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Back from the Brink: Turkey’s Ambivalent Approaches to the Hard Drugs Issue
Philip Robins
This article focuses on the issue of narcotics and Turkey over a 30-year period. Its point of departure is the 1970s, when the opium production crisis in Turkey, and its associated corrosion of relations with the US, had been brought to an end. The article concentrates on the period in the late 1980s/early to mid-1990s, when the hard drugs issue became fused with other security threats like terrorism and state corruption. During this dark period, Turkey’s criminal organizations that were trafficking narcotics made significant inroads in alliance-building with parts of the security state. The article ends with the experiences of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Turkish state succeeded in containing the impact of illicit drugs. The article argues that both external but in particular internal factors were important in propelling the Turkish state towards purging itself of criminal elements involved with hard drugs. With respect to the latter, it argues that the need to safeguard the state, rather than the narcotics issue per se, was the key factor driving change. of heroin ending up on the streets of Western Europe has had a Turkish dimension to it.1 For much of that time the conventional wisdom has been that the drug transits Turkey, “the key route,”2 and is smuggled by “Turkish” gangs, who then play a major role in its distribution.3 Moreover, much of the refining process that turns morphine base into heroin has been conducted on Turkish soil. Recently, it has been widely suspected that less of this heroin still transits Turkey, though the volume remains significant; nevertheless, the role of “Turkish” gangs remains undiminished.4

For more than ten years, officials and politicians have asserted that the vast majority

Philip Robins is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of St. Antony’s College. He is the author of Suits and Uniforms: Turkish Foreign Policy Since the Cold War (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003). The research for this article was made possible thanks to a research grant from the British Academy, for which the author is happy to register his gratitude.

1. In a 2002 newspaper article it was asserted that 90% of the heroin trade is controlled by Kurdish and Turkish gangs. See Tony Thompson, “Heroin ‘emperor’ brings terror to UK streets,” The Observer, November 17, 2002. This figure probably referred to an old estimate used by the UK’s Customs and Excise in the 1990s. By 1999 this estimate had been replaced by the more conservative figure of 70%, a number arrived at jointly by personnel from Customs and Excise and MI5, working together at the UK’s National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS). Confidential interview by author, London, February 6, 2006. 2. Richard Clutterbuck, Drugs, Crime and Corruption (London: MacMillan, 1995), p. 88. 3. In 2003, NCIS concluded that Turkey “remains a principal nexus point for the trade in opiates from Afghanistan.” NCIS, “United Kingdom Threat Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime 2003,” para 3.24. 4. Most recently, NCIS has asserted that “Turkish organized criminal groups in the Netherlands, north Cyprus, and Turkey continue to dominate the UK heroin trade together with ethnic-Turkish groups in the UK, primarily in North East London.” NCIS, “UK THREAT ASSESSMENT: The Threat from Serious & Organised Crime, 2004/5-2005/6,” para 3.14, p. 19.
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Assuming that these assertions are true, and they remain broadly uncontested, it is surely surprising that they are so under-discussed. Virtually without exception, there has been no published research in English on any aspect of the issues raised above, from the nature and modus operandi of the narcotics smugglers and refiners,5 through the political context and policy responses in Turkey, to the broader subject of international cooperation, both bilateral and multilateral, between Turkish and European officials. This absence of established knowledge extends to other European languages.6 Even in Turkish there are only a handful of studies on the narcotics issue as such,7 though there exists a larger corpus of published work on related aspects, notably terrorism, corruption, and organized crime. It is the intention of this article, with its focus on the evolution of Turkish narcotics perspectives, and the factors that drive it, to begin to address at least one of these lacunae. This article adopts an analytical, chronological approach to the subject of hard drugs and Turkey, broadly spanning the three decades from the middle of the 1970s to the present. More particularly, it seeks to analyze the main phases in official Turkish attitudes towards hard drugs, here taken to consist of opium and its derivatives, notably heroin. The argument of the article will be threefold. First, that for much of the last two decades European and Turkish understanding of the narcotics issue has been badly out of synch, with few mechanisms for fostering mutual comprehension, the building of trust, and hence the launching of common strategies. Second, that the rise of the narcotics issue in the Turkish policy agenda has been the result of both endogenous and exogenous factors, with the former arguably the most important. However, it is also the case that the former have been driven by related factors, notably political violence, and the insidious corrupting of the state, rather than by the narcotics issue itself. Third, that, as a result of this, there has been a belated convergence in European and Turkish concerns over narcotics issues spanning the last decade. In spite of these more felicitous developments, however, cooperation is more fitful and patchy than reflective of a stable and sustained convergence on the narcotics issue.

The IllUSIOn OF a PrOblem SOlveD
From a Turkish perspective, the narcotics problem was solved in 1975. This problem consisted of international (principally American) criticism of Turkey as a primary producer of narcotics. It was solved with the confirmation that a regime for the exclusively licit cultivation of opium for use in the pharmaceuticals sector had been forged and found to be a success. This regime consisted of a monopsonist state acquiring the

5. For an interesting example of primary research based on people smuggling, see Ahmet Içduygu and Sule Toktas, “How Do Smuggling and Trafficking Operate via Irregular Border Crossings in the Middle East? Evidence from Fieldwork in Turkey,” International migration, Vol. 40, No. 6 (2002). 6. A rare exception is F. Bovenkerk and Y. Yesilgoz, De maffia van Turkije [The mafia of Turkey] (no publisher [The Hague?], no year [1999?]). 7. The only overarching study of the subject is F. Cengiz Erdinç, Overdose Turkiye: Turkiye’de eroin Kacakciligi, bagimliligi ve Politikalar [Overdose Turkey: heroin Smuggling, Dependency, and Policy in Turkey] (Istanbul: Iletisim, 2004). For other studies, more limited in scope, see also Aytunç Altindal, hashas ve emperyalizm [Opium and Imperialism] (Ankara: Yeni Avrasya Yayınları, 2003) and Çagri Erhan, beyaz Savas: Turk amerikan Iliskilerinde afyon Sorunu [White War: The Opium Question in Turkish-american relations] (Ankara: Bilgi Yayınevi, 1996).

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bulk of the country’s poppy production, with the extraction of the opium then being carried out by a public sector agency, rather than being left to the farmers who grew it. This procedure was further regularized with the building of an opium alkaloids plant for the manufacture of poppy-related pharmaceutical products. The regime was shown to be robust, with no discernible leakage of opium production from the licit to the illicit sector, a watertight arrangement that remains in place today. Indeed, by 1978 Turkish seizures of heroin, opium, and base morphine were negligible, at 8 kg, 1 kg, and 2 kg respectively.8 Confirmation of this success brought to an end a long period when Turkey’s domestic cultivation of opium had been shown to be feeding the burgeoning production of heroin by criminal gangs. More specifically, it brought to an end a seven-year period when Turkish-US relations had fluctuated wildly, and had, on two occasions, come close to collapsing completely over the narcotics issue. With even the American media and New York City officials satisfied that Ankara had fully complied with the staunching of the illicit leakage,9 Turkish public policymakers could be forgiven for believing that their narcotics “problem” was now over. It is then hardly surprising that little further was done to elaborate national policy on the subject. The state machinery for dealing with the narcotics sector, the provision for the collection and processing of the domestically grown licit opium aside, was therefore modest. On the law enforcement side there was a small but dedicated unit of anti-narcotics specialists located in the police department and formally supervised by the Ministry of Interior. This fledgling specialist law-enforcement concentration had been built up largely with American aid tied specifically to the goal of eradicating illegal production. The continued existence of a dedicated police organization was, more generally, testimony to the existence of a basic legal infrastructure dealing with the issue of illegal drugs rather than of drugs as a continuing domestic issue. This was a reflection of Turkey’s receptivity towards the evolving and intensifying diffusion of the international norm against narcotic substances. International cooperation on the subject came to be regarded as a core indicator of Turkey’s standing as a good international citizen. For the influential Foreign Affairs Ministry in Ankara, the main link with the US and the leading Turkish institution in the development of an international regime against illicit drugs, maintaining a cooperative stance on the issue had grown increasingly important over a seven-decade period. As an opium producing country, Turkey, along with comparable states like India and Iran, had emerged as a major actor on the world’s drug stage in 1933, when it became a party to the International Opium Convention. Turkey would remain an active participant in the ad hoc international efforts to create a standardized international control regime. Though Ankara had fought a rear-guard action against the expansion of regulatory proscription policies, it had respected the provision of international convention-building once formally adopted. Its first relevant legislation at home came with the 1928 law regulating the registration and medical use of drugs, including narcotic drugs. This was strengthened and extended after the 1933 convention, dealing with opium production, was adopted. Turkey continued this approach of recognizing successive

8. Erdinç, Overdose Turkiye, p. 208. 9. The new York Times, October 28, 1975. At this time a heroin epidemic was sweeping through New York.

