A young shepherd takes a flock of sheep to the barn (Cedit: Ruşen Takva)

Like other villages close to the Iranian border in Turkey’s largely Kurdish province of Van, Yukarı Çili must contend with harsh economic conditions – and with shooting from both sides of the frontier. Border guards are often trying to halt smugglers who transport tea, tobacco and oil from Iran’s Çaldıran district back into Turkey. Some of Çili’s residents make their living this way, but others, such as farmers, can find themselves and their animals caught up in confrontations.

Yukarı (“upper”) Çili is a two-hour car journey from the city of Van. The route includes a 30-minute climb along mountain roads to reach the village square. Its bare stone houses are the first thing that meet the eye on arrival. Heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures are a constant feature of the winter in this part of the country.

According to some local residents of Çili, smuggling is the only source of income for them because they can’t work in big cities due to the pandemic. However, they are aware that they risk death if they smuggle goods across the border.

“We don’t know what we’re supposed to do”, says 23-year-old Cebrail Bağa. “We are stuck between two states and have no allies”.

A basketball hoop constructed from a flour sifter
(Credit: Ruşen Takva)

Villagers air-dry their laundry outside despite snow
(Credit: Ruşen Takva)

23-year-old Cebrail Bağa (left) with his mother (in the middle),
and 19-year-old Welat Bağa (Credit: Ruşen Takva)

Yukarı Çili village is right on the Iranian border,
surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides 
(Credit: Ruşen Takva)

Shepherd dogs are the most effective defense against wild animals that descend upon the village at night.  (Credit: Ruşen Takva)