In the latest of a series of revelations, the Turkish authorities have allegedly been providing electricity to Tel Abyad — a northern Syrian city just across the border from the Turkish city of Akçakale — which is controlled by militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
More stunning is the not-so-secret presence of ISIL militants on the streets of Akçakale, in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, a reporter with the Birgün daily claimed in a piece published on Friday. His account echoes many other reports, revealing the risks Turkey is facing as fighting between Kurdish forces and ISIL militants in and around Tel Abyad continues to rage on.
Before the uprising in Syria broke out, Turkey was delivering electricity to Tel Abyad as part of a deal with the Bashar al-Assad regime to address the energy shortage in northern Syria. The Dicle Electricity Distribution Company (DEDAŞ) continued to deliver power to the northern Syrian city even after the outbreak of the Syrian conflict.
What is more intriguing, the Birgün report reveals, is that the delivery continued even after ISIL captured Tel Abyad, thanks to the alleged collusion between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government in Turkey and ISIL, and has not been affected by later developments. The electricity is provided by three wires near the warehouse of the regional branch of the Turkish Agricultural Board (TMO), right on the border.
While locals in Akçakale sometimes face several cuts during the day, Tel Abyad residents do not endure such problems as DEDAŞ continues to provide electricity to the Syrian town uninterruptedly. The power cuts disrupt irrigation in the rural areas of Akçakale, leading to troubles in the agricultural sector. Turks are paying the price of the electricity provided to ISIL. DEDAŞ, in a written statement on Friday after the piece was published, denied claims of supplying electricity to Tel Abyad.
Locals in Akçakale have been enduring extreme difficulties including the growing number of refugees and the collapse of local economy while a war economy has firmly taken root in the town.
Enemy at the gate and ghost of ISIL in Akçakale
Akçakale on the Syrian border is one of the frontlines where locals have experienced firsthand the spillover effects of the war in Turkey’s southern neighbor. It is still haunted by ongoing fighting just across the other side of the border in Tel Abyad.
On Oct. 3, 2012, a mortar bomb fired from Syria landed in a residential district of Akçakale, killing two women and three children and wounding at least 13 other people. The Turkish military struck targets inside Syria in response to the mortar bomb attack.
Since that day, locals have endured various difficulties. Sometimes sporadic stray bullets from Tel Abyad, sometimes clashes just on the border, prompting Turkish authorities to close schools and other official buildings in town on numerous occasions.
The enemy is no longer at the gate, locals have bemoaned. It is here, in Akçakale. They are, of course, talking about ISIL.
ISIL prompts boom in smuggling on border
One of the dramatic fallouts of ISIL’s reach in the region is the explosion in smuggling of goods and people, as some people and groups have exploited the humanitarian catastrophe by offering help to refugees and civilians stranded on the Syrian side of the border to cross the Turkish border through illegal ways.
According to the Birgün report, ISIL gets $100 per person in return for allowing people to cross into Turkey. The smuggling of goods is also another crucial aspect of the local economy. The amount of money being exchanged per day at the border is unheard of in recent years. Locals claim the cross-border trade is worth $7-13 million per day.
One of the most in-demand items from Turkey to Tel Abyad, a local says, is fertilizer, or ammonium nitrate, which is widely used in agriculture but is also used by terrorist groups around the world to build explosives. The flow of fertilizer to Tel Abyad leaves no doubt about what it is being used for. Medical supplies are also among the items that flow through Akçakale to ISIL-controlled Tel Abyad.
ISIL seeking to lure unemployed in Turkish town
The militant group is seeking to lure locals in Akçakale as unemployment continues to affect the refugee-hit town. The influx of refugees has radically altered social balances, disrupted the social fabric and irrevocably damaged the city’s urban landscape, also causing apartment rates to skyrocket and rippling through the labor market, with Turkish workers being unable to compete with their Syrian counterparts who agree to work for lower salaries with no social insurance whatever.
Tapping into growing opportunities after the collapse of social and economic order, ISIL is offering Turks high pay in return for fighting within its ranks. Summing up his dilemma in remarks to the daily, a local said: “If I didn’t have a family, I probably wouldn’t be able to resist their offer. They offer to write off your credit card debt, give you a high salary.”
The people of Akçakale seem to be accustomed to the ISIL presence in the town, the same local said. ISIL uses hotels in Harran as a gathering point for its recruitment efforts while it transport them through Akçakale to Tel Abyad. It has exchange bureaus operating in Harran, another district of Şanlıurfa province.
Looming YPG advance to stir new refugee wave
The main fighting Kurdish force, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), is set to lay a siege on Tel Abyad from three fronts, leading to expectations of another looming intense confrontation with ISIL.
Already raging clashes have placed Akçakale on knife’s edge, prompting prompting fears of a new refugee exodus. Battered by overcrowding and an endless refugee flux, the town is also set to face another risk: Arab-Kurdish fighting on the Turkish side of the border given the increasing tensions among communities. The growing support for the YPG in Turkey will force Akçakale residents to revisit their approach to ISIL.
Gendarmerie acknowledges ‘deadly’ weapons found on MİT trucks
The Birgün report came at a time when Turkey is still discussing the role of the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT) in transporting and arming ISIL fighters.
Ballistic analysis reports of the weapons found in trucks owned by MİT that were stopped by investigators during a raid in January of 2014 have both acknowledged and documented the existence of weapons.
The report prepared by the Gendarmerie General Command four days after the investigation into the trucks took place states the weapons as being “able to explode on impact or with delay.” The report also noted that the arms could be deadly or injurious towards living things, destructive against non-living things and are classified as a weapon according to the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
The report signed by Sgt. Maj. Celalettin Bardakçı, a bomb disposal expert and authorized by Celal Kara, the former public prosecutor who was in charge of the investigation, was compiled on the bullets and small missile warheads found in the trailers of the trucks. The larger components of the weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades could not be analyzed as they could not be transported to Ankara.
Four of the prosecutors and one of the commanders were imprisoned in early May in connection with the investigation of the trucks. Earlier this month the top judicial body formally cleared the way for legal proceedings to begin against five prosecutors and three gendarmerie commanders who were involved in the search of Syria-bound trucks in January of 2014.
The 2nd Chamber of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) allowed the prosecution of former Adana Chief Public Prosecutor Süleyman Bağrıyanık, former Adana Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Ahmet Karaca and Adana prosecutors Aziz Takçı, Özcan Şişman and Yaşar Kavalcıoğlu. It also ruled to investigate Gendarmerie Commanders Col. Özkan Çokay, Erdal Yılmaz and Kubilay Ayvaz.
Bağrıyanık, Karaca, Takçı and Şişman as well as former Adana provincial gendarmerie commander Col. Çokay were imprisoned in early May on charges of “attempting to topple or incapacitate the Turkish government through the use of force or coercion and exposing information regarding the security and political activities of the state” in connection with the search of what turned out to be weapon-filled trucks being operated by the MİT.