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UN action on drugs, enacting the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances into its national law.10 Expansion in law enforcement provisions subsequently followed to reflect this proscription. In spite of this, Turkey was slow to adopt related, specialist measures, either in other areas of associated law enforcement, such as combating money laundering,11 or to address demand-side related subjects of the drugs issue. If there was little by way of a concerted response to drug abuse in Turkey at the time, it could be argued that, in addition to a broadly recognized and generally typical supply-side bias, this was also because hard drug abuse was perceived to be negligible in the country.12 Certainly, there was neither the market for heroin that had emerged in the Atlantic countries, but neither was there a widespread traditional practice of opiate consumption, as there was in Iran in the smoking of opium in some rural areas. The self-image of Turkey’s governing elite during this period was that the country was not a consumer country.13 Successful as the regime for the domestic production of opium may have been, it was clearly not the end of the story, even as far as opiate abuse was concerned. By the mid-1970s, the heroin market was well established in the affluent, consumer countries of Western Europe, as well as in North America. The existence of effective demand acted as a driver for the necessary sources of supply. Criminal groups sim10. These were incorporated as Laws # 821, # 2,326, and # 4,136 respectively. 11. The “turning point for international anti-money laundering policies,” Ernesto Savona notes, was the 1988 Vienna Drug Convention, which resulted in many countries adopting criminal and regulatory policies against money laundering. This process was strengthened with the establishment by the G-7 of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 1989; in February 1990, FATF produced a report containing 40 recommendations for combating money laundering, with the target countries being members of the G-28, that is to say including Turkey as an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country. See “Money Laundering, the Developed Countries and Drug Control: the New Agenda,” in Nicholas Dorn, Jorgen Jepsen, and Ernesto Savona, eds., european Drug Policies and enforcement (London: Macmillan, 1996), p. 213. By 1995, according to Rayburn Hesse, the Director of the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Turkey had been placed in the second of seven categories relating to money laundering, labeled “medium-high priority,” together with 15 other countries. Turkey, along with Russia and the Netherlands Antilles, was raised to the High Priority category in 1996, reflecting its unsatisfactory performance with regard to combating money laundering. More specifically, Turkey was identified as one of a number of countries with priority financial centers that had not adopted necessary anti-money laundering legislation or ratified the 1988 UN Convention. The report also made reference to the fact that FATF had admonished some of its members for shortcomings in their responses, and named Turkey and Greece as the main culprits. US Department of State, International narcotics Control Strategy report, 1996 (Washington, DC: US Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, 1997). 12. Not only has it been customary to deny the existence of domestic narcotics consumption, but such statements are usually accompanied by normative conclusions, along the lines of the absence reflecting Turkish society’s higher moral standing. See for example Professor Dr. Celal Koksal, “Gençlik ve Zararli aliskanliklar” [“Youth and Bad Habits”], in Gençlik ve Uyusturucu madde aliskanligi [Youth and Drug addiction] (Ankara: Ministry of Education, 1987), who refers to the high morality of Turkish youth as the “Turkish miracle,” see p. 10. 13. The first hard evidence confirming this view came with a UN sponsored and run survey. UN Office on Drugs and Crime, health Services (2003), education and Community action — Preventing Drugs abuse in Turkey, National Assessment on Drug Abuse (Ankara: UN, 2003).

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ply reacted flexibly to the closure of Turkey as a primary source of illicit opium by looking elsewhere. While the trend in North America was towards sources of supply from the “Golden Triangle” in Southeast Asia and later Colombia, opium production in Afghanistan and the Golden Crescent increasingly came to supply Western Europe. While Turkey ceased to be a factor in the delivery of heroin to the US, its geographical location, allied to the relative impermeability of the borders of the Soviet bloc, made it an obvious conduit for supplies to Europe. Turkey’s evolution from a producer to a predominantly transit country had begun.

“The COlOmbIa OF eUrOPe”
Just as Western European countries were beginning to grapple with new flows of opiates into the continent, Turkey was facing new challenges of its own. At the forefront of these was the Kurdish insurgency, initiated in 1984 by a small, splinter leftist-nationalist group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). It would grow to become a major political and security challenge by the end of the decade. It was at its most intense and “dirty” between 1991 and 1994; by 1996, the insurgency had been contained, though it continued, albeit at a lower level, until the PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire in 1999, which was then rescinded in 2004. From the outset, the PKK was a transnational phenomenon, with its political leadership in Damascus, its main training camps in Lebanon, and its cross-border attacks launched at different times from Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian territory. As the main supply route for opiates into Turkey came from Iran, and with Syria as an important route for narcotics exports south to the Middle East, it is hardly surprising that, at least to some extent, there was an overlap between the Kurdish insurgency and the transit of hard drugs through Turkey. It is difficult to be precise about the nature and importance of the interface between narcotics, insurgency, and the related area of state corruption that afflicted Turkey at this time, especially between 1989 and 1996. This was an opaque, violent, and fluctuating period in Turkey, especially in the east and southeast of the country, which were subject to specific, draconian restrictions on travel and reporting. One can, however, make some general observations about the interaction between illegal drugs and political violence during this period. First, that as an outlaw insurgency group with considerable coercive means at its disposal, the PKK was well placed to profit from the narcotics trade. The only dispute surrounds the nature of its involvement. Anecdotal evidence from third country law enforcement agencies suggests caution and skepticism as far as a major primary role for the PKK is concerned. The organization’s main involvement in narcotics smuggling is believed largely to have been a secondary one,14

14. The NCIS view in 2001 was that: “The PKK … has frequently been blamed — the true scale and nature of PKK involvement is unclear, and it is an oversimplification to suggest that the PKK is behind the bulk of the heroin trade.” NCIS, “UK Threat Assessment 2001,” para 3.16. See also the Statement of Asa Hutchinson, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator, before the Sub-Committee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information of the Senate Judiciary Committee, March 15, 2002: “DEA information indicates that the PKK is involved in the taxation of drug shipments and the protection of drug traffickers throughout the Southeastern Region of Turkey.”

