Olives stolen from Afrin on the world market

This report was published by Nûçe Ciwan on 8 May, 2023

Since the occupation of Afrin in March 2018, the Turkish state has established a regime of looting and exploitation. Olive and olive products were the main source of income in the region before the invasion. With the Turkish invasion, Afrin’s olive groves have been plundered and have become a source of funding for militiamen from the Turkish-established mercenary “Syrian National Army” (SNA). The SNA militias loot the region’s olive production and bring it to the world market via Turkey. The pirated goods range from “organic products” such as the so-called Aleppo soap from Afrin in health food stores and drugstores, to olive oil in German supermarkets. While the resellers do not respond to press inquiries on the issue, the German government admitted that there are no hurdles for the official import of olive products looted from Afrin. Aleppo soaps are joined in Europe by new products from the occupied territories, most of which are sold in Arab-, Turkish- or Kurdish-owned supermarkets. On many of the products, the place of production is directly named as “Afrin”, countless other looted products from the formerly self-governing canton go on sale under other labels.

The wealth of Rojava in the eyes of the colonialists and occupiers

Before the war began, Rojava had represented the breadbasket of all of Syria and was exploited by the Baath regime in a colonial manner. While the regions in Cizîrê served wheat monoculture, mainly olives were cultivated in Afrin, as well as fruit for the Syrian market. Before the war that began in 2011, Rojava had supplied 40 percent of agricultural production in general and 60 percent of cereal production in Syria. Today’s autonomous region of northern and eastern Syria has 80 percent of the country’s oil reserves. The colonial relationship is exemplified by the wheat monoculture imposed by the regime. For example, the wheat produced in Cizîrê was not processed in the region, but in the Syrian metropolises, only to be reimported to Rojava, sometimes more expensively, as flour. Therefore, despite the vast quantities of grain, the lack of grain mills posed a serious problem for Rojava after the revolution. However, not only the regime laid claim to the exploitation of the wealth, but also the neighboring states, first and foremost Turkey, which is trying to claim all of northern Syria for itself on a line drawn roughly at the level of Aleppo.

Thus, it was Turkey that first invaded Syria with the aim of occupying it. To this end, Ankara initially supported groups such as ISIS, al-Nusra and other jihadist militias and then intervened in the war itself after their military defeat. Afrin was bombed by over 70 warplanes in early 2018, only to be occupied and looted by the Turkish army and a conglomerate of far-right and jihadist mercenaries. Since then, the Kurdish population has been systematically displaced and those who remain are exploited through robbery, protection and ransom extortion.

Robbery worth hundreds of millions of euros

There were at least 18 million olive trees in Afrin before the invasion. In addition, the region’s olives are used to produce the world-famous “Aleppo soap.” For centuries, Afrin’s olive oil has been considered the “yellow gold.” Ankara and its mercenary troops share the revenues, while the families who remained in the region after the invasion can keep only a fraction of the proceeds for themselves. The value of the looted “booty” was put at about 90 million euros. This included the cannibalization of soap production facilities and the extortion of ransoms through countless kidnappings. The actual amount is therefore likely to be much higher.

According to economists, olive oil production in 2018 in Afrin was around 50,000 tons and was estimated to be worth 130 million euros. The French magazine Le Point published a research report on the subject in January 2019, stating that 20,000 tons of olive oil from Afrin worth 60 million euros had been sold in Turkey.

Entire factories put at the service of the occupation regime

In November 2018, ANF published documents showing that the Turkish state and its mercenaries had concluded an agreement on the looting. This protocol promised the mercenary groups the revenues from olive oil production in 2018 and 2019. Thus, $22 million in revenue was to be generated for the mercenaries from the sale of olives to Spain alone. Thus, the exploitation gained its international level, which is still prevalent today. The looted factories in the city were put at the service of the occupation regime. A June 28, 2021, ANF report noted that the owners of 50 of the city’s 100 olive oil factories remaining in Afrin fled to Shehba and Aleppo. Their factories were confiscated.

