Turkey accused of stealing Syrian olives, selling oil as its own

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Syrian men drive past armed men stand guarding the city's entrance in Afrin, on May 5, 2018. AFP PHOTO / Nazeer AL-KHATIB

The government of Turkey has been accused of stealing olives from neighboring Syria, pressing them into oil and selling that oil to European Union countries, including Spain, labeled as Turkish olive oil, according to a report by the Olive Oil Times news website.

The revelations came to light after an exhaustive investigative report from Spanish newspaper El Público, Turkish government documents obtained and published by Firat news agency (ANF), observations from the United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and information seen by a Swiss politician.

“In Turkish-occupied Afrin, the olive groves are being pillaged by both Turkish forces and the militias they support,” Bernhard Guhl, a Swiss member of parliament from the country’s Conservative Democratic Party, said. “The olives they steal have been sold [as oil] to Spain, and the sales will continue.”

Turkey invaded the northwestern Syrian province of Aleppo, in which Afrin is located, in January 2018 in an effort to protect its interests in the region. Known, as Operation Olive Branch, the effort was meant to help stabilize the region, but many in the area say that Turkey is exploiting Afrin for economic gain. Turkey is the third largest exporter of olive oil to the European Union, after Tunisia and Morocco.

Saleh Ibo, the Agricultural Council deputy chairperson for the district of Afrin, told AFN that Turkey has made at least $80 million from the seized Syrian olives.

“They have also been confiscating the fields and olive groves of people who have had to flee Afrin due to the Turkish state violence in the months since the invasion,” he said. “We can say that 80 percent of the olives in Afrin are being taken to Turkey with no cost through the [paramilitary groups] and the councils they formed.”

While Turkey has not formally acknowledged these accusations, Bekir Pakdemirli, the Turkish minister of agriculture, told state media late last year that the government would be confiscating olives grown in the region in order to prevent them from being processed and sold by the Kurdish forces that previously occupied the area.

Turkey views the Kurds, who are spread across Turkey and Syria as well as Iraq and have been seeking an independent state of their own for the past 70 years, as various terrorist organizations. The Kurds have been staunch US allies in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

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