Following months of desperate efforts to gain their right to irrigation, the farmers of Isfahan began their sit-in on November 7, vowing to remain at the dried riverbed of Zayandeh Rud until the state fulfills its promise from last summer and pours water back into the river. Absence genuine care for agriculture, the regime has been literally stealing their water, holding it behind multiple IRGC-constructed dams, and diverting it to state-owned facilities to advance its malign ambitions. Now, the farmers’ demands have become political and today, they started chanting “Death to the dictator.”
Despite the security forces raiding their sit-in and burning down their tents last night, farmers in Isfahan started their protests on Friday. They had called on their fellow citizens for a large gathering on Friday. When farmers gathered at the Pol-e Khaju area early in the morning, anti-riot police and Basij militia forces attacked them with teargas and batons.
Yet, farmers stood their ground and resisted the regime’s security forces. Even though the regime’s anti-riot forces had burned the farmers’ tents and forced them to disperse on Thursday morning, state-run media tried to blame the farmers or “opportunists” for this attack.
The state-run Mostaghel daily warned on November 24 that protests in Isfahan, “which started due to water shortage, represented many of the people’s grievances that could not be expressed for years due to economic and social problems, as well as the severity of the government’s actions. As a result, after breaking this taboo, we will see more people dare to cry their claims.”
On November 9, the protesting farmers relocated to the dried basin of the Zayandeh Rud river. The protests continued to become more intense and crowded. On November 19, tens of thousands of people gathered in the dried riverbed of Zayandeh Rud, supporting the farmers’ demands.
During November 19’s protests, people chanted, “The people of Isfahan will rather die than to give in to disgrace,” “Where is our Zayandeh Rud,” “Zayandeh Rud is our undeniable right,” and “We will not go home until we get our water back.”
There have been speculations about the real source of the water crisis in Isfahan and other Iranian provinces.
“The water mafia and its tunnels are sucking up the groundwater. They are profiting, while the people are living in poverty,” wrote the state-run Mostaghel daily on November 21.
What is this “water mafia,” and what has it done in recent years?
“Out of Iran’s population of 85 million, about 28 million live in areas with water shortages, mainly in the central and southern regions of the country,” the state-run Aftab News acknowledged on July 14, 2021.
In July, people in the water-rich Khuzestan Province held demonstrations for several weeks, demanding their right to water. Iran’s water crisis is due to the regime’s destructive policies, such as unscientifically constructing multiple dams, running large industrial projects in water-scarce regions, or transferring water to other parts of Iran to pursue military projects.
Before the 1979 revolution, there have been only 30 dams across Iran. But now, according to official statistics, 1330 dams are in various stages of operation, implementation, or study.
Based on the orders of the Supreme Water Council and the Council of Coordination for Zayandeh Rud, %74.3 of the river’s water was supposed to be allocated to agriculture, and about %25.7 was dedicated to the Ministry of Energy. Nonetheless, none of these planned bore fruit, and now farmers have no means to irrigate their lands. Instead, the state-run facilities are using the full capacity of the water that once flowed in the Zayandeh Rud river.
“In Isfahan province, about 300 million cubic meters of water is used for industrial purposes. According to development plans, it is predicted that this figure will reach 500 million cubic meters per year in the next ten years,” wrote the state-run Hamdeli newspaper on November 22.
Among them is Foolad Mobarakeh Steel Industry Group. This huge steel conglomerate belongs to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). The IRGC has been dominating Iran’s economy in the last two decades.
“The Basij and the IRGC will support Mobarakeh Steel Group and other industries in the country with all their might,” said Ali Hossein Raiatifard, head of the Workers’ and Factories’ Branch of the Basij Organization, according to the state-run Jahan-e Sanat daily.
“As mentioned, it is very important that the company continues to produce with all its capacity and stronger than before because any halt in the production lines of this factory will cause problems for many industries,” he told Jahan-e Sanat on October 19. The IRGC also controls Isfahan Steel Company, another conglomerate with hundreds of employees.
“Development in Isfahan province, like many other regions of the country, has not been done based on an approved land management plan. Although Isfahan is in an arid and semi-arid region, the type of industry set up in the province requires water. These industries include steel and petrochemical among others,” an Iranian ecologist writes.
“Experts believe that one of the main reasons for the dryness of the Zayandeh Rud River is overusing this river as well as conducting water transfer projects to Yazd, Kashan, etc.,” Jahan-e Sanat daily wrote on November 20. “Irregular annual abstraction of water upstream of the river from the dam to the Koleh bridge by pumping, the establishment of large industries, refineries, power plants along the river are other factors that have contributed to the critical conditions of the Zayandeh Rud.”
“The Ben-Brojen Plan, which incorporated providing a huge water supply to large industrial factories and using the water for other areas and many decisions that resulted from mismanagement, has angered the people,” Hesam Nazari, one of the regime’s local officials, had told the ILNA News Agency on January 28, 2019.
The regime had vowed to transfer water from other parts of the country to Isfahan, an impractical solution that failed to fruition
“Farmers do not need the water of the Beheshtabad tunnel or the water of the Persian Gulf; If the illegal pumping that was done to develop the gardens and villas of some of the officials’ relatives would stop, we could get our water back,” one farmer told Mehr News Agency in October during a protest by farmers
“The livelihood of about 300,000 Isfahani farmers is tied to the Zayandeh Rud. Its dryness has created problems such as land subsidence as well as climate and environmental challenges for the people of Isfahan,” Jahan-e Sanat wrote daily wrote on November 20.
“Land subsidence in Isfahan is so severe that some experts believe that if no immediate and effective solution is devised, the city will not be habitable in the next ten years.”
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) November 26, 2021
The recent protests in Isfahan started due to the water crisis. Iranian farmers held peaceful protests demanding their legitimate right to water irrigation. The regime could have fulfilled people’s demands, but it chose not to. Instead, the oppressive forces cracked down on protesters. As history is a guide, Tehran has no response to people’s social and economic problems other than oppression.
On November 21, while the people of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province were demonstrating on the streets, an IRGC General, Gholam-Ali Heidari was appointed as the new governor of that very province. At the same time, Hassan Bahramonia, another IRGC commander, was appointed as governor of the Ilam Province.
Since Ebrahim Raisi became the regime’s president, at least 15 IRGC commanders have been appointed as governors. Raisi was selected as the regime’s president to increase oppressive measures against Iran’s restive society. But by oppressing people, the regime is rapidly increasing society’s explosiveness.
The people know that the regime is neither willing nor able to address their grievances, as it is literally responsible for creating them. Hence, their slogans are targeting the regime in its entirety, believing that regime change is the ultimate solution to their problems.