Tens of thousands left shivering in tents as snow covers the region four months after earthquake
Four months have passed since the earthquake in the Qaradağ region of Iranian Azerbaijan and the government of the Islamic Republic continues to downplay its severity and has yet to fulfill promises in providing adequate shelter for most of the roughly Tens of thousands ethnic Turks res…iding in more than 300 earthquake-stricken villages. Many of the victims, whose simple mud-brick homes were annihilated on August 11th, were provided with tents in hopes that their homes would be rebuilt before the brutal winter months. As winter approaches however, they have been left unaccounted for and reports of cold-related illnesses are rapidly increasing.
What’s more disturbing is that the Iranian government has gone to great lengths to suppress reports of the true extent of damage and by many accounts dozens of civilians who were assisting in relief efforts were arrested. By official government records, the Tabriz Earthquake as it has come to be known, took the lives of 306 people. That figure, however, has been dramatically undervalued according to journalists, local human rights activists, and Iranian Azerbaijani parliamentarians, who have begun a campaign to contest the official account. The Red Crescent Society of the IRI alone reported that it had taken part in condolence ceremonies for at least 16,000 people. The true death toll is thus likely to be several times higher than what was reported to international media outlets.
Despite the gravity of the situation, the Iranian parliament has been extremely slow to enact any measures of assistance to victims. On September 24, it struck down a bill introduced by Azerbaijani members of parliament to accelerate relief efforts in quake-stricken areas. This is just one case in a list of unsuccessful bills that were introduced to benefit the Azerbaijani minority in Iran. Another bill involved allocating funds to aid in preventing the environmental catastrophe of the drying of Iran’s largest salt lake, located in the heart of Iranian Azerbaijan. It, too, failed to pass.
Some Azerbaijani parliamentarians and local media have taken the lead in criticizing the Iranian government of how they have handled the matter. Journalists have also taken aim at state-run television and radio stations that had little to no coverage of the quake in its first 24 hours. The Iranian government was also criticized for halting search and rescue operations after only 24 hours, basing their decision on a government assessment that all survivors had been rescued from the rubble. Local sources, however, had expressed concern that this was impossible given the remoteness of some of the villages.
In his addresses to Iran’s parliament and his interviews with local media, Allahverdi Deghani, an Azerbaijani parliamentarian from the disaster area, criticized the rescue mission and subsequent relief efforts. In his Novermber 18 speech at parliament, he declared, “unfortunately so far only 15 percent of the people in quake-stricken regions have been settled.” Days later, in a bizarre turn of events, MP Deghani was mysteriously involved in a car accident in which he was seriously injured and his wife and two children were killed. This prompted locals and Iranian journalists to cry foul play, suggesting that it was not an accident.
The government’s inaction and lackadaisical response has been unsettling for much of the Azerbaijanis of Iran. As it is common for Iranian ethnic minorities to find forums for expression aside from the usual street protests, which are almost always usually crushed brutally, many activists have recently used soccer games to chant anti-government slogans and promote their causes. On December 3, in a show of solidarity with those bracing through the cold winter months, Azerbaijani soccer fans of the Tractor Sazi team took off their shirts to garner international attention for quake victims. They were immediately attacked by club-wielding officers.
The Azerbaijani Turkish population is the largest linguistic minority group in Iran, comprising an estimated 25-35% of the total population of the country. They reside primarily in the Northwest of Iran bordered by Turkey and the state of Azerbaijan, though a significant number of communities are scattered throughout the country. Azerbaijanis speak a dialect of Turkish, closely related to the Azerbaijani-Turkish spoken in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Along with other minorities in Iran, Azerbaijanis are subjected to racism and cultural, linguistic, and economic discrimination.
The Association for the Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP) calls on Iranian authorities to respect the basic human rights of the Azerbaijani people and to refrain from any discriminatory practices against them and other ethnic minorities when providing assistance to victims of natural disasters. ADAPP also would like to appeal to the international community, including media and human rights organizations to support Iranian ethnic minorities, particularly the Azerbaijani quake victims, in helping their voices be heard.
December 10, 2012
Association for the Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP)
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