Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Tribute to Wangari Mathaai, Memories of Heaven

I first met Wangari Mathaai on the sidelines of an international environmental event in Nairobi. Her attractive personality and her devotion for the environment would engage anyone who dealt with her. In 2004 during a conference for Women Leaders of the Environment, where women ministers had gathered to discuss policy on the environment, the UNEP undersecretary announced that Mathaai was chosen as the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The excitement from this news and her presence in the session led many of us to congratulate her for her outstanding achievements for peace, eradication of poverty and protection of the environment. Wangari was a vanguard not only for African women but for women throughout the world. She had moved ahead in both education and civil society , despite her difficult conditions to serve women in her country and her continent. Her Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and has helped nearly 900,000 women, according to the United Nations, while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.
In 2008, after being pushed out of government, she was hit with tear gas by the police during a protest against the excesses of Kenya’s entrenched political class.
“Wangari Maathai was a force of nature,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations’ environmental program. He likened her to Africa’s ubiquitous acacia trees, “strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions.”

I stood at the podium that day and thanked Professor  Wangari  Mathaai and told her that since the year before Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian woman and human rights lawyer, had won the Nobel Peace Prize, , I wished to congradulate her, on behalf of Iranian women. The Peace Prize I said, was in fact transferred from Iranian women to African women. I also gave her an environmental emblem of Mount Damavand which was designated as an Natural National Monument in Iran. Wangari spoke that day and she mentioned that we all see eternal salvation as residing in Heaven. "Heaven is according to Divine scripture , full of gardens , trees , pure water flowing", she said. "All the natural beauties of this world fit with the description that we have of Heaven, but when we destroy those beauties, here on earth , how can we expect to enjoy them, as a reward for our actions in Heaven...."
We also planted several trees that day... . We pray for her soul now, she sought to realize and protect that heaven on earth, she worked for the impoverished , she served the environment and she sided with justice against oppression . May God bless her for what she was.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Peace Related Issues

On the 21st of September 1998, which is the International Day of Peace, President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami proposed the initiative of Dialogue among Civilizations to the United Nations General Assembly session in New York. In 2001 , the year named on that occasion,  the Twin Towers of New York were destroyed in a terrorist attack that prompted a pre-emptive attack by the neo-conservative government of George Bush first on Afghanistan then on Iraq. In that atmosphere peace lovers and freedom seekers in the world looked up to Khatami for his insight and forward looking initiative.  While the initiative was welcomed by many countries few did very little to change the conditions and prevent war and aggression. In the national scene many observers believed that Khatami's initiative should have translated into a national dialogue as well. This however did not materialize. It many be that even today a return to dialogue at the national level might be the ultimate solution to the current political stalemate in Iran.
Two other important events related to peace have hit the headlines this weak . Burhanedin Rabbani was one of the most influential political and religious figures of Afghanistan who led the National Peace Council . His assassination last week by radical Taliban factions is a serious blow to the peace process. No one will deny his instrumental role in promoting peace and understanding among political factions.
The historical speech of Mahmoud Abbas in the General Assembly and his bid for the creation of a Palestinian State was also an important milestone. Abbas took an important step for the Palestinian people and it is now upon the United Nations to respond appropriately.The Americans have lost their face as a peace maker, they have taken sides with the Zionist and public opinion in the world are well aware.
Excerpts from the 1998 speech of Khatami :
Now allow me to speak here as a man from the East,

the origin of brilliant civilizations and the birthplace of
divine prophets —Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed,
peace be upon them all. I come from the noble land of Iran,
representing a great and renowned nation famed for its
ancient civilization, as well as for its distinguished
contribution to the founding and expansion of the Islamic
civilization, a nation that has survived the strong winds of
despotism, reaction and submission, relying on its cultural
and human wealth. It is a nation which pioneered in the
East the establishment of civil society and constitutional
government in the course of its contemporary history, even
though, as a result of foreign interference and domestic
deficiencies, at times it may have faltered in its course; a
nation which has been at the forefront of the struggle for
independence and against colonialism, although its
national movement was subverted by a foreign orchestrated
coup. And it is a nation which carries the
torch of its popular revolution, not won by force of arms
or a coup, but by dethroning a regime of
coup d’├ętat through the power of the enlightened word.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Arasbaran

Nature lovers can find many attractive and beautiful sites in Iran. On the Eid Fetr vacation we found the opportunity to visit Arasbaran and the Aras river along with family members. The Aras river is located in the Nouth Western border of Iran, adjacent to the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia and the disputed Nakhjavan territory. This large river has green riversides with tall bushes. In that region,  we also visited two ancient Churches , the Church of Saint Stephanus ( the first Christian martyr) and the Church of Nana Maryam. The Church of Saint Stepanus was open for the public and parts were under renovation and protection as monuments of national heritage. The presence of these historical sites are a clear indication of the long history of peaceful coexistence among followers of divine religions in Iran.
As we traveled from the Aras river to the southwest we entered the perimeters of Kiamaki Protected Area and further down the Arasbaran Forests Protected Area.  This trip was reminiscent of the many visits I had as Head of the Department of Environment some years ago, only now I was with the family and not the DOE directors and personnel. The pristine Arasbaran forests of Iran are recognized as one of the important biodiversity hotspots of the globe, meaning that the diversity of flora and fauna in this region is very high.
As we enjoyed the magnificent scenes, news of the street clashes and arrests of protestors in Urumieh and Tabriz who had objected to the trend of drought in Lake Urumieh brought us back to the realities of environmental degradation. In the previous week ,I was asked to make several interviews on the policies and measures taken during my tenure to combat the trend leading to the drying up of the Urumieh National Park. I had given detailed explanations on the research project leading to a management scheme and the measures and strategies we had taken to engage both the water and agriculture sectors on this matter to provide the water required by the lake on a regular basis. The DOE had warned the officials in 1998 we had layed out a road map for the protection of the Lake. Many parts of that project were underway  in 2004 . These protection schemes and strategies were later abandoned by the ninth government and only reconsidered recently after serious protests rocked the region. No one can dispute the fact that the environment was never a priority for the government of Mr. Ahmadinejad.