Mass protests to save Lake Urmia escalate in Azerbaijani cities of Iran

ADAPP: Mass protests to Save Lake Urmia escalate in Azerbaijani cities of Iran. According to eyewitnesses, on Saturday, September 3rd, Iranian forces killed at least one and injured many in a violent oppression of non-violent protestors in the cities of Urmia and Tabriz.

Following last Saturday’s demonstrations, tens of thousands of Azerbaijani Turks took to the streets in Urmia and Tabriz on September 3rd. Several thousand Iranian riot police used brutal force, firing rubber and metal bullets and using tear gas and batons, to disperse the demonstrators.

In addition to the riot police, Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) and Basij militia forces attacked peaceful protesters in Urmia. Several hundreds of IRG and Iranian Army forces have taken control of important government buildings such as West Azerbaijan’s Governor’s office and Urmia TV station.

An unspecified but large number of protesters were injured and many were transferred to the “Mutahhari” and “Arifian” hospitals in the city of Urmia. According to the eyewitnesses, a protester was killed by the Iranian riot police (Gard-e Vijeh) in Tarbiat Street of the city of Tabriz. The body was immediately removed by the security forces.

Before and during the protests more than one thousand people were arrested by Iranian riot police, Basij and undercover police officers in the cities of Urmia and Tabriz. According to ADAPP’s sources, those arrested were transferred to the government buildings, and Basij centres. Many dozens of arrested demonstrators had been transferred by paddy-wagons.

Azerbaijani demonstrators chanted slogans in Turkish in favour of protecting Lake Urmia. They were asking to remove the dams and condemning the Iranian government’s policy on “purposely” drying up Lake Urmia Some of the chants heard were: “Lake Urmia is dying / Iran is issuing its execution”, “Long live Azerbaijan”, “Urmia is thirsty / Azerbaijan must rise up, otherwise it will lose”, “Remove the dams, let water to the lake!”

Lake Urmia (Urmu Gölü) in Iran’s Azerbaijan is threatened by environmental degradation. In recent years, the government has actively built dams on more than 20 tributaries feeding into the lake, reducing the depth of the shallow lake to almost 2 meters. Fearing that Lake Urmia would share the same fate as the Aral Sea, Azerbaijani environmental activists have pressed for action from the Islamic Republic. There is great concerns that inaction will lead to an environmental catastrophe in which the remaining salt would be picked up by winds and dispersed throughout the region spreading disease, destroying crops, and creating hazardous living conditions in a wide radius around the lake. An environmental disaster of this intensity will plague not only Iranian Azerbaijan but the surrounding countries of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iraq, and Armenia. Because of Lake Urmia’s crucial role in its region supporting over 13 million local inhabitants, Azerbaijani environmental activists have pressed for action and will continue to peacefully protest to attract government cooperation and participation for these citizens’ concerns.

 03 September 2011

Association for the Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP)