There are approximately three million Ahwazi Arabs living in Khuzestan.
Culture and Religion
Most Ahwazi Arabs are Shia Muslim like the vast majority of Iranians. The religious minorities of Ahwazi Arabs are mostly Sunni Muslim but there are Mandeans, Gnostics who believe John the Baptist is God's highest prophet (and believe Jesus corrupted John's message). The tribal system still exists and continues on into major cities like Ahvaz. Some tribes have kin in the southern part of Iraq.
From the 1500s until the early twentieth-century the land of Khuzestan was known as Arabistan. The name was earned by various Arab tribes who invaded the region. Arabistan was an autonomous province which paid taxes to Persia and little else. The late nineteenth century saw the rise of British influence. The Brits and Arabs worked out trade agreements and looked out for each others interest. All this understandably caused the Persian regime to get upset. Things changed though in 1925. Reza Shah founded Iran from Persia. Shah had the backing of the British because of his strong anti-Russian policies. Shah deposed the leader of Arabistan without British influence and made renamed it Khuzestan.
Khuzestan's marginal economy was boosted with the rise of the petroleum industry (90% of Iran's oil is found in the province); however, most of the funds stayed in the hands of Persians who moved into the region to run the oil business. Arabs complained that the pro-Persian government ignored the needs of Arabs.
Everything changed in 1980. Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Iran. Hussein hoped the Ahwazi Arabs would rebel against the new Islamic Republic in favor of Arab Iraq. Ahwazi Arabs instead picked up arms for Iran and fought the much more technologically capable Iraqi Army to a bloody halt. Hundreds of thousands of Ahwazi Arabs lost their homes and fled to relatively safe places like Ahvaz.
The sacrifices of Ahwazi Arabs were not rewarded by the Persian Islamic Republic. Redeveloped areas were given to Persians and Azeris who moved in from elsewhere. All but the lowest paying jobs were denied to Ahwazi Arabs, Arab language newspapers and media broadcasts were outlawed, and political activities curtailed. In 2003, an Arab party won local elections in Ahvaz but it was then outlawed for being "ultra-reformist."
Today Ahwazi Arabs are a people under occupation and cultural siege. The Iranian government does not allow education in Arabic. Public executions are a monthly affair. Khuzestan is one of the richest provinces yet the wealth is only found with the Persians and Azeris who move in for the oil jobs.
Though the Ahwazi Arabs are not playing innocent victims - a series of bombings, riots, and assassinations have been preformed. The Sunni minority allegedly has ties to al Qaeda while Iran claims the secular groups are also involved in terrorism.
The National Liberation Movement of Ahwaz - Political News Site
British Ahwazi Friendship Society - Political News and Cultural Information (Note: on February 12, 2008 the site was currently hacked by Iranian hackers)