Ahwazi leader handed over to Iranian regime, IRGC seen active in Nakhchivan

Habib Alaswad

By | Rachel Brooks, Editorial at Republic Underground

The above image was retrieved from social media, fair use. 

The IRGC has increased apparent activity along the Azerbaijani war front with Armenia. This was documented in the Nakhchivan autonomous zone on Friday. Iranian activity between Turkey and the regime and Tehran has passed through the Western Azerbaijani front and may become a security threat both to the conflict zone in Azerbaijan as well as the minority groups who live within Iran. A prime concern, following the abduction of one of their political leaders, is the Ahwazi community. Ahwazi Arabs are a community of Arabs within Iran that make up one of the nation’s largest minority groups. They are generally referred to as Al-Ahwazi Arabs due to their regional presence in Ahwaz, Iran, as stated by UNPO. Ahwaz, Iran is also known as Khuzestan and borders Basra, Iraq to its west. 

Nearly 85 percent of Iran’s oil originates from the Ahwaz region, as it is near the Gulf. Ahwazis experience forced relocation from the Iranian regime as well as a series of injustices that have prompted them to seek liberation from the regime. 

 The recent abduction of an Ahwazi political opposition leader and transfer of him as a political prisoner determines the presence of Iranian intelligence within Western Azerbaijan and Ordubad in particular. 

View from vehicle of Iranian military equipment en route to the Nakhchivan region.

On October 30, photographs emerged that reveal Iran’s military leadership has transferred the Tor M1 air defense system of the IRGC Iranian Air Force to the border of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Region, which is within the Republic of Azerbaijan. Surveillance photos show military equipment entering through the Jolfa region. 

Photographic evidence of military equipment approaching Nakhchivan from Jolfa.

Iranian support is believed to join the Armenian forces in the Nakhchivan Region following a month of attacks by Armenia in the local area. On October 16, AzerNews reported that Armenia had launched missile attacks into the Ordubad region of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Zone. The airstrike came from the occupied Gudabli region and fired on October 15, citing Trend News Agency. 

The Ordubad region is a key district of Nakhchivan and integral to its politics. The district was established in 1930 but then abolished in 1963 and given to the Jolfa region. Since 1965, the area has been independent. It is a tactically key locale bordered by Iran to its south, Armenia to its north, and Julfa, Azerbaijan in its east, composing a landlocked area at the polar west of Baku in Azerbaijan. The area covers 972 square kilometers. Ordubad is its administration zone, and an additional three settlements and 43 villages have composed the zone. 

The targeting of this zone by the Armenian nationalist movement is ideal for the agenda of Iran abroad. This is because if Azerbaijani forces are preoccupied with the issues of combating Armenian nationalism in this region, they will be less available to present surveillance of activity in the region. Iran uses the region as a crossroads between its contacts in Istanbul and within its borders. 

Playing the diplomat in foreign theaters, Iran likewise made a public statement, reported by Voice of America on October 7 that the continued conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan would likely spill over into Iran’s borders, using the entry of stray missiles into Iranian territory as the base of this argument. Iran made public statements regarding a regional proxy war, after backing the Armenian allegations that Turkey had transferred Syrian fighters to the region to support Azerbaijan. These allegations were never proven but sent waves of doubt throughout the international community. Tehran stated that it would not “tolerate” the routing of terrorists to the region by anyone and proceeded to mobilize IRGC presence along the border at Nakhchivan. This is likely a countermove to conceal the Iranian regime agendas in the region.

The movement of Iranian intelligence in the region is insulated by the Armenian propaganda machine which continues to allege the presence of Syrian mercenaries in the region. Armenia argued that the bombing of Barda was the direct result of Azerbaijan failing to pay the mercenaries, even though it was later proven by both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that Armenia fired Smerch missiles into Barda. The use of Smerch missiles from the Armenian line had already been confirmed locally by ANAMA and the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense. 

Likewise, the Iranian regime has the advantage of political unrest and terrorist attacks in Europe. Political unrest in Nice, France, the scene of the beheading of a French woman and the stabbing of other Christian clerics by a Tunisian extremist highlights an overarching struggle between the secular and Islamic political powers. The Iranian regime can use the growing sentiment of anti-Islamic rhetoric in Europe due to these attacks as well as the chaos within Europe from extremism to its advantage. Political exiles of the regime cannot seek refuge in Europe from the Iranian regime if the volatile conditions of Europe for Muslim expatriates are to increase. The chaos likewise expands the Iranian regime. See our France ethnopolitical analysis updates.

Beheadings, stabbings, cartoons: French ethnopolitical tensions in October recap

The Milli Chronicle reported on October 31 that Turkish leadership in Istanbul handed an Ahwazi political leader with Swedish citizenship over to the Iranian government.

