Wildfire in Mariwan continues to rage

In Iran's Kurdish settlement areas, devastating forest fires have been blazing for days.

Devastating forest fires have been blazing for days in the Kurdish settlement areas of Iran, particularly affecting the nature reserves in Mariwan. In the area surrounding Lake Zrêbar (Zarivar) in the west of the city alone, around 500 hectares of vegetation were destroyed by the flames, according to the environmental organisation Chya Sabz. The fire had come close to the villages of Kani Miran, Saad Abad and Sif, and despite being extinguished several times, was fanned again and again due to heat and strong winds. The fire poses a serious threat to people and nature.

In Darevaran in the north of Mariwan, more than a thousand hectares of forest have been destroyed by flames. The Chya Sabz reported that the high temperatures and strong winds had massively promoted the forest fire in several places. In addition, the fire triggered explosions of landmines that had been on the ground since the First Gulf War (1980-1988). "In the 16 years that the Chya Sabz has been active in forest firefighting, we have never experienced such a large and intense fire," the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) quoted an activist involved in firefighting as saying. "The forests adjacent to the village of Darevaran and neighbouring villages are some of the densest in Kurdistan. And that makes it much more difficult to bring the fire under control."

Nestled in the Zagros Mountains, Mariwan lies on the heavily militarised border between Eastern Kurdistan (Iran) and Southern Kurdistan (Iraq). For years, there has been targeted arson there every summer by the Iranian army and especially by the so-called Revolutionary Guard. This is a common means of war in the arsenal of the anti-Kurdish counterinsurgency and expulsion policy. Like the Turkish state, the regime in Tehran uses targeted destruction of nature to bring the Kurdish population to its knees and to torch the terrain of opposition groups and guerrilla movements, which are demonised as "terrorist organisations". The volunteers are sure that the Revolutionary Guard is also responsible for the fires currently blazing in Mariwan.

While state help in fighting the fire is non-existent and it is associations such as the Chya Sabz that are tackling the inferno of flames, these self-help initiatives are prevented from working by the regime and additionally criminalised. According to information from KHRN, at least five environmental activists have been arrested by the Revolutionary Guard in recent days and taken to an unknown location. About twenty others were injured while trying to put out the flames in Mariwan. In two cases, the volunteers suffered injuries so severe that it was not possible to provide them with treatment on the spot. They had to be taken to hospital and are still receiving treatment. In mid-July, a firefighting operation in Rojhilat even resulted in one fatality: a 50-year-old man from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq was shot dead by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard while extinguishing a forest fire in Kermanshah province.

Meanwhile, crowds are growing at a camp set up by the Chya Sabz in the Mariwan Plain to coordinate firefighting efforts and supply volunteers. From all over Rojhilat and other areas of Iran, women and men, from young to old, are pouring into the camp to help. Always present are four names: Sharif Bajour, Omid Hohnepooshi, Rahmat Hakiminia and Mohammad Pajoohi. The four eco-activists died in August 2018 while extinguishing a forest fire in Mariwan.