10 May 2012
Kurdish businesses and some municipalities controlled by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have long been suspected by the Turkish government of substantial involvement in financing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which along with funding from the diaspora, trafficking and smuggling operations, is believed to be a significant source of the group's income.
A bomb blast wounded three people in Ankara on September 20th, 2011. Authorities say cutting financing is a key element of the country's anti-terrorism strategy. [Reuters]
The latest investigation of the Department for Anti-Smuggling and Organised Crime (KOM) focusing on public tenders in BDP municipalities in the east and southeast, looked for possible links between contract winners and the PKK.
The KOM investigation concluded "the militants make around $120m (211m TL) annually by extorting from business people who win state tender bids in the east and the southeast."
According to data released by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) last October, the PKK "collected a total of 28m TL from the southeastern Kurdish people, under the name of 'revolution tax' in 2011."
Investigators also calculate the PKK is holding hundreds of millions of dollars in European bank accounts.
The PKK, however, claims it does not pressure any organisation or individual to give money.
For Salih Akyurek, a former army colonel and PKK analyst at the Wise Men Centre for Strategic Studies (BILGESAM) in Ankara, PKK financing is "the number one regional problem" both in Turkey and Europe.
He told SES Türkiye that due to the lack of government control over the local municipalities and Kurdish dominancy in southeastern Turkey, the PKK has managed to pressure local residents and their relatives abroad to contribute to the organisation.
"Especially after the recent military and police operations against the PKK, which for both sides ended up with losing dozens of members, the militant group started brainwashing ordinary people and business circles against the government," he said.
Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a writer for the Kurdish newspaper Rudaw and Jamestown Foundation analyst on Kurdish issues, reminds that the decision to tax people was taken in the 3rd Congress of the PKK in 1986, and as a result, the PKK collected money from the municipal authorities, state companies, and especially wealthy Kurds.
"The government was also scared aid money for the Van earthquake would go to the PKK, and therefore did not allow any money to go to NGOs," he said.
Van Wilgenburg said it is possible the state would like to put pressure on BDP municipalities by blaming them for financing the PKK, drawing attention to the ongoing Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) trials that have witnessed the arrest of hundreds of BDP members, including over 30 mayors.
The KCK is an umbrella Kurdish organisation that includes the PKK, and is claimed by authorities to be the PKK's urban wing, constituting a parallel state structure in the southeast.
"I have no idea if the [KCK] operations of the state are effective, since this has been going on for some time, and so far the PKK always maintained a steady cash flow," he notes.
Other analysts including Umit Ozdag, the chairman of the 21st Century Turkey Institute who has written nine books about anti-PKK operations, argues the government's operations against PKK financing are "effective."
"The security agencies had neglected to investigate and fight the financial sources of the PKK. Only in the last two or three years, they have begun a systematic investigation concerning the financial sources of the PKK," he explained.
For Mehmet Metiner, a Kurdish intellectual and MP from the ruling Justice and Development Party, it is troubling that local businesses and government bodies support the PKK financially, under what he said is "the immense pressure of the militant group."
"We need sincere support from all of our citizens, including those who live in the [southeastern] region, not to listen to the PKK and help us to dry out its financial resources," he told SES Türkiye, adding that dialogue or "other peaceful steps" will be taken towards the PKK if it doesn't stop "terrifying and taxing the ordinary people."