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Wide Arrest of Environmentalists in Iran's Azerbaijan Province: They Voted to Kill Lake Orumieh

By Kaveh Ghoreishi, Rooz Online

Families of those arrested during the Ramadhan's fast-breaking hours on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011, spoke with Rooz about their family members and said they still had no information about their status.

As described by witnesses and published video clips, an intense security atmosphere prevailed in yesterday's gatherings and security forces in Tabriz tried to prevent people from gathering. In the town of Orumieh tear gas and shot were fired in the air to disperse crowds. This violence came despite that the slogans and calls of the demonstrators were mostly regarding environmental issues and the condition of Orumieh Lake.

The slogans people shouted included these: "Orumieh Lake brings life, but Majlis orders its death." "Come cry, fill up Orumieh Lake with our tears" and "Azerbaijan shall live on, blind whoever can't accept it."

Protests in Orumieh
Protests in Orumieh

Aftab website, a primarily business site, covered the events and warned government officials that, "if officials did not want to rescue the dying Orumieh Lake, then they should at least be aware that not doing anything serious about the issue can create deep security issues in the north-western region of the country."

At the same time, some 700 civil activists from Mianeh town in East Azerbaijan province reminded authorities of the destructive and irreparable nature of the drying up of Orumieh Lake and called on them to "again and seriously" take measures to address this issue. The spokesperson of the coordinating council of Rahe Sabz Omid (The Green Path of Hope) also announced the support of the group for the Azerbaijani demands.

Short Contacts by the Detainees

According to human rights sources in Azerbaijan and video clips published on social networks, people of Orumieh and Tabriz gathered on Saturday to protest the drying up of Orumieh Lake. This resulted in arrests by security forces. Most recent reports indicate that arrests continue to be made in the region. At least one person's name has been reported, Vahid Faezpour of Orumieh, as a detainee, as the list is being compiled. In Ardebil, security forces arrested three activists by the names of Mohammad Badali, Rahim Gholami and another unnamed person.

These protests were triggered after the Majlis rejected a bill labeled urgent to address the drying up of Lake Orumieh by diverting and pumping water from Aras and Silveh rivers. The Majlis voted to take up the issue as a normal agenda item, denying it any priority.

Prior to this, on Wednesday, security forces arrested a number of protestors as they demonstrated in the town of Ghomtapeh during the fast-breaking hours of the day.

The names of some protestors who have been identified are as follows: Morteza Avazpour, Mostafa Avazpour, Mahmoud Fazli, Jalil Alamdar Milani, Taghi Salahshoor, Yusef Salahshoor, Abdollah Sadooghi, Mehdi Hamid Shafigh, Jamshid Zarei, Hassan Ark, Mehdi Mohajer, Aziz Poorvali, Ahmad Alizadeh, Yaser Salmani Rezai, Ilghar Karimi, Mehdi Noori, Ahmad Riazi Mobaraki, Farzad Mahdavi, Moosa Barzin Khalifeloo, Yaghoob Ramezani, Vahid SheikhBegloo, Mohammad Ali Moradi, Ali Shirnak, Mohammad Amiri and Taghi Soofiani.

Family members of these detainees have said that despite the arrests a few days ago, they still have not been told of where their members are being kept. Sadegh Avazpour, the father of Morteza Avazpour who was hosting the fast-breaking Iftar of the day told Rooz, "It is still not clear where my son is. During these days, we received a short call and without any explanations were told that he was arrested. Our efforts to learn more about our son have produced no results."

Ahmad Alizadeh's father also spoke of not known about his son's whereabouts and condition. "At the prosecutor's office they told us that Ahmad would be released on Tuesday. There is no other news about him." Families of Abdollah Sadooghi and Mahmoud Fazli also spoke with Rooz on Saturday expressing their lack of information about the condition of their detained family members.

Experts in the field have said that in addition to natural environmental forces, the creation of numerous dams over rivers that feed Orumieh Lake have contributed to the rapid drying up of the lake. By some accounts, 35 dams have been built on the path of the river while 10 others are under construction. These experts say these dams are not constructed according to plans or engineering standards.

On August 28, some 700 civil and political residents of Mianeh town published an open letter warning about the critical state of the lake. In their petition they call on the attention of officials to the "catastrophic" consequences of the drying up of the lake that would affect the lives of 15 million people living in the region.

Azerbaijani supporters of the Green Path of Hope published a letter on their website supporting the calls and demonstrators' demands for government intervention, and called official action till now "illegal and unwise the arrests made in this regard, asking for the immediate release of the detainees. Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, the spokesperson for the Green Path of Hope told Kaleme website, "The government faced a crisis of legitimacy and is thus afraid of everything: From youth's joy, from Iftar fast-breaking events in parks and even the water in Lake Orumieh." Arjomand is Mir-Hossein Mousavi's senior advisor during the latter's 2009 presidential bid and stressed in an interview, "Instead of creating unity and accord through dialog, ... government officials engage in creating crises, crackdowns, etc."

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