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mainly limited to the “taxation” of those directly involved,15 rather than being the prime smuggler, refiner, and distributor of opiates itself.16 The view of the Turkish state is that it was involved in both.17 Turkish press reports have claimed that drug-related activity is worth some $40 million a year to the PKK.18 Second, that tightly organized and geographically focused, kin-based social organizations in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast19 have formed the basis of the groups involved in narcotics smuggling,20 especially where those clannish ties straddle international boundaries. Third, that the Faustian alliance between the Turkish national security state and ultra-nationalist ideological-turned-criminal gangs during the first half of the 1990s brought narco-corruption into the body of the state in a way that had never been done before. The revelations of the mid-1990s, as the state attempted to cleanse itself of such alliances, provided a glimpse of the corrosive impact of such a synergy. Fourth, though since the mid-1990s it would be broadly inaccurate to refer to institutionalized narcotics-related corruption in the Turkish state, elements of Turkish law enforcement remain passively complicit in the smuggling of hard drugs through their failure to enforce central authority throughout the territory of the state. By the late 1980s, Turkey was emerging as the key transit country for the supply of heroin to Europe. The Kurdish insurgency, which at times bordered on a regionally-centered civil war, provided the social context of lawlessness and violence within which the narcotics trade could thrive. The heroin laboratories tended to be located in the southeast of the country, close to the point of supply (though Istanbul too was also a center of refining). Istanbul was also the focal point of the departure of drugs from Turkey to Western Europe. With the size of the city, its general importance as a trading hub, and the institutional weakness of relevant parts of the Turkish state dealing with law enforcement, notably the customs department, all helped to assist the traffickers. Moreover, the Turkish state’s repression of Kurdish ethno-nationalist self-expression, especially after the military coup d’état in September 1980, had resulted in a steady flow of political exiles, real and bogus, to Western Europe, especially as asylum seekers.
15. As one US counternarcotics official put it: the PKK “definitely taxed the hell out of it.” Confidential interview by author, April 3, 2000. 16. If this is indeed accurate, then the role of the PKK resembles that of the FARC in Colombia. See Grace Livingstone, Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy and War (London: Latin America Bureau, 2003), p. 77. 17. See Uyusturucu Olaylari Genel Degerlendirmesi [General evaluation of Drug Cases] (Ankara: Ministry of Interior, 1997), pp. 5-6. 18. Figure cited in statement of Steven W. Casteel, DEA Assistant Administrator for Intelligence, before Senate Committee on the Judiciary, “Narco-Terrorism: International Drug Trafficking and Terrorism — a Dangerous Mix,” May 20, 2003. 19. See profile of drug smugglers in Turkey in Ambassador Herald Luder, “Turkiye ile baglantili olarak almanya’da Uyusturucu” [“Narcotics in Germany in Relation to Turkey”], in Turkiye’de Uyusturucu madde Sorunlari [Drug Problems in Turkey] (Humbolt: no publisher [Humbolt University?], no date [1996?]), pp. 41-42, which mentions that drug couriers mainly came from Diyarbakır, Gaziantep, Hakkari, Elazig, Adana, and Bingol, all cities in the east of Turkey, and all either predominantly Kurdish or with significant Kurdish minorities. 20. See, for example, the role of the Baybasin family, arguably Turkey’s leading (and certainly its most notorious) narcotics trafficking family. For background information on the head of the family, Huseyin Baybasin, see: Thompson, “Heroin ‘emperor’ brings terror to UK streets;” Brian G. Carlson, “Huseyin Baybasin-Europe’s Pablo Escobar,” SaIS review, Vol. XXV, No. 1 (Winter-Spring 2005).

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They were joined by ethnic Turks, some with radical political backgrounds. This possibly deliberate, though short-sighted, policy of the Turkish state to drive its most implacable opponents into exile created a large émigré network in countries like Germany, Holland, Britain, and Sweden. This allowed Turkish narcotics traffickers to extend their networks to the market countries of Western Europe. This development, alongside Turkey’s emergence as a pivotal geographical route for hard drugs, has been critical in the resilience of the Turkish connection in the supply of the European narcotics market.21 The intertwining of the key issues of hard drugs, the Kurdish insurgency, Turkish repression, and the European reaction came to lie at the center of the mismatched perceptions of Turkey and Western Europe between the late 1980s and mid-1990s. For Ankara, hard drugs were, at most, a secondary issue. Some members of the Turkish state appeared to be in a state of denial, simply refusing to accept that their country was a major transit route. Still others believed that the narcotics issue was a creation of Turkey’s external enemies, manufactured to tarnish the country’s good name in the wider international community.22 For the nerve center of the Turkish state, the key threat was that posed by the PKK-led insurgency. With its apparently secessionist agenda, the PKK posed a threat that verged on the existential. Strikingly, for the Jandarma, a quasi-military force responsible for law and order in Turkey’s rural areas, combating the PKK overwhelmingly remained the top strategic objective until 1998. Hard drugs were perceived as simply a device used by the PKK to increase its war chest in order to wage war more intensively.23 In short, the narcotics issue could be no more than a by-product of a wider problem; after all, domestically, Turkey still seemed largely unaffected by the curse of illicit drug use. The Europeans, through the sanctuary that they gave to Kurdish and Turkish activists, increasingly came to be regarded pejoratively as the appeasers of terrorism.24 If the hard drugs problem had taken root in Western Europe, for many Turks it was merely revenge for this indulgence. As was the case with the widely held Turkish view of the US in the early 1970s, many Turks held that Europeans should look at the conditions of

21. For example, the head of the police’s Anti-Smuggling and Organised Crime Department, Tuncay Yılmaz, openly accused Holland and the UK of granting drugs smugglers citizenship and political asylum. Turkish Daily news, January 28, 1997. 22. In spite of its fanciful nature, this is a recurring theme in the discourse of a number of Turkish agencies. See, for example, the Minister of State for Religious Affairs, Mehmet Nuri Yılmaz, writing in a special edition of the Directorate of Religious Affairs monthly magazine on narcotics: “We are regretfully watching that some Western states, which cannot command their youngsters due to positivist and materialist education systems, and egoist moral codes, are trying to point to Turkey as if she is on the transportation routes of narcotics to the West and they are propagandizing this through public opinion constituting tools.” “The Importance of the Future: The Dangers of Narcotics and Disabled Citizens,” Diyanet aylik, No. 101, May 1999. 23. See Necati Ozkisli, “Gençlik ve Zararli aliskanliklar” [“Youth and Bad Habits”], Gençlik ve Uyusturucu madde aliskanligi, p. 26, in which he states that narcotic drugs are a source of finance for terror groups, giving the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) as an example. 24. Even a sober and serious evaluation from the Turkish side of the PKK and its activities refers to some Western governments using the PKK as a “‘balancing card’ against Turkey,” and that many Western states “tolerated (if not supported)” PKK actions. See Ihsan Bal and Sedat Laçiner, ethnic Terrorism in Turkey and the Case of the PKK: roots, Structure, Survival, and Ideology (ASAM Ankara Paper #9, Frank Cass, 2004), pp. 48-9.

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moral collapse at home that had created a persistent demand for narcotics, rather than focus exclusively on the supply side of the problem. For Europeans, perceptions were very different. The abundant flow of heroin at low prices was defined as a central problem for society. Little was known about the PKK or about the involvement of some of the newly established émigré networks in transnational criminal activity. The brutality of the Turkish state, both under military rule and during the Kurdish insurgency, was more visible and, in a world of nationstates, easier to vilify. With the fluid transnational developments of the period much less well-known, the effects of the brutal struggle were assumed to be limited to southeast Turkey. Some Western European states with significantly large missions in Ankara did focus on the human rights issue in their dealings with the Foreign Ministry, while the narcotics-crime nexus was a much lower priority. It was not until the early 1990s that the first foreign drugs liaison officers were posted to the country. Until the Susurluk scandal, the scale of the corruption of the Turkish state was unknown. Once the revelations were made, Turkey would resemble, in the words of one Turkish journalist paraphrasing her European counterparts, “the Columbia [sic] of Europe.”25

SUSUrlUK anD narCO-COrrUPTIOn Narco-corruptioN Laid Bare
If guerrilla insurgency and state repression dominated the narcotics agenda for a decade from the mid-1980s, the sea change came in 1996. The Susurluk scandal began with a road accident that took place on November 3, involving a truck and a Mercedes. It was to shake up the whole field of narcotics-related criminality, though it would be two years before its consequences became clear. In the words of one American observer, the name Susurluk in Turkey was to become “similar to Watergate” in the US in terms of its impact on national politics.26 The remarkable thing about the Mercedes was its main occupants: Sedat Bucak, a traditional Kurdish leader and head of a 10,000-strong, state-endorsed anti-PKK militia,27 who was an MP with a leading mainstream conservative party, the True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi) — at that time the junior coalition government member; Abdullah Çatli, an ultra-nationalist ideologue turned criminal and drug smuggler, who was found to be in possession of both a police issue identification card and a diplomatic passport; and Huseyin Kocadag, a senior police chief, who was one of the founders of the police’s special security teams, established to combat the PKK insurgency in the southeast. The crash seemed to symbolize the unholy synergies that had developed in Turkish political life. The conveniently felicitous nature of the event has led to a growing assumption that the accident was staged by senior figures within the state, who sought the purging of the creeping corruption within its midst; in short, that it was an
25. Gul Demir, “Is Tansu Ciller the Godmother?” Turkish Daily news, February 4, 1997. 26. Carol Migdalovitz, Turkey’s Unfolding Political Crisis (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, April 11, 1997), p. 11. 27. The so-called Village Guards had been established with state money among loyal Kurdish clans, with the aim of limiting PKK influence in the southeast. In practice, they contributed to the viciousness of the “dirty war” that gripped this part of Turkey up to the mid-1990s.

