In the mountains of western Iran, the province of Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari is known for mile-high lagoons, flowing rivers and wetlands that attract thousands of species of migratory birds.
But years of diminishing rainfall have shriveled water sources. Conditions worsened, residents say, after Iranian authorities began funneling water 60 miles away to the lowland city of Esfahan, sparking protests as far back as 2014.
On Dec. 30 of last year, about 200 people gathered in front of the provincial governor’s office to protest the water transfer project. Their slogans soon morphed into chants of “Death to the dictator,” the main rallying cry of