EDITOR'S NOTE: Kalif Mathieu is an intern at StoptheDrugWar.org. His bio is in our "staff" section.
I traveled to the city of Istanbul last week to stay for a few days with my school program of Peace and Conflict Resolution. Istanbul (and Turkey as a whole) is the perfect conduit for heroin being produced in the middle-east to reach Western European markets. Heroin and other drugs are commodities like anything else, and travel through the same general trade routes as other goods. Turkey is so strategically placed that according to Le Monde diplomatique in 1995 “An estimated 80% of the heroin on the European market is being processed in Turkish laboratories." (La Dépêche Internationale des Drogues 1995, Nr. 48)
So you might ask, “what’s so special about heroin traveling through Turkey? It’s just like any other trade between the middle-east and Europe.” The troublesome point is who controls the trafficking through the country and receives the profits of the trade. This happens to be the PKK, or Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a militant organization with a 30-year history of fighting the Turkish government to establish a separate Kurdish state. “According to Interpol […] the PKK was orchestrating 80 % of the European drug market” back in 1992, and “[o]ther sources similarly indicate that the PKK controlled between 60 % to 70 %” in 1994 reported the Turkish Daily News.
The state of Turkey has been increasing its process of Westernization recently in its desire to join the EU, and this has meant adopting a Western policy on drugs. Turkey has been very successful recently in increasing its police and border control effectiveness and eliminating corruption. The Turkish Daily News gave some convincing numbers: “According to the deputy customs undersecretary, there was a 400 percent increase in drug-operation success in the period between 2002 and 2006, when compared to the 1999-2002 period.”
However, even though Turkey has been, in recent years, dealing more and more forcefully with both the PKK militants and the drug trade, has this actually reduced the trafficking of drugs and the profits of the PKK? In the Turkish Daily News: “[t]he annual revenue made by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has increased to 400-500 million euros, a top Turkish general said late Tuesday.” If the PKK’s revenue has increased, then it is logical to assume Turkey’s military campaign against them may not be considered a huge success. Not only that, but “200-250 million euros of [the PKK’s] revenue comes from drugs […] Gen. Ergin Saygun, deputy chief of General Staff said.” That makes drug trafficking 50% of the organization’s income!
The Turkish state has had a history of valuing the effectiveness of force. It was born from war, and the constitution has a controversial but often-utilized article that allows the Turkish army to organize a coup to eliminate the possibility of having a religious party in power. What is the point of these so-called ‘hard-line’ approaches to dealing with the nation’s problems if they are rather ineffective? Very little of course. The trouble comes from what the state could say to its citizens, to the international community, if it negotiated with the violent PKK or began to take the drug trade into the light by moving it towards legalization and either private or state control? If Turkey tried to clean up its smuggling and black market in such a way the majority of Europe, if not the greater ‘global community,’ would probably condemn the entire nation of betraying humanity and literally becoming evil. The reaction of many Turkish citizens would be perhaps lighter, but of a similar nature if the state sat down to negotiations with the ‘terrorist’ PKK. These are strong influences on the Turkish state, and severely limit its options. Therefore it seems Turkey doesn’t have much of a choice but to pursue the same policy of force it has pursued for more than 30 years, whether it benefit the people or not.