Arrests in Diyarbakir nets tonnes of marijuana, guns
More than 900 people have been charged with drug trafficking since 1984.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye – 27/12/12
A recent drug seizure in Diyarbakir Province signals a change in tactics by authorities combatting the drug trade that is used to finance PKK and terrorist activity, an analyst said.
Bags of marijuana fill trucks during a news conference on December 15th in Diyarbakir to announce the seizure of more than 20 tonnes of illegal drugs. [AFP]
The army announced on December 15th that it had seized more than 20 tonnes of marijuana along with guns and fertilizer in an operation against suspected militants, during co-ordinated raids in seven villages around the Kurdish-majority province.
"Hundreds of security forces, backed by helicopters, seized an estimated $22.5 million worth of marijuana and ammunition, which can be used to make explosives," Mustafa Toprak, Diyarbakir's governor, announced in a statement.
The drug trade is "a major source of funding for Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants which is earning a significant income though it," Toprak said. "The operation landed a huge blow to the terrorism financing."
Turkish troops frequently seize sacks full of drugs near southeastern borders, where the Kurdish militants are active, which, alongside the lack of full political and security control over some border regions, creates an environment conducive to smuggling and PKK financing.
The latest operation was "different from all previous ones," said Suleyman Ozeren, director of International Centre for Terrorism and Transnational Crime at the Turkish Police Academy.
"Previously the operations were targeting only the smugglers, but this time the security forces found a way to direct plantations where tonnes of marijuana was grown," Ozeren told SES Türkiye. "So, now we're talking about the new connections and arrests of those who planted and sold the narcotics."
According to the National Police records, about 950 people, most with connections to the PKK, have been arrested for drug trafficking since 1984.
In October, marijuana with an estimated value of $1.9 million was seized in the eastern province of Van, while in August, security forces confiscated nearly 4 tonnes of cannabis and other substances used to make drugs in Diyarbakır's Lice district, raising suspicions that the materials belong to the militants.
Ozeren said the PKK takes "part in every stages of drug trafficking; from production to transportation, and from marketing to street level sales."
Due to past years' increased clashes with militants, the security forces "couldn't focus on the smugglers in the bordering region," he said. But after months of successful operations, he added, "it's time to focus on drug trafficking."
Abdurrahman Kurt, former AKP MP from Diyarbakir, said that drug trafficking has for a long time been the "No. 1 problem of the region."
The government "is doing everything to protect our youth from this disaster," he told SES Türkiye.
Hovewer, he added, there have always been rumors and accusations that both elements within the PKK and the deep state are involved in the drug trade.
"For many years we've tried to investigate the direct connection of the smugglers to the deep state. … The Ergenekon trial and other operations will bring more light to this topic, I guess," he said.
Mehmet Nezir Karabas, a Kurdish politician and former BDP MP, said that he believes the government "uses drug trafficking issue politically by linking it to the PKK's name to lower the image of the Kurdish movement."
"Drug traffickers have nothing in common with the Kurdish freedom fighters," he told SES Türkiye. "This is one of the troubles that our people, our youth face with. But you can't fix neither the drug trafficking problem, nor Kurdish issue by mixing the two with each other."