Turkey welcomes US sanctions on PKK drug smugglers
Wednesday's action sanctioning four people and three companies for their drug trafficking ties to the PKK is the first use of the Kingpin Act in Europe targeting the organisation.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 02/02/12
Officials in Turkey hope the designation of four people and three companies in Southeast Europe as narcotics traffickers raising money for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) will be followed by further steps against the PKK's activities in Europe.
PKK leader Murat Karayilan (second from left) in Qandil mountain, Iraq. Drug trafficking has been tied to funding the organisation's activities. [Reuters]
Three people in Moldova -- Zeyneddin Geleri, Cerkez Akbulut (aka Cernit Murat) and Omer Boztepe – were identified by the US as acting on behalf of the PKK in Europe. In addition, the US identified Omer Geleri of Romania and three Romanian-based companies due to their ties and or activities related to Zeyneddin Geleri.
All are the first designees in Europe under the US Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which targets entities owned or controlled by those acting on behalf of the PKK. Any assets they may have under US jurisdiction are frozen.
Fahrettin Poyraz, Turkey's ruling AKP MP and a chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Public Enterprises, called the action "a welcome development". "We hope that it will be follow-up with serious action by other countries as well."
"The PKK's drug trafficking network should be destroyed, this would not be tolerated in any country," Poyraz told SES Türkiye. "These types of actions undermine the PKK and further weaken the Kurdish insurgency," he added.
Zeyneddin Geleri was identified as a high-ranking member of the PKK, and a member of a Romania-based drug trafficking organisation utilising import and export companies for illicit activities across Europe. Geleri is also suspected of complicity with Akbulut, a PKK member, and was the target of a March 2008 seizure of 199kg of heroin worth approximately 6.7m euros by the Moldovan police. Boztepe works for the PKK and is currently a fugitive from Moldovan authorities after being sentenced to 12 years in prison for narcotics trafficking activities, according to US authorities.
According to Turkish National Police records, about 900 people, most with connections to the PKK, have been arrested for drug trafficking since 1984.
Most recently, in Diyarbakir 1,180kg of hashish worth over 1.1m euros was seized during the largest operation into the PKK's drug business.
"The PKK takes part in every stage of [drug trafficking]; from production to transportation, and from marketing to street level sales," Oguzhan Omer Demir, a drug trafficking investigator at the International Centre for Terrorism and Transnational Crime (UTSAM) at the Turkish Police Academy, told SES Türkiye.
In fact, he says, the PKK can organise wholesale or retail sales because its structure is highly suitable and flexible to adapt to differing situations.
"[The PKK] also receives tax from other drug sellers," adds Suleyman Ozeren, director of UTSAM. "They buy their weapons and materials with drug money."
Although the PKK is recognised as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US, Demir says Turkey expects more. "The recent court case about ROJ TV, the PKK's satellite TV station broadcasting in Denmark, showed that some EU countries do not demonstrate honest and effective support to Turkey in her fight against terrorism," he adds.
But some, such as Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a writer for the Kurdish newspaper Rudaw and Jamestown Foundation analyst on PKK issues, are wary of taking the Turkish government's statements at face value. "There is a clear propaganda war between the rebels and Turkish state to dehumanize each other," he says.
"A lot of heroin and drugs come through Turkey via the Balkan route from Afghanistan to Europe. Mafia groups always played a major role in Turkey. But there have always been rumours, claims and accusations that both elements within the PKK and the state are involved in the drug trade," he told SES Türkiye. The Susurluk scandal in 1996 exposed links between the mafia and government officials, he says.
Wilgenburg says Turkey will be pleased with the US Treasury action, "since it makes Ankara's efforts more successful to try to depict the PKK as a criminal organisation in the West, instead of a political organisation only."
Meanwhile, Sirri Sakik, MP from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), accuses the government of "politicising the peaceful freedom fight of the Kurdish people".
"They want to pressure and persecute our community everywhere… Western Europe is an important land for Kurdish dissidents who couldn't continue their struggle in the country and don't have any connections, not only to drugs, but business overall," he told SES Türkiye. Drug traffickers have "nothing in common with the Kurdish freedom fighters", he adds.
AKP's Poyraz emphasizes that the Turkish government has no problem with its Kurdish population and calls on BDP politicians to "Stop advocating for the PKK terrorists."