Arabic and Assyrian are the two Semitic languages spoken in Iran. The Arabic dialects are spoken in Khuzestan and along the Persian Gulf coast. They are modern variants of the older Arabic that formed the base of the classical literary language and all the colloquial languages of the Arabic-speaking world. As a Semitic language, Arabic is related to Hebrew, Syriac, and Ethiopic. Like these other Semitic languages, Arabic is based on three-consonant roots, whose meanings vary according to the combinations of vowels that are used to separate the consonants. Written Arabic often is difficult to learn because of the tendency not to indicate short vowels by diacritical marks. There is no linguistic family relationship between Arabic and Persian, although Persian vocabulary has been heavily influenced by Arabic. The Arabic loanwords incorporated into Persian have been modified to fit the Persian sound patterns. Arabic also continues to be the language of prayer of all Muslims in Iran. Children in school learn to read the Quran in Arabic. Persian- and Turkic-speaking Iranians who have commercial interests in the Persian Gulf area often learn Arabic for business purposes.
The conquering of Persia by the Arabs in 642 CE has been credited with bringing Islam to Iran. Islam subsequently became the predominant religion in Persia (now Iran), replacing a mix of Christianity, Judaism, Baha'ism, and Zoroastrianism that had existed before.
In 1986 there were an estimated 530,000 Arabs in Iran. A majority lived in Khuzestan, where they constituted a significant ethnic minority. Most of the other Arabs lived along the Persian Gulf coastal plains, but there also were small scattered tribal groups living in central and eastern Iran. About 40 percent of the Arabs were urban, concentrated in such cities as Abadan, Ahvaz, and Khorramshahr. The majority of urban Arab adult males were unskilled workers, especially in the oil industry. Arabs also worked in commerce and services, and there was a small number of Arab professionals. Some urban Arabs and most rural Arabs are tribally organized. The rural Arabs of Khuzestan tended to be farmers and fishermen. Many of the Arabs who lived along the Persian Gulf coastal plains were pastoral nomads who keep herds of cattle, sheep, and camels.
Both the urban and the rural Arabs of Khuzestan are intermingled with the Persians, Turks, and Lurs who also live in the province. The Khuzestan Arabs are Shias. While this physical and spiritual closeness has facilitated intermarriage between the Arabs and other Iranians, the Arabs have tended to regard themselves as separate from non-Arabs and have usually been so regarded by other Iranians. Among the Khuzestan Arabs there has been a sense of ethnic solidarity for many years.
The government of neighboring Iraq, both before and after the 1979 Revolution in Iran, had claimed that the Khuzestan Arabs were discriminated against and had asserted at various times that it had assisted those desiring "liberation" from Tehran. When Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and occupied much of Khuzestan for nearly two years, however, an anticipated uprising of the Arab population did not occur, and most of the local Arabs fled the area along with the non-Arab population.
In contrast to the Kurds, the Arab population of Khuzestan stood firmly behind the revolutionary government. Iranian Arabs rejected Saddam Hussein's call to "liberate Arabistan" from Persian rule and overwhelmingly opted to remain loyal to their country. Since 1980 Khuzestan witnessed some of the bloodiest battles in the twentieth century, but its Arab inhabitants had not wavered in their allegiance. Apart from Khuzestan there was little sense of ethnic unity among the scattered Arab settlements. The Arabs in the area stretching from Bushehr to Bandar-e Abbas tend to be Sunnis. This had helped to strengthen their differentiation from most non-Arab Iranians and even from the Arabs of Khuzestan.
Iran's relationship with other Arab nations was generally good. It maintained stable diplomatic relations with most of its Arab neighbors, and other gulf states, with the possible exceptions of Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion and Saudi Arabia, another nation posturing to become a regional hegemon. Its relationships with certain North African Arab nations such as Algeria and Egypt were reported at the time to be more strained. Egypt's and Algeria's Western ties and Algeria's relatively more secular attitudes were contributing factors.
Iran has funded external Arab groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, seeking to promote its posture in the Arab community outside of its borders. This support was generally based on religious connections, especially in the case of Hezbollah, a Shia Islam group.
During 2005 several incidents of domestic terrorism occurred using bombs planted in public places. Most of these were in areas of ethnic tensions, such as West Azarbaijan (Kurds and Turks) and Khuzestan (Arabs and Lurs) provinces, although there also were bomb incidents in Tehran during the presidential election. These attacks showed that certain groups were not necessarily content with the status quo. As of 2008, Arabs made up around 2 percent of Iran's population, and reports suggest that Iran had developed plans in 2005 to settle ethnic Persians in Khuzestan to reduce their influence. These reports led to violent protesting during April 2005.
In the southern oil-rich province of Khuzestan, clashes erupted in March 2006 between police and pro-independence ethnic Arab Iranians, resulting in three deaths and over 250 arrests (the protests were reportedly organized by a London-based group called The Popular Democratic Front of Ahwazi Arabs).
Als in 2006, an Arab group calling itself the Ahvaz Resistance Squad also claimed responsibility for a bomb meant for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in February 2006. Executions, resulting from arrests made and denounced in the West, occured in January 2007. Khuzestan is a major oil producing province in Iran, and many Arabs claim they benefit dispropotionately from the wealth generated there.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|