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Human Rights

On the Borders That Divide Kurdistan, Landmines Devastate Communities

The global use of landmines in military conflicts and the injuries, amputations, disabilities, and social, psychological, and economic costs that they cause are recognized as major problems by impacted communities. Approximately 60 to 70 million landmines are scattered across about 70 countries, resulting in approximately 800 fatalities and 1200 injuries monthly.

Iraq is the most landmine-afflicted country in the world by total contaminated area. The majority of known contamination is the result of the US-led invasion in 2003, the Gulf War in 1991, and the 1980–1988 conflict with Iran. The borders of Iraq with Saudi Arabia and Iran are contaminated by barrier minefields. Mines and military debris explosions claim the lives of dozens of Iraqis each year. According to UN Mine Action Service data, 8.5 million of the country’s 41 million inhabitants are at risk. Iraq reported that, as of the end of 2019, there were 1,23917 hectares of antipersonnel landmine contamination and an additional 62758 hectares of improvised mine contamination in the country.

Iran also ranks among the countries with the highest density of landmine-contaminated lands. The eight-year war with Iraq resulted in extensive landmine contamination across vast regions of Iran, particularly Kurdish provinces of Kirmashan (Kermanshah), Sine (Kurdistan), Ilam, and Urmia (West Azerbaijan), and the predominantly Arab-populated province of Khuzestan.

Landmines and remnant explosives from the Iraq-Iran War, as well as those planted by the Turkish state, have significantly affected the lives of Kurdish people on the borders of Kurdistan, particularly in areas where conflicts have occurred.

It is estimated that there are one million landmines separating Turkey, Iran, and Armenia, and that there are 16 to 25 million landmines and abandoned explosives between Iraq and Iran. Both of these regions are home to large Kurdish populations.

According to Iranian state statistics, 4 million and 200 thousand hectares of Iranian territory are contaminated with landmines. Ilam province possesses the greatest expanse of mine-contaminated land, totaling 1.7 million hectares, followed by Khuzestan province with 1.5 million hectares. Following closely is Kirmashan (Kermanshah) province, with 700 thousand hectares affected. Sine (Kurdistan) province and Urmia (West Azerbaijan) both have 150 thousand hectares of mine-contaminated land, marking them as significant among the provinces afflicted by this issue.

The Iranian government asserts that it uses landmines as “defense tools” to guard its borders and stop drug traffickers from moving around. However, new mines have been planted sparingly and in border areas where drug trafficking is uncommon, primarily to limit the presence of Kurdish political parties.

The use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel mines are prohibited under the 1997 Ottawa Convention. Iran has not yet signed this convention and continues to use landmines across its borders. Despite having ratified it on March 1, 2004, Turkey has willfully ignored its obligations under the convention, even though it has received funding from the European Union to clean up mine-contaminated lands.

These explosives kill and injure civilians who inadvertently come into contact with them, especially kolbars, shepherds, mountaineers, and villagers who go to the mountains to collect herbs during the spring. Injuries from explosives can often result in permanent disabilities, such as loss of limbs or severe trauma. Landmines also cause significant psychological and social damage, including generalized fear and anxiety, trauma and PTSD, depression and other psychological problems, social stigma and isolation, and damage to interpersonal relationships. Finally, they have adverse impacts on the environment and landscape of the region, including soil contamination, destruction of wildlife habitat, water pollution, and deforestation.

Landmines, suicide and depression in Kurdistan

Ilam Province, in East Kurdistan, is the most landmine-contaminated province in Iran. The World Health Organization conducted a study there to determine the prevalence, severity, and symptoms of anxiety and depression disorders among landmine victims in this province and to evaluate the quality of life while accounting for a number of other factors. Of the 137 injured individuals surveyed, 95 had high anxiety and depression scores (69.3%), while only 42 of the injured individuals (5.8%) had scores that were within the normal range. Comparing individuals who were deemed to have fully recovered from their injury with those who had not, there was a significant difference in the degree of anxiety. The study discovered that people who have been injured by landmines have elevated levels of anxiety and depression. In addition to physical harm, survivors of landmine accidents may experience psychological trauma in the form of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which can lower their quality of life. Persistent anxiety and depression may be exacerbated by the denial of a new body image, an uncertain future, and a lack of confidence.

