Français Ballast | English

There is no longer a need to prove the way in which, from North Amer­i­ca to the Philip­pines, drug traf­fick­ing is used as a counter-insur­rec­tion­al tool by gov­ern­ments seek­ing to put down chal­lenges. In the Kur­dish regions of Turkey (Bakur), colo­nial pow­er is also using this lever in the repres­sion it has long been con­duct­ing against the Kur­dish auton­o­mist, social and envi­ron­men­tal Kur­dish move­ment. Fol­low­ing the civ­il war of the 1990s and the scorched earth pol­i­cy that emp­tied thou­sands of vil­lages, repres­sion has tak­en on oth­er, more under­hand­ed forms: they aim at destroy­ing all polit­i­cal com­mit­ment in youth. Reportage in North­ern Kurdistan’s “cap­i­tal”.

By Loez pub­lished in french on Bal­last

Sur, Amed, 2021 / Loez

In the chill of win­ter, night falls on the town of Amed (Diyarbakır, in Turk­ish). Inhab­it­ed by over one mil­lion peo­ple, it is con­sid­ered the polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al cen­ter of the Kur­dish regions inside Turk­ish bor­ders. In the alley­ways of the work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood of Bağlar, sodi­um street lights cast an orange tinge. “In half an hour, spe­cial forces will set up check­points at the entry points into the neigh­bor­hood and this street will be full of deal­ers,” laments Mehmet1, a youth activist from the HDP, the main pro­gres­sive oppo­si­tion force in the coun­try2. He points out a pipe of waste water at the foot of an elec­tri­cal pole; it is filled with a murky liq­uid in a soda bot­tle. “Look, there and there… Con­sumers dope them­selves in the street and the police doesn’t budge. The deal­ers act with full impuni­ty.” With a group of young mil­i­tants, we go to meet an influ­en­tial per­son­al­i­ty from the neigh­bor­hood. He invites us to sit down in a neigh­bour­ing restau­rant. Glass­es of hot tea are served. But he has bare­ly real­ized that this is a for­eign jour­nal­ist putting ques­tions to him con­cern­ing the increase of drug traf­fick­ing that his face becomes dis­tort­ed. He jumps out of his seat and runs out of the restau­rant, after mum­bling he doesn’t want to risk answering.

In the fall of 2021, the HDP’s youth movement launched a wide campaign against the use of narcotics in several large towns in Kurdistan.”

Faced with the increase in the use of nar­cotics, and notably of hard drugs such as crys­tal — metham­phet­a­mine — the HDP’s youth move­ment launched a wide cam­paign against the use of nar­cotics in sev­er­al large towns in Kur­dis­tan. This is in keep­ing with the polit­i­cal par­a­digm of demo­c­ra­t­ic con­fed­er­al­ism, adopt­ed by the Kur­dish move­ment since 2005. In order to tack­le a num­ber of polit­i­cal and social prob­lems, it pro­motes auton­o­my and self-gov­ern­ment at a dai­ly lev­el, of pop­u­la­tions faced with the repres­sive State. By orga­niz­ing activ­i­ties for young peo­ple, through door-to-door calls and medi­a­tion, these mil­i­tants attempt to block a phe­nom­e­non that has become endem­ic. “We began this cam­paign in Sep­tem­ber”, explains Ser­dar*, a mem­ber of HDP youth who has par­tic­i­pat­ed in orga­niz­ing some actions. “We have defined the stages: the first is rais­ing aware­ness, the sec­ond is mobi­liza­tion with the NGOs and the third con­sists of offer­ing alter­na­tive lifestyle envi­ron­ments for young peo­ple. At the end of the cam­paign, we are con­sid­er­ing cre­at­ing an asso­ci­a­tion pro­vid­ing cul­tur­al and sports activ­i­ties, as a pro­pos­al for young peo­ple lack­ing socio­cul­tur­al activ­i­ties”. Hüseyin* grew up in the Bağlar neigh­bor­hood. He was a drug user before the youth move­ment helped him free him­self from his addic­tion. Despite his young age, his body is frail, his face is marked by deep wrin­kles and scars. He says: “I was also depen­dent, pre­vi­ous­ly. But I have stopped. My fam­i­ly was poor, and that was an advan­tage for the ene­my. At first, you become accus­tomed and once you are hooked, they attempt to turn you into an agent. Once your body has become addict­ed, it’s as if your brain became par­a­lyzed and you have to do every­thing they tell you. Plus, you just don’t real­ize: you find your­self in a swamp, ready to dis­ap­pear at any moment. I’m cur­rent­ly in a recon­struc­tion phase, I’m attempt­ing to get over it. But it’s a hard period.”

