DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — Turkish security forces are crediting an informant reward system for a rise in the number of arrests of Kurdish militants in the past two years.
Just recently, at the beginning of September, forces launched a security operation north of the predominately Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. One man was killed and two were wounded in Baglan village. Locals said all three were simple villagers, but a few days later, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) announced that the man who died was one of their militants.
Now let’s go back.
In May 2016, in the Lice area, 45 miles northeast of Diyarbakir, three senior leaders of the PKK — which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union — were killed. One of them was in charge of the vast area of Erzurum, Diyarbakir, Batman, Bingol and Mus provinces. In November 2016, a local area leader of Diyarbakir was killed. In the past two years, eight senior officials of the organization have been killed in the Lice area alone.
In official statements issued after the operations, phrases started popping up about the alleged terrorists such as, "He was on the blue list, which pays a reward of 1.5 million [Turkish] lira [$396,000]," or “He was on the green list, which pays a 1 million lira reward.”
This reward system for those who inform on supposed PKK members is something that just started in Turkey in the past two years, though other countries have used similar methods. The Turkish Ministry of Interior's top targets — those on the red list — include key leaders of the PKK and the Gulen movement. Rewards for red-listers range from $80,000 to $1 million. Other subjects fall on less lucrative blue, green, orange and grey lists, depending on the target's importance.
Many wonder whether this method, which looks promising on paper, is useful in real life. Al-Monitor went to Lice to find the answer. Lice, with its rough terrain, is an important PKK base; the group maintains several major camps there. Turkish security forces have been focusing on Lice for the past two years. Even highly obscure hideouts and storage areas have been discovered. A villager living there said the PKK losses have to be attributed to the reward system.
Speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, the villager said, “If the tips and information given turn out to be accurate, [informants] are paid good money. Some say the recent blows against the PKK were because of technological superiority, but this is only up to a point. The real cause of PKK losses are these tips from the people.”
Police sources tend to confirm what the villager said. Police said that so far, some $264,000 (10 million lira) has been distributed as rewards. Many operations have been thwarted, and 69 names on the lists were killed. If the 727 others on the lists are neutralized, the reward payout total will reach some $134 million (510 million lira).
Civilians aren't the only ones benefiting; paramilitary village guards are also entitled to rewards. Ziya Sozen, president of Anatolian Village Guards and Families of Martyrs, which has 120,000 members, believes the rewards have been effective — but he mainly credits an attitude adjustment among civilians.
“We see the elimination of militants from different-colored lists. But you should not think that monetary rewards are the only motivation. There have been serious changes in people’s consideration of terror organizations after the incidents at Sur, Cizre and Nusaybin. Citizens [also] realized that after the July  abortive coup, the PKK and the Gulenists were colluding with some Turkish army generals,” Sozen told Al-Monitor.
“People resented this as a move to use them as pawns, and their perception of terror operations changed," he added. "People resent the economic and structural damages inflicted on the area by the PKK struggle. Village guards are paid rewards because they are local residents. Army and police do not benefit. True, there has been a significant increase in informing about the PKK, but don’t think this is because of the rewards. People’s thinking about the organization is changing."
But there is some criticism of the new system. Esra Ozdemir, an assistant professor of sociology at Firat University, said this practice could cause problems in the future. She said modern states are extremely careful in collecting information about crimes and criminals. To rely on tips from the street in return for rewards is risky. For the state to share its responsibility with civilians is an extremely sensitive matter, as anyone accused of terrorism may well be subject to judicial bias.
Actually, various rewards used to be paid to informers in earlier years, but the system now is based on a legal framework. The main fear is that criminals will target the informants, and there are already unverified rumors that some of those killed have been informants.