Since 2010, Iranian forces have killed over 700 Kurdish border couriers: report

Over 1,600 Kurdish couriers have been wounded, and about 120 others have gone missing in the rugged mountains of the Iran-Iraq border.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iranian security forces have killed at least 700 Kurdish couriers, locally known as Kulbar, on the border between Kurdistan Region and Iran over the past eleven years, according to data compiled by a human rights monitor.

Kulbar is the Kurdish term for individuals who smuggle small amounts of goods across the border (“kul,” meaning “back” and “bar,” meaning “carrying.”) between the Kurdistan Region and Iran.

Though illegal, it is a local practice that has long since been accepted as normal in the economically undeveloped areas where many residents depend on it for their livelihoods.

According to Hengaw, an Iranian Kurdish rights and conflict watchdog, members of the Iranian border guards have killed at least 702 Kulbar in the past 12 years and wounded over 1,600 others, overwhelmingly by direct gunshots.

Read More: No 'red lines' for Kurdish couriers crossing Iranian border: Official

On top of that, 120 Kulbar have also gone missing in the rugged mountainous terrain in the border areas. Along with these casualties, couriers are also victims of explosions from landmines that are reportedly remnants of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

Hengaw's data starting in 2010 is as follows: in 2010, 45 Kulbar killed, 110 injured; in 2011, 79 killed, and 181 injured; in 2012, 60 killed, 201 injured; in 2013, 81 killed, and 190 injured; in 2014, 73 killed, 140 injured; in 2015, 70 killed, 55 injured; in 2016, 49 killed, 47 injured; in 2017, 78 killed, 148 injured; in 2018, 71 killed, 160 injured, in 2019, 55 killed, 133 injured; and, so far, in 2020, 41 killed, and 125 injured.

(Photo: Kurdistan 24)
(Photo: Kurdistan 24)

With no other means of livelihood, porters cut through risky mountain's roads carrying tobacco, clothes, and tea, and heavy packages, often more than one meter above their shoulders, crossing the border with the goods on their back.

They carry an average of 75 kilograms (150 pounds) on their backs as they journey across the Zagros Mountains, back and forth to make a living amidst rampant unemployment.

Killing Kulbar continues as Iran's recent economic crisis appears to have enticed more in the border areas to take up the work as their only means of income and to fill the trade void created by US sanctions.

Iranian laws dictate that border guards can fire their weapons only if they believe the trespasser is armed and dangerous and only after observing the following three procedures: they must give a verbal warning; they must fire into the air; and only then are they permitted to targeting the lower body of a suspect with gunfire.

Critics complain that the law's wording is vague, leaving it open to broad interpretation.

With so many people, especially those living in the rural parts of Iran's Kurdish region, depending on Kulbar work as their primary source of income, Hengaw says that Tehran must find a radical solution to the issue.

One option, the group asserts, is to legalize it.

Editing by Khrush Najari