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exercise in the so-called “deep state” (derin devlet) purging and hence renewing itself. It should first be pointed out that state and governmental corruption in Turkey is not a new phenomenon. Neither is corruption with regard to illicit drugs. In his valedictory dispatch at the end of 1972, the British Ambassador to Turkey noted “the problem of the Turkish administration, overstaffed, badly paid, obstructive and corrupt.”28 Most notoriously, in March 1972 a member of the Turkish upper house of the then bi-cameral parliament for the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party, Kudret Bayhan, was arrested on the French-Italian border with a reported $30 million worth of drugs in the lining of his car door.29 Since then, suspicion has periodically fallen on a handful of serving or retired members of Parliament and their families, who have been suspected of persistent criminal activity, even extending into the sphere of illegal drugs.30 But if corruption is a long-standing characteristic of parts of the Turkish state, with its origins in Ottoman times,31 the country has come increasingly to see a lively, if reactive, practice of public investigation. Susurluk gave journalists, public prosecutors, and parliamentarians the opportunity to investigate the nature of the crime-politics-state relationship. Though few successful prosecutions took place, much was revealed. As far as the illegal drugs issue is concerned there were three issues of particular salience. First, that in order to try to combat the growing effectiveness of the PKK-led insurgency, since 1993 elements in the national security state had turned to the radical right in Turkey for assistance. In doing so, the then-coalition government led by Tansu Çiller adopted what the Savas report on Susurluk would describe as a “hawkish attitude” as far as anti-terrorism policy was concerned. Those mobilized and given carte blanche by the state included a violent faction of Turkey’s hard-line Islamist Hizbollah,32 and, of greater importance from a narcotics perspective, the ultra-nationalist or ulkucu elements, which had been at the pinnacle of their importance in the 1970s. 33

28. He also wrote that “tradition and temperament continue to afflict Turkey with a large, obstructive and corrupt civil service, which complicates almost every facet of life, commercial, industrial or private.” Ambassador Sorell, November 27, 1972, FCO 9/1626. 29. AP report datelined Nice, “‘Prominent’ Turk arrested in France with $30 m. of drugs,” Daily news, March 8, 1972. For an additional report connecting Senator Bayhan to known drugs smugglers see AP report datelined Nice, “Sen Bayhan denies drug smuggle charge,” Daily news, March 17, 1972. 30. For example, former MP Halit Kahraman was sentenced to seven years in prison in West Germany for drug smuggling in 1978. 31. “Corruption at home, corruption in the world, brings down governments,” Turkish Daily news, November 30, 1998. 32. For a succinct and trenchant comment on the involvement of Hizbollah in such operations see Stephen Kinzer, Crescent and Star: Turkey between Two Worlds (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), pp. 99-101. 33. The ulkucu, or Idealists, were Turkish ultra-nationalists. Historically, the ultra-nationalists represented one of the three ideological strands in late Ottoman politics, alongside Islamism and Turkish territorial state nationalism. Though ultra-nationalism has been a significant political movement in Turkish politics at certain moments, notably around the time of the birth of the republic and during the 1960 military coup, it has remained a minority trend. Arguably, its greatest period of influence came in the 1970s, when the Nationalist Movement Party, led by the noteworthy ultra-nationalist figure Alpaslan Turkes was a regular member of coalition governments. The party used its control of certain ministries to maximize its powers of patronage, notably the TNP. It is reasonable to assume that some of its placements still occupied official positions some two decades later. For more on Turkey’s ultranationalists see Mehmet Ali Agaogullari, “The Ultranationalist Right,” in Irvin C. Schick and Ertu[Continued on next page]

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Turning to such fringes was resonant with a similar strategy practiced earlier against another shadowy group peddling political violence, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), which had waged an assassination campaign against Turkish diplomats and their family members in the 1970s and 1980s. After the September 1980 military coup, a group of ultra-nationalists, Çatli included, had been unleashed against ASALA, resulting in the killing of some of its members and the disruption of its activities.34 The two main differences between ASALA and the PKK were ones of scale and location: while ASALA had pursued a strategy of targeted assassination, the PKK was running a full-blown insurgency; while ASALA was active at the international level in such places as Paris and California, the PKK’s focus of operation was the southeast and east of Turkey and the neighboring states. Maintaining some semblance of control over the ulkucus would clearly be easier in the former instance than in the latter. Once so mobilized, the ultra-nationalist “gangs” showed a great reluctance to remain exclusively focused on the job at hand. There was already evidence that members of such groups had used their close and privileged relationship with the state in the 1970s and early 1980s to develop criminal activities. Abdullah Çatli, for example, was a convicted narcotics smuggler twice over. In the early to mid-1990s, with the state even more opaque than usual, and a climate of lawlessness prevailing in the main insurgent areas, curbing the activities of the ulkucu gangs had become much more difficult. In the name of eradicating the hostile insurgency, the ultra-nationalist gangs were implicated together with the police special teams in a strategy of extra-judicial killings, with Kurdish nationalist figures the first to suffer. With no transparency and little central control, such gangs used targeted killings with their own agenda increasingly in mind. By 1993, a layer of prominent Kurdish “business” figures, many of whom had been obliged to pay protection money to the PKK in order to continue their money-making activities,35 including such figures as Behcet Canturk, Savas Buldan, Enis Karaduman, Yusuf Ekinci, Adnan Yıldırım, Medat Serhat, Haci Karay, and Fevzi and Sahin Aslan, had been killed. The ultra-nationalist gangs and their state allies then filled the vacuum that had been created in organized criminal activities, the areas of illegal drugs and money laundering included. The pressing goal of reversing this trend was made much harder by the close relationships that had been forged by the ultra-nationalists with senior figures in both party politics and the state in Turkey. As an insurance policy, some of these ultra-nationalists had kept evidence of these close relationships, including audio recordings. Attempts to force such figures to retreat could end up being embarrassing if such relationships were revealed. Susurluk also showed that in such a context of opacity and violence, leading state
[Continued from previous page] grul Ahmet Tonak, eds., Turkey in Transition: new Perspectives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) and M. Hakan Yavuz, “The Politics of Fear: The Rise of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) in Turkey,” The middle east Journal, Vol. 56, No. 2 (Spring 2002). 34. Susurluk Report by the head of Prime Ministry Inspection Board, Kutlu Savas, summarized in hurriyet and translated in Turkish Daily news, January 14, 1998. 35. Some Turkish experts on Susurluk claim that the strategy of targeting such figures was sanctioned from the top. For example, Ferhat Unlu, Susurluk Gumrugu: Kacakcilik, Cete, Devlet [Susurluk Customs: Smuggling, bandits, and the State] (no place [Istanbul?]: Birey Yayınları, 2000) claims that on November 4, 1993 Prime Minister Tansu Çiller stated at a meeting: “We know those who pay protection money to the PKK. We shall have them for their support.”

