Is Turkey sending weapons to Syria under guise of aid?

The controversy over a truck carrying weapons that was stopped on its way to Syria goes beyond the question of whether or not Turkey is supplying arms to the Syrian opposition under the guise of humanitarian aid.

al-monitor A truck allegedly carrying weapons from Turkey to Syria was stopped Jan 1 in Kirikhan and then let go. Here, on Sept. 12, 2013, a truck drives past a fuel station near Kirikhan. Reuters reported in September that beaten-up cars and trucks weighed down with fuel cans ferry diesel smuggled into Turkey from Syria nightly, providing money for Syrian rebels.  Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

Topics covered

turkish foreign policy, turkey-syrian border, turkey, syrian rebels, syrian opposition, syria civil war, syria, smuggling operations, smuggling

Jan 5, 2014

A truck was stopped in Hatay’s district of Kirikhan on Jan. 1 while allegedly carrying weapons to Syria. The security forces were reportedly not allowed to search the vehicle, despite the demand of the local prosecutor. The controversy is significant in several ways.

First, it has rekindled the debate over allegations that Turkey is supplying weapons to regime opponents in Syria.

The second aspect that needs discussion is the conflict over the attempted search of the truck, which, after passing through myriad administrative corridors, has stretched all the way to Ankara.

I use the word “conflict” knowingly. The information circulating behind the scenes in Ankara paints an alleged case of “exceeding legal authority” with the prosecutor at its center.

Here are several points brought up behind the scenes in Ankara:

1. When the truck was stopped, initial reports in social media claimed that the vehicle belonged to the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and contained ammunition. In several hours, however, it became clear that the truck had nothing to do with the IHH. Sources in Ankara underline this point in particular: the truck had nothing to do whatsoever either with the IHH or any other non-governmental group.

2. The truck was on its way to Syrian Turkmen. Shortly after we obtained this information, Interior Minister Efkan Ala officially revealed it to the public following his oath-taking ceremony in parliament.

3. The truck’s cargo is described only as “aid” in Ankara. No details are given about its content. For instance, it is not qualified with terms such as “humanitarian aid” or “food aid.”

4. The official reports of Hatay Gov. Celalettin Lekesiz and the prosecution revealed that members of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) were in the truck. The document signed by Lekesiz included the following paragraph: “Since the functionaries in question are subject to Law Number 2937, under which the personnel have a special status and work in direct subordination to the prime minister’s office, their undue detention would result in criminal consequences. Therefore, I ask that the individuals in question be released after identification.” This paragraph indicates that the administration based its insistence on not allowing the search of the truck on the MIT Law.

5. Some striking assessments are made in Ankara about the interception of the truck, the search attempt, the vehicle’s brief detention and the prevention of the search only with a governor’s order. It is said that the prosecutor “exceeded his authority” from the very beginning and insisted on searching the truck despite clear legal provisions [that bar him from doing that]. The assessment is based on a provision that was added to the MIT Law [in 2012]. As it is well known, the MIT Law was amended with lightning speed after Feb. 7, 2012, when prosecutors in Istanbul moved against MIT chief Hakan Fidan and other prominent figures involved in the [Kurdish] settlement process. To fend off the arrest warrant issued for Fidan, a provision was incorporated into the MIT Law stipulating that MIT members as well as other personnel given assignments by the prime minister can be investigated only with the prime minister’s permission. Hence, the prosecutors — who had already turned up at MIT’s doors for a search — could be stopped only through a legal amendment. In its assessments of the truck incident, Ankara refers also to that earlier process. Let’s point out that the issue is being taken up also in the context of “not bowing down to [attempts at] usurping MIT’s legal rights.”

6. Did the truck continue on its way after all this controversy? Initial reports suggested that the truck did not go to Syria and instead returned to Reyhanli. Opposition lawmakers also made similar suggestions. But the sources I spoke with yesterday [Jan. 2] refused to confirm reports that the truck did not cross the border and never reached Syria.

The fact that the paramilitary police in Kirikhan stopped the truck, acting on a tip that the vehicle carried ammunition, and that the prosecutor went to the scene to search the vehicle but was obstructed by an individual or individuals claiming to be MIT personnel in control of the vehicle and that MIT and the governor interfered to make sure the truck was released without a search will be the subject of lengthy debates in the coming days.

Yet the details of the incident indicate that the question of whether weapons are being transported to Syria under the guise of aid is not the only aspect that deserves discussion. It is very likely that we are faced with another case of a controversial prosecutor.

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More from  Serpil Cevikcan