SMUGGLERS 2009-2015

Forced by poverty and lack of opportunities inhabitants of areas at the borders between Iraq, Syria, and Iran (Kurdistan) face arrest or even death in order to make a living out of smuggling goods across the border. They smuggle everything from clothes to make-up, electronic goods or alcohol -which is forbidden in Iran. The smugglers make around 8 USD per journey and make an average of 3 journeys per day. Despite being well aware of the fact that working across the treacherous mountain passes comes with grave risks, these people have no choice, and decide to follow into the footsteps of many generations before them. The smugglers must hazard minefields, shelling, and ambushes by the border guards. They are also often blackmailed and have to pay for protection to corrupt Kurdish officials on a daily basis. Nevertheless, strict border posts and ambushes have not been able to curb the traffic. In these areas, there still exists a very important relationship between a man and his horse for the horse has traditionally transported most of the smuggled goods. These horses have played a vital role in the life of the smugglers and are regarded as the most important possession of a family. As Kurdish villagers and border smugglers say, “whenever the border guards catch us they kill our horses; there is no other job whatsoever, that’s why I am forced into this work”. Photographer Aram Karim, himself born in a village right on the mountainous border between Iraq and Iran, has been mingling with smugglers for the past five years, bringing to us a unique and moving document of their lifestyle.