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News | Mehr News Agency: '16,000 Memorials' for Earthquake Victims

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI and DAN GEIST

22 Aug 2012 10:00Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

EarthquakeCorpses1Fars.jpg 10 a.m. IRDT, 1 Shahrivar/August 22 A week and a half after two large earthquakes devastated hundreds of villages in Iran's East Azerbaijan province, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency published an item Tuesday on its website that suggested the death toll was far higher -- as much as 52 times higher -- than the officially reported figure of 306. In a dispatch on the "strengths and weaknesses" of rescue, relief, and reconstruction efforts in the quake-affected region, Mehr, which is owned by the Organization for Islamic Propaganda, enumerated "fifteen courses of action by the Red Crescent Society that were not part of its [normal] duties"; among them, it stated that the Society had helped in "holding 16 thousand memorials" for the dead.

In Iran, memorials are traditionally held on the third and seventh days after a death; given the lingering effects of the disaster, it is likely that most survivors in the region were unable to abide by this tradition of two memorials in the first week post mortem -- yet even if it had been followed in every case, Mehr's report would suggest the actual death toll was 8,000.

EarthquakeCorpses2ISNA.jpgHowever the Mehr dispatch is interpreted, a death toll of 8,000 or even one approaching 16,000 is not unimaginable if considered within the context of other reports on the extent of the destruction caused by the two major quakes that occurred on the afternoon of August 11 and the 55 recorded aftershocks. As noted by Tehran Bureau, Hossein Derakhshan, head of public relations for the Organization of Rescue and Relief, said last week that the earthquakes significantly damaged or destroyed 12,000 homes in an area where 155,000 people lived. To date, though, no other reports on the calamity and its aftermath have indicated that the number of deaths was close to the figures suggested by the Mehr dispatch.

Mehr and other government mouthpieces have tried to portray the trip that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made to the region this past Thursday as having energized relief operations. Iran's Supreme Leader had kept silent for the first two days after the earthquakes while Present Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew off to Saudi Arabia, seemingly oblivious to the plight of the survivors. Khamenei visited the devastated area only after the regime had been subjected to days of criticism -- including from conservative quarters -- over what many Iranians perceived as its relative passivity in the face of a major disaster. At the same time, the grassroots rallied to aid the stricken region; nongovernmental organizations, as well as several celebrated actors and athletes, set up substantial relief operations that delivered food, tents, drugs, and other badly needed items.

EarthquakeCorpses3Mehr.jpgIn its dispatch, Mehr claimed that Khamenei had demanded that officials do a better job, while government officials have been arguing that the popular efforts were directly inspired by his trip. For example, East Azerbaijan Governor-General Ahmad Ali Reza Beigi, claimed that the Supreme Leader's presence created "unity among people and returned calm to the area." Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi said that, in order to go to East Azerbaijan, Khamenei had to break his Ramadan fast -- as Muslims on journey may do -- and claimed that this was an indication of the "spiritual and love-filled relations between the masses and the Supreme Leader."

***

On Tuesday, as well, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it had issued a temporary order to facilitate the transfer of money to Iran expressly devoted to relief and reconstruction efforts. According to the OFAC press release,

Since the August 11, 2012 earthquake that hit northwestern Iran, the United States has made it clear that it would offer assistance to the Iranian people as they recover and rebuild. The Iranian government has not accepted the U.S. offer of assistance, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been assisting in the relief efforts. To assist their efforts, OFAC issued a temporary general license today, which authorizes, for the next 45 days, NGOs with 501(c)(3) status to collect funds to be used in direct support of humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities in response to the earthquake. The general license is a demonstration of [the] Administration's commitment to supporting the Iranian people affected by this tragedy, and responds to the American people's desire to provide immediate assistance.

Under the general license, which will remain in effect until October 5, 2012, an NGO can transfer funds up to $300,000 during the 45-day period to Iran to be used for humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities related to the earthquake response. NGOs interested in transferring more than $300,000 during the 45-day period may apply for a specific license. It is important to note that the general license specifically forbids any dealings or involvement with individuals or entities designated for support for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or terrorism, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as listed on the Treasury Department's List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List).

Donations of food and medicine to Iran already do not require a license from OFAC. These donations, when intended to be used to relieve human suffering, are exempt from the sanctions on trade between the U.S. and Iran, as long as the donations are not being sent to the Government of Iran or any Iranian individual or entity on the Treasury Department's SDN List.

The press release concludes with the arguable claim that "for all practical purposes, such donations to the Iranian people, including transactions needed to ship permissible donations, can occur without a specific license from OFAC."

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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