Thousands of Arab citizens gathered in the southwest Iranian city of Ahwaz to protest against Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) corporation after a children’s program omitted any mention of their culture during a show celebrating the country’s diversity.
Last Friday and during the second day of Nowruz, Iran’s Channel 2 aired an episode of a children’s show that presented a child placing male and female dolls with traditional cloths from different ethnicities of Iran on a map of the country to demonstrate ethnic diversity.
Dolls symbolizing Ahwazi Arabs, who number somewhere between 5-8 million in southern Iran, were nowhere to be found.
On Wednesday, nearly five days after the program was aired, hundreds of Ahwazi Arabs gathered in front of IRIB’s branch in Ahwaz demanding an apology from Channel 2 officials.
“The Iranian government spends millions on intelligence strategies, what happened on that show was not an accident, it was studied thoroughly. It is ridiculous to think Iranians do not know that there are millions of Arabs living in Iran,” Walid Neissi, an Ahwazi Arab researcher and former political prisoner on the issue, told al Arabiya English.
“This is a distraction strategy especially at this crucial time. Workers of sugarcane factories are on daily strikes, even today there is a strike in “Salhieh” (Andimeshk) where workers blocked the roads and chant ‘we are hungry’, the same goes for workers in Hafttapeh who have been on strike for months, we also have strike of workers in steel industries and of course crackdown of environmental activists against water transfer and oil pollution,” he said.
Neissi added: “From my own experience and knowledge I can say that this can also be considered as a strategy by the Iranian central government to identify and eliminate Ahwazi Arab civil activists”.
In 2014, a document titled “Comprehensive Security Plan of Action for Khuzestan Province” was leaked in which the following points where highlighted:
1: Emphasize on changing the demographic composition of Arab region in Iran
2: Acknowledging discrimination based on ethnicity
3: Crackdown of Ahwaz Arab activists
4: Banning gatherings and protests
The authenticity of this document has never denied by Iranian officials.
Whether Iran’s Channel 2’s broadcast last Friday was an honest mistake by a producer as the channel has claimed or a deliberate action as a part of the “Comprehensive Security Plan of Action for Khuzestan Province” to provoke and identify Ahwazi Arabs activists later on, Ahwazi Arabs are still awaiting an apology.