To: Mr. Javaid Rehman
From: South Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement
Subject: Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Date: July 20, 2023
Dear Mr. Rehman,
The South Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement has been actively supporting the right of self-determination for more than 35 million South Azerbaijani Turks living within the borders of Iran since 1995 and our aim is to work closely with the international community and NGOs such the UNPO, Amnesty International, and Human Rights watch to represent the interests of our people by voicing the many challenges they face under the tyranny of the Iranian mullah regime. SANAM solely uses and promotes non-violent and peaceful methods such as civil disobedience to challenge the despotic and coercive rule of the Iranian regime.
Aside from the civil, cultural, political, and economic repressions that the South Azerbaijani Turks face, the most prominent issue today is the dying Lake Urmia. The Iranian regime has done next to nothing for the revival of this once vast salt lake, instead it has built more dams and incentivized the digging of more underground wells. There are currently close to one hundred small and large dams blocking off the natural water supply that are meant to feed the lake, and the Eastern Azerbaijan municipality has verified that more than one hundred and sixty thousand underground wells have been dug around the lake which in turn cripple the natural ecosystem. Lake Urmia is noted as the sixth largest salt lake in the world, and largest in Western Asia. Currently 95% of the Lake has dried, and reports from UNESCO warn that more than 15 million people (about twice the population of New Jersey) will have to migrate elsewhere to survive. The bed of the dying Lake Urmia contains billions of tons of salt particles mixed with dangerous heavy metal particles and the winds have already started carrying these particles to nearby villages, towns, and cities. The UNESCO has offered to aid the Iranian government in the revival process and countries such as Japan have provided monetary aid and promised to contribute more but the mullah regime and its parliament have even mentioned that the budget set aside for the revival of the lake is either missing or non-existent.
The Iranian government is not by the people, therefore, is not for the people. The South Azerbaijani people have protested many times to encourage the regime and its officials to act, but instead of listening to the grievances of its citizens, the mullah regime has branded peaceful protestors as “agents of the West, and separatists”. Even in the case of an ecological disaster orchestrated none other than its own unhumanitarian and neo-colonial policies and approaches, the regime stays uninterested in heeding to the warning calls issued by the international community. There are already numerous reports of respiratory illnesses and cases of cancer in the community because of breathing in cancerogenic particles carried by the heavy winds.
SANAM, according to reports made by Iranian officials, believes that the regime is speeding up the death of Lake Urmia for several reasons:
- Migration of millions of South Azerbaijani Turks and non-Persian ethnicities from the Western Azerbaijan and Eastern Azerbaijan provinces to predominantly Persian speaking states and cities such as Tehran, Kirman, Yazd, Isfahan, and Shiraz to speed up the negative assimilation process.
- Per the publicized speeches made by the former Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, “it is currently an excellent time to extract minerals such as Uranium, Lithium, and other heavy metals from Lake Urmia”. The Iranian mullah regime does not care for the civilian health issues, casualties, and an ecological catastrophe that will affect tens of million of people in a 700 km (about 430 miles) radius.
- The Urmia Lake sits on the border with Turkey and it is mostly consisted of S. Azerbaijani Turks. The regime aims to rid the region of Turkic speaking population and potentially create a buffer zone and prevent the civilian transport between two countries. The aim is perhaps to create a barricade between the sides and there are reports of heavy Kurdification of Western Azerbaijan that is sanctioned by the Iranian regime and its very close ties to the region government in Northern Iraq and its ethnically Kurd governors are tell-tale signs.
During Hassan Rouhani’s campaign to run for office he traveled South Azerbaijani cities as well and told his voters that he alone could help revive Lake Urmia. Some of the S. Azerbaijani voters did have some faith in his promises but he kept none. The Iranian government and its officials do not hide the fact only 5% of the plans for the revival of the lake have been completed in the past 20 years. Other ministers of the Iranian regime who still carry heavy political weight such as Isa Kalantari (former head of the Department of the Environment) have solely tried to make excuses for the dying of Lake Urmia, and instead of acting based on data and science, have tried to prepare the population for the total death of the lake by blaming the process on “global warming, lack of rain, and neighbors like Turkey who have created dams to prevent water sources coming in to Iran”. It is true that global warming is a serious issue and lacks of rain have been observed, however, in the vicinity of Lake Urmia are Lake Sevan of Armenia and Lake Van of Turkey. These two lakes have not seen any serious drop in water volume, instead have become tourism hubs and the local population benefit from the many blessings nature has to offer.
In conclusion, the situation surrounding Lake Urmia has reached a very critical point and if a serious action is not taken soon, experts predict the toral drying of the lake and the abovementioned catastrophes listed above will become realities. This issue is as much political as it is ecological. The Iranian regime needs to be seriously pressured in to allowing foreign experts to intervene. South Azerbaijani Turks have started mass social media trends to create awareness and many flyers have been posted on streets and public roads. Lake Urmia concerns the wellbeing of tens of millions of people in the abovementioned 700 KM radius. It is important to note the fate of Aral Sea which was dried under the wrong policies of the Soviet Union, and international media noted that salt storms from Uzbekistan reached Turkmenistan and officials urged civilians to wear gas masks if they leaved their homes. Salt storms have reached as far Tabriz, and this is only the beginning. There are many other issues to note in terms of the hardships faced by South Azerbaijanis, but the aim of this letter is to focus on Lake Urmia. Our aim is to inform and stay in touch to encourage more effective pressure from the UN.
SANAM U.S. Representative