amed drugs

March 2016, Amed, Şehit­lik neigh­bor­hood. Pri­or to 2015, the YDG‑H the clan­des­tine Kur­dish youth move­ment fought against the deal­ers / Loez

Accord­ing to Ser­dar, a sharp break occurred in 2015. “Between 2015 and 2016 in Kur­dis­tan, dur­ing the auton­o­my peri­od3there were intense clash­es; But before that, the Kur­dish youth move­ment was fight­ing against the use of nar­cotics, and drug use had dimin­ished quite a bit. Fol­low­ing the war phase where the State saw how youth had been able to orga­nize and con­front the army, it deployed counter-insur­rec­tion­al tac­tics. The pol­i­cy of drug depen­den­cy is part of it.” Expan­sion of drug traf­fick­ing has also occurred in the wind­ing back alleys of Sur — the old his­tor­i­cal town of Amed, sur­round­ed by high black basalt walls. — in the work­ing-class neigh­bor­hoods of Bağlar and Şehit­lik, in the high-toned cafés favoured by the mid­dle class­es and wealth­i­er ones in the neigh­bor­hoods of Yet­mişbeş and Dicle Kent. “The traf­fick­ing doesn’t hide any­more. The places where you can find drugs are known by every­one. When you look at the streets of Amed, there are thou­sands of sur­veil­lance cam­eras and at night, there are hun­dreds of police vehi­cles cov­er­ing the town. Hun­dreds of check­points. For us, the author­i­ties nev­er inter­fer­ing offers proof  this traf­fic is car­ried out under State con­trol” con­tin­ues Ser­dar. An obser­va­tion rein­forced by knowl­edge of how the regime deploys police forces at the slight­est sign of polit­i­cal activ­i­ty: hun­dreds of police agents can be mobi­lized, some­times only in order to sur­round a group of a few peo­ple read­ing a pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion. More­over, in the Kur­dish regions of Turkey, inci­dents involv­ing State repres­sion forces in drug mat­ters are not lack­ing. On July 8 2012, the inde­pen­dent news­pa­per Taraf pub­lished as top news the pho­to of a com­mis­sari­at in the region of Lice, North­east of Amed, with a view direct­ly on cul­ti­va­tions of cannabis. In the same town, at the end of 2021, sev­en gen­darme offi­cers were accused of con­vey­ing drugs. Three were sen­tenced to prison; the oth­ers, includ­ing the com­man­der of the post, were acquit­ted. “There are fam­i­lies attempt­ing to mobi­lize in the face of this, and who call on us, iden­ti­fy­ing per­sons han­dling the sell­ing. They tell us: We went to the com­mis­sari­at, noth­ing was done, we are afraid, we are not safe. Fol­low­ing this, we launched this cam­paign,” adds Serdar.

Apart from the will to de-politicize, State forces are using drug use for massive recruitment of informers among the users.”

