For two weeks, the Iranian government tolerated growing protests over water shortages in the Iranian city of Isfahan, watching them grow as restaurants served protesters free soup and barbers offered free haircuts. . State television even aired interviews with farmers discussing their grievances.
But after the protests spread to at least one other city, the predictable happened on Friday: the government cracked down on it.
Security forces wielding batons, shields and rifles stormed the city’s riverbed around 4 p.m. Thursday as a group of farmers sipped tea and discussed the strategy of protest around a fire. of camp.
Security forces had used a megaphone to tell farmers they had 10 minutes to evacuate, Hassan Tavakoli, a 47-year-old farmer from Isfahan, said in a telephone interview. His account was supported by several videos that were shared with the New York Times by residents of Isfahan.
“Before we had a chance to move, our tents were suddenly set on fire and they started throwing tear gas at us and shooting in the air,” Tavakoli said. He said the crowd included several families with young children and two babies.
“I didn’t expect them to do this to us, beat us, shoot us and hurt the farmers,” he added.
For more than two weeks, Mr. Tavakoli and hundreds of other farmers demonstrated on the dry bed of the city’s famous Zayanderoud River. Tens of thousands of people joined them in solidarity.
Their demand: to restore water flows in the river to help irrigate farmland ravaged by years of poor water resource management.
“We have nothing of our land and our livelihood, we are just asking for our water rights,” Tavakoli said. It has three hectares of farmland that was once lush with crops of wheat, barley and vegetables. The land has been dry and barren for 15 months, forcing Mr. Tavakoli to sell his cattle to survive.
Iran faces growing water scarcity problems due to years of mismanagement. In the case of Isfahan, water was diverted through underground pipes away from farmland and to industrial complexes in the desert province of Yazd and for drinking water to the religious city of Qom.
The Iranian Meteorological Organization estimates that about 97 percent of the country is struggling with drought at some level. The country’s former energy minister warned in May that Iran was facing its driest summer in 50 years and that temperatures hovering around 50 degrees Celsius – 122 degrees Fahrenheit – would lead to blackouts and water shortages.
The July protests against water shortages, mainly organized by farmers from the Arab population of Khuzestan province, were also violently suppressed by the government. As a temporary solution, authorities opened a whorehouse and the water returned to the river, helping to irrigate farmers’ lands and hydrate livestock.
During Thursday’s crackdown, security forces called on farmers to issue a statement announcing an end to their sit-in after no resolution was found and the government took action to respond to it. their concerns, Mr Tavakoli said.
As people gathered to protest on Friday, security forces escalated their violence. The clashes spread from the dry riverbed to the streets of downtown Isfahan. Security officers fired bird shots and tear gas at crowds of protesters and beat them with batons, according to two eyewitnesses from the area and videos shared widely on social media.
There were no official casualties, but videos and eyewitnesses said dozens of protesters were injured. Mr Tavakoli said dozens of farmers were also seriously injured in the clashes, but he had not heard of any deaths. Human rights activists said dozens of people were arrested.
Videos on social media showed a woman in a black chador bleeding from her nose; a middle-aged man with blood streaming down his face from a swollen eye; and the bare back of a man riddled with red spots, apparently birds.
Some videos showed protesters throwing stones at riot police and chanting ‘shame on you’ and ‘death to dictator’ and ‘death to Khamenei’, targeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word in all key states. and security issues.
Mobile and internet services were cut off in Isfahan and Khuzestan, residents reported, as the government sought to cut communication and organization.
Experts on Iran’s water scarcity problems say climate change and reduced rainfall have exacerbated the drought caused by mismanagement.
“This is water bankruptcy, there are a lot of water rights holders but not enough water in the accounts,” said Kaveh Madani, a world renowned water expert and former deputy director of the Iranian environment agency. “People upstream and downstream of Zayanderoud are asking for water for everyone. But it is mission impossible.
The Zayanderoud River winds through the historic city of Isfahan. Its verdant banks are the city’s main green space, and families gather on summer evenings for picnics. In the fall, the river serves as a stopover for migrating birds that flock south.