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Author ORCID Identifier


Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Jacqueline Urla

Second Advisor

Krista Harper

Third Advisor

David Mednicoff

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Archaeological Anthropology | Development Studies | Environmental Studies | Geography | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


As a stateless nation, geopolitically dispersed across various states (Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey), the Kurds are known mainly in the West as excellent soldiers/fighters and political revolutionaries. But amid the devastation of war and political unrest, most Kurds are struggling for economic survival. This is especially true for the Kurds living under the rule of Iran’s ethno-theocratic state. The Kurds refer to the part of Kurdistan under the Iranian state’s control as Rojhelat or Eastern Kurdistan, as it comprises the eastern part of the greater Kurdistan territory. The modern Iranian state has subjected the Rojhelaties or Eastern Kurds to decades of hostile ‘de-development’ policies that have undermined their traditional forms of livelihood, such as agriculture, animal husbandry, and natural resources. They have seen their lands confiscated and their access to capital, educational mobility, and resources severely restricted. In addition, under the rule of the Iranian Perso-Shia state, Kurds have been culturally and economically under a regime of internal colonialism that has eroded their capacity for economic survival.

In this context, Rojhelati Kurds find few options for sustaining their lives: either join the central government’s repressive security apparatus in the region or become Kolber (cross-border worker, in Kurdish). This research seeks to provide a socio-political and ethnographic understanding of the work and experience of the Kurdish Kolber's. These workers engage in the transport of goods across the Iranian and Iraqi borders. Drawing on interviews with current and past kolbers and the existing data from social media and a human rights organization, I seek to understand who enters this work, why they engage in kolberi, and their strategies for internal survival networks and mutual support. Finally, this study argues that kolberi is an embodiment of systematic exclusion and it is accompanying structural inequalities tailored along with the ethno-religious lines by the Iranian state. I will try to put the Kolber lived experiences of the labor as well as their narratives of violence within the larger context of Perso-Shia nationalist discourse which defines the very human and human rights on the metrics of language and religion. my research will discuss kolberi as an ethnicized and racialized labor and as a natural outcome of a systematic and systemic exclusion of Kurds due to their ethnic and religious background.

Keywords: State, Sovereignty, Violence, Kolberi, Militant Anthropology, Eastern Kurdistan, Iran