Media Blamed for Ashouradeh Standoff

Media Blamed for Ashouradeh StandoffMedia Blamed for Ashouradeh Standoff

An official at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization has berated the local media for their “lackluster attempts” to promote Ashouradeh tourism project.

“At a time when critics and media that oppose the plan perpetually slam it, local media (based in Golestan Province) have barely done anything to neutralize the opposition’s moves,” said Hamid Ziaeipour, head of the ICHHTO Information Center, at a press briefing  in Gorgan, capital of Golestan Province.

“Aside from a poll and some articles that lacked substance, local media haven’t done much in the way of promoting the project, which is a government undertaking,” he complained, according to IRNA.

He urged the media to “step up their game” to help ICHHTO execute the project and “develop Golestan’s tourism industry”.

Ashouradeh is an island in the Caspian Sea, located at the easternmost end of Miyankaleh Peninsula to the northeast of Gorgan Bay. It is the only Iranian Island in the region.

Following reports that the government was planning to turn the ecologically-rich island into a tourist resort, environmental activists and NGOs staged peaceful protests and took to social media to oppose the plan, citing irreversible environmental damage to the region as their main concern.

  Lacking Knowledge?

Describing the critics as “urbanites who don’t know enough about the project,” Ziaeipour said, “You can say with utmost certainty that not one of those people (critics) has ever been to Ashouradeh or knows about the details of the plan.”

Most critics and “wildlife supporters” live in Tehran and are unaware of the views of the people who live in Golestan, “or the Department of Environment officials, for that matter.”

Ziaeipour’s statements come on the heels of recent comments by Saeed Shirkavand, deputy for planning and investment at the ICHHTO, who labeled the opposition’s claims “fallacious” and challenged them to a debate the matter in an academic setting.

However, views within the DOE are divided on the subject.

“The issue of Ashouradeh Island has been blown out of proportion,” said Farhad Dabiri, deputy for biodiversity affairs at the DOE.

Labeling critics “irresponsible” for making misleading claims, he said speaking about Ashouradeh has become “taboo”.

Critics, including Esmaeil Kahrom, a senior advisor to DOE chief, Massoumeh Ebtekar, argue that as long as a sense of responsibility toward nature and the environment has not been instilled in the masses, allowing tourists in protected zones can lead to more destruction of ecosystems.

“If the plan is to turn Ashouradeh into a tourist hotspot, then many facilities need to be constructed, such as amusement parks, hotels, restaurants, maybe even race tracks. It needs infrastructure,” Kahrom said in August.

 “Ulterior Motive”

Turning a profit is the main reason behind developing the region into a tourist resort, he charged, and stressed that any type of tourism activity will inevitably harm the environment.

“Tourists are not going to spend money just to stare at hotel walls,” he thundered.

Kahrom, an outspoken university instructor, said despite Ashouradeh’s ecological importance, it is devoid of tourism value, which further necessitates the construction of infrastructure.

This is while proponents of the project believe developing the region’s ecotourism, such as birdwatching, is a feasible idea.

Over 170 NGOs and well-known experts have voiced opposition to plans calling for opening Ashouradeh to tourism.

However, Dabiri believes the island has tourism potential.

“As long as tourists respect environmental rules, no harm will come to the area.”

Referring to the department’s strict stance against hotel construction in Ashouradeh, the official said, “Unfounded claims such as building lodging facilities in the area have made this issue drag for so long.”

“If the Swiss failed to protect their wildlife sanctuaries-turned-tourist attractions, what chance do we have?” Kahrom asked.

The Miyankaleh Peninsula and Gorgan Bay were registered in 1969 as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. In 1979, the peninsula, including Ashouradeh, was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.