Recently we have seen the mainstream media in the UK, supplemented by the film industry, undermine the struggle of an already oppressed people, the Ahwazi Arabs, by making a film about their plight, but wrongly labelling it ‘terrorism’. There was no coverage of the human rights violations which have been perpetrated upon them by the Iranian regime, nor the fact that Ahwazi Arabs are the indigenous people of the area, but have been subject to occupation by the Iran regime since 1925, with collusion from the British Government, which effectively handed the region over to Iran.
The subject of this article is the film ‘6 days’ (2017) and the subject is the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege in London in 1980. What is portrayed in the film, however, is very far from reality. It is marketed as a thriller, in which the heroes are British forces who save lives and kill those who stormed the Embassy. There have also been inaccurate and misleading reports about the film’s content, for example that published by The Sun on 2 May 2017. The facts are that the Ahwazi who survived the assault of the British forces was simply attempting to raise awareness of his people’s demands that their oppression by the Iran regime be stopped. The oppression of the Ahwazi Arabs is known of worldwide, but it is very rare that the mainstream media reports on it, and the Ahwazi who is mentioned in The Sun article, like the others, had absolutely no intention of killing anyone. They simply wanted their demands heard, and action taken to stop their oppression and human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Iran regime.
In fact, Fowzi Badawi Nejad, also known as ‘F0wzi-rafaf’, was born in 1957, in Muhammarah, south of the province of Ahwaz. He is actually a hero to the Ahwazi people, who call him ‘the fighter’ and ‘dean of Ahwazi prisoners’ after the storming of the Iranian Embassy in London in April 1980. Of course, the Iran regime call him a ‘terrorist’ (which accusation they make against any and every political opposition as well as those who challenge their abominable human rights record against minorities like the Ahwazi people). The regime constantly demand the extradition of Fowzi-Rafaf, even though he spent more than 27 years in prison after a UK court convicted him of ‘conspiracy to kill and possess firearms’.
Ahwazi human rights activists, including the author, are extremely disappointed that the British press, like the Sun and Daily Mail, portrays the whole incident inaccurately and does not set the context in which it took place. Furthermore, there is no mention of the history that led to the attempt to occupy the Iranian Embassy, which is, purely and simply, the continuous oppression and repression of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran.
On 2 May 2017, The Sun newspaper published an article, which includes photographs of Fowzi’salleged new life in the UK, after his release in 2008. In this article he is seen wandering the streets of a London suburb, where The Sun claims he is claiming benefits, wanting their readers to make the association that he is a ‘scrounger’. In fact, one of the conditions of his release from prison was that he may not work, but instead has to claim unemployment benefit and report on a regular basis to Job Centres.
Ahwazi human rights activists, such as the author, have been very alarmed at such reporting and have protested, through social networking pages, the article published by The Sun. They particularly fear that the details of the article, including where Fowzi Rafaf lives, in Beckenham, will actually put his life in danger, as the Iran regime are notorious for having terrorist networks active in the UK and have demonstrated on many occasions their willingness to carry out political assassinations there. Of course, the article, in addition, by carrying photographs of Rafaf, also identifies him to any terrorist organization which may target him. The Sun’s actions in producing this article could certainly be argued to be a violation of Rafaf’s human rights, especially under United Nations laws. The alleged ‘terrorism’ of which he was convicted in 1980, now 36 years ago, had no clear definition at the time and it can further be argued that his circumstances, and that of the Ahwazi people, were not taken into account.
“Fowzi Badawi is very lucky to be allowed to live in this country and Britain is one of the few countries that would allow it,” said British MP Bob Stewart, who is a member of the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee Conservative Party.
The Sun article accused Fowzi Rafaf of “living in great prosperity” and that he “loves women, cigarettes, and violence”. This is wholly denied by Ahwazi activists, whose direct contact with Rafaf has been forcibly limited due to the British courts warning him not to have contact with London Ahwazi Arabs. As a consequence, Ahwazis worldwide are extremely concerned that, if he is extradited back to Iran, he will be executed, like many before him.
