(Spring 1995) Again and again, theday's headlines bear out the psalmist's observation that "there is nothing new under the sun." Reports from the Middle East have for some time revealed that Kurdish Marxist separatists in Turkey have taken a leaf out of the book of their ideological brethen around the world. Like the Sendero Luminoso in Peru and the Dev-Sol in Turkey, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) is embracing the lucrative narcotics traffic to finance its terrorist activities.
Back in late 1993, Turkish Interior Minister Nahit Mentese reported that security forces had scored major successes against Kurdish rebel drug-smuggling operations. Over the year, he said, police had seized 1,054 kilograms of heroin, 2,884 kg of morphine base, and 23,679 kg of hashish from PKK traffickers.
"This terrorist organization," he said, "gets financial revenues from smuggling drugs abroad, as it does in Turkey."
More than 15,000 people have been killed in Turkey since the PKK began its armed struggle for an independent Kurdish state in 1984.
Sources in Ankara said that since the 1980s the clandestine terrorist organization has spread around the world and has seized a growing part of the European drug traffic. The PKK appears to be involved in drug processing, protection in transit, and end sales to consumers. Some Turkish sources say that as much as 40 percent of the Middle East drug traffic is handled by the PKK.
These sources estimate that the PKK's annual profit from the drug traffic is between $300 million and $400 million. They say that this money, intended eventually for the purchase of arms, is deposited in the Swiss bank accounts of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK's chief.
Drug enforcement authorities say that the PKK has two principal sources of narcotics. The first is the labratories established by the PKK in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which is controlled by Syria. The opium processed in the Bekaa Valley is shipped to Europe through three major transportation routes. Narcotics either travel through Greek Cyprus to Italy and on to Spain and Germany or enter Turkey from the southeast and are transported to Istanbul, the experts say. From there, Kurdish, Turkish and Iranian activists smuggle the drugs through Bulgaria to Greece and Italy, or to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. A third route is believed to have been opened in the north of the former Yugoslavia since fighting began in that country.
All routes, except for those through Cyprus or from southern Turkey to Italy, the experts say, pass through Istanbul, where there is a well-organized and powerful network of smugglers working closely with the Iranian mafia and intelligence service and with the Turkish Dev-Sol (Revolutionar Left).
The second major supply of PKK narcotics passes through Iran. Narcotics originating in Afghanistan are processed in the no-man's-land near the Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish borders, with the assistance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. From there the drugs are transported west through southeastern Turkish cities where the PKK has strong backing and safe houses. Turkish trucks with hidden compartments are loaded with narcotics and driven to Istanbul, from where they make their way to Europe.
The bulk of the drug supplies is destined for Western Europe, with an increase in the volume ending up in Great Britain. Turkish sources say that the PKK has increased its share of the European drug market to the point where it competes with established older Western European networks.
Reportedly, the PKK gets important assistance from the Syrian government. Istanbul sources say the operation is headed by Riffat al-Assad, a brother of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. Many Kurds living in Syria reportedly joined the PKK after it opened offices in the Kurdish region of that country.
The Turkist media have carried voluminous reports on the drug operations of PKK militants. Among the more spectactular cases was the arrest in Milan of four Kurds on a TIR truck carrying 100 kg of hidden heroin in 1989. The driver, Nazim Kelo, told Italian investigators that the heroin had come from the PKK, for whom he had worked for years.
In another incident, Vahiddin Karakeci, who joined the PKK in 1987 and who trained until 1989 abroad, was arrested in in 1991 in Cologne with 2.5 kg of heroin. Karakeci was involved in the bombing of the bus terminal in Diyarbekir in eastern Turkey in August 1990, in which two people were injured.
Along with the PKK's terrorism and drug trafficking, it has also come under attack in Europe for extortion and murder. In Novemeber 1994, Swiss authorities arrested several members of the PKK and charged them with extortion, intimidation and causing bodily harm. At least two murders have been associated to the PKK. Twenty Kurds, thought to have been members of the PKK, were deported from Switzerland during 1994 for their suspected illegal political activities.