Turkish minister admits seizure of Afrin olives, says 600 tons brought into Turkey

"We, as the government, do not want revenues to fall into the PKK's hands... We want the revenues from Afrin... to come into our hands."
author_image Rawa Barwari

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Turkey's Minister of Agriculture admitted on Saturday that his country was seizing olive products from the occupied Afrin Canton of Syrian Kurdistan and selling them in markets.

The admission came after opposition lawmakers brought up the issue during a parliamentary committee meeting on next year's national budget.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) released an excerpt from Minister Bekir Pakdemirli's statement defending his government's policy in regard to olive products in Afrin, a region the Turkish army invaded earlier this year.

"The issue with Afrin is this: We, as the government, do not want revenues to fall into the PKK's hands. This is very clear. In other words, we want the revenues from Afrin, in one way or another, to come into our hands. This is a region in our hegemony," the Turkish minister told MPs in response to questions.

Afrin used to be under the control of US-backed Syrian-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a key ally of the Coalition in fighting the Islamic State (IS) group. Turkey launched its war on Afrin on the grounds that the YPG is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which it calls a "terrorist" organization for the latter's decades-long insurgency against Ankara over Kurdish rights.

Turkish government officials along with Minister of Agriculture Minister of Agriculture (second from left at front) seen during a parliamentary committee meeting, Ankara, Nov. 17, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)
Turkish government officials along with Minister of Agriculture Minister of Agriculture (second from left at front) seen during a parliamentary committee meeting, Ankara, Nov. 17, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

HDP's Co-chair Sezai Temelli this week said that Turkey and its Islamist rebel allies in Afrin had confiscated 70 tons (140,000 pounds) of the olive harvest to sell in markets.

The figure the Turkish minister provided was much higher.

"That is why Agricultural Credit Cooperatives [of Turkey] was tasked with [procuring] five tons. On the eighth [of November], the border gates were opened. So far, 600 tons of products have entered the country," Pakdemirli detailed, in words that the opposition party said was a "confession of plunder."

The minister did not specify if the number he provided included products other than olives nor if the revenues, either partially or in full, were returned to the region's Kurdish producers who remained.

At least 160,000 people were displaced from Afrin during the January-March 2018 war.

During a debate that followed, HDP lawmaker Nurettin Macin representing Sanliurfa Province at the Turkish Parliament said Ankara's policy amounted to "ghanimah," a concept in Islam jurisprudence of war that gives conquerers the right to appropriate defeated enemies' property.

"Turkey must stop this policy of ghanimah and plundering, policies that are anti-Kurdish and anti-Kurdistan. What I want from this assembly is to prepare the ground for a peaceful and democratic solution to this question," Macin said, pointing out at the interlocked nature of Turkey's ongoing war with Kurdish entities at home and in neighboring countries.

Afrin, under the control of the Turkish army and Free Syrian Army factions, remains inaccessible to much of the outside world, with the exception of the pro-government media of Turkey.

Editing by John J. Catherine