Undeterred by the repressive reaction of the Iranian government- who beat up and violently dispersed environmental protestors a week ago– campaigners gathered again in their thousands this Saturday to call for the protection of the shrinking salt lake Orumieh. Located in north-west Iran, the lake is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and is believed to be one of the largest salt lakes in the world. However, its survival is under threat due to government mismanagement and drought which has led to the halving of its surface area – some experts fear that it could dry out completely in the next few years if nothing changes and efforts to conserve the lake don’t materalise.
Over the last couple of weeks Iranians have gathered in Tabriz and Orumieh in their thousands to protest the slow disappearance of Lake Orumieh, which is crucial to agriculture and tourism in the region. On Saturday, the protesters gathered again and security forces on motorcycles clashed with them, arresting scores of peaceful environmental campaigners.
The Guardian reported that Farank Farid, a prominent women’s rights activist, was among the protesters currently held in custody according to the committee of human rights reporters in Iran. Amateur videos posted on sites such as Youtube also show what appears to be riot police attacking the peaceful protestors on Saturday.
Tabriz and Orumieh are located in Iran’s Azerbaijan region, home to the country Azeri ethnic minority who campaigners state have been marginalised by the government. Indeed, locals claim that Revolutionary Guards are responsible for the shrinking lake levels due to their damming policies which mean that there are currently 36 dams built on the river leading up to lake Orumieh.
Officials in Iran insist that the falling lake levels are due to drought, rising temperatures and climate change.
Speaking to Khabaronline, a news website, an MP for the city of Orumieh, said: “In my view, the issue [of Lake Orumieh] should not be seen as a security issue and it should not be politicised. It is a social and environmental issue which we can rescue and it can be solved by the human.”
He added: “Out of 100 people who come and visit me, 99 of them ask about Lake Orumieh, which shows it has become a sensitive issue for them. People follow the lake’s fate, how can I stay silent and ignore their demands regarding an issue which shows their interest in the environment?”
Indeed it appears that the struggle to protect the lake has captured the imagination of the average Iranian with slogans calling for its protection heard at football matches. Protestors are now planning to continue their protests at a Friday football match in Tehran’s Azadi stadium, which can hold up to 100,000 people.
: Image via Pitorbal/Picasa.
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