Drug use has destruc­tive social effects. “Peo­ple using these prod­ucts lose their abil­i­ty to reflect and to exer­cise con­trol over them­selves. Some throw them­selves off build­ings. Many have lost their bal­ance, have fall­en or have jumped off the walls of Sur. After con­sum­ing, some harm their kin or them­selves or some­times com­mit sui­cide. Beyond over­dos­es, sev­er­al peo­ple have died because of gang con­flicts”, con­tin­ues our inter­locu­tor. In a soci­ety in the grips of a full eco­nom­ic cri­sis — these past months, it has been sub­ject­ed to record infla­tion as the Turk­ish lira’s val­ue fell — con­sumers often resort to theft or pros­ti­tu­tion in order to obtain what their addic­tion requires. Ser­dar takes out his phone to show us a video. In a bare envi­ron­ment, a man is crouched on a mat­tress on the floor. In tears, he deliv­ers what appears to be a con­fes­sion and admits sell­ing drugs to young peo­ple. The activist details the con­text in which this video was record­ed: “A fam­i­ly came to see us, say­ing they had been robbed. Fol­low­ing some research on our part, we learned that the stolen objects had been resold to a shop sell­ing sec­ond-hand objects. The own­er told us this per­son head­ing these actions was a par­ti­san of Hizbul­lah 4in the neigh­bor­hood, that he had the youth com­mit the rob­beries and that he then pro­vid­ed them with drugs.” And Hüseyin adds: “When we look at Kur­dis­tan regions, pros­ti­tu­tion and drugs are very com­mon. This was imple­ment­ed vol­un­tar­i­ly by the ene­my in order to iso­late youths, detach them from their peo­ple, and keep them removed from pol­i­tics. It’s a strat­e­gy because, when a com­mu­ni­ty no longer has any youths, it is sen­tenced to die. The ene­my knows this very well.”

Apart from the will to de-politi­cize, State forces are using drug use for mas­sive recruit­ment of inform­ers among the users: by threat­en­ing to imprison them if they don’t pro­vide infor­ma­tion, and by reward­ing them with mon­ey or drugs. Ser­dar details a well-rehearsed process, one found in a num­ber of cas­es: “A week ago we were informed that a young man was sell­ing drugs — he is from a patri­ot­ic fam­i­ly, one of his broth­ers is one of Sur’s mar­tyrs. We talked with him. At first, he was sub­ject­ed to incar­cer­a­tion on polit­i­cal grounds. Fol­low­ing his lib­er­a­tion, he was kid­napped a num­ber of times by the police. They told him: ‘We will be like old­er broth­ers for you, we will will sup­port you, but don’t get involved in polit­i­cal activ­i­ties’.” Fol­low­ing this, this young man con­tact­ed drug sup­pli­ers. He nego­ti­at­ed with the police telling them: “ ‘I want to be a trans­porter between Amed and Antalya’ [Note: a bit over 1 000 kilo­me­ters sep­a­rate the two towns] And they accept­ed. Many young peo­ple who had some polit­i­cal com­mit­ment are tamed this way. Once they have made them depen­dent, either finan­cial­ly or with drugs, author­i­ties can have they do all their filthy jobs. These net­works work with State offi­cers, and when not direct­ly through such a one, via peo­ple recruit­ed for this pur­pos­es, such as par­ti­sans of Hizbul­lah or mem­bers of nation­al­ist homes.” Young women are tar­get­ed through spe­cif­ic poli­cies, trapped and pushed into pros­ti­tu­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion through black­mail: a for­mi­da­ble weapon in a soci­ety with cus­toms that are still very conservative.