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institutions had both mutated and fractured, to the detriment of policy coherence and both central and democratic control. This had led to Turkey’s intelligence activity becoming, in the words of a senior official from Turkey’s main internal and external intelligence agency, MIT (milli Istihbarat Teskilati), “multi-headed.”36 Thus, the competition inherent within different branches of the security state had acquired an additional edge because of the proliferation of new intelligence and special forces. Arguably, the best example of this phenomenon was JITEM (Jandarma Istihbarat Teskilati), the controversial Jandarma intelligence organization, the existence of which was never acknowledged and which has been authoritatively identified as the first state organization to adopt illegal methods against the PKK.37 Meanwhile, organizations like the MIT and the Turkish National Police (TNP) had become factionalized, with notable divisions between those aiding and those seeking to undermine the ultra-nationalist gangs.38 Revelations about the activities of the state also predictably spawned a diverse and colorful range of conspiracy theories in Turkey, much of which involved the role of foreign intelligence agencies.39

cLeaNiNg up the State
The Susurluk revelations gave the state the opportunity to move against the ultranationalist gangs, to break up the networks that tied them to parts of the state and the political class, and to rejuvenate state agencies working in the functional area of counternarcotics. Two main devices were mobilized to deal with the situation: personnel strategies and the control of information. Officials were quietly moved or even retired, thereby breaking the lines of authority that had been utilized to deliver benefits to the gangs from the state. An estimated 60 members of the MIT and the TNP were removed owing to connections with organized crime.40 Revelations during this time were eyecatching. For example, the Deputy Director of Security at Istanbul airport, Yener Kur, was transferred to a job in the Police Academy after Dutch wiretap evidence connected him to the notorious narcotics gang leader Huseyin Baybasin.41 An appointments strategy also was used to ensure that both competent and cooperative officials increasingly came to occupy crucial positions in the hierarchy of responsibility against illegal drugs. A key position was the post of head of the antismuggling and organized crime department in the TNP in Ankara. In early 1997, the incumbent, Tuncay Yılmaz, who had sought to offload the blame for shortcomings in
36. Head of MIT Counter-terrorism department, Mehmet Eymur, to Susurluk Commission, December 26, 1996, mentioned in Sedat Ergin, “Susurluk through the eyes of an intelligence official,” hurriyet, January 5, 1997. 37. Evidence of the head of the intelligence department of the Turkish National Police, Hanefi Avci, in Sedat Ergin, “Hanafi Avci is not an ordinary person,” hurriyet, February 28, 1997. 38. Savas report, summarized in “Susurluk report blames the state for remaining silent,” Turkish Daily news, January 24, 1998. See also “Çatli, Kirci ve Çakici’yi hangi mIT’ciler kullandi” [“Çatli, Kirci, and Çakici Used Which MIT Personnel?”], nokta magazine, November 8, 2004. 39. The more fanciful of such claims include that “Gladio,” the trans-NATO, anti-Communist network, had murdered President Turgut Ozal and the head of the Jandarma, General Esref Bitlis, both in 1993, and that the CIA was heavily involved in many controversial activities, for example, the killing of Bitlis. 40. Ismet Berkan in radikal, August 23, 1998. 41. “The transcripts that caused the police director’s downfall,” Sabah, June 24, 1998, reprinted in Turkish Daily news, June 25, 1998.

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cooperation by constantly criticizing Holland and the UK, was removed. His replacement, Emin Arslan, was to be the first of a series of more forthcoming figures in key positions at headquarters. In turn, where high profile appointments were apparently less well intentioned, they were harder to mask. For example, when removed from his post as the head of the Istanbul drugs squad in 1998, Ferruh Tankus refused to go quietly. Instead, he called a press conference at which he claimed that drug traffickers had bribed senior officers to remove him, allegations that were widely debated in the press.42 He was subsequently restored to his position.43 Information leaks were deployed selectively, notably through the press. Such an approach signaled which individuals were most clearly implicated in the more egregious of practices, thereby placing them on the defensive or even precipitating resignations. The justice system was utilized to a limited degree, with a number of cases being opened, presumably in order to signal complicity. In practice, however, the judicial route remained typically slow and cumbersome, with few cases actually coming to court, and some outcomes still uncertain by the end of 2001. Where due process took its course, prosecutions tended to be for relatively minor misdemeanors, with small or nominal sentences involved.44 For example, Ibrahim Sahin, a senior figure in the police’s special teams who was deeply implicated in acts of assassination and organized crime, was convicted of forming an organized gang to commit crimes; he was sentenced to only 30 months in jail and prohibited from public service for three years.45 Furthermore, there was a strong suspicion that hardened criminals were being persuaded to give themselves up in the expectation of lenient treatment. Parts of civil society mobilized to try to maximize the nature and impact of these revelations. Two independent commissions were established to look into the Susurluk scandal, one in Parliament, the other under a former public prosecutor, now the head of the Prime Ministry Inspection Board. The media also took up the issue and were tenacious in their pursuit of the story. The fortunes of such investigative initiatives were helped temporarily by those implicated, who sought to give their side of the story. The overall impact was to give a graphic, semi-insider view of the workings of the opaque state in Turkey. Nevertheless, public knowledge of such practices ended up being patchy and subject to spin. The head of the parliamentary investigation complained that his commission had only been able to open the door a crack, owing to its limited powers and short duration.46 The biggest name to suffer in the Susurluk scandal was Mehmet Agar, a former police chief who had been Çiller’s first Minister of the Interior. He was sacked by her two days after the Susurluk accident, as she tried to distance herself from its consequences. He was accused of abuse of power, hiding a suspect, and creating a criminal

42. The Interior Minister, Kutlu Aktas, responded by appointing two financial inspectors to investigate the charges. “Police Officers are on Trial,” Turkish Daily news, December 19, 1998. 43. For more on the “Tankus Depremi” (“Tankus Earthquake”), see Erdinç, Overdose Turkiye, pp. 371-372. 44. Ugur Akinci, writing in the Turkish Daily news, February 8, 1998, summed up a widespread feeling about the limitations of the justice system in Turkey: “No matter how thoroughly a corruption case is documented … it is the exception that any responsible party pays any real price (e.g. jail time) for the crimes committed.” 45. “Chief Prosecutor Objects Susurluk Verdict,” Turkish Daily news, November 3, 2001. 46. Though it did receive nearly 75,000 pages of documents.

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organization. In addition, Agar was subject to a welter of speculation, including that he had connections with Çatlı.47 In spite of Agar’s prima facie vulnerability, it took more than a year for the Turkish Parliament to lift his (and Bucak’s) immunity. The subsequent case against both men collapsed, in spite of the prosecution asking at the outset for a stiff sentence of 15 years in jail. In the longer term, however, Susurluk did Agar even less harm. He continued to be elected as an independent MP for the southeastern province of Elazig, an ultra-nationalist stronghold, before re-joining the DYP. He was subsequently elected leader of the party at the end of 2002, after the political downfall of Çiller, a position he held until after the general election defeat of July 2007. It was not until nearly two years after Susurluk that the Turkish state completed the process of making a clear, institutional break with the ulkucu gangs and their state allies.48 This is not necessarily a criticism. The fact that the state was eventually able to put its own house in order in the face of a narcotics economy estimated to be worth anywhere between $10 billion and $40 billion is testimony to the Turkish state — both its resolve and its strong collective sense of the central importance of its role as the heir to Ataturk’s legacy.49 The state’s view finally became definitive with the pronouncement of the then most authoritative body in Turkey, the National Security Council (NSC), which surprisingly had taken a year after the road crash to discuss the Susurluk issue formally. At its November 1997 meeting, the NSC adopted a new National Security Policy Document with the aim of removing the ultra-nationalist gangs. Some six months later, however, many of the most notorious of Turkey’s criminal gang leaders only had been chased into exile, rather than arrested. And where they had been arrested, as in the case of ultra-nationalist mafiosi Kursat Yılmaz, who escaped from jail in February 1998, their incarceration was far from secure. The claim of success made by Interior Minister Murat Basesgioglu, that “We have crushed the mafia in many provinces. Gang leaders have had to flee abroad,” therefore sounded less than entirely reassuring.50 This partial ambiguity on the part of the state was resolved between late spring and summer 1998. In May, the NSC asked the government to step up its fight against organized crime, “which aims to destroy stability in Turkey.”51 In July, Parliament lifted the immunity of seven of its members, including Agar for a second time. At its August 24 meeting, the NSC further defined the ultra-nationalist mafia not simply as a national security threat, but as the “primary threat.”52 The gravity of the situation was evident in the NSC’s decision to place a higher level of importance on the ultra-nationalist gangs than either the threat from the PKK or from “fundamentalism,” the latter issue having topped the list of NSC threat perceptions for the previous three years. The main reason
47. “Agar-Çatlı connection proven,” radikal, December 27, 1996, reprinted in Turkish Daily news, December 28, 1996. 48. For example, some 14 months after Susurluk it was an authoritative US view that Susurluk was still a big issue; that it was unclear as to whether the Turkish Armed Forces were cooperating in the investigations; and that 95% or more of the Istanbul drugs police were openly corrupt. Interview by author with US diplomat, London, January 13, 1998. 49. See Fehmi Koru’s Agenda column, “What Serpico did for New York, Tankus could do for Istanbul,” Turkish Daily news, December 17, 1998. 50. hurriyet, June 26, 1998. 51. “1998: The Year that Was,” Turkish Probe, January 3, 1999. 52. Turkish Daily news, August 15, 1998.

