Drug trafficking and the PKK
The money to be made in drug trafficking has attracted organised crime, the PKK, local governments and, some say, elements of the state.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 22/12/11
Called a "drug kingpin" by Turkish officials, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has long been suspected of substantial involvement in drug trafficking, which along with diaspora funding is believed to be a significant source of its income.
According to Turkish National Police records, a total of 842 individuals, most with connections to the PKK, have been arrested for drug trafficking since 1984.
Security forces have confiscated tonnes of hashish, heroin, cocaine and other drugs, as well as shut down two drug factories owned by PKK members, according to the latest police report.
Last week, in Diyarbakir, 44 tonnes of marijuana was seized during the largest operation into the PKK's drug business, the state-run Anatolian News Agency reported.
According to Europol, by using diaspora and organised crime connections in Europe, the PKK is directly and indirectly involved in drug trafficking to finance its operations.
For Murat Sever, a drug traffiking investigator at the International Centre for Terrorism and Transnational Crime at the Turkish Police Academy, the PKK's involvement in drug trafficking is "the number one regional problem".
He explained to SES Türkiye that due to Turkey's geopolitical position and rough geography, the country acts as a bridge between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, where many of the drugs in the global market originate, and Europe.
According to official records, 80% of the drugs produced in this region are transferred to Europe through Turkey.
Sever said that while the PKK may not be in direct control of 80% of the European drug trade, it is possibly earning a share through so-called taxes, even on the part of the trade for which it is not directly responsible.
"The [PKK's] crime partners in Europe are selling drugs even on the streets, and it brings them a lot of money. They buy their weapons with drug money," he explained.
Vahit Kiler, an MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who years ago established a parliamentary investigation commission on drug trafficking, thinks the drug business still remains the number one financial resource for the PKK.
Kiler said Turkey is in a good position to combat the PKK's drug operations.
"Especially recently, we have managed to strike serious blows to the organisation and hope it will continue," he said.
In the meanwhile, Kiler argues that police operations should target not only the PKK, but its possible supporters in local governments.
"It's obvious that a 25-year old young person cannot come down from the mountains and do this work alone," he says.
However, Mehmet Nezir Karabas, a Kurdish politician from southeastern Turkey and former Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MP, says the "picture is totally different than what government describes".
He says government bodies are behind the drug trafficking and use PKK's name to "lower the image of Kurdish movement".
"It's true that there is a huge drug trade throughout Turkey. But the government uses this politically. The ones behind it is the government," he told SES Türkiye.
"In the 1990's we've witnessed that a huge amount of drugs were carried by military cars in southeastern Turkey," he said, pointing to the nebulous relationship between the so-called "deep state", security forces, politicians and organised crime during the height of the conflict between the state and the PKK.
Other analysts, such as Yusuf Cinar, founder of Strategic Outlook, a Konya-based think-tank, see other reasons behind the problem.
He says the government can't control the southeastern borders and more research needs to be done to look at the real scale of the problem.
But Cinar thinks the PKK is likely connected to drug trafficking because of its unknown and inexhaustible financial resources.
To solve the problem, the analyst says, the government needs to start academic research regarding the PKK's drag trafficking operations and keep close co-operation with Europe.