Third Major Protests to Save Lake Urmia

ARCDH – Association Arc pour la défense des droits de l’homme du peuple azerbaidjanais – Iran :

Dear Mrs. Jahangir,

RE Third Major Protests to Save Lake Urmia

This is a briefing note to inform you of the major environmental preservation effort of Azerbaijanis in 14 July 2017, to form a human chain along the Highway Bridge connecting East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan over Lake Urmia by participation from all Azerbaijani cities. Below, we reflect on the information gathered from our contacts in Azerbaijan.

We understand that waves of Azerbaijani individuals and environmental campaigners set out to travel towards the Highway Bridge over the Lake Urmia near Urmia, the capital of the West Azerbaijan province from all cities including Khoy, Zengan, Ardebil, Tabriz and Urmia. Our information is that the Iranian authorities blockaded all the roads leading to this high bridge and physically prevented them from travelling. May we bring to your kind attention that these acts by the Iranian authorities to prevent peaceful campaigners violated Article 27 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to which “Public gatherings and marches are allowed so long as the participants do not carry arms and are not in violation of the fundamental principles of Islam.”

In spite of the massive operations instigated by the Iranian authorities, an overwhelming number of individuals managed to bypass the blockades and reached Lake Urmia to exercise their international rights to demonstrate. However, the roadsides in the vicinity of the bridge were infiltrated by plainclothes security agents, who kept the people on move and their rough behaviour made it very difficult for the participants to coalesce for forming their planned human chain. If the human chain was forced not to be formed, at least it was formed sporadically and this marked a triumph for the participants.

We understand that on Friday, the Iranian authorities detained up to 70 individuals. More are released under bail but we have not yet managed to identify their names.

The motivation for the restoration of Lake Urmia has evidently been integrated into the national consciousness of the Azerbaijani nation in Azerbaijan with the following highlights:

  • The Iranian authorities have been exposed all the way through for not allocating any budget to reinstate the lake, but instead they carry on with intensifying the damming of the watercourses flowing into the lake with no compensation flows into the lake.

  • Literally, there is no significant watercourse not dammed, which are often used for fish farming without any significant return to Azerbaijani environment and economics.

  • Now everyone knows that the environmental distress forced against Lake Urmia is the deliberate Iranian policy.

  • Azerbaijanis often see the usual ambiguous statements from Iranian authorities, which shows their disingenuous approach to Azerbaijani affairs.

We should remind that the Lake Urmia protests took place just two weeks after yet another major event of the resumption of the Annual Babek Assembly. These two events have at least three features in common (will be attached to this doc.)

We would also remind you that the protests against the Iranian deliberate policies to dry Lake Urmia began in 2 April 2010, which is called Nature Day in Azerbaijan. This protest was reiterated in 2 April 2011 and in both cases, literally 100s were arbitrarily arrested and a significant number of them imprisoned for months. Since 2011, the Iranian authorities literally made it impossible to protest in Azerbaijan through their iron fist policies.

We rally for your support to the cause of Saving Lake Urmia. We hope you will keep this issue in your mission for the whole term of your office. We would like to stress that without contextualising the distress of Lake Urmia to the ethnic Azerbaijani background, without which the Iranian authorities will believe that they have achieved their mission of drying Lake Urmia and hiding their racist aims. We also rally for your campaign for all the detainees and their unconditional release.

For and on behalf of ArcDH

Mrs. Jaleh Razmi

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