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for this was that the NSC had decided to bite the bullet and seek the arrest of prominent former ulkucus abroad, like Alaattin Çakici (the revelations of whose meeting with Eyup Asik, a former cabinet minister, had been particularly embarrassing), Kursat Yılmaz, Sedat Peker, and Engin Çakmak, the most infamous of whom had long running links with certain figures in MIT. The surprise arrest of Çakici was timed to coincide with the marriage of Mehmet Agar’s son, a society wedding that had been informally billed as a moment of reconciliation with the outlaws. Once the arrest was made known, some of the most high profile invitees, including President Suleyman Demirel himself, made last minute excuses and did not attend. The role of the NSC statement was at last to remove any trace of ambiguity in the state’s position on the gangs issue. As the head of the narcotics division of the Department of Anti-Smuggling and Organised Crime in the TNP would come to reflect, Turkey was no longer safe for drug smugglers after 1998.53 The other key impact of Susurluk was to place a premium on narcotics seizures by Turkish law enforcement, as it became imperative that Ankara demonstrate that it was more than pulling its weight as far as the interdiction of hard drugs was concerned. This Turkey did with characteristic seriousness. A virtuous cycle was thereby established, whereby increasing seizure successes (see Table 1) made it easier for foreign governments to make aid allocations for capacity building, which further increased the chances of cooperation from the Turkish side, and hence resulted in higher seizures. Table 1: Opiate Seizures in Turkey (kilos) Opium 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 55 124 234 215 172 86 187 52 34 Base Morphine 404 727 288 1,299 325 230 712 4,491 141 Heroin 2,484 3,378 2,249 5,230 3,033 2,124 3,546 6,515 6,664

2006 217 487 7,380 Sources: KOm Drugs reports (Ankara: Ministry of the Interior, various years).

The emerGenCe OF COOPeraTIOn On narCOTICS iNterNatioNaL preSSureS
This article has argued that only in 1997/98 did the issue of illegal drugs begin to climb the agenda of Turkish policy priorities. This transformation did not take place
53. Interview by author with Section Chief, Central Narcotics Division, KOM, Unal Uysal, September 24, 2001.

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because of any intrinsic change in attitudes towards illicit drugs. The change was contingent on the central issue of making a clean break with the ultra-nationalist gangs. With domestic consumption of opiates apparently still nominal, and the drugs issue more of a priority because of the funding that it rendered to illegal organizations rather than as an ill in itself, there is no reason to believe that broader attitudes towards hard drugs in Turkey actually had changed. What clearly was changing was the context for cooperation on the hard drugs issue over the last four years of the 1990s. If Susurluk had transformed the domestic context, with its fear that ultra-nationalist gangs had corroded the state, there were developments at the broader international level that were almost equally as important. Of key significance was the increasing profile of the illicit drugs issue on the “new security” agenda in the late 1990s, one that could not be ignored by Turkey’s foreign policy elite. Developments at high profile multilateral organizations were especially important in signaling the changing security priorities, of which three are especially noteworthy. In June 1998, a special session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS) was dedicated to illicit drugs.54 In its rallying call, the General Assembly laid down a template and timetable for action by all member states, adopting 2003-2008 as a period within which to “eliminate or significantly reduce the consumption and production of illegal narcotics.”55 If the General Assembly represented the global community, weak and strong alike, one month earlier the leading club of the latter had committed itself to making the subject of narcotics a top priority. In May 1998, the G8 summit in Birmingham, England placed drugs and organized crime at the top of the international agenda for the first time.56 This was a reflection of the fleetingly fresh approach to foreign affairs of the new Labour government, elected in May 1997, which sought to more closely align foreign policy to the preoccupations of the ordinary citizen.57 In December 2000, the UN adopted a new convention on transnational organized crime, with the trafficking in illicit drugs being a clear motivator of the initiative.58 In addition to these major developments, the field of international narcotics-related cooperation increasingly was characterized by a plethora of informal, advisory groups and ad hoc, targeted meetings.

54. Special Session of the General Assembly Devoted to Countering the World Drug Problem Together, June 8-10, 1998, Political Declaration: Guiding Principles of Drug Demand reduction and measures to enhance International Cooperation to Counter the World Drug Problem (Austria: UN, 1999). 55. Closing statement of Executive Director of the UNDCP, Pino Arlacchi, on behalf of the UN Secretary-General, in Political Declaration: Guiding Principles of Drug Demand reduction and measures to enhance International Cooperation to Counter the World Drug Problem, p. 39. 56. The Birmingham summit’s statement on “Drugs and international crime” emphasized the point, stating that the G8 “is committed to partnership and shared responsibility in the international community to combat illicit drugs. This should include reinforced cooperation.” Emphasis added. For the complete statement, see http://www.g8.fr/evian/english/navigation/g8_documents/archives_ from_previous_summits. 57. Reflected in HMG’s ten-year strategy for tackling drug misuse, Tackling Drugs to build a better britain (London: Cabinet Office, 1998). A UK anti-drugs coordinator subsequently was appointed, resulting in the publication of a first and second annual plan in 1999 and 2000/1 and beyond. 58. Other lesser, but comparable initiatives with illicit drugs at their center included the New Transatlantic Dialogue between the EU and the US; the Barcelona Process, involving member and non-member states around the Mediterranean; and the EU-ASEAN agenda.

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Of these, HONLEA Europe,59 Operation Topaz60 (directed at the illicit trade in the vital component in the refining of heroin and acetic anhydride), and Operation Purple, dealing with cocaine, were particularly notable. If pressures for policy change were building up both internally and externally at an institutional level, these were given a sharper, more discomforting focus by the increasing willingness of foreign voices of authority to publicly criticize Turkey’s record on narcotics and crime. The most compelling examples of this came just before and after the Susurluk crisis. The British junior Home Office Minister, Tom Sackville, made trenchant criticisms of Turkey’s record on the narcotics issue just prior to Susurluk, in which he publicly clashed with Agar;61 he did so again in January 1997. On the second occasion, he specifically attributed the failure of many counternarcotics operations in Turkey to intelligence leaks. A German judge, Rolf Schwalbe,62 ruling in a heroin smuggling case, drew attention to the “excellent connections to the [Turkish] government” enjoyed by leading Turkeybased narcotics families. More particularly he mentioned their “personal contacts to a female minister,” whom he subsequently named as the Turkish Foreign Minister and former Premier Tansu Çiller.63 His remarks drew considerable attention from the German press, already sensitized to the issue through its reporting of Susurluk. In its critical examination of Çiller and the business activities of her and her husband, she was treated disparagingly,64 being called the “Turkish Godmother” (Tuerkische Patin) and “protector of the heroin mafia” (Schutzherrin der heroinmafia).65 The subsequent war of words between the German and Turkish sides threatened to widen the breach, with the Germans criticizing the Turks for not respecting freedom of expression and the separation of powers.
59. HONLEA Europe is the association of the chiefs of anti-drug departments in Europe, and stands for Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies. 60. In 2000 Turkey sent 33 reports on acetic anhydride seizures for consideration by the Topaz Committee, a big contribution no doubt aimed at underlining Turkey’s cooperation in the illegal drugs field. Interview by author with Unal Uysal, September 24, 2001. 61. Sackville voiced the orthodox view that 80% of the heroin seized in the UK arrives via Turkey. See “Britain warns Turkey over heroin trade,” The Times, October 28, 1996. Agar hit back by reportedly stating in a speech to the Police Academy in Ankara that Turkey was not the center of heroin distribution, that it is “hardly even included” in the narcotics routes to Europe, and that 65% of the heroin interdicted on the Balkans route to Europe is seized by Turkish police. See Turkish Daily news, October 17, 1996. For British counternarcotics officials, this was characteristic of the posture of denial that would be obliged to change soon after. 62. Sitting in the Frankfurt High Court, Judge Schwalbe delivered his judgment in January 1997. 63. For the judge’s written ruling, see “rauschgifthaendler haben einfluss auf aussenministerin Ciller” [“Drug Dealers Have Influence on Foreign Minister Ciller”], Frankfurter allgemeine Zeitung, May 5, 1997, p. 1. Oemer Erzeren, “richter: Tansu Ciller im Drogengeschaeft” [“Judge: Tansu Ciller in Drug Business”], Die Tageszeitung, January 23, 1997, p. 8. 64. This is a view largely shared by respectable political commentators in Turkey. See, for instance, Umit Cizre, “From Ruler to Pariah: The Life and Times of the True Path Party,” in Barry Rubin and Metin Heper, eds., Political Parties in Turkey (London: Frank Cass, 2002), who refers to the “unsavoury practices” of the Çiller Administration in Turkey as revealed by Susurluk, p. 98. 65. “haerte gegen die tuerkische Patin: Frankfurter Gericht will vorwuerfe gegen Tansu Ciller beweisen” [“Tough on the Turkish Godmother: Frankfurt Court Wants to Prove Accusations against Ciller”], Sueddeutsche Zeitung, January 24, 1997 and Amalia van Gent‚ “Die Tuerkei im banne des Drogenhandels; Tansu Ciller — Schutzherrin der heroinmafia?” [“Turkey under the Spell of the Heroin Trade; Tansu Ciller — Protector of the Heroin Mafia?”], neue Zuercher Zeitung, January 28, 1997, p. 3.