 Mr. Habib Alaswad, the former leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, entered Turkey on October 9. He traveled to Turkey on a Swedish passport. He was scheduled to return to Sweden on October 15. He never returned to Sweden and disappeared at or near October 15. Turkish government officials have kept a blackout of his whereabouts over the half month since his official disappearance. Attempted correspondence with relatives has been ignored by the authorities. Yet, reports began to surface that Alaswad was handed over to the Iranian regime by leadership in Istanbul. This was the result of what sources for the Milli Chronicle called a “fishy deal” between Iranian intelligence and the officials in Turkey. The reports that this prisoner transfer occurred were confirmed by Hamshahri News.  This was considered an official confession by the Iranian regime that the Iranian and Istanbul officials collaborated on the Ahwazi activist’s abduction. 

There was likewise some allusion to Qatar collaborating with the Iranian regime and the Turkish officials to deport the Ahwazi activist to prison in the Iranian regime. Republic Underground is working to confirm this implication made by sources familiar with the story. 

This was later followed up by reports from Rahyab News. Rahyab News is a media outlet directly affiliated with the IRGC. This outlet reported that Alaswad had been handed over to the Iranian regime by authorities in Istanbul. Alaswad was transported from Turkey and into Iran via Western Azerbaijan. Alaswad’s kidnapping was described as political. The Ahwazi leader, a citizen of Sweden since 2006, was the previous leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz, up to the loss of contact with him on October 9. 

Intelligence sources believe that Alaswad was removed from prison in Tehran and taken to the prison in Ahwaz. This transfer solidifies a new tactic that has been the foreign political opposition suppression strategy of Iran for the entirety of 2020, as the regime was forced to reconstruct its hierarchy after the clashes with the United States in January. 

On September 17, 2020, the Iranian regime cracked down on alleged financial crimes in the greater Ahwaz city. This was stated by the Rahyab media outlet. There were 100 people accused of financial crimes in the Ahwaz municipality on that date. The alleged financial crimes and “economic offenses’ ‘ that were said to have been committed in the Ahwaz municipality and some affiliated regions were established by the Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office. The crackdown was against the basic infrastructure of Ahwaz. It included waste organizations, buses, municipal computer services, terminals, parks and recreation, taxi drivers, urban development, square organization, and the former employees of the city council and city contractors. Individuals across the full sweep of the above infrastructure had been indicted as of September 17. They were accused of forgery, forged documents, bribery, embezzlement, government transactional fraud, and exerting influence against rights and regulations. The Ahwaz judiciary, acting per the Supreme Leader’s edicts, had motioned to crackdown on the alleged corruption. 

This move may have been a counter agenda to financially sever the Ahwazi opposition movements from their European contacts. While there are various groups of this nature, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz is a prominent leadership figure in the opposition of Ahwaz. The group has been identified by regional intelligence as a Ba’athist organization, that consists of an armed wing. The armed outfit of the ASMLA deliberately targets oil production facilities as a means to weaken the Iranian regime. ASMLA and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood had previously reported ties as they have both sought to fight for their independence from their respective regimes, the ASMLA seeking to separate from the Iranian regime, and the SMB seeking to separate from the al-Assad regime. Yet, intelligence at the TRAC consortium for tracking terrorism found that Iranian and Syrian alliances have strained these ties. 

As alliances have shifted between ASMLA and the SMB over time, the Turkish government’s interests in Syria have trended more toward the support of the SMB, a departure from regular Turkish foreign policy. The support of the SMB is led by a direct Erdogan policy that promotes anti-Israel sentiments. These ties have been observable since as long ago as 2011. 

This was observed by the Eurasian Journal of Social Sciences in late September. These changing supports and alliances may have offered some proof of the logic behind Istanbul’s transfer of the Ahwazi opposition leader. 

This shows a direct motion of the Iranian regime to lockdown tight on any potential political resistance from the Ahwazi community. With the abduction, and believed transfer of the Ahwazi leader in Sweden, suppression of the minority group is increased. This follows a direct shift in strategy by the Iranian regime under a “Khomenist revolutionary agenda” to, rather than assassinate political opposition abroad, play politics and dispatch them quietly. This strategy was a direct tactic that followed the assassination of Qassem Soleimani in January by U.S. forces. Iran now uses these abroad-reaching tactics to expand its foreign agendas, reaching into Europe, citing the Besa Center. 

Besa Center also noted that arrests of opposition activists have been common across Europe throughout 2020 and that Ahwazi activists have been charged with spying for Saudi Arabia by the Iranian regime. Tehran continues to vehemently deny the presence of an Arab community within its borders, while crafting reasons to convict the Arab community, as well as subjecting noncombatants, such as linguists, to torture in regime prisons. 

Besa Center revealed that to transport political prisoners from Europe and back to the Iranian regime, the prosecutors would accuse the political defendants of laundering funds for terrorism. This was revealed during the kept confidential prosecution of Ahwazi activists in Denmark. Denmark engages in lucrative oil contracts with the Iranian regime, and its government was a strong supporter of the JCPOA deal. Besa Center also found that, due to Denmark’s visa laws, the convicted Ahwazi faced the likelihood of deportation again to Iran where the independence movement would face the Supreme Leader. 

The morale of the Ahwazi separatists will be further tested as activists stated that Alaswad will be subjected to torment in prison. The Milli Chronicle reported that activists called on the Swedish authorities and the international community for intervention to take measures to mitigate Alaswad’s release.