Iranwire – An Iranian former kolbar has completed a 115km protest journey from Marivan to Sanandaj, Kurdistan province with the aid of a wheelchair. Kamran Doplurei, 31, who has two artificial legs, completed the trip on Wednesday, September 15. He embarked on the pilgrimage to raise awareness of three issues: the shooting of kolbars by Iranian border guards, sub-standard treatment of the disabled, and the destruction of the Zagros forests.
Doplurei lost his legs after being shot at by a gardener close to the Iran-Iraq border. His three-day demonstration made waves on social media and caught the attention of Iranian civil rights activists. Originally he’d planned to travel a full 600km to the Iranian parliament in Tehran, but was persuaded to end the journey prematurely by activists concerned for his health. Undeterred, the father-of-two sailor and wrestler spoke to IranWire about why his causes matter.
Kamran Doplurei hails from the village of Doplureh in Marivan County, Kurdistan. He has two children, and like most of his peers, was forced to engage in kolbari – couriering vast quantities of goods, from tobacco to fridges, on his back between Iran and Iraq via a perilous mountain route in exchange for a pittance – out of sheer poverty and the lack of local employment opportunities. Like others, it also deprived him of a normal life.
For the past four years, Doplurei has instead had to live on government handouts alone. On the eve of his 28th birthday on October 2, 2017, while on the way back home from Iraqi Kurdistan, he was shot in the border area of Sershio by a garden owner in what was later agreed to have been an accident. Nine bullets had entered his body and he lost the use of both legs.
Three rounds of surgery later, Doplurei came to the conclusion his life had irrevocably changed and discovered there was little in place to support him. “Although I was covered by the Welfare Organization and the Marivan Relief Committee for a while,” he told IranWire, “the financial aid from these two organizations was miniscule compared to the high cost of my treatment and medication. I couldn’t afford a wheelchair or prosthetics.
“So I went to the offices of the [now-dissolved] Imam Ali’s Popular Student Relief Society in Tehran, and the charity covered the total cost of a wheelchair and both my artificial legs, which was about 200 million tomans [US$7,225 at today’s exchange rate]. The efforts of this grassroots organization, and the financial support of its benefactors, were commendable.”
Local Authorities “Not Protecting the Vulnerable”
Doplurei was finally prompted to embark on a protest because of the “negligence” of local government officials, both in his own case and those of other disabled people. No-one chooses to be disabled, he emphasized, and according to the laws of the Islamic Republic people with disabilities should be able to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as any other citizen.
But in reality, he said, “Due to the lack of support from government agencies, in addition to the physical pain and suffering, we must also endure the worry and strife of how to meet our basic needs – especially in a situation where inflation has skyrocketed. I don’t want to give a dark picture of life as a disabled person, but the reality is that a vast number of disabled people are either not supported at all, or the amount of support they receive is very small. Many banking, medical and educational facilities, and even the rights to housing, free care and the purchase of an adapted vehicle, are provided for in Iran’s legal system. But in practice, less than five percent of these commitments are realized.”
Doplurei also wanted to raise awareness of his situation as an unwilling former kolbar, who lost his mobility in the process of trying to feed his family. “Many residents of the border zones are forced to work as kolbars due to unemployment, poverty and hunger, and the need to provide for their families and children. I personally know dozens of people who have been killed: thrown from heights, or paralyzed and injured on kolbari routes. In recent years, even athletes and people with university degrees have turned to kolbari.”
In an ideal world, he said, this dehumanizing source of income would not exist. “Why should there be a kolbar phenomenon at all? And why should the kolbars be killed? They’re not anti-government and have committed no crime. Chronic unemployment and empty bellies are what pushed them to the border. Didn’t the kolbars and their children defend this land and fight the enemy during the imposed war [the eight-year Iran-Iraq war]? Why should they now be paralyzed, injured or even killed for trying to earn a living?”
A Wider Message for Humanity
Finally, Doplurei said, he was protesting because local authorities had been negligent not just in their treatment of vulnerable people in Kurdistan, but in their duties toward the natural world. “I decided to also be the voice of a defenceless ecosystem: one that’s collapsing due to the negligence of government officials.
“My main goal, in addition to cultivating an ethos and making people feel responsible for protecting the environmental, was to warn the relevant authorities to be vigilant: not to allow profiteers to encroach on nature and turn the forests into a source of income. These are people who grew up in darkness, and don’t belong to nature and its life-giving power.”
Doplurei only studied up to the fifth grade of elementary school. Instead, he says, he feels a special connection to the environment. In his view, protecting the environment is not only the duty of government agencies and civil institutions, but of all of society. “Humans are born in nature. The destruction of the environment is the destruction and diminishment of man. The continued hunting and sale of wild animals and birds, municipal waste dumping in forests and serial forest fires, which are often due to human activity, will destroy the place we call home – not just in Kurdistan but in all of Iran. We all need to be on the alert.”
“Our Protest Will Continue”
In the end, Doplurei’s planned 600km pilgrimage to the capital was cut short, after activists rightly warned him about the multitude of dangers he could face on the road as a disabled man. But, he said, it made no odds: “It [the protest] was widely covered on social media and I received hopeful and empathetic messages from the public. Our voice will have reached the relevant authorities. Now, our protest will continue in other forms.”
He never imagined, he told IranWire, that one day he would be sat in a wheelchair as a 31-year-old man, with two prosthetic legs. But disability has not hindered his determination to pursue his own passions. “Since becoming disabled, I’ve also become a professional sailor. I swam all the way around the Zaribar Lagoon, which is at least four kilometers. I do 100kg to 170kg chest presses. My ultimate goal is to compete in national and international competitions as a weightlifter.”