Gordyaen B. Jermayi
Recent wildfires in the Zagros forests were blamed primarily on climate change by Iranian state authorities and the media, but locals and eyewitnesses claim that these fires have human origins and are frequently deliberately started in the area by members of the IRGC [Revolutionary Guard] or other Iranian government institutions.
Large fires began simultaneously 15 days ago in two nearby locations: the forests of Sef village on the other side of the Zeriwar lake and the forests of Kani Miran village, which also extended towards the nearby forests. The Green Chya Association estimated that a total of 440 hectares of forest cover at these two locations were burned.
However, on 2 August 2023, the forests of the village of Asnoweh on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan caught fire and rapidly spread to the nearby villages. Because of the abundance of landmines left over from the Iran-Iraq war in the mountains, as well as the size of the fires, Kurdish environmentalists were unable to start putting out the fires until three days after they started.
Many landmines exploded as a result of the heat from the fire during this time period, increasing the size of the fire.
Although the fires were contained and controlled on Saturday 4 August, this border area caught fire again within a day, and its scope extended to the village of Bayoeh, where environmental activists once again contained it. At the same time, on 3 August, a large fire broke out in the forests of the village of Gamare Lang, which is located on the Marivan-Saqqez road, and volunteer teams were dispatched to put it out.
The largest fire broke out around 11 am local time on 3 August in the forests of Dareveran village, located north of Marivan (Merîwan) city. Its scale was so large that the Chya Green Association could not contain them alone, and they sought assistance from associations, activists, and volunteers from other cities in Kurdistan.
According to the Green Chya Association, they had never faced a fire as large and difficult as the recent one in their 16 years of forest firefighting. The forests of Dareveran village and its surroundings were among the densest in Kurdistan, making it more difficult to contain the fire.
The commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Natural Resources and Watershed Protection Organization, Reza Akbari, stated in a government media interview that the recent wildfire had consumed approximately 300 hectares of forest and pastures.
The Green Chya Association, on the other hand, disputed the official statement, claiming that over 2035 hectares of forest and pasture in Marivan had been burned to the ground.
The Iranian government did not intervene until the fires reached a critical stage. In this case, they agreed to collaborate only after widespread news of the fire and public pressure, and their help was in no way proportionate to the crisis.
The Iranian government dispatched two military helicopters that were neither fit nor effective for such missions. The Iranian Natural Resources Department also sent 10 operational teams, which were not as effective or well-equipped as the local volunteers organized by the Green Chya Association.
Marivan Crisis Management Headquarters had already approved that all city departments must deploy forces and equipment in the event of a fire, but this was only approved for formal implementation.
All of the fires in Kurdistan are the result of human activity, and Iranian government agents, particularly IRGC members, are among the main suspects.
According to local activists and sources, the recent fires began near Iranian Border Guard outposts, implying that the armed forces deliberately set fire to the forests.
These fires are not new to Kurdistan, and both Iran and Turkey have used “scorched earth policies” to oppress the Kurdish people.
With the justification that Kurdish forces use forests for camouflage, Iranian armed forces and security institutions primarily set forests on fire to destroy the cover of areas where they suspect there may be armed Kurdish forces.
The pasture forests in Kurdistan are destroyed at the same time by a group of people and mafia bands connected to the state, that the locals are aware of, in order to occupy the lands and change their use to construction or agriculture. These actions remain unanswered, and the follow-up and complaints by the Kurdish activists remain fruitless.
During the recent fires in Marivan, more than 20 volunteers were injured, of whom two were more seriously injured and the rest were treated on the spot.
On 6 August, the first stages of containing the large fire in the forests of Dareveran and nearby villages were completed, and environmental activists were stationed in different locations to monitor the situation and eliminate any possibility that the fire could flare up again due to the winds.
The Marivan Green Chya Association, which is in charge of managing the recent campaign, announced that volunteer firefighting teams from many cities in Kurdistan went to Marivan and played a prominent role in this operation.
Thousands of volunteers took turns participating in this operation, ensuring that at least 1,000 people were always in the burning area, with shifts changing every few hours.
The presence of women at all stages of the operation was very impressive. In addition to helping to provide logistics for the forces present in the burning areas, some women were also involved in firefighting. The Kurds in Kurdistan and also in the diaspora collected a great deal of donations, from food to money, to support the volunteers that were organized by the Green Chya Association.
It is worth mentioning that during the past years, a number of environmental activists in Kurdistan have lost their lives during firefighting operations, including Sharif Bajur and Omid Hosseinzadeh, who were prominent members of the Green Chya Association. Also, the Iranian security institutions have so far arrested and prosecuted dozens of environmental activists in Kurdistan on political charges.
During the recent fires, five environmental activists from Marivan named Azad Rouhi, Layiq Ahmadi, Sarkawt Ebadi, Alan Ardashiri, and Delir Mohammadi were arrested by the Iranian security forces, and their fate remains unknown.