Drugs Sur Amed

March 2021, graf­fi­ti on alley­ways in Sur / Loez

In some neigh­bor­hoods known for their sup­port of the Kur­dish move­ment, notably in Sur, the devel­op­ment of drug traf­fick­ing has inten­si­fied in par­al­lel to poli­cies of “urban renew­al”. In fact, these con­sist of chas­ing inhab­i­tants and mov­ing them to large build­ings locat­ed in the sur­bur­ban zones where they are mired in debt to pay for the pur­chase of an apart­ment. Sol­i­dar­i­ty links are bro­ken; this is one way of slow­ing down polit­i­cal mobi­liza­tion. The arrival of drugs in the streets is an addi­tion­al rea­son push­ing inhab­i­tants to leave, despite their ini­tial refusal. If, in the past, fam­i­lies — and some­times, even the police — would turn toward the HDP to resolve prob­lems in the neigh­bor­hood, fol­low­ing the repres­sion that has struck this Par­ty 5 the pop­u­la­tion has lost faith in his abil­i­ty to inter­vene. “We must make the pop­u­la­tion under­stand that when you adopt the right approach, you can get results. Because when we talk with the fam­i­lies, we real­ize they are con­vinced no one can do any­thing any­more. They tell them­selves: ’ Let it stay far from me, from my chil­dren, let it stay out of my house. The rest is not impor­tant’. But if drugs are in the neigh­bor­hood, it is almost inevitable that they will enter your home. That is what is hap­pen­ing now: in many homes, there is at least one young per­son using drugs! There then fol­lows the dam­age caused by this youth, the suf­fer­ing inflict­ed on the fam­i­ly. Drug depen­dence has caused a trau­ma at the heart of soci­ety”, states Serdar.

That is what is happening now: in many homes, there is at least one young person using drugs!”

Faced with this phe­nom­e­non, the fam­i­lies feel help­less. Many fathers aged between 45 and 60 years say the same thing to us. They say they fear for their chil­dren and that they will not be heard by them, that they pre­tend to lis­ten before get­ting back to their lucra­tive activ­i­ties. Most of the time, the pop­u­la­tion is averse to turn­ing toward the police — its col­lab­o­ra­tion with the deal­ers is well known. And even should they do so, the police does not fol­low up on com­plaints. The tar­get­ed deal­ers reg­u­lar­ly place them­selves under pro­tec­tion from the police and, some­times, the fam­i­ly that point­ed them out finds itself accused of sell­ing drugs. On the oth­er hand, those close to young peo­ple arrest­ed for drug use are often offered their lib­er­a­tion in exchange for hefty pay-offs — a prac­tice that has become com­mon­place in Turkey in order to avoid a sen­tence. One of these fathers thus told us: “Par­ents pay out a lot of mon­ey, of gold. My neigh­bor, two of his chil­dren were arrest­ed: he paid out 150 000 TL [Note: rep­re­sent­ing over 10 000 €] to the pros­e­cu­tor in order for their chil­dren to be liberated.”

The cam­paign by the youths from the HDP is not with­out its dif­fi­cul­ties. Because the State does every­thing it can to raise obsta­cles. “The strongest pres­sure comes direct­ly from him. He told us open­ly that we were not autho­rized to con­duct these activ­i­ties. At the begin­ning of the cam­paign, we had to hold a pub­lic meet­ing: a com­mon prac­tice for asso­ci­a­tions and polit­i­cal par­ties; But when the day came, dozens of armored vehi­cles and anti-riot ones were mobi­lized in the neigh­bor­hood! An enor­mous pres­sure. We were sur­round­ed. After­wards, when we tried to dis­cuss mat­ters with the author­i­ties, we were told that they were doing all that was nec­es­sary and that no one else would be autho­rized to con­duct activ­i­ties in this mat­ter. In sev­er­al neigh­bor­hoods such as Bağlar, Fiskaya they have attempt­ed to sab­o­tage our activ­i­ties. There have been con­trols on iden­ti­ty, stu­dents were threat­ened to have their bur­saries sus­pend­ed, they have intim­i­dat­ed our mem­bers. Some of them have been sub­ject­ed to surveillance.”

drugs in the Kurdish regions of Turkey

March 2021, sur­veil­lance cam­eras in the Şehit­lik neigh­bor­hood, heav­i­ly hit by drug traf­fick­ing / Loez

