Iran: Ahwazi farmers protest land-grab

Dozens of Ahwazi Arab farmers held a demonstration in front of the headquarters of Iran's state sugar refinery, the Amir Kabir Company, near the regional capital Ahwaz on Aug. 25, protesting the parastatal's confiscation of over 1,000 hectares of agricultural land. The farmers from two villages, al-Shemria and Tel-Aswad, brought documents they said prove their ownership of the lands, which were seized for sugar-cane farming with no warning, legal justification or compensation. Representatives of the firm clashed with protesters after security forces threatened the demonstrators with arrest if they failed to leave the area around the entrance to the headquarters building.

The protesters' representative Hussein Morammazi told state news agenc IRNA that the farmers had been shocked to find bulldozers sent by the company appearing with no prior notification a few days earlier, destroying their rice crops. The farmers said their families had been cultivating these lands for generations.

The state-owned Amir Kabir sugar refinery company, formed in 1990 by a parliamentary decree, has since then confiscated at least 80,000 hectares of agricultural land in northern part of Khuzestan province, which the local Arab population calls Ahwaz. Over 90% of Iran's hydrocarbon resources are in the province, and environmental degradation and lack of local investment has long been a greivance of the region's Arab farmers. Over the past months, some Ahwazis have self-immolated in protest over unemployment, discrimination and desperate poverty.

The barring of Arab language in public life and the regime's policy of colonization of province with ethnic Persians are also contributing to unrest. (Ahwaz Monitor, Aug. 28)