BANEH, Iranian Kurdistan,— Kamal, Atta
and Mohammad are Kurds in their mid-30s who live in
Iran's western Kurdish city of Baneh near the border
with Iraqi Kurdistan region.
As children, the three cousins lived through the
terror of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and attacks by
troops of Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein on their
hometown, which turned Baneh into a battleground and
one of the most deprived regions in the country.
They had no proper education and had to toil for low
wages as cleaning men or construction workers in the
capital Tehran, 650 kilometres away.
'That bastard (Saddam) made us suffer for so many
years but God not only made him face humiliation but
also made his death become a source of prosperity
for us Kurds in Baneh,' Atta said.
Illegal border trade with Iraqi Kurdistan revives
life of Iranian Kurds.
Photo: Mehr News Agency.
Following the 2003 US
military invasion of Iraq and collapse of the Saddam
regime, people in the Kurdish regions of northern
Iraq were no longer oppressed and isolated. They
soon found a way to turn their freedom into business
opportunity with fellow Kurds in Iran.
The Iraqi Kurds began ordering goods from China,
Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, shipped them
to the southern Iraqi port of Basra and then on to
the northern city of Sulaimaniyah and the hands of
newly formed smuggler groups.
Those goods were then taken to Iran's Kurdistan, and
turned the 70,000-population city of Baneh into a
new shopping paradise.
Iranian authorities allow and even invite foreign
reporters to the province to see the economic boom
in Baneh, but do not allow them to see how the boom
was actually made possible.
Yet the smugglers are proud to explain the
procedures and, for a fee of 200 dollars, even show
reporters how the goods are transferred into Iran.
'The Iraqi smugglers carry on their shoulders, each
up to 150 kilograms, goods such as large-size LCD
televisions and kitchen and computer equipment to
the mountains on the Iranian side and deliver them
to us at nighttimes when border guards have no
view,' one Iranian smuggler said.
'We smuggle the goods from the border area to a safe
place, put them onto trucks brought by the city
smugglers to the shop owners in Baneh.'
The illegal border trade benefits both border and
city smugglers as well as the merchants who sell
them tax-free to customers while not paying any
taxes to the government, either.
The main beneficiaries are the consumers who would
have to pay between 25 to 50 per cent more for the
mainly Chinese goods if bought in their own cities.
Police and border guards in Baneh are well aware of
the illegal border trade and tax-free sales in the
market but apparently prefer to swim in denial.
According to the smugglers,www.ekurd.netone
reason is that some of them are on their payrolls.
'Another reason is that police and border guards
definitely prefer to have Kurdish smugglers rather
than Kurdish guerrillas,' Kamal said.
Kamal has gone from being a cleaner to a successful
businessman with a new house, wife and two children.
For him, the trade is an internal Kurdish affair
related to neither Iraq nor Iran.
'Kurds are one big family, regardless where they
live, and they help each other regardless of their
nationality,' he said, referring to the almost 40
million Kurds worldwide, including 7 million in Iran
and nearly the same number in Iraq.
The business boom from illegal border trade has also
produced investment in the city's infrastructure,
and at least two four-star hotels will be built in
Baneh soon to receive the increasing flow of
customers that is now estimated at thousands per
Kamal's cousins Atta and Mohammad, who coordinate
trade routes from the border to the city, are now
earning 10 times what they did before the smuggling
'May God bless the Americans for having invaded Iraq
and killed Saddam, because this changed our lives
drastically for the positive,' Atta said.
According to Mohammad, the illegal trade is also a
blessing for newlywed couples who can afford to buy
in Baneh what they need to start their married
'My fiance and I intended to get married in six
months because we had not enough money to buy the
necessary goods but here in Baneh we did, saved up
to 15 million rials (1,500 dollars), and we get
married next month,' said Mohsen, who drove more
than five hours from his hometown Tabriz to Baneh.
The Iranian economy has been stifled for several
years by the international sanctions imposed on the
country because of its uncompromising stance in the
nuclear dispute. But the sanctions play no role for
the Kurds in Baneh.
'Sanctions, what sanctions? How can sanctions affect
in any way something which is and will remain
totally illegal, and is just between Kurds and not
any countries?' Kamal said.
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