By Umit Tetik and Kutluhan Gorucu
ISTANBUL (AA) - The destruction of the shelters and positions of the terrorist organization PKK continues since the start of Turkey's Operation Claw in northern Iraq. The dimensions of the ammunition and living materials of the terrorist organization brought the financial and material resources of the PKK back to the agenda. According to data from the Turkish Interior Ministry and some public sources, drug trafficking is the most important financial resource of the terrorist organization.
Over 40 years, the PKK has organized a terror group under different names in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Europe. It needed financial resources to create a people/mass detached from the state, to form a so-called state structure and to sustain its terrorist attacks and resorted to criminal activities like all terrorist organizations. Among these activities, the production, distribution and sale of drugs are particularly noteworthy. At this point, the routes of the PYD/PKK's gains from drug trafficking and the operations carried out by the Turkish security forces against the organization reveal the possible annual budget of the organization.
- PKK's drug trafficking routes
The PYD/PKK has four major routes, the Balkans, North and South Africa, and the Caucasus. In addition, the organization has stops at various locations in Africa where it provides or transports drugs. The PKK often uses these routes by not exposing itself and transports the drug to Europe, which it considers to be the main market.
The Balkans is at the top of the routes that the organization frequently uses for drug trafficking. This route is composed of Afghanistan-Iran-Turkey-Balkans-Europe, respectively in geographical order. This route consists of Afghanistan-Iran-Turkey-Balkans-European countries. So much so that drugs produced in Afghanistan, Iran, as can be moved to Iraq or Syria, after moving out of Iran and the Caucasus to Turkey, in the west of Europe through various routes through the Balkans Netherlands, to places where large drug markets such as Belgium and France can also be imported. Drugs produced in Afghanistan can be moved to Iran, Iraq or Syria, or after being trafficked from Iran and the Caucasus to Turkey, transferred to large drug markets such as Holland, Belgium and France in the west of Europe through various routes from the Balkans.
According to intelligence reports accessible through EUROPOL and some public sources, the PKK is able to deal with different subcontractors on the routes it uses to avoid disclosure due to its drug trade and expand its criminal network. For example, while using the Caucasus route, the PKK can make agreements with some Georgian and Iranian criminal organizations and transfer drugs to markets in eastern Europe.
A well-known instance of PKK’s drug trafficking is the Baybasin case. The Baybasin clan in southeastern Diyarbakir province established a drug network in the U.K., the Netherlands, and Turkey and had engagements with almost all drug dealers in Europe. Also, according to drug dealers captured by Turkish security forces, it is not possible to sell drugs in Europe or Turkey without having links to the PKK.
In addition, some security forces' operations in various parts of Europe argue that the status of "political asylum" had served as a picklock to the PYD/PKK and senior-level terrorists could become permanent in Europe by abusing this status.
For instance, senior-level terrorists who fled Turkey and sought political asylum in Europe, namely Zubeyir Aydar and Remzi Kartal, and Riza Altun -- known as terror group's safebox who was recently neutralized following a joint operation by Turkish intelligence and army -- were declared "narcotics trafficker" by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
- New drug route: Syria
Following the Arab Spring of 2011, the PKK quickened its moves towards Europe through its offshoot in Syria, which is PYD/YPG. When terror group Daesh attacked Ayn al-Arab region of Syria in 2014, the PYD/YPG body in the region was granted support by the U.S., ensuring the growth of the PKK influence in the region through PYD/YPG. Once the PYD/PKK structure gained dominance in the region, Qandil region of northern Iraq -- which serves as a drug distribution center of terror group -- began transferring drugs to Europe through Syria. In fact, the terror group turned Syrian regions into drug production facility as well by cultivating poppy, marijuana, or cannabis in Qamishli, Al Malikiyah, Ras al Ayn, Raqqa, Al Hasakah, Ayn al-Arab, and Tal Abyad regions.
The PYD/PKK, seeking to hide its drug production, usually sows drug-linked plants in corn and cotton fields; and it conducts all these activities with the help of the so-called ministry of agriculture controlled by the so-called Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. The produced drug is not only sent to Europe but also delivered within Syria so that controlling the organization would be "easier".
- Turkey's war on narco-terrorism of PYD/PKK
The narcotics network established the PYD/PKK in Turkey and neighboring countries has recently sustained great damage by Turkey's comprehensive counter-terror operations. Turkey's fight on narco-terrorism of PYD/YPG has gained momentum since 2016 thanks to the strong cooperation with the international institutions and security operations conducted in-and-out of the country.
In the second half of 2016, when officials linked to FETO terror group were kicked out of state institutions following the failed coup attempt, Turkey's fight on organized crime thrived, especially against groups like PYD/PKK. With Turkey's operations in northern Syria -- operations of Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch -- terror elements and their proxies in the region were eliminated. In addition, Turkey's operations in northern Iraq -- operations of Claw and Resolute -- have inflicted heavy damage on terror group by targeting drug trafficking, neutralizing senior-level terrorists leading crime and terror activities and illegal border-crossing.
As a result, when Turkey’s fight on narco-terrorism is evaluated, the war on narco-terrorism has notably gained momentum since 2016. With operations held by relevant departments of the interior ministry, 88,239 kilograms of cannabis, 16,542 kilograms of heroin and 11,411 kilograms of cocaine were seized in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Given the amount of drug materials seized from the PYD/PKK and how these drugs financed the organization, it is estimated that the PYD/PKK has got the potential of obtaining a revenue of $1.5 billion per year through drug trafficking alone.
According to the intelligence reports, it is estimated that the PKK has an annual revenue of $50 billion collected through drug and human trafficking, and other illegal means.
Turkey maintains its fight on the PYD/YPG structure – which possesses over 80% of Europe drug market – with the collaboration of Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) and Interior Ministry and other international organizations such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Organization for Economic Co-operation, Black Sea Economic Cooperation, Southeast European Law Enforcement Center and European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
*Having completed his postgraduate education at TOBB University, Umit Tetik currently continues his security-themed research at Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA).
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.