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Is it Ahvaz or Ahwaz - and what difference does it make?

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29.09.2018

The deadly paramilitary attack on a military parade in the southern city of Ahvaz, with civilian casualties, has brought the name of this ancient city to the front pages of global media.

"Gunmen have opened fire on an Iranian military parade in the south-western city of Ahvaz," writes the BBC, for example, "killing at least 25 people, including civilians, and injuring 60, state media say." The report then adds: "An anti-government Arab group, Ahvaz National Resistance, and Islamic State (IS) have both claimed the attack."

What in both of these sentences comes out transliterated as "Ahvaz" in the original Persian and Arabic spelling appears in two distinctly different ways.

The official state media and Iranians, in general, write the name of the city as "اهواز" - while the separatists who have claimed responsibility for the attack write the selfsame word as "الاحواز."

While completely lost in transliteration, the two original spellings lay two distinct and opposite ideological claims on the name of the city: One recalls an ancient Iranian origin for the name of the city while the other imagines an Arabic claim on the way the name of the city is ought to be spelled and pronounced.

These two ideologically hostile spellings and pronunciations signal a decidedly racialised, ethnicised, mutually exclusive, and absolutist claims on a singularly cosmopolitan city the historical pluralism of which categorically defies any such purist Persian or exclusively Arab or any other separatist claims on it.

I was born and raised in Ahvaz, and I lived there until I graduated from high school in 1969 and went to Tehran to attend college. My father was originally from Bushehr and my mother originally from Dezful. As a young man, my father had come to Ahvaz to work for the Iranian........

© Al Jazeera