see how they mobilize armies in order to attack and humiliate women and to force them to wear the veil.