2005 Ahvaz unrest

2005 Ahvaz unrest
Part of Arab separatism in Khuzestan

Iranian Khuzestan province
Date 15–18 April 2005
Methods demonstrations, riots
Status Unrest quelled
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures

1–20 (Iranian sources)[1][2]

15–50 (external sources)[3][4]
Injuries dozens
Arrested hundreds arrested

2005 Ahvaz unrest[2][5] or 15 April Ahvaz Protests[3] were violent riots, initiated by Iranian Arabs in the city of Ahvaz in southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan. The unrest erupted on 15 April 2005, and lasted for 4 days. Initially, the Iranian Interior Ministry stated that only one person had been killed, however an official at a hospital in Ahvaz said that between 15 and 20 mortal casualties.[2] Government officials blamed the unrest on Britain, whose troops based just across the border in southern Iraq.[6] Following the unrest, several bombings were carried out in Ahvaz, killing 28 people. In 2006, Iran executed five Arab separatists, convicted of carrying out the bombings in 2005.[6]


Before Iran-Iraq war in 1980s, Arab people in khuzestan were resided in rural region along Karkhe and Karun rivers in south west of province and number of those living in cities was very limited. The reason was Arab tribes nomadic life style. But after end of the said war, most of this refuged Arabs were stationed by the government in some urban regions and little towns. This conversion of life style directly from nomadic to civil life caused many problem and conflicts in structure of their societies and ultimately in some unrests.

The Arabs of Iran are concentrated in the province of Khuzestan and number between half a million to 2 million.[7] These Arabs are descendants of Shi'ite Arab tribes gradually migrating to Iran since 16th (During Ottomon sovereignty on Arabian peninsula). Most Iranian Arabs are Shi'a, but a small minority of Sunni Muslim Arabs live along the Persian Gulf coastline.[8] In Khuzestan, Arabs are the dominant ethnic group in Shadegan, Hoveyzeh and Susangerd, a majority in Mahshahr and Khorramshahr, a minority in Abadan and together with Persians, Arabs are one of the two main ethnic groups in Ahvaz.[9]

The Constitution of Iran guarantees freedom of cultural expression and linguistic diversity. Khūzestān Province has radio and television stations in Arabic. School education is in Persian, the official language, but use of Arabic is allowed under the constitution of the Islamic Republic. Article 15 of the constitution states:

The Official Language and script of Iran, the lingua franca of its people, is Persian. Official documents, correspondence, and texts, as well as text-books, must be in this language and script. However, the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian

However, some human rights groups have accused the Iranian government of discrimination and other human rights violations against Iranian Arabs and violating the constitutional guarantees of equality. Amnesty International says:

Despite the Arab population remaining largely loyal to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the central government in Tehran has continued to view Arab Iranians with suspicion. Iranian Arabs claim this has led to discriminatory policies and unequal access to resources aimed at social development.

According to the US Department of State:[3]

In general the government (i.e. of Iran) did not discriminate on the basis of race, disability, language, or social status; however, it discriminated on the basis of religion, sex, and ethnicity. The poorest areas of the country are those inhabited by ethnic minorities, such as by the Baluchis in Sistan va Baluchestan Province and by Arabs in the southwest. Much of the damage suffered by Khuzestan Province during the eight-year war with Iraq has not been repaired; consequently, the quality of life of the largely Arab local population was degraded. Kurds, Azeris, and Ahvazi Arabs were not allowed to study their languages.

According to Article 16 of Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Arabic is taught in all classes of secondary school and in all areas of study including universities.[10]


A forged letter attributed to Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, an adviser to Iran's Reormist President Mohammad Khatami, began circulating on the blogosphere, and was widely circulated by hand and subsequently cited in a report by al-Jazeera network, a popular Arab television station with a big following among Khuzestan's Arab population.[11][12] The fake letter proposed measures to reduce the proportion of Arabs in Khuzestan.[11] The letter inspired crowds of young Arab rioters to attack government buildings and institutions in Ahvaz city. Some Iran experts and analysts at the time speculated that the move was part of a plan by the conservative establishment to discredit the reformist camp among Arabs in the run-up to the 2005 presidential poll.[11][12]


The Iranian Interior Ministry stated that only one person had been killed,[1][2] while an official at a hospital in Ahvaz said that between 15 and 20 mortal casualties.[2] Another government official said clashes with security services resulted in 3 or 4 deaths.[3]

A spokesman for the Ahvaz Arab People Democratic Popular Front, Abu Shaker al-Ahwazi, mentioned the names of 20 people who he said had been killed in the clashes. He said that "dozens of people had been wounded and 300 others had been arrested."[2] Amnesty International has cited "unconfirmed reports" that 29 people were killed.[13] Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported at least 50 deaths.[3]

News reports and accounts have put the number of fatal casualties at between 5 and 20.[4][12][14][15]