A number of psychological, political, economic, social, biological, cultural, and environmental factors have an impact on suicide rates. Landmines may be one factor. The average suicide rate in Iran is 5.09 cases per 100,000 people; the highest rates are found in Ilam province and in Kirmashan, at 11.49 and 11.78 cases per 100,000 people, respectively. which exceeds the average by more than two times.

Landmines are one of the many elements causing psychological issues in Kurdistan, along with other factors like poverty, racism, discrimination, and oppression.  The psychological effects of landmines impact entire communities in addition to individual survivors, undermining social cohesiveness, diminishing mental health, and obstructing attempts to heal and develop resilience.

Comprehensive psychosocial support services, such as peer support groups, community-based interventions, counseling, and initiatives to lessen stigma and encourage inclusion for impacted individuals and their families, are necessary to address these psychological effects. Nonetheless, the Iranian government has not provided adequate assistance to the impacted communities and has even increased the number of landmines it has planted throughout Kurdistan’s border areas. The Turkish government follows the same policy regarding support for the affected communities.

The challenges of removing landmines

De-mining and neutralizing unexploded ordnance in border areas presents significant humanitarian and financial challenges due to the time, resources, and expertise required. Each mine is expected to cost between $300 and $1,000 to remove and neutralize. Taking into account the estimated quantity of landmines and unexploded ordnance on Kurdistan’s borders, it is estimated that 10 to 16 billion dollars will be required to fully clear the contaminated areas in Kurdistan. It goes without saying that the governments of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria will never invest this amount of money in demining the lands in Kurdistan.

In addition to a lack of financial resources, there is also a lack of equipment, trained professionals, and organizations that could contribute to removing and neutralizing the explosives from contaminated areas. One of the few volunteers who has spent more than 38 years de-mining the borders of South and East Kurdistan (the Iraq-Iran border) is Hoshyar Halabjayi. Using his bare hands or primary equipment, he has cleared over 54,000 hectares of land and removed over 2 million landmines and unexploded ordnance, despite all the restrictions and risks. Not only did he lose both of his legs while demining, but two of his brothers also died assisting him. His story and efforts are one of the examples of the impact of the neglect of the four states that occupy Kurdistan regarding landmines.


Landmines not only pose a direct threat to human life but also cause environmental degradation, as they contaminate soil and water sources. The biodiversity, ecosystem health, and general environmental sustainability of the area may all be negatively impacted for some time by this contamination.

The presence of landmines hinders efforts to promote socio-economic development and reconstruction in border regions. It makes it more difficult to carry out infrastructure projects, like building schools, hospitals, and roads, which are necessary to enhance living circumstances and build resilience in impacted communities.

Landmines near borders have the potential to drive people away from their homes, causing internal displacement or migration to safer regions. This displacement disrupts livelihoods, separates families, and strains already-limited resources in host communities.

Overall, landmines have complex and wide-ranging impacts on the lives of Kurdish people living along the borders of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. They present serious obstacles to their security, way of life, and opportunities for long-term, sustainable development. Comprehensive strategies are needed to address these effects, such as mitigation, victim assistance, risk education, support for mine ban treaty advocacy, and assistance for initiatives aimed at rehabilitating and strengthening the resilience of impacted communities. However, as mentioned before, this requires massive funding, investment, advocacy, and even international support. States like Iran and Turkey have have no desire to pursue these steps, however, as landmines are one of the countless means by which they maintain their authority in Kurdistan.

(Photo: Department of Defense. American Forces Information Service. Defense Visual Information Center. 1994) 

About the Author

Gordyaen Benyamin Jermayi


Gordyaen Benyamin Jermayi is a Kurdish human rights advocate born in Urmia, Rojhelat (East Kurdistan). He is a member of a human rights organization that documents human rights violations in East Kurdistan. Since 2020, he has presented and su…

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