Hamed Aleaziz and Robin Mills write for Tehran Bureau:
This past March, a rural province in Iran found itself the subject of a sensational documentary on the state-run English-language news outlet Press TV. Khuzestan, which borders Iraq and is more than ten hours by car from Tehran, is home to most of Iran's Arab minority and the bulk of the country's oilfields. The Press TV documentary, Al-Ahvazi Terrorist Groups in Khuzestan, paints a sinister picture in its "dramatic reconstruction" of an angry group of Iranian Arabs wearing red-and-black keffiyehs, a symbol of their Arab ethnicity, as they track down and kill an innocent Iranian.
The Iranian Arab men, whose confessions play throughout the documentary, say that they've been victims of "mind termination." One of the alleged criminals, Ahmad Dabbat, declares, "We stopped thinking and someone else thought for us.... We would go shoot at houses and security forces."
While the documentary is certainly dramatic, it offers a relatively realistic glimpse into the tales that the Islamic Republic tells about Arabs in the country. The Iranian government, harnessing cultural prejudice and concerns about the region's strategic importance, consistently portrays the Arabs who live in Khuzestan as easily controlled pawns of Western aggressors and radical Islamist groups. It doesn't help that Saddam Hussein called Khuzestan "Arabistan" and disastrously tried to "liberate" it during the Iran-Iraq War -- though, in spite of his rhetoric, Iranian Arabs for the most part remained loyal to Iran during the invasion. Beyond media tools, the government also uses its judicial system to penalize those Iranian Arabs who decide to protest; in late June, it executed four Iranian Arabs in a move that came in for criticism at the United Nations.
As Iran struggles to contain the collapse of its economy, the government must also keep tabs on yet another potentially problematic front: its Arab minority in Khuzestan, which happens to live in the most oil-rich part of the country.
For decades now, Iranian Arabs have believed that the Islamic Republic has "systematically discriminated against them, particularly in employment, housing, and civil and political rights," according to a report on the Human Rights Watch website. While Iranian Arabs have been concerned with discrimination for decades, the government has been largely successful in silencing their dissent.
In 2005 and 2006, when Iranian Arabs coordinated protests in the streets of Khuzestan, the government used tactics it would later repeat (with lesser force) throughout the country in the protest movement that unfolded following the 2009 presidential election.