Turkish Organized Crime
by Ioannis Michaletos
Turkey's strategic location as a gateway from Asia into Europe, and its proximity to opium producing areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, have long made it an important locus for narcotics trafficking, predominantly heroin.
Turkey itself has long been an opium producer. In the early 1970's, international pressure—mainly from the Nixon administration in the United States—obliged Turkey to enforce stricter rules for opium production in 1974, strictly limiting it to amounts required for pharmaceutical purposes. Up until then heroin was produced in Turkey as an opium derivative and quantities were sold to the West with the assistance of the Sicilian and Corsican mafias.
The heroin to be sold was transported by ship to Sicily, and then to Marseilles, where the Corsicans had created labs for the production of commercial product. From there it was transferred to New York and other American ports where the Italian-American mafia would organize its distribution. The United States administration at that time declared a war against narcotics and obliged the Turks to seek other sources of opium. Soon enough Turkish operational production bases were established in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. The conflict in Afghanistan during the 1980's, as well as the resurgence of a Kurdish insurgency in southeast Turkey after 1984 and the Iraq-Iran war of the same period; created a convergence of political, criminal, and military operations along the heroin supply chain from Afghanistan to Turkey.
Moreover, the effective destruction of Beirut in the 1980's reduced that city's suitability as a prime port for the narcotics trade and this role was then taken on by Istanbul. Thus, the situation after the end of the Cold War in 1989 found Turkish organized crime groups involved in heroin trafficking much stronger financially from their trade in the previous decades and ready to pursue stronger ties with the supplier countries of Central Asia.
Furthermore, the rise of Albanian organized crime and militant groups in the 1990's, and the civil wars in former Yugoslavia, provided ample human resources in the Balkans eager to get involved in the drug trade so as to survive financially or gain capital to achieve their political aims. Europe now already hosted considerable Turkish minorities—especially Germany—and some individuals from those Turkish communities were used to act as local retail agents for heroin distribution in Europe.