The Desiccation of Lake Orumiyeh: Environmental Rights, Regional Identity, and Geopolitics

Authors: A. Marie Ranjbar*, Ohio State University
Topics: Political Geography, Environment, Middle East
Keywords: Feminist geopolitics, environmental justice, human rights, Iran
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Bonaparte, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the mid-2000s, an environmental justice movement emerged in the province of West Azerbaijan, Iran, to reverse the desiccation of Lake Orumiyeh, one of the largest saltwater lakes in the world. Subsequently, the Orumiyeh environmental movement became a platform for other rights issues, advocating for an expansion of political rights and supporting local ethnic minority struggles for greater autonomy.

In this paper, I examine cross-scalar implications of the Orumiyeh movement, its evolution, and its strategies for making rights claims. I examine how environmental rights and ethno-nationalist claims are inextricably linked in Orumiyeh, arguing that these intersections reflect historical tensions and deeply rooted contestations between the Iranian Azerbaijan region and the Iranian state. At the scale of the nation-state, I demonstrate how environmental injustice is implicated with human rights claims in Iran. Such implications are also useful to analyze within a larger context of tense geopolitical relations between Iran and the US, where activists navigate a contested political terrain shaped by state violence toward ethnic minorities and punitive economic sanctions from the international community.

Drawing from feminist geopolitics and environmental justice literatures, this paper demonstrates how a focus on Lake Orumiyeh and its surrounding contestations is useful in articulating the historical marginalization of Iranian Azeris and Kurds, the extension of environmental concerns into the realm of political rights, and the variation in cross-scalar responses elicited by the geostrategic location of the lake, bordering Iraq, Turkey, and the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

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