Former British Army sniper Robin Horsval expressed his concern that Rafaf had received a prison sentence around three times the length of that given to IRI terrorists who committed murder, despite not actually killing anyone.
The facts concerning the Iranian Embassy siege in London are as follows. On the morning of 30 April1980, six Ahwazi Arab gunmen stormed the Iranian Embassy building on Knight Street in London and kidnapped 26 people, including diplomats, embassy staff, and visitors.
Among their demands was the release of Arab Ahwazi detainees in Iran’s jails and the Ahwazi people to be recognised as the rightful occupants of their region and that independence so recognised by the hardline leader of the Islamic regime of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, who had so far refused to do so.
The Iranian regime refused to release the political prisoners and, consequently, the Ahwazis at the London Embassy then asked for a bus to be provided to take them to London Heathrow airport and allow them to fly to an Arab country. If their wishes had been granted, there would have been no death in that Embassy. Unfortunately, the British authorities refused these requests, and instead said they would not allow them to leave British territory alive.
Subsequent negotiations resulted in five of the hostages being released from the Embassy, but on 5 May 1980 British security forces stormed it and managed to save 19 of the hostages in 14 minutes. Five of the Ahwazi young men, in addition to one of the hostages, were killed, however Fowzi miraculously survived.
Another aspect of the context with regard to the occupation of the Iranian Embassy in London not reported was the Black Wednesday massacre that took place in the city of Mohammareh and Abadan, south of Ahwaz, on 30 May, 1979, by the Iran against the Arabs who claimed their national rights under the leadership of their spiritual leader Ayatollah al-Shubair al-Khakani. More than 500 Arabs were killed and hundreds arrested.
Unfortunately, like so many of the Iran regime’s brutal crimes against Ahwazis and others, ‘Black Wednesday’ has remained uninvestigated and ignored by international human rights organisations to date, despite being deeply etched on the memories of the survivors and of all Ahwazi peoples. For them it is, of course, impossible to forget or to forgive until the perpetrators of these atrocities, the Iran regime, are brought to justice. Despite the regime seemingly being accorded absolute impunity by the international community to act with barbaric savagery and to sweep such crimes against humanity under the carpet, no Ahwazi will ever forget, or not be reminded of that atrocious day in history.
To summarise, the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege was a perhaps ill-advised, but nevertheless desperate reaction to ‘Black Wednesday’ by Ahwazis who wanted autonomy and the release of 91 of the comrades unjustly held in Iranian jails who all were executed secretly and their bodies were buried in unmarked graves in a graveyard called the ‘Laanat-Abad’ (‘Graves of the Damned’) in the city of Ahwaz, with their families to this day prevented from visiting or going anywhere near their loved ones’ final resting place, as well as being banned from holding the traditional mourning events.. Given the relentless decades-long murderous repression of Ahwazis by successive Iranian regimes and their refusal to grant them even the most basic human rights, some Ahwazis saw and still see no hope of regaining their rights. To them it has made no difference whether an extremist Islamic regime or the Pahlavi dynasty has been in power, they continue to be persecuted and oppressed.
Whilst it has gone down in Ahwazi history as one of the most infamous Khomeinist regime’s crimes, ‘Black Wednesday’ was not an isolated incident, with similarly murderous brutality meted out routinely, indeed systemically, to Ahwazi people and other minorities by regime forces and militias in that period during the 1980’s and ever since.
The deals made between international powers at the beginning of the 20th Century therefore resulted in the annexation of Arabistan or Ahvaz to the Iranian regime and the elimination of the rule and authority of “Sheikh Khazal”, the last Arab leader of the region. As a consequence we has seen the plight of the Ahwazi people effectively removed from discussion on the world stage, and this took place as the then British Government helped to negotiate away the area in exchange for the Iran regime’s assistance with its influence against Russia in World War II.
After the‘Islamic revolution’ in 1979, Ahwazi Arabs participated in the general strike by workers in the oil and gas industries and tried to claim their right of citizenship and to lift the deprivation and injusticeinflicted upon the people of the region under the Pahlavi dynasty. They really hoped that the victorious Ayatollah Khomeini would listen to their genuine concerns, and calls for autonomy, as an indigenous people. However, time was to prove that the extremist Islamic regime of Iran has been continually determined to commit human rights violations, oppression, persecution, discrimination, torture, and displacement of minority ethnic groups.
