A desolate teahouse in Sheikh Wali coastal village located at the northeast of Lake Urmia. Sheikh Wali village, East Azerbaijan province, Iran; May 2015.
The relationships between places and past events shape human identity and provide memories that are a reservoir of pain and joy; they connect the chain of time between past and future. In addition to other characteristics, my place of birth, beliefs and ethnic roots all constitute a part of my identity.
So if, to the rest of the world, the drying of Lake Urmia is only the elimination of a blue spot on the maps of Iran and Earth itself, for me and the other people who have lived there, its disappearance is akin to losing some part of our identity, our memories and our very personality.
View of a pier on Lake Urmia. Up until ten years ago, when the lake receded too drastically, Solmaz Daryani’s uncle had a food booth on the pier, and every Thursday the whole family met there to eat dinner by the water. To keep the memories of those gatherings alive, his mother (Solmaz Daryani’s grandmother Narges Ghasempour) still makes a point of walking to the pier every time she goes to the coast – in the summer as often as every week. Sharafkhaneh port, East Azerbaijan province, Iran; April 2014.
My mother’s family – my grandmother, grandfather, mother and uncles – were born and lived in Sharafkhaneh port, which used to be one of the heavily traveled touristic villages on the north coast of Lake Urmia. My grandfather had built an inn beside the lake, and my uncles were sailors. Less than a decade ago, my grandfather hosted dozens of tourists a day in the summers, with his two sons taking them on boat tours. His children have since left to pursue work elsewhere.
Sheikh Wali coastal village, located in the northeast of Lake Urmia. Sheikh Wali used to be one of the very popular tourist villages. The beach has been deserted for more than ten years. According to environmentalists, if the lake is not restored, salt storms will threaten the lives of the people living in the surrounding towns and villages. Sheikh Wali village, East Azerbaijan province, Iran; May 2015.
The lake’s ducks, flamingos and pelicans have vanished, too. But three swan-shaped paddleboats still remain, a reminder of the time when the summer days were filled with children’s laughter and so many holidaymakers came to the inn that some of them had to sleep under the almond trees Lake Urmia is located in the northwest of Iran, between two main provinces of West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan.
Narges Ghasempour, resting in her home. She was born and lived in Sharafkhaneh port, which used to be one of the popular tourist villages on the north coast of Lake Urmia. East Azerbaijan province, Iran; May 2015.
It was the biggest salt lake in the Middle East and the sixth-largest saltwater lake on Earth. During the past ten years, approximately 80% of the lake has dried due to climatic changes, poor agricultural water management, the damming of rivers that fed it and the extraction of groundwater through many thousands of illegal wells. The disappearance of the lake endangers not only the agriculture and tourism sectors, but further the basic ecosystem of all the areas that surround it. Where once there was water and rich black mud that was famed for its healing properties, now there will be an increased frequency of salt storms, which have serious health effects including respiratory and eye diseases.
In an effort to prevent salt storms, the Urmia Lake restoration department plants trees in part of the lakebed that has completely dried up. White-collar staff visiting the site now park their cars where once the lake was full of water. Lake Urmia, East Azerbaijan province, Iran; July 2015.
My childhood in Sharafkhaneh seems like a long time ago. The motel is deserted, and the almond trees have shriveled. The port today is a sparsely populated village where most people are old, and it no longer resembles the place where I left my childhood memories. The sweet days are gone.
Is it too much to dream that the lake could come back to life, and that the flamingos and happy families could return as well?
Solmaz Daryani’s grandfather, Seyed agha Ghasemi, had a motel near the coast, where he made his living renting rooms and swan boat rides to the tourists who flocked to the area. As Lake Urmia dried up, tourism and agriculture waned. The motel has been vacant and the swan boats unused for years. Sharafkhaneh port East Azerbaijan province, Iran; August 2015.
A dilapidated ship dock in Lake Urmia. Sharafkhaneh port, East Azerbaijan province, Iran; March 2014.
Narges Ghasempour enters her home from its now-desolate yard. Sharafkhaneh port, East Azerbaijan province, Iran; April 2015.
Thistle with salt crystals that the photographer’s grandmother Narges Ghasempour found in the lakebed. She uses it as a decoration in her home. Sharafkhaneh port, East Azerbaijan province, Iran; September 2014.
Solmaz Daryani’s grandmother, Narges Ghasempour, in a shallow pond that is a remnant of Lake Urmia. She walks almost 3km from the former beach to the pond several times each summer to bathe in the natural salt water. Sharafkhaneh port, East Azerbaijan province, Iran; August 2015.