PKK runs major illegal drug trade in Turkey's Southeast
Stretches of cannabis fields can be seen right next to dozens of villages and towns in the area between Diyarbakır's Lice district and Bingöl's Genç district. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is not only a terrorist organization that's been waging a separatist campaign against Turkey for the past three decades; but it is also a major crime corporation that controls the illegal drug trade in the Southeast.
More than 50,000 people have died in the conflict with the PKK since 1978, the terror organization's year of establishment. In that time, terrorist attacks have cost Turkey hundreds of billions of dollars, undermining the country's development goals and causing grief, pain and bloodshed for hundreds of thousands of people. Turkey has for a long time focused solely on the security side of the terror issue, ignoring, for the most part, the subsidiary or side “branches” of the PKK's criminal activities. Currently, the most terror-stricken parts of the Southeast serve as “safe havens” for marijuana growers, as well as for traffickers of synthetic narcotics.
A prime example of this can be seen in the northern Diyarbakır districts of Lice, Hani, Hazro and Kulp and in the rural areas of the Genç district of Bingöl, which are the sites of endless cannabis fields. State forces have not established a presence here on the grounds of “terrorism,” but the PKK has set camps. There are 80 villages in the region, which are all growing marijuana. It is estimated that the cannabis yield from the fields for 2012 will be 500 tons. All the growing, sale and resale is carried out under the complete control of the PKK, which, according to intelligence units, has earned $50 million in income from illegal drugs. The only place in the Southeast -- one of the five areas defined as a “state” by the PKK -- where the PKK militants are not only financially self-sustaining but also send money to the PKK headquarters in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq is Amed, the PKK's name for Diyarbakır.
The rural areas of Diyarbakır and Bingöl have largely turned into marijuana plantations, and they also host PKK camps. Last year, the Turkish military conducted an operation in Mount Görese -- home to several PKK camps -- for the first time in 12 years. The operation revealed the bitter fact that the PKK was running its operations in the “state of Amed” from camps there. There are four other places that host PKK command centers like Görese in the rural parts of Diyarbakır and Bingöl. Two of these are to the north of Lice, one is to the northeast and one is in Genç, Bingöl. These areas, where security forces don't set foot for fear of terrorist attacks, are places where the PKK can act most freely in Turkey. Most of the youths in the urban parts of these districts, who habitually attend unauthorized and often violent pro-PKK demonstrations, are substance abusers.
It is possible to see stretches of cannabis fields right next to dozens of villages and towns in the area between Lice and Genç. Special irrigation wells and pools have been set up to tend to the watering needs of the fields. There are even growers who have set up irrigation systems in their marijuana fields. Those who do not have a house in the area live in huts built near the fields during the season, and then go back to their cities after the harvest. The terrorist group has full control over the drug trade in the region, and growers have to pay a 20 percent cut to the PKK.
Although the volume of marijuana grown in these fields is 500 tons annually, that seized by the police or gendarmerie amounts to no more than 20 tons a year. The rest is sold in western cities, such as İstanbul, poisoning the country's youth.
There is historical background to the story that has paved the way for the PKK to plant fields of marijuana. As part of the Law of Emergency (OHAL) that was in place in most Eastern and Southeastern provinces well into the early 2000s, hundreds of villages were evacuated by the state, with displaced people being relocated to cities in the west. It was after these departures that the plantations started, with increasing PKK involvement in illegal drug growing. With the villages empty and security forces no longer visiting rural areas, many districts succumbed to PKK demands to plant marijuana. The PKK offered protection to the producers. By 2008, the PKK had full control over the region's marijuana plantations. In 2010, it started issuing permissions for would-be growers, and set up rates and tariffs to be paid to the PKK. Drug dealers in the area were not only paying commission to the PKK, but also offering logistics support, financing the PKK militants in the region.
Those who grow marijuana without the PKK's “blessing” are punished, their fields burned along with the vehicles used to transport the plants. The PKK also uses this practice to spread propaganda in local pro-PKK newspapers that a truck or vehicle was destroyed because the PKK is anti-drugs.
Security and intelligence units report that the area covered by cannabis plantations has tripled over the past year. Narco-terror experts say the PKK is increasingly relying on the drug trade to finance its activities, because its operations extorting Kurdish businessmen in Holland, Denmark, Germany and Spain have slowed down with the eurozone crisis.
C.K., a marijuana grower, says that many gendarmerie officials are also involved in the trade, as well as village guards. According to him, there are people who are connected to both the military and the PKK. It is through these double agents that the PKK can find out about planned military operations ahead of time.
C.K. also says some growers actively provide transportation and logistics services to the militants. “There are some families that only the PKK militant in charge talks to them. They run all kinds of errands for the PKK in Lice. They actually give their vehicles for setting up road blocks, or transporting rations or militants to an area.”
A resident of Diyarbakır's Kulp district, N.A., says that one particular family in central Lice has two villages of cannabis fields. “These people even have contacts with high-ranking officers at the gendarmerie station. They collect money from the villagers who plant marijuana both for the gendarmerie and for the PKK.” The money collected for the PKK is given to Mehmet Şah İldeniz, who uses the code name Reber. The money for the gendarmerie is given to a village guard.