The Ahwazi Arabs are one of the ethnic groups that have suffered the worst under the Iranian regime. Their homeland is home to 90 percent of oil and gas resources stolen by the regime, while its Arab native people live in terrible poverty and are also subjected to unreported brutal oppression and discriminatory policies instituted by the regime.
The Iran regime has been waging war against the indigenous Ahwazi people since 1979. The last thing they need is the British press and cinematic industry effectively supporting them by producing an inaccurate, misleading and downright dangerous reporting on a people who, instead, need their help, understanding and support as they continue to fight for their freedom and human rights.
As mentioned earlier, Ahwaz region in the south and south west of the country with population of more than 8 million Arab , is formed of three provinces known as Bushehr, Hormozgan, and Khuzestan in Farsi, is the home of over 95 percent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran’s regime, and should be by far the richest province in Iran; instead, the indigenous Arab people, deprived of the most basic rights, live in indescribable medieval destitution and are subject to a de facto apartheid system by the leadership in Tehran, with the wealth from the resources going straight into the regime’s coffers. All Ahwazis are victims of systematic racial discrimination stemming from an Iranian strategy to maintain a coherent hegemony over the Ahwazis.
Al-Ahwaz has been an Arab land for thousands of years…it is the eastern edge of the Arab homeland…the Arabs of Ahwaz are the owners of this region and its borders are: the Kurdistan mountains in the north, the Zagros mountains in the east, the sea of Oman in the south and the Republic of Iraq to the west…history attests that the original name of the region is Al-Ahwaz, even before Islam, while Arabistan which means land of Arab used as well during the British rule on this region since the discovery of oil in this regionlate May 1908, the name of Arabistan also stresses the region was predominately inhabited by its native Arab Ahwazis but foreign names such as Khuzestan imposed by Persian imperialism on the region to alienate the region from its Arab character since the establishment of the modern Iranian state, in the beginning of the twentieth century, as it has instituted a centralist and totalitarian regime in Iran denying other none-Persians nations including Ahwazi Arabs within Iranian map to enjoy their national, cultural, civil, political and economic rights .
One of the scourge of Ahwazi Arabs is poverty as this phenomenon is characterised by a very specific nature that stems from the specificity of the Ahwaz cause and the events and tragedies of the Ahwazi people suffered throughout the century, particularly uprooting, displacement, war, occupation, and deprivation of national rights as Much of the population lives below the poverty line with limited or no access to education, jobs, electricity, and clean water.
This has led to the perpetual impoverishment of large segments of the Ahwaz people. Poverty is essentially the result of the interaction of a range of structural factors (political, economic and social) as the phenomenon of widespread poverty in Ahwaz is characterised by the continuous reality of the Iranian occupation, With the absence of the right of self-determination for the marginalised Ahwazi Arab people and denial all the rights dear to life, Iran continues to confiscate land, establish and expand settlements, Persianize the entire region and deny the legitimate national rights of the Ahwazi people. In light of this, the factors of impoverishment and abuse of the Ahwazis continue with Stealing regional water through the building of dams, diverting the water sources towards Persian areas, harming Arab agricultural areas and causing regional environmental pollution, confiscating lush lands and bringing Persian settlers to profit from them, Putting constraints before Arab employment and acquisition of land, expropriation of all lands in the region and their declaration as “state lands” of the occupying power, awarding bonuses to Persians immigrating to the region and preferring them over Arabs.
What I want say is that in order for the British mainstream media to portray an actual description of Ahwazi history, they ought to read thoroughly the plight of this oppressed people and then produce a movie that fairly would show the unstated truth of the all too long forgotten struggle of Ahwazis and the cause behind the seizure of Iranian embassy long ago.
Rahim Hamid is a freelance journalist and human rights advocate and co-founder of Ahwaz Monitor website who writes about the plight of his community – the Ahwazi Arabs – and other ethnic groups in Iran. You can follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/samireza42