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Such statements of concern were not confined to Europe. In December 1996, President Bill Clinton wrote an open letter to Congress in which he drew attention to the “large volume of Southwest Asian heroin moving through Turkey” and the Balkan route towards Western Europe.66 The letter identified Turkey as one of a small number of “potentially significant drug-transit countries,” and that the prospects pointed towards a worsening of the situation, sentiments that were subsequently underlined in the US State Department’s 1997 global report on narcotics trafficking.67 Such worries went beyond such declaratory positions, and began to be absorbed into the institutional fabric of foreign states. Examples abound: the UK hosted a high level international conference on Turkish drugs in 1998 and the section of the UK’s newly-established National Criminal Intelligence Services (NCIS), dedicated to dealing with heroin, was given the title of the “Turkish Intelligence Unit.”68 The fact that such criticisms, both explicit and implied, came from leading members of the EU would not have been lost on Turkey’s European-oriented foreign policy elite. For a brief period, it looked as though heroin and Turkey would come to be regarded as synonymous in Western European circles, as they had been on the eastern seaboard of the United States some three decades earlier. With the prospect of an open season on Turkey on the narcotics issue, urgent action was required. Ankara clearly felt that it had to respond to what was effectively a two-pronged set of pressures, from within, resulting from Susurluk, and from this global, normative activity. The need to be more active on the subject of global narcotics was explicitly accepted at the time by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an institution not renowned for displays of self-criticism. In its public diplomacy, it acknowledged that while Turkey wages “a very serious and successful fight” against the production and trafficking in illicit drugs, “more can and should be done on this score” (emphasis added).69 A senior Turkish diplomat some five years later retrospectively accepted that narcotics had begun to “tarnish” Turkey’s reputation — that a perception had begun to take hold that Turkey was “turning a blind eye” to the problem. Furthermore, the view that Turkey had to put its house in order if it was going to continue to be treated as a respected member of the international community was strengthened. 70 Turkey consequently set about adopting a more responsive stance at the legislative, operational, and organizational levels.

LegiSLative, operatioNaL, aNd orgaNizatioNaL chaNgeS
In the legislative realm, Turkey adopted a series of new pieces of legislation in 1997/98, which, though flawed, were nevertheless to make a practical difference to the external perceptions of its ability to deliver cooperation on the counternarcotics issue, especially at the international level. The most operationally important change was arguably the new legislation that would permit international controlled deliveries of illegal
66. William J. Clinton, Presidential letter to Congress on Drug Trade Countries, December 3, 1996. 67. Turkish Daily news, March 3, 1997. 68. Its name would subsequently be changed to the “Heroin Intelligence Unit” under the weight of official Turkish protests. 69. “Turkey’s Role in the Fight Against Illicit Drugs,” presented by a senior Turkish diplomat to the Wilton Park Conference, April 7, 1998, p. 1. 70. Non-attributable interview by author, June 23, 2003.

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drugs. “Controlled deliveries” is the practice by which the trafficking of illegal drugs is allowed to proceed and is monitored by a law enforcement agency or agencies with a view to being able to subsequently eradicate the vertical chain of operations. At an international level, controlled deliveries involves the close cooperation of law enforcement agencies from multiple states. This was a rigid piece of legislation, difficult to apply; as such, it was not unlike its equivalent adopted in the UK. As a law enforcement tool, it could easily have been largely ineffectual. However, the situation was saved by German justice circles that seized the initiative provided by the new law. A willingness to cooperate in spite of the difficulties of the new legislation elicited a flexibility of application on the Turkish side, resulting in good practical cooperation between German and Turkish law enforcement officers. The first interstate, controlled delivery took place in 1997;71 by the end of 2001, there had been 34 deliveries carried out on an international basis. A similar breakthrough in the promotion of trust came between Germany and Holland and the Turkey over the sharing of wiretap evidence. The legislative context for cooperation again proved to be auspicious in certain European countries, in contrast to the situation prevailing in France and the UK. As with controlled deliveries, the development was ground-breaking, as the resulting cooperation was to demonstrate that specialist participation in the area of the law enforcement community was possible between Europe and Turkey. In September 2001, the head of the TNP’s department for anti-smuggling and organized crime, Ismail Çaliskan, attributed the joint operations with Germany and Holland as being crucial in resulting in greater informal cooperation. This development had a wide and favorable impact on cooperation in Europe, especially with the more skeptical British. Çaliskan saw this breakthrough as pivotal in eliciting greater trust from the UK, dating from around 1999.72 A second, though more limited, piece of legislation came in the area of money laundering,73 in the form of Law Number 4208. The absence of specific legislation was by now a major liability for Turkey, which had become subject to considerable criticism on the issue from a number of quarters, both outside and inside the country.74 The law, which was adopted on November 19, 1996, established a dedicated board to investigate financial crimes. It also gave the Ministry of Finance sweeping powers to investigate suspect funds and foreign exchange transactions. However, initially, the slow implementation of these legal provisions, amidst resistance, notably in the commercial banking sector, intensified criticism of Ankara. Once the law was fully implemented, it proved to be sufficient, in spite of its shortcomings,75 to contain international criticism, as various international specialist agencies were broadly satisfied with the Turkish response.76
71. KOM, Turkish Drug report, 1999 (Ankara: Ministry of the Interior, 2000), p. 18. 72. Interview by author with Ismail Çaliskan, KOM headquarters, September 25, 2001. 73. Law 4208 on the Prevention of Money Laundering, and the Regulation on Fundamentals and Means of Controlled Delivery, published in the Official Gazette No. 23111, September 15, 1997. 74. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) specifically criticized Turkey for its absence of antimoney laundering legislation at its meeting in 1997. Former Central Bank of Turkey Governor and Serving Deputy Rusdu Saracoglu was quoted as estimating that more than $1.5 billion a year was laundered in Turkey, especially through the country’s casinos. radikal, November 29, 1996. 75. The most notable of these has been its inability to establish a close relationship with the Turkish police. After a decade in existence, Turkey still awaits its first prosecution for money laundering. 76. For example, having criticized Turkey as late as June 1997, FATF spokesman Patrick Moulette (who later became Executive Director of the organization) described Turkey’s new measures as ef[Continued on next page]