Main article: Ahvaz bombings

The Iranian government officials blamed the Khuzestan unrest on UK, which hosts the headquarters of the Iranian Arab militant group "Al-Ahwaz Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front". The government also temporarily banned broadcasts by the Arabic-language satellite-television station Al-Jazeera, accusing it of fanning the unrest. Ali Yunesi, the intelligence minister at the time, said those arrested in Khuzestan were mainly "young, innocent people" who had been provoked by "real criminals". Defense Minister at the time – Ali Shamkhani, who is an ethnic Arab, was dispatched by the Reformist Government of Khatami, to the Ahvaz area to look into the reasons behind the unrest. He met with local leaders, and he stressed that ethnic Arabs are an integral part of the country but acknowledged that Khuzestan Province suffers from "underdevelopment".[13]

Following the riots, in June 2005 four bombings by Arab separatist militants in Ahvaz and two others in Tehran killed 10 people and injured at least 90. Two other bombings in Ahvaz, one in October 2005 and another in January 2005, killed 12 people. In 2006, Iran executed five Arab separatists convicted of carrying out the bombings in 2005.[6] According to an April 2006 report by the Amnesty International, on 4 November 2005, during a Muslim feast celebrating the end of Ramadan, several hundred Iranian Arab demonstrators marched towards the centre of Ahvaz city, and were met by the security forces, who reportedly fired tear gas grenades into the crowd causing two youths to fall into the Karoun River and drown, apparently under the effects of the tear gas which caused temporary paralysis.[16] Amnesty International has also stated that there were further clashes in Khuzestan between Iranian Arabs and the security forces on 11 and 12 January 2006, during the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice, which reportedly resulted in 3 deaths and 40 injured persons.[16] The demonstrators were reportedly demanding "an end to Arab persecution, poverty and unemployment, and the release of political prisoners detained since April 2005".[16]

On 15 April 2011, there was a protest by the Sunni Arab minority in Ahvaz, to mark the sixth anniversary of the 2005 events. In a letter, written to the UN high commissioner for human rights, Iran's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi stated that "more than 12 people were killed, around 20 injured and tens of protesters have been arrested."[17]

See also


  1. 1 2 Nazila Fathi (12 June 2005). "At Least 10 Are Killed by Bombs in Iran". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Dr. Babak Ganji. Civil Military Relations, State Strategies & Presidential Elections in Iran. Conflict Studies Research Centre, Middle East Series, June 2005: p.12.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (8 March 2006). "Iran". US Department of State. Archived from the original on 4 July 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2011. "On 15 April, protests in Ahwaz followed the publication of a letter..."
  4. 1 2 Mohamed Al-Arab; Sonia Farid (14 April 2011). "Arab-Iranians in Iran to make April 15 'Day of Fury'". Al Arabiya. Retrieved 2 July 2011. "The revolution is meant to commemorate Bloody Friday, when more than 20 Arab-Iranians were killed, 500 injured, and 250 arrested on 15 April 2005 during protests in the city of Ahwaz."
  5. Rasmus C. Elling. State of Mind, State of Order: Reactions to Ethnic Unrest in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Wiley publishing doi:10.1111/j.1754-9469.2008.00028.x. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism Volume 8, Issue 3, pages 481–501, December 2008. "...The first, which will be called the Ahvaz unrest, took place in the south-western Iranian province of Khuzestan, which borders Iraq, and in particular in the regional capital of Ahvaz..."
  6. 1 2 3 "Iran hangs Arab separatists". Al Jazeera. 21 December 2006. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  7. J. Lorentz, 1995, p.172.
  8. Nikki R. Keddie, "Iran and the Muslim World: Resistance and Revolution", New York University Press, 1995 (3/5/09). pp. 12–13: "Many writings state that the Arabs are Sunni, but the only bases for this assertion seem to be that most Arabs in the world are Sunni, that some Arabs in Khuzestan learly are Sunni, and the Shi’a Arabs follow some customs that Persians associate with Sunnism. In the absence of scholarly work or census surveys, it is impossible to estimate the percentages of Shi’as and Sunnis among the Arabs, but the evidence suggests that the great majority of Iranian Arabs are Shi’ite. First, the Arabs border on a part of Iraq that is, and has long been, almost entirely Shi’ite, and it would be surprising to find a Sunni pocket in such an area, especially since, second, they live in the Shi'ite state of Iran."
  9. Iran Overview from British Home Office Archived 18 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran
  11. 1 2 3 Gareth Smyth (20 April 2005). "Tehran puzzled by forged 'riots' letter". Financial Times. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  12. 1 2 3 "Iran and its minorities: Down in the second class". The Economist. 28 April 2005. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  13. 1 2 Bill Samii (24 April 2005). "Iran: Handling Of Ahvaz Unrest Could End With Televised Confessions". Open Society Institute. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  14. Nahid Siamdoust; John Daniszewski (13 June 2005). "Bombings Rock Iran Ahead of Election". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  15. "Five die in Iran ethnic clashes". BBC News. 19 April 2005. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  16. 1 2 3 "Iran: Need for restraint as anniversary of unrest in Khuzestan approaches". Amnesty International. 19 April 2006. Archived from the original on 3 June 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
  17. Dehghan, Saeed Kamali (18 April 2011). "Iranian Sunni protesters killed in clashes with security forces". The Guardian. UK. Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
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