Representatives of Turkish Agricultural Credit Unions (TKK) have traveled to the United States to market some 90,000 tonnes of olive oil produced in northern Syria’s Afrin province, Kurdish media reported on Thursday. Iraqi Rudaw.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) vice-chairman Ünal Çeviköz said the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army had stolen olive trees from locals and oil exported to the West via Turkey was helping to “maintain the territorial integrity of Syria”. a target that Turkish authorities have cited as one of the reasons for Turkey’s military incursions into the war-torn country.
Turkey has controlled Afrin since its Olive Branch operation in 2018 and has been accused of transporting processed olive oil to Syria for bottling in Turkey, branded as a Turkish product and sold through Turkish intermediaries. Last year, Swedish Conservative MP Bernhard Guhl said Turkey had “looted” Afrin olives and marketed the final product to the European Union.
The chairman of the chamber of commerce of the southern border province of Hatay, Hikmet Çinçin, speaking at the meeting organized by the CHP, said that the oil had been brought to Turkey under a national transformation regime, on the condition that it is only sold in foreign markets. According to the president, this condition was violated to the detriment of Turkish olive growers.
The TTK was given exceptional authority to import olive oil, in violation of Turkish competition laws, Çinçin said, adding that local companies could not obtain the necessary license.
TTK is a network of cooperatives made up of independent farmers, but managed by the Ziraat Bank, a public bank created to support Turkish farmers, until 1977 and governed by the Ministry of Agriculture between 1985 and 1995. Its semi-status -current official was granted by a law passed in 2005.
Last year, olive oil producers in western Turkey were allowed to participate in the process, and the president of the Aegean Olive Oil Exporters Unions, Davut Er, gave said the decision to bring Syrian oil to Turkey was “ originally a political decision, not an economic one. ” but the product had “become a very important part of the industry”. This commercial activity was not officially considered an importation of goods from a foreign country, and olive oil was considered a Turkish product at the time of its sale.
Turkey’s domestic olive oil exports fell from $ 120 million in January and February 2018 to $ 28 million during the same period in 2019, due to a shortage of olives last year. Oil from Syria has helped Turkish exporters maintain part of their income, Er said.
“In the past, oil was smuggled from Afrin,” Er explained. “And now the sales are in the hands of the state.”
The government maintains that olive oil was brought to Turkey so that Syrian Kurdish groups whom Turkey considers terrorist organizations do not benefit. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Syrian oil was re-exported via Turkey and the income went to the owners of the olive groves. “There’s no theft or anything here,” he said.
In 2018, Turkey opened a new border gate in Hatay to transport olive oil from Afrin directly to the country.
Turkey has been accused of committing war crimes and human rights violations and of turning a blind eye to the crimes and violations committed by the Syrian groups it supports and which control Afrin.
A United Nations investigation last year detailed widespread violations, which included “looting” of the olive harvest by armed groups. Other crimes documented by the UN include hostage-taking, cruel treatment and torture, rape, extortion and murder.