Screen capture of a video showing a smuggler killed in 2011 (below). Video filmed by Kurdish activists.
With the cost of living is rising in Iran, more and more Iranians are travelling to Kurdish cities in the country’s west to go shopping, since all sorts of goods are much cheaper there. But these savings come with a human price: the goods are cheap only because they are being brought in from Iraqi Kurdistan by ‘kulbars’, or smugglers, who risk their lives in the process.
There are frequent reports in Persian and Kurdish media about police killing smugglers – or, in some cases, the horses that some of them ride on. The latest incident took place on October 2, when a driver carrying smuggled goods in his car was shot and killed by the police near the border town of Sardasht. (We spoke to a local resident who knew him well; see below).
There are two phases for smuggling goods in from Iraq: in the first phase, smugglers, most of them Iranian, take goods over the border from Iraqi Kurdistan into Iranian Kurdistan, usually on horseback or on their own backs. This can include all sorts of goods, like tea, textiles, television sets, perfume, alcoholic beverages, and satellite receivers (the latter two of which are illegal in Iran).
Once across the border, other men, this time by car, drive them to the closest cities. During both of these phases, they risk being shot by border police.
While official statistics are not available on the frequency of smuggler killings by police, it has become such an issue that the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, dedicated a whole chapter to it in his latest report.
“People in these parts become transporters of smuggled goods because there are no jobs”
Rahman lives in Sardasht , a border town in Iranian Kurdistan. He was a friend of Mohammad Karimi, the driver who was shot dead by police on October 2.
Unfortunately, killings like this have occurred so many times that it’s become ordinary for us. Every month, we see something like this happen. In Mohammad’s case, when he saw the police, he tried to flee; drivers of smuggled goods often do this, because they’re afraid that if they’re caught, the police will impound their car [and later sell it at auction]. And their car is their most valuable possession. But the police caught up to him and shot him dead.People in these parts become transporters of smuggled goods because there are no jobs. The government does nothing to create jobs here; we have educated youth, and yet public sector jobs are given to people who come in from other regions. They don’t trust Kurds.WARNING: The following video may shock viewers.This video shows the body of a Kurdish smuggler who was shot dead in 2011.Smugglers don’t work full-time – if they’re lucky, they’ll get a job a week. Depending on the types of goods they’re smuggling, drivers are paid between 700,000 and 800,000 Tomans (about 175 euros to 200 euros). Transporting alcohol pays the best.In my town, any child can tell you the names of the smugglers working here. So I don’t think they’re making that big of an effort to arrest them. Why? Probably because some smugglers pay bribes to the police, for example to ‘buy’ a road for a couple of hours. And why do they kill them? In my opinion, smugglers’ lives mean little to them…
Smugglers' horses shot dead.
WARNING: The following video may shock viewers.
More smugglers' horses shot dead earlier this year.