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LAKE URMIA

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In Old Persian, language of the Shah of Shahs,

Darius the Great, whose inscriptions

extend from Persepolis to Egypt,

and from Romania to Bahrain,

this salt lake, greater than the Dead Sea,

was called Chichast, ‘Glittering’ – sunlight

on the undulating lapidary

of myriads of silver particles.

Urmia – Assyrian Aramaic

for ‘City of Water’ – is high above

the lake on a fertile plateau

of orchards, grape vines, tobacco fields.

The city, a millennium ago,

was diverse, cosmopolitan, tolerant:

Christians, Jews, Muslims; Azeris,

Armenians, Assyrians, Persians, Kurds.

The Christians went first – massacred by the Turks

crossing the border. The Jews left for Israel.


Global warming is turning the lake

into an industrial salt pan the ancients

would have envied. Encrusted pedalos

and stranded diving boards in silent

holiday resort towns around the coast

glare like gargantuan rhinestones.

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