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A third area of legislation saw a new bill passed to close the country’s 79 casinos, in spite of stiff resistance, not least from President Demirel. Turkey’s casinos, which were permitted to open for business only in 1983, already had proved to be a magnet for the activities of criminal gangs and the focus of a variety of illegal activities, from racketeering to money laundering.77 The owner of one of Turkey’s five main gaming groups, Omer Lutfu Topal, a former convicted drug smuggler, had been killed in July 1996 in a struggle for control of organized crime with the ulkucu gangs, with Çatli a leading suspect in his death.78 Organizationally, major changes have taken place in two of the four agencies in Turkey with a leading counternarcotics role. The Jandarma went through an extensive restructuring as far as its anti-drugs organization was concerned between 1997 and 2001, though the broader, strategic restructuring of the organization remains a work in progress. This program of change reflected, among other things, that terrorism, the Jandarma’s top priority since 1984, was no longer exclusively number one,79 in line with the new priorities of the NSC. Resources were now to be shared in a more balanced way, with counternarcotics trafficking a beneficiary, and a small anti-organized crime section being established. The law enforcement jurisdiction of the Jandarma covers some 91% of Turkish territory. With its focus on rural areas, it is the leading security agency in the east and southeast of Turkey, the main concentrations of hard drugs trafficking in Turkey. The two main aspects of the reform were the creation of a dedicated counternarcotics office in the Jandarma headquarters in each of Turkey’s 81 provinces and the staffing of those offices with dedicated, trained counternarcotics personnel, of whom there were around 700 at the time of the completion of the 2001 phase of the reorganization.80 The changes to be introduced in the Customs Directorate, for so long the Cinderella institution in Turkey’s counternarcotics operations,81 were altogether more profound. Customs was to be systematically overhauled, affecting not only its technological capacity but also its remit and the ethical and professional standards of its staff.82 Whereas the Jandarma’s reorganization was an internal affair, reflecting the jealously guarded autonomy of the body, the modernization of Customs was a more open and international effort, hence its more thoroughgoing nature. The initial phase was made with some $200 million from the World Bank, with additional EU funds subsequently made available. These funds enabled the building of a high-tech, 24-hour border crossing monitoring center in the middle of Ankara. Customs was also the beneficiary of changes in the legal infrastructure of Turkey, with the much-vaunted new Penal Code also delivering an expansion in
[Continued from previous page] fective in a statement to the Anatolian News Agency two months later. See Turkish Embassy Press Review, August 26, 1997. 77. For background on the casino sector and the debate surrounding its closure, see Daren Butler, “‘No more bets please’, Turkey tells gamblers,” Reuters, January 30, 1998. 78. For more on Topal’s killing, see Erdinç, Overdose Turkiye, pp. 343-346. 79. One narcotics expert speaks of the Jandarma as having been “totally absorbed” by the challenge of terrorism. Non-attributable interview by author, Ankara, June 30, 2003. 80. Confidential briefing by senior Jandarma officers, Ankara, September 26, 2001. 81. For a description of the somewhat shoddy modus operandi of Customs, see “Sarp-Border Post with Georgia,” UNDCP Mission Report to Turkey, February 28-March 9, 1994, pp. 5-7. 82. For a satirical look at Customs, written as the reform process was getting off the ground and taken seriously by foreign DLOs in Turkey, see “Our Good Customs,” hurriyet, November 14, 2000.

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its competence to embrace new investigative powers. By 2005, Customs had gone a long way towards throwing off its long held reputation of being “suitcase searchers.”

In spite of such reorganizations, and indeed in spite of the PKK ceasefire in 1999, Turkey has continued to be a leading transit route for heroin bound for Europe (See Table 1). Such realities contain two major implications. One, that terrorism and PKK violence, though related to the narcotics issue, were not the main driver of drug trafficking. Two, that the increase in state capacity mentioned above has not proved able to appreciably reduce the importance of Turkey as a narcotics bridge to Europe. In 2003 a UN-sponsored survey of illicit drugs consumption confirmed the intuition of Turkish policymakers that heroin was not a major domestic consumption problem in Turkey.83 Such realities only can confirm the growing suspicion that the limits to Turkey’s effectiveness in addressing hard drugs smuggling are related to a lack of political will, especially in such obvious centers of activity as Van and Diyarbakır in the southeast and Istanbul in the west. Whatever the realities of Turkish assistance, the international pressures for increased drug policy cooperation, which were building up between 1996 and 2001, largely have dissipated in the new decade. This is in part because the considerable will galvanized by UNGASS, the G8, and other institutions was virtually impossible to sustain, given the long international agenda for action with which it has had to contend. The other factors that were pivotal in the waning levels of external pressure were the aftermath of 9/11 and the consequences of the fall of the Taliban government in Kabul in October 2001. Much of the resources made available for counternarcotics efforts were concentrated in Afghanistan, especially those of the British, who emerged as the leading country in the international attempts to eradicate opium poppies.84 Paling alongside the attempt to end the problem at its source, much of the international focus on transit states has unraveled, Turkey being the best example. As poppy cultivation, and its associated links with insurgency, warlordism, and corruption, have escalated in Afghanistan, so any thoughts of the maintenance of a wider strategy have receded. The landslide election of the religious, conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) in November 2002 (repeated even more strongly in July 2007) has made little impact on the issue of illegal drugs.85 Anecdotal evidence suggests that senior members of the party accept the contentious assertion that Islam provides an effective barrier against the erosion of society that illicit drugs causes, seemingly unaware of the high levels of abuse in such predominantly Muslim countries as Iran, Pakistan, and indeed Afghanistan. The strong strain of nationalism that permeates Turkish Islamism may explain an enduring complacency, as the view holds that social and familial solidarity continue to provide a robust safeguard against the abuse of hard drugs. Such
83. health Services, education and Community action—Preventing Drug abuse in Turkey: national assessment on Drug abuse, 2003 (United Nations, 2004). 84. “Afghanistan: a nation abandoned to drugs,” The Independent, November 19, 2004. 85. For an analysis of Turkish foreign policy under the AKP, see Philip Robins, “Turkish Foreign Policy Since 2002: Between a ‘Post Islamist Government and a Kemalist State’,” International affairs, Vol. 83, No. 2 (March 2007).

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values certainly help to explain why the illegal drugs issue remains a low priority under the AKP, as under its predecessors. A second factor in explaining the absence of AKP action on the issue is the nature of the party and its priorities for reform. The AKP came into office as a movement that was strongly suspected by the secular establishment of having a hidden religious agenda for revolutionary change at their expense. In order not to antagonize the secular state during its first administration, the AKP focused its reforms on good governance issues rather than security sector reform. There was some crossover, notably in the EU-inspired reform of the National Security Council, though this was limited. As two of the most entrenched and dogmatic parts of the security establishment, accelerating reform of the Jandarma or changing the priorities of the intelligence community would have been not only difficult but also extremely risky. During the crucial period of governance reform between 2002 and 2004, the EU helped the new government in Ankara to develop its agenda for change. It never ascribed any priority to the issue of illicit drugs. Once the AKP’s liberal reformist agenda had run out of steam after early 2005, the impetus had been lost and there was no real functioning bilateral agenda to which the issue of illicit drugs might have been added.

In the mid-1970s it appeared as if Turkey’s illegal drugs problem was at an end. Yet a decade later the hard drugs issue was back to blight Turkey, but in a more extreme form. If the original challenge had been one of cultivation and leakage, the more virulent form comprised a transit and refining issue, with narco-corruption and narcoterrorism as a result. Through its connections with a violent insurgency and state corrosion, it is no exaggeration to state that in the mid-1990s, Turkey teetered on the edge of a descent into an Andean nightmare. The threatening nexus of corruption, drugs, and violence was broken by the Susurluk scandal of 1996, the outcome of which remained unclear until 1998. This eventual success is testimony to the toughness and resilience of the state in Turkey — in the narcotics sector, at least, the physician had healed itself. Ankara was helped in its clean-up campaign by the diffusion of the new West-driven global norm against international narcotics-related crime. As in the 1970s, the words “Turkey” and “heroin” had come close to being considered synonymous. Through a series of astute steps, from the overdue adoption of anti-money laundering legislation through the reorganization of the Jandarma and Customs, to the Foreign Ministry’s participation in an array of international meetings, Turkey had salvaged its reputation in the area of illicit drugs in the nick of time. If the domestic level was the key driver of change in the mid-1990s, the international level has been an important, if secondary, complement. Since 2001, the policy black hole of Afghanistan has sucked in the international community and its narcotics-related aid and dissipated all remaining urgency for incountry change in Turkey. The dwindling of political will has continued at home, especially under the AKP government, which sees Islam and a strong family social structure as a bulwark against a deterioration in social defense. The political stand-off between the AKP government and the secular state establishment has eroded the chances of further public sector action against illicit drugs.

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