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News | Official Sources Continue to Downplay Earthquake Devastation

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI

14 Aug 2012 03:51Comments
838981_orig.jpgPress 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.

Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, minister of health, has announced that a total of 306 people died as a result of the earthquakes in East Azerbaijan province on Saturday. According to the minister, 210 women and children, and 49 men lost their lives in hospitals. The rest, she said, were already dead by the time rescuers pulled them out of the rubble.

Aftab News, a website close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, reports that many more probably died. According to the website, the official toll reflects a few dozen villages, whereas nearly 500 other villages have been destroyed upwards of 40 percent (including 80 which were completely leveled). For example, 251 were reported dead in only eight villages around the town of Haris. But the epicenters of those two quakes were not even there, raising the possibility that fatalities are much higher than reported. One of the epicenters was in the town of Varzaghan, an area with many villages in the mountains, where access is difficult.

According to Ahmad Alirezabeigi, governor-general of East Azerbaijan province, 12,000 homes have been destroyed or partially damaged. This is an area which, according to Hossein Derakhshan, head of the public relations department of the Organization for Rescue and Aide, 155,000 people lived.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Ashrafi, deputy governor-general for development of East Azerbaijan estimated that damage to homes and infrastructure was in the range of $750 million.

Media Coverage

After only reporting briefly on the earthquakes on Saturday night, a few hours after they had struck, the Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic [state-controlled radio and television] broadcast a comedy on Sunday night.

Conservative website Asr Iran called the broadcast "strange," especially "when people are mourning."

"How do those who have lost their loved ones feel when they see that the television is broadcasting music and comedy?"

Shafaf News, the website close to Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, asked, "What needs to happen in order to declare a [period of] national mourning?"

Majles deputies from East and West Azerbaijan provinces have also expressed anger about the lack of this declaration. Nader Ghazipoor, a deputy from Orumieh, asked rhetorically, "Are the lives of the Azeri people not important [thus given no coverage on Voice and Visage]? Are they not at least as important as soccer games [that are constantly broadcast on state television]?"

Tabriz deputy Masoud Pezeshkian said, "It is as if 70-100 percent of 200 villages have not been destroyed, more than 300 have not been killed, and many have not become homeless."

Tabnak, another conservative website, asked, "Why does the death of its citizens not appear to be important to the government?"

Mohammad Reza Rahimi, first vice president of President Mahmoud Ahmainejad, visited the earthquake-stricken areas, and said that the government will rebuild everything there in two months. He also said that the government will support the families in the ravaged areas until they go back to work. Rahimi rejected the assertion that the government was slow to react to the events. "The government went immediately to work after the earthquakes," he said.

More conservative and regime-aligned websites and newspapers have still not been giving prominent coverage to the earthquakes and their aftermath. Raja News, Fars News Agency, Jahan News, and Mashregh News, all linked with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basij militia, have been giving more coverage to Ayatollah Khamenei's speech to a group of hardline academics. Kayhan ignored the news on Sunday, and its front page headline on Monday was dedicated to Khamenei's proclamation that "the political-social geography of the world is changing toward Islam." Likewise, Resalat, published by the pro-Khamenei Islamic Coalition Party, ignored the earthquakes Sunday, and the news was missing from its main headlines on Monday and Tuesday.

Instead, these sites criticized those that had criticized them, accusing them of "exploiting the situation." See here, for example.

Former President Mohammad Khatami, the Coordination Council of Kurdish Reformists, the Reformist Youth of Sistan and Baluchestan, a group of actors, directors and musicians, including Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, Islamic Iran Participation Front [the largest reformist group], and the Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, and Advar-e Tahkim Vahdat [the organization of university graduates], have all issued statements expressing condolences and offering help.

Switzerland, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, Germany, the United Nation's UNICEF and many red cross societies around the world have declared their readiness to help the survivors of the earthquakes, but the Iranian government has said that it needs no help and will address the problem on its own.

The White House press secretary issued this statement:

The American people send the Iranian people our deepest condolences for the loss of life in the tragic earthquake in northwestern Iran. Our thoughts are with the families of those who were lost, and we wish the wounded a speedy recovery. We stand ready to offer assistance in this difficult time.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, social networks have played a more important role in spreading the news about the earthquakes and asking people for help. Even student groups at universities in Tabriz, Orumieh, Ardabil and Zanjan, which are associated with the traditional conservatives, have been active in spreading the news and seeking help.

Alaahverdi Dehghan, the Majles deputy representing Varzaghan, said that "the depth of the catastrophe has not been explained accurately [to the people]. If that had been done correctly, the situation would have been much better."

Dr. Abbas-Ali Tasnimi, head of the International Center for the Study of Earthquakes in Tehran, said in a press conference that more than 1300 aftershocks have occurred in Ahar and Zarvaghan, each stronger than 3.0 on the Richter scale.

Ahmadinejad and other officials

While the nation is focused on the earthquakes in East Azerbaijan, Ahmadinejad and a large group of his ministers and their families went to Saudi Arabia. Even Ali Nikzad, minister of roads and urban development, accompanied him. The reason for the trip is a conference in the Kingdom about developments in Syria. Not only was this trip not canceled, Ahmadinejad and his entourage left a day earlier than planned.

While the survivors of the earthquakes needed urgent help, Zaher Rostami, head of Iran's Red Crescent Society, took off for Libya to investigate the disappearance of several members there. He was accompanied by deputy foreign minister Amir Hossein Abdollahian.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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