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Splinters in Iranian Support for Assad Regime; Lake Orumieh Crisis Goes UN

02 Sep 2011 11:15Comments

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. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

10:50 p.m., 11 Shahrivar/September 2 Iran beat Indonesia 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier. Iran will take on Qatar in Doha on Tuesday.

AhmadAvaeiSept.jpg11 a.m., 11 Shahrivar/September 2 The cracks in the Iranian government's formerly imperturbable support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continue to widen. Less than a week after Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi declared that the Assad regime had a responsibility to heed protesters' "legitimate demands", the semiofficial Fars News Agency quoted a member of the Majles's National Security Commision, Ahmad Avaei (pictured), to the effect that Assad's opposition to Israel and support for the Lebanese Hezbollah -- a primary client of the Islamic Republic -- no longer justified support for his embattled government. As reported in the Los Angeles Times,
"The fact is that supporting the Syrian rulers at any cost was not right, as those who staged the protests were Muslims, and their protests were legitimate," Avaei said. [...]

"Unfortunately, the Syrian leadership has realized too late the necessity of entering the reform process and should have done that much earlier to avoid the current crisis," the lawmaker said. [...]

Iranian officials' switch to public criticism of the Syrian crackdown follows an apparently influential visit to Tehran late last month by Qatar's emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, who supports the Syrian uprising and called efforts to crush it "fruitless."

Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, an Iranian analyst and journalist, said in an interview that Iran had sought to reach out to at least one opposition group in Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Avaei's comments were not covered by the Fars English-language website. No story there has explicitly referenced the popular uprising against Assad's rule since an item published early Tuesday afternoon headlined "Ecuador Warns UNSC against War on Syria." On Wednesday, a story on the site hailed the "growing tide of Islamic awakening" being experienced around (selected parts of) the Middle East:

Since the beginning of 2011, the Muslim world has witnessed popular uprisings and revolutions similar to what happened in Iran in 1979. Tunisia saw the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolution in January, which was soon followed by a revolution which toppled Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in February.

Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have since been the scene of protests against their totalitarian rulers, who have resorted to brutal crackdown on demonstrations to silence their critics.

In Libya, euphoric Libyan revolutionaries seized control of most of Tripoli on August 22 in a lightning advance, celebrating the victory in Green Square, the symbolic heart of Muammar Qaddafi's regime.

Syria -- where more than 2,200 civilians, virtually all of them Muslim, have been killed since demonstrations began against the Assad regime in March -- was not mentioned once in the article.

OrumiehStrandedBoat.jpgAs reported in Tehran Bureau, the condition of Lake Orumieh, one of Iran's greatest natural treasures, has been rapidly deteriorating. The lake, which lies largely in the Azeri region of north Iran, has been drying up at a rate that harkens ecological death in the near future unless swift, serious steps are taken to reverse its degradation. In the past week, authorities have cracked down violently on protests that took place in the cities of Tabriz and Orumieh in which demonstrators called for the national government to step in and save the lake.

The London-based Association des Chercheurs Iraniens (ACI) -- the Association of Iranian Researchers -- has now brought the crisis to the desk of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in an open letter signed by the group's president, Dr. Hossein Ladjevardi:

Your Excellency,

I would like to draw your attention to an urgent environmental crisis unfolding in [the] North West of Iran with national, regional and global consequences.

Lake Oroumieh, the world's third largest salt lake and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is drying up at an alarming rate due to drought, misguided irrigation policies, development and the irresponsible damming of rivers that feed it.

Mentioned as early as [the] 9th century BC in Assyrian text[s], the lake serves as a natural divide between the major cities of Oroumieh and Tabriz in the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan:

* A major tourist attraction and national park, its wetlands are listed in the Ramsar Convention (number 38-23 June 1975)
* It holds 31 billion cubic meters of water with a catchment area of 51876 square kilometres
* Its endangered birds, flora and fauna are listed by [the] IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources] and WWF [World Wildlife Fund]
* Its 102 rocky islands are home to migrating birds
* 27 types of mammals, 212 types of birds, 41 types of reptiles, 7 types of amphibians and 26 types of fish inhabit the Lake's ecological areas

The "wise use" concept at the heart of [the] Ramsar Convention is the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources, for the benefit of humankind. However, in Iran today there are threats of serious and irreversible damage to Lake Oroumieh, with no real measures to prevent the human and environmental degradation.

Since [the] early 1990s decision makers have not been accountable for policies that have created the present day crisis. In the recent months environmental activists and ordinary members of public who have protested against these erroneous policies have been arrested and detained in an effort to silence the protest. [The] arrests of over 300 people in the last few days [are] quickly turning an environmental issue into a human rights crisis whereby the right to peaceful protest is violated and individuals are arrested and detained arbitrarily.

Your Excellency, it is of utmost importance that the international community hears of the looming catastrophe that could result in a "salt tsunami" far exceeding the borders of Iran and affecting not just the lives and livelihood of people around Lake Oroumieh's catchment area but millions of people in the region.

ACI asks that an investigative group visits the region urgently and action is taken to prevent a human and environmental catastrophe.

Hossein Ladjevardi -- PhD
President -- ACI

Lake Orumieh has shrunk by an estimated 60 percent in recent years and its salinity has more than doubled. "Let's cry and fill Lake Orumieh with our tears," protesters chanted earlier this week. Referring to Iran's parliament, which environmental advocates assert has ignored the mounting disaster, demonstrators shouted, "Lake Orumieh is dying; the Majles is issuing its death sentence."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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