Dying Lake Gives New Life To Iran’s Antigovernment Protests

Iran’s largest lake is dying, but it’s giving new life to antigovernment protests along its receding shores.

Lake Orumieh, one of the world’s largest saltwater lakes, has shrunk by some 60 percent in recent years due to drought and misguided development policies. Environmentalists warn that unless something is done, the lake will disappear forever.

This dire prospect has put locals who depend on the lake on edge. And seeing as the lake straddles the border of Iran’s East and West Azerbaijan provinces, centers of the country’s ethnic Azeri population that have a rich and volatile history of protest against Tehran, the central government is on edge too.

Tensions over the lake’s falling water levels boiled over last week, after parliament, the Majlis, decided against local lawmakers‘ proposed fast-track solution to the problem in an August 17 vote. Scores of locals took to the streets of Orumieh (aka Urmia) on August 27, and open conflict with security forces ensued.

„Let’s cry and fill Lake Orumieh with our tears,“ protesters chanted in Orumieh, as well as, „Lake Orumieh is dying; the Majlis is issuing its death sentence“ (see video here).

And what might have been heard loudest by the authorities — already sensitive to any signs of a return of the large-scale protest that followed the country’s 2009 presidential election and wary of any outward signs of ethnic discord in the country’s Azeri regions — were chants like these: „Azerbaijan rise up and cry out,“ and „If Azerbaijan doesn’t rise up, it will lose.“

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