The Christian Science Monitor contributor reports on yet another ethnic minority in Iran. The Ahwazi population is small yet apparently violent (just of the type of minorities that fascinate Andrey so much NB). Stranded in Syria where they are registered with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) office in Damascus as asylum-seekers, about 250 of them fear forceful deportation back to Iran where many of them have been sentenced to death in absentia.
There is a very conflicting information about the situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, which makes it difficult to make any predictions about what may happen when the regime of the Ayatollas go away. On one hand the Azeris are reported to be extremely well integrated, though disturbances by ethnic Azeris are occasionally reported too. Iran is also apparently tolerant of certain religious minorities. The Zoroastrians, for example, appear to be largely tolerated and free to practice their religion.
On the other hand there is a continuous unrest and often insurgencies in the Kurdish part, Baluchistan and Khuzestan where the Ahwazi population is concentrated. It's impossible not to notice that all three are populated by Sunnis, while the Persians and Azeris are Shia. This is not to say that the regime is necessarily discriminating against Sunnis on religious grounds.
Meanwhile, the unending roman between the Shia theocracy of Iran and the Baathist dictatorship of Syria keeps the Ahwazi refugees in Damascus tense.
May 08, 2007
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Anti-Western alliance strengthens
Syria and Iran have been odd, but enduring, bedfellows for the past 27 years, united in an anti-Western alliance that transcends founding ideologies: Syria is an authoritarian, secular regime that outlaws political Islam, while Iran is a Shiite theocracy.
The two countries have recently strengthened their defensive ties, inking two agreements on military cooperation, one in 2006 and another in March.
Iran's defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, highlighted the importance of the military pacts following a meeting with Syria's president in Damascus in March.
"We consider the capacity of the Syrian defensive forces as our own and believe that expansion of defensive ties would ... help deal with threats of the enemies," he said.
The five Ahwazis seized on March 5 this year (who were later released in Syria) were the second batch to be detained by Syrian authorities in the past year. According to Syria's National Organization for Human Rights, five others were arrested in May 2006 and handed over to Iranian authorities. Among them was Faleh Abdullah Mansouri, a Dutch citizen in his 60s who heads the Dutch-based Ahwazi Liberation Organization. He is reportedly being held in Tehran's Evin prison and has been sentenced to death.
"That should never have happened," says Laurens Jolles, UNHCR representative in Damascus. "It was clear they were refugees sent back to an uncertain fate."
The Syrian government denies handing "prisoners of conscience" over to Iran, but says it has security agreements with Tehran to exchange prisoners.
Arab Sunnis in Shiite Iran
Forbidden from speaking Arabic (!!! NB), the Ahwazi population of Khuzestan Province is one of the most economically and socially deprived in Iran, according to Amnesty International.
Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, highlighted the living conditions in Khuzestan following his visit to Iran in July 2005.
"There are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity, and gas connections," he said. "In deprived neighborhoods, you can actually see the towers of the oil refineries and the flares and all that money, which is a lot, and it's going out of the province."
"People feel like the central government hasn't tended to them like it should," says Karim Sadjadpour, a Washington-based analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "There's a sense among some Ahwazis that the reason they're neglected is not because of geography, but perhaps because they're Arab and Sunni, rather than Shiite and Persian."
Unrest in Iran's oil-rich region
Tensions exploded in April 2005 when militants launched attacks against oil installations.
Several different Ahwazi opposition groups claimed responsibility for the attacks.
"The Iranian security apparatus has clamped down in the region and detained hundreds of people," Hadi Ghaemi, a New York-based Middle East researcher with Human Rights Watch said. "They have handed down execution sentences for dozens of people allegedly connected to bombings. Those trials have been very unfair."
Iran says its security measures are a necessary to prevent deadly attacks and thwart efforts by separatists to Balkanize the country.
Back in Syria, Abu Sana moves from house to house hoping to avoid being nabbed by authorities and sent to Iran. "The West cares about animal rights, but we are humans with no rights," he says. "Can't they protect us?"
More posts on Iran are available under the 'Iran' tag below.
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