After the Turkish military assault and take-over of Afrin in 2018, olives, olive oil and its byproducts which constitute the main source of income for the region have started to be treated as ‘riches’ to be ‘freely looted’ by the Turkish state and its linked militias. Tens of millions of dollars worth of merchandise have been systematically smuggled out of Afrin to be distributed and sold on the world market, Yeni Özgür Politika reports.
Afrin, globally renowned for the quality of its olives, reportedly had at least 18 million olive trees before the 2018 military assault. It must be noted that it is also Afrin olives that are used in the manufacture of trademarked “Aleppo soap.”
Analysts have estimated that the annual harvest of olives was around 50,000 tons while olive oil production was worth around 130 million dollars (110 million euros) in 2018. In an article published by Le Point in January 2019, it was stated that 20,000 tons of olive oil, worth 60 million euros, was sold to Turkey that year.
While Turkey and the gangs embedded within the Turkish army that had led the assault on Afrin started sharing this enormous wealth, the few families who chose to stay in the city were offered meagre sums of money.
Olive produce and olive oil have not been the only commodities that have been looted. Alongside agricultural machinery and soap manufacturing equipment that was dismantled and sold, as well as ransoms that were obtained for people who had been kidnapped, the initial looting by the invaders, as estimated by a number of analysts, was estimated to be of the value of over 90 million euros.
The documents made public by ANF in November 2018 reveal that a protocol was signed by the Turkish state and the armed gangs for the distribution of the loot. According to the protocol, the olive oil business was allocated to the gangs till the end of 2019.
A recent report by ANF, dated 28 June 2021, indicates that 50 of the 100 olive oil factory owners in the city were forced to move away to Aleppo and Shahba and their factories were confiscated. Necib Şêx, a producer, states that the olive oil from various factories are dumped into containers in a field in front of a factory in “occupied” Jindires (Cindirês), belonging to a certain “Arab Nuri” and transported to Turkey via the Hamam border crossing. It is reported that soap merchandise, which previously met the needs of the whole of Syria, has also been smuggled into Turkey via the same route.
The smuggled olive oil, after being certified by the Turkish Standards Institute (TSE), has reportedly then been exported from Turkey.
Bedran Çiya Kurd, the vice co-chair of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), states that at least 1,300,000 olive trees have been uprooted and smuggled into Turkey. He estimated that the annual income obtained from olives and olive oil by Turkey is worth at least 80 million dollars (around 68 million euros).
Afrin olive oil is sold all over Europe, the United States and Canada at present, and Germany has become a key centre for this enormous trade.
One of the popular labels, Zêr Afrin, has its base in Germany’s Magdeburg. Olive oil under that label is stocked in large quantities in a huge depot in the city, ready for distribution. Potential buyers can access its website to get quotes for its available products..
Wuppertal-based Salet Al Ghouta, another company operating in Germany, sells Afrin olive oil generally under the label of “Jibal Afrin,” marketing it with the motto “Olive oil from the mountains of Afrin,” at a price of 15.28 euros for 2 litres.
Canada is among the countries where “Jibal Afrin” is sold. On the package bearing the approval stamp by TSE, the country of origin is marked as “Syria,” and it is stated that the packaging was done by “Mir Paketleme Import Export and Trade Co.”
Deutsche Welle reported in February 2019 that at least 10,000 tons of Afrin olive oil could have been exported to Spain.
The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture responded to a question by Özgür Politika that there was no permission requirement regarding companies from third countries exporting food products to European Union countries as long as the related products met the standards set by certain laws.
Afrin olive oil is marketed under the label of “Yaman” on a France-based website, Mira, where it is advertised as “prime olive oil from Afrin Aleppo.”.
The journalist Maxime Azadi added that officials from France and Belgium had failed to respond to her paper’s request for information.
Another European company marketing Afrin olive oil is Viborg-based Jobri Food in Denmark, which has a network in Germany.
Azadi emphasizes that the lack of control over smuggled Afrin olive oil in Europe and the rest of the world makes officials of these countries accomplices in an operation that benefits both an “oppressive and occupying regime” as well as “gangs” and militias linked to it, even as they engage in numerous war crimes.