This remarkable document by Jorrit Kamminga gives a detailed view of what was going on behind the scenes of ‘Midnight Express’ between the US and Turkey during the 1970s concerning the struggle to control the opium trade. What follows is a broad brushstroke summary with some material from other sources. You can download a pdf of the full report here.In 1970 President Nixon introduced the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act which set out to reduce or eliminate the production, supply and consumption of illegal drugs.
In 1971, two US congressmen released an explosive report that revealed that 10-15% of US servicemen in Vietnam were addicted to heroin. The Nixon administration coined the phrase ‘war on drugs’
1971: The French Connection’ operation, which resulted in the arrest of 40 drug traffickers in France and 80 in New York blew the opium route from Turkey’s Anatolian plateau through the transformation labs of Corsina and Marseilles.
According to ICOS: ‘The United States needed a scapegoat for its domestic heroin addiction problem and Turkey seemed to be an easy target. President Nixon’s administration erroneously believed (or perhaps wanted to believe) that around 80% of the heroin entering the United States came from Turkey. The United States started to consider narcotics addiction to be a serious threat to national stability, a threat that could be partly resolved by eradicating opium production abroad in Turkey. As a result, in 1969, stopping Turkish opium production became a top priority for the United States’The US offered to buy up the entire opium poppy crop and to enable Turkey to obtain other international aid and loans. For Turkish President Demirel this was domestically difficult and negotiations stalled. The US then threatened economic and military sanctions.
In 1971 there was a military coup in Turkey and the new government, led by PM Ecevit eventually agreed to institute a ban on poppy cultivation in return for various loans and favours. The ban was extremely unpopular in Turkey and
‘the sentiments were so strong that resuming poppy cultivation became a matter of national honour and prestige.On 1st July 1974 , Ecevit anno9unced that poppy cultivation would resume in seven provinces.
‘At the same time, in the United States it started to become clear that there was little indication that the heroin addiction problem was decreasing following the opium ban in Turkey, which slowly led to the conclusion that 80% of the heroin on the United States market probably did not come from Turkey.
‘Instead, as a negative side effect of the opium ban in Turkey, a world shortage of medicinal opium developed and international pharmaceutical companies, particularly strong in the United States, started lobbying the US Administration to solve the situation.’
Negotiations then developed towards permitting the licensed cultivation of opium poppies under a controlled system. With UN assistance, Turkey constructed an opium processing plant (finished in 1981).
‘In the end, the commercial interests of the big pharmaceutical companies in the United States prevailed over concerns about Turkish heroin entering the American market. Turkey was not given an individual quota for the US market, but it was decided that, together with India, it could supply 80% of the US needs for opiate raw materials. ‘The ICOS report suggests a similar system should be applied to Afghanistan.
So what is the up-to-date situation.
For this we turn to a Nov 2011 piece on The European Strategist website, entitled ‘Drug Trafficking and Countermeasures in Turkey: A General Assessment’ by Arda Bilgen.
‘Given its excellent strategic location between Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, Turkey acts as a transit route for opium and its derivates originating from Afghanistan en route to Western Europe, for methamphetamine from Iran for markets in the Far East, for captagon tablets originating in Eastern Europe en route to countries in the Middle East, and cannabis from Lebanon, Albania, and Afghanistan. As an outcome of this high rate of drug trafficking, approximately 75% of heroin seized in Europe has a Turkish and Kurdish connection; having either transited through Turkey, been processed there, or been seized in connection with Turkish criminal syndicates. According to more recent sources, the percentage is even higher; Robins indicates that 90% of the heroin trade is controlled by Turkish and Kurdish gangs. This trend is no different within the country. Many major traffickers based in Turkey are ethnic Kurds and many of the same individuals and families have been involved in smuggling contraband for years.’