Since the launch­ing of the autonomous cam­paign, the police has announced its own anti-drug oper­a­tion. But, for Ser­dar, this is noth­ing but media pos­tur­ing. In fact, the traf­fics keep on pros­per­ing, or, at least, some of them inas­much as some polit­i­cal ben­e­fits can be obtained from them. “The Secu­ri­ty in Amed is con­duct­ing a so-called anti-drug action. But the fam­i­lies have told us that in the café right beside the com­mis­sari­at, the traf­fick­ing is ongo­ing and noth­ing is being done about it. Quite the con­trary: they are offered tea, cig­a­rettes. Many of the deal­ers with whom we have spo­ken say that, if the State is fight­ing against the use of mar­i­jua­na, noth­ing is being done against metham­phet­a­mines, on the oth­er hand, as well as crys­tal and sim­i­lar nar­cotics cir­cu­lat­ing mas­sive­ly. There is a strat­e­gy of per­sua­sion con­sist­ing of pre­tend­ing the State is fac­ing up to it, where­as they are at the source of the problem.”

The walls of Amed bear witness: over a few years, graffiti praising various mafia groups have blossomed all over town.”

Despite all these obsta­cles, the youth of the HDP have orga­nized with the pro­gres­sist SES pub­lic health union, in offer­ing aid to per­sons wish­ing to break their depen­den­cy. Although there are one or two rehab cen­ters in Amed, they are insuf­fi­cient. Even more so since reports point to patients being exposed there to nation­al­ist pro­pa­gan­da. “This is why, instead of work­ing with these cen­ters and trans­mit­ting infor­ma­tion to them, we con­tact­ed SES,” Ser­dar says. “They pro­vide med­ical treat­ment for those who want to stop. Form a psy­cho­log­i­cal and social per­spec­tive, we take care of them per­son­al­ly, we set up activ­i­ties for them.”

More­o­ev­er, Turk­ish media con­tribute, in a form of soft pow­er, in nor­mal­iz­ing the use of drugs and glo­ri­fy­ing fig­ures of ban­dit­ry through tele­vised series, much viewed by the population.

The walls of Amed bear wit­ness: over a few years, graf­fi­ti prais­ing var­i­ous mafia groups have blos­somed all over town.” At the high­est lev­els of the State, drug use is flaunt­ed in full impuni­ty. Such as with the young wolf, mem­ber of Erdoğan’s par­ty who, when he isn’t shown at the side of the Min­is­ter of the Inte­ri­or Süley­man Soy­lu, is filmed sniff­ing cocaine. After the video was shared on social net­works, he claimed it had been pow­dered sug­ar… A top­ic for jokes all over the coun­try now. As a mat­ter of fact, on sev­er­al occa­sions links were revealed between the Erdoğan regime and drug traf­fick­ing. In 2021, the co-pilot of a pri­vate jet in Brazil aboard which 1,3 tons of cocaine were seized, declared the plane belonged to Ethem San­cak, a busi­ness­man close to the pres­i­dent. That same year, mafioso Sedat Peker made a series of long video con­fes­sions as revenge for hav­ing been shoved aside from pow­er cen­ters: in the videos, he revealed the deep links he had with the gov­ern­ment and detailed cer­tain crim­i­nal actions he had con­duct­ed per­son­al­ly. There is noth­ing new in these prac­tices: the mafias and pow­er often have close ties in Turkey. In 2020, under pres­sure of the ultra-nation­al­ists of the MHP (Par­ti d’ac­tion nation­al­iste), Erdoğan had Peker’s rival lib­er­at­ed, the famous mafia chief Alaat­tin Çakıcı, known for his work with the Turk­ish secret ser­vices dur­ing the sin­is­ter years of the 1990s.

A bit­ter father con­cludes: “In Bakur, they force con­sump­tion of chem­i­cal prod­ucts and in Bashur (Kur­dish autonomous region in Irak), they use chem­i­cal weapons. And the world remains silent.”

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Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Pho­to-jour­nal­iste indépendant
Loez s’in­téresse depuis plusieurs années aux con­séquences des États-nations sur le peu­ple kurde, et aux luttes de celui-ci.