Sep 11, 2017

Iranian Kurdistan: Crackdown on Peaceful Demonstrators Showing Support for Kolber Workers

Photo courtesy of Kurdistan Human Rights Network

On 4 September 2017, two male smugglers were shot by Iranian forces and demonstrations in solidarity of the two kolber workers arose among shop keepers in Sanandaj. The Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan reveals in this article that human rights violations have increased significantly since his appointment.  Indeed, Tehran’s centralisation policies, coupled with poor budget allocations and a lack of political representation, affect Iranian Kurdistan. As agriculture is the spine of economic sustainability in the region, the policies decided at a national scale and detrimental to agricultural production in the region directly threaten the viability of the Kurds who have no choice but to fall back to illegal trade and ultimately face the dangers of the regime’s human rights abuses. In April 2017, a report released by the Kurdistan Human Rights Network found that in 2016 alone, 64 kolber workers have died while working. Kolber workers carry goods from the Kurdistan region to Iran through dangerous routes to avoid border patrols.

This article was published by the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan:

Over the past few days, several demonstrations took place in the Kurdistan area of Iran, leading to several injured and detained by the Iranian regime. Demonstrations started on September 4, 2017 after two kolber workers, Kader Bahrami (41) and Haider Faraji (21), were killed near the Iraqi-Iranian border for smuggling small goods.

On September 5, residents of Baneh demonstrated against the killing of Kader and Haider and Iran’s human rights violations by closing down their shops and taking the streets. Iran’s regime however forced them to stop these protests after which residents of Sanandaj decided to take the streets and close down their shops as well and on September 7 to show their support. Government forces responded by using tear gas to disperse these protest and by arresting dozens of Kurds. Currently, demonstrations are ongoing in the Kurdish provinces.

Iran has seen many changes over the past few years, many of which were welcomed by Iranians as well as international powers, assuming that the nuclear deal and the appointment of president Rohani would result in important political changes within Iran. One of these assumptions was that Iran would become more open and tolerant, which in the longer run would result in a decrease in human rights abuses.

Unfortunately, 5 years after the appointment of president Rohani and 3 years after the nuclear deal, it is fair to state that human rights abuses in Iran have increased significantly. While many of you might know this, only few are aware of the extreme extend of these human rights abuses by the Iranian regime within the Kurdistan area, the North-Western part of Iran.

Every week, several unarmed Kurdish kolber workers and their horses are killed by Iranian soldiers for smuggling small goods at the Iranian border crossing near neighboring Iraqi and Turkish Kurdish regions, leading to over a hundred deaths a year. Many of those that are not directly killed are left to bleed to death or are denied medical access after being detained. In some cases, families even have to pay for the bullets that killed their family member or family members are left with no other option then to pay ransom in order to receive the body of their loved one back.

Although kolber workers, which stands for ‘back delivery’, are well aware of the dangers they face, the Iranian regime leaves them with no other option then to smuggle small goods. This is the direct result of the discriminatory economic policies imposed on the Kurdistan areas of Iran. The Kurdish population has relied on agriculture as a source of revenue, which has been affected detrimentally by government policies of laying land mines in agricultural fields and closing borders and land vital for the relocation of livestock for agricultural production in the region.

Furthermore, the Kurdish region is economically underfunded and exploited by the central government. They receive a very small budget from the central government, which has resulted in the highest unemployment and suicide rate of Iran within this area.

The central government sees no interest in investing in the Kurdish area, leaving the Kurds in Iran economically deprived.

This is in direct contradiction to the Iranian Constitution’s Article 48, which states that ‘there must be no discrimination among the various provinces with regard to the exploitation of natural resources, utilization of public revenues, and distribution of economic activities among the various provinces and regions of the country, thereby ensuring that every region has access to the necessary capital and facilities in accordance with its needs and capacity for growth’.

The institutionalized violence by the Iranian regime towards the Kurdish minority in Iran, which consists of 13 million Kurds, continues on a daily basis. To end this violence, we need the help of the international community to put an end to the human rights abuses towards these kolber workers and to abide by Article 48 of the Iranian Constitution.