Omid Habibinia
Last updated: 28 February, 2013

Iranian farmers fight military and police forces over water

Clashes erupted on February 23 when a group of angry farmers exploded the main pump near Isfehan in central Iran, which delivers to Yazd, a desert city.

But the battle began many years ago, when reformist President Khatami promised his hometown citizens to deliver Isfehan’s river Zaynderud to Yazd. Again, when conservative Ahmadinejad became president, he gave the same promise to Charmahal and Bakhtiari provinces, which meant that parts of the water also went to them. Iran has faced severe droughts during the last decade, with farmers becoming increasingly worried about the situation. They started to protest two years ago, asking for more water, but the government has not been able to find any solution.

After many protests, petitions and demands, they marched on February 23 with tractors and bulldozers, closed the road near Khorasgan east of Isfehan, and exploded the main pump which delivers water to Yazd, the capital of Yazd province with a population of about 600,000. The water supply in Yazd was immediately affected and authorities sent warning texts to citizens urging them to reduce water usage. In fear of unrest in Yazd, the province governor asked Isfehan authorities to end the protest and repair the pump. Farmers later clashed with riot police and set their vehicles on fire.

At the same time farmers in a western neighborhood of Isfehan also gathered and initiated protests, which brought more empathy among the Isfehani people.

After five days of clashes, last night special forces of the Islamic Republic Guards and riot police attacked the farmers. According to local accounts they used tear gas and lead bullets, some  unconfirmed reports also claim that they fired live ammunition when farmers fought back, killing at least five protesters. Some sources in Isfehan say at least 160 protesters were arrested and that security forces could finally reach the pump. Tension spread across the area including Varzaneh, a smaller village near the pump.

Officials in Yazd promised they will repair the pump and that water consumption should go back to normal in 48 hours. Your Middle East talked to some Yazd citizens who said there is potential for continuing protests. Many in Isfehan and Yazd blame the government for ignoring the real problem, adding that the economic crisis goes so deep and that tensions could once again escalate.