Two Kurdish kolbers (cross-border workers) were killed by gunfire from a Turkish military helicopter on 20 September near the intersection point between two villages in Turkey’s eastern cities of Başkale (Elbak) and Yüksekova (Gever) and a village in Iran’s western city of Urmia (Urmîyê), reported MA.
The kolbers who were killed were identified as 19-year-old Sozdar Ehmedî and 16-year-old Elîşan Ehmedî.
While the bodies of the dead kolbers were tranported for autopsy to the Institute of Forencic Medicine in Hakkari (Colemerg), nine people, all members of the same family, were detained at the border after the incident, and were taken to the gendarmerie headquarters in Başkale.
Speaking to MA, a witness from the Kuranî village of Urmia, Ş.İ., stated that 11 kolbers had started for the village of Deraw (Başkale) on the evening on 19 September, and early the next morning had reportedly come under fire as they were crossing the border.
“One of them managed to flee and call us. He said they were fired upon from a helicopter,” the witness told MA. “We weren’t able to contact him again afterwards. We heard that the bodies were taken away in the evening after they were left lying on the ground under the sun for hours. We don’t have any information about the people in custody.”
Another witness from the same village, Sadeş Pilifken, said the area around the border point was struck with mortar fire for hours after the two kolbers were killed.
Although cross-border trade, in its legal or illegal context, is the major – and sometimes the only – source of income for many villages located along the borders between Turkey, Iran and Iraq, the authorities in these countries respond to this trade frequently through the sheer use of lethal force. The situation is aggravated as kolbers are also targeted on ‘suspicion’ that they might be fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK).
The Kurdistan Human Rights Association’s data shows that in the last three years, at least 245 kolbars have died and more than 300 have been injured. During 2020, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed that “a total of 59 Kurdish couriers were reported to have been killed by border officials in provinces in the north-west of Iran”. In April alone this year, Hengaw reported that at least 18 Kolbars and tradesmen were killed or wounded along the Iranian border.
Thirty four people from the village of Roboski (in Turkey’s eastern province of Şırnak) were killed on 28 December 2011 at the border crossing between Turkey and Iraq by Turkish jets, reportedly based on unfounded intelligence that some PKK fighters were among the villagers. As has been the case in all similar incidents, no military or civilian officials have been held accountable or criminalised for the “Roboski Massacre.”