On Monday, September 18, 2017, large number of the Ahwazi Arab children in different areas of Al-Ahwaz region launched a campaign calling for the right to have school education taught in their native language of Arabic. This campaign comes in conjunction with the start of a new school year in Iran. Arab students are systematically deprived of their right to have their education taught in their native language. All classes are taught in Persian only, which serves to disenfranchise Ahwazi Arab students who grow up speaking primarily Arabic.
Social media platforms have been flooded with pictures and videos promoting the hashtag #WeWantMotherTongueInClassrooms, and it’s now gone viral. Campaigners have called on Iranian authorities to allow students the right of receiving their curricula in Arabic as well as in the Persian, the official language of Iran.
The Ahwazi Organization for the Defense of Human Rights (AODHR) issued a statement saying, “Arab children of Ahwaz, as well as other non-Persian ethnicities in Iran, are denied the human and legal right enshrined in the draft resolution adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in November 1999. This resolution mandates that all states teach classes in the area’s native languages — urging them to preserve the languages and cultures of all peoples and minorities under their control.”
According to an Ahwazi watchdog group, the Iranian government continues to violate the international resolution of May 16, 2007, in which the United Nations General Assembly called upon member states “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by the peoples of the world.”
Persian is the official language of Iran, yet this fact has been used to defend racist policies of cultural assimilation. These policies strive to eliminate native languages, such as Arabic, and thereby dissolve the national identity of non-Persian peoples who exist in Iranian current geography.
The current Iranian regime has, via its escalated “Persianization” policy, spared no efforts to dismantle the pillars of Ahwazi existence, their shared language, culture and history.
Language is a fundamental component of a nation’s existence and identity, so of course, the regime has naturally outlawed the teaching of Arabic and forced all Ahwazis to learn Persian.
The United Nations General Assembly in dozens of occasions asserted, “While it is the duty of states to implement this legal, fundamental, and human right, the chauvinist authorities in Iran, especially the Persian Literature and Language Complex, are working to prevent the teaching of the native languages in schools. They argue that this will, in the future will ‘weaken the Persian language’ and put the Iranian national integrity on the verge of disintegration.”
The assembly also reiterated, “It is therefore clear to us that the nationalists and radical officials of the Islamic Republic regime are seeking, through this antagonistic discourse, to prevent children from learning their native languages.”
The UN called for the enforcement of international laws to defend the rights of the Ahwazi Arabs and other non-Persian people to learn in their own native language.
This right is part of several international conventions, including Articles 3 and 4 of the rights declaration relating to national, linguistic and religious minorities. This right was also addressed in provisions of Resolution 47/135 of the United Nations General Assembly in 1992, Article 30 of the Charter on the Rights of the Child (from the Committee on Children’s Rights) and Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (December 26, 1946).
All these further validate and defend this legitimate right of oppressed minorities to learn in their native language.
For too long, the Ahwazi Arabs have suffered in silence — the ultimate invisible victims. It is hard to understand just how isolated and betrayed the Ahwazi people feel after being savagely persecuted by Iran for almost a century with treacherous complicity from the international community.
Compounding this problem is the media blackout surrounding events in Ahwaz. This silence is perpetuated by the current regime’s hermetic sealing off of the region as well as collusion from the rest of the world, which is either wholly indifferent to, or brainwashed by, the Iranian regime’s lie of “resistance to occupation.”
Ahwazis face vast challenges in bringing attention to their plight in a world constantly preoccupied with “more pressing concerns.” It is also difficult to focus on such advocacy while trying to survive in a region awash in systemic violence — much of it directly or indirectly courtesy of the same regime responsible for the Ahwazi’s suffering.
Iran’s annexation of Ahwaz in 1925 was backed by the British in exchange for oil contracts. Despite the fact that Ahwaz is a region that holds over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, Ahwazi Arabs live in abject poverty under an effective apartheid system and are viewed as inferior due to their Arab ethnicity.
Most of the Ahwazi population lives well below the poverty line. They have limited or no access to jobs, education, healthcare and basic utilities such as electricity, gas and potable running water.
Ethnic cleansing of Ahwazis is standard procedure under Iranian regime rule. Hundreds of thousands of Ahwazi Arabs are routinely forced from their homes without any notification or compensation. On the other hand, Persian Iranian are actually paid incentives to move into the region and work in the oil and gas industries.
These Persians live in ethnically homogeneous Persian-only areas that are equipped with all the modern conveniences while Ahwazi Arabs are deprived of having access to such privileges. More often than not, Ahwazis are forbidden from taking any but the most menial jobs in local oil and gas industries.
Considering that the UN’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” asserts that certain rights are inherently universal to all human beings without exception, the international community has a moral and ethical obligation to defend the Ahwazi people from Iran’s brutal persecution.
After almost a century of systematically betraying the Ahwazi people in favor of supporting a series of vicious and racist regimes, the world owes the Ahwazi people, at the very least, the basic human decency of solidarity – if not direct assistance in putting an end to 92 years of injustice.