Necib Şêxo, who owned one of the olive factories and formed an interest group with other displaced olive oil producers, told ANF in June 2021, “They put pressure on the population and force them to sell the olive oil produced in Afrin at a very low price. It is collected at the Nûri Arap factory in Jindires. From there, it crosses the border into Turkey through the opposite crossing in the village of Hamam in the Turkish province of Hatay.”

Germany is cornerstone in distribution of looted products

Today, olive oil stolen from Afrin is sold in almost all European countries and in the United States and Canada.  Germany is one of the main pillars of the looting and thus the financing of mercenary groups of the SNA. This is not by chance, because Germany is also the most vehement supporter of Turkish fascism.

Looted olive oil is distributed from Magdeburg

Germany is the hub for the distribution of oil via the Internet, virtual media and markets. Thus, “Zêr Afrin” (gold from Afrin) is openly offered in Germany. The olive oil is collected and distributed from a large depot in Magdeburg. The products looted from the occupied Kurdish region are first brought to Turkey and transported to Europe by the Turkish Standards Institute (TSE). “Syria” is stated as the country of origin of the products. The company, located at Liebknechtstraße 99 in Magdeburg, did not respond to inquiries.

The Wuppertal-based company Salet Al Ghouta also sells olive oil stolen from Afrin. Here it is sold under the name “Jibal Afrin” as “olive oil from the mountains of Afrin” for 15.28 euros in two-liter canisters.

Robbery through official channels

The olive products are brought to Europe on trucks and ships. They appear to pass through customs through official channels.

The answer of the German government to corresponding inquiries to the Ministry of Agriculture confirms this. The answer says that companies from third countries exporting to the EU do not need a permit to import non-animal food products. Customs and state authorities alone make “assessments” in individual cases. Statistically, the imports are not recorded.

Similar inquiries to the French and Belgian authorities were not even answered. None of the companies selling olive oil responded to corresponding press inquiries either.

Sales in Canada, Denmark and France

The “Jibal Afrin” brand products looted from Afrin are also sold in Canada. Syria is stated as the country of origin. The products bear the seal of the Turkish standards authority TSE and the label states a company called “Mir Paketleme İTH. İHR. VE TİC. LTD. ŞTİ.” This group is based in Hatay, a Turkish border province with occupied Afrin. On the website of “Jibal Afrin,” olive oil looted from Afrin is offered for $13 per liter. Nine kilos of “organic, green soap” are said to cost $75.

In France, olive oil stolen from Afrin is sold under the name Yaman on a website called Mira. “Syria” is given as the place of production of the oil. The description speaks of “first-class natural olive oil of the Yaman brand (Afrin-Aleppo),” where 13.50 euros for three liters, 22.50 euros for five liters and 81 euros for 18 liters of olive oil are demanded.

Another company is “Jobri Food“, which operates in Denmark with headquarters in Viborg. This company sells “Afrin products” and also has a German network. The products are packaged and tested in Turkey. From the presentation of the company, it appears that it has representatives throughout the European Union and its owner is from Afrin. Jobri Food presents itself as one of the leading companies in the EU. A note states, “We are proud to offer food of the highest quality from well-known Afrin crops.”

All olive oils produced in Turkey are suspect

Similarly, olive oil products looted from Afrin have been found in the U.S. and many other countries in Europe. There are a large number of Internet users who advertise the purchase of such products on digital networks. Many products that do not bear the name “Afrin” also come from looting. This makes it difficult to determine the true extent of the export of looted goods. All olive-based products manufactured in Turkey or approved there should be considered suspect in this light.

EU states aiding and abetting terror financing

The failure of European states to take action against this makes them accomplices to the crimes in Afrin and helpers in terror financing. This is because the products stolen from Afrin finance both an oppressive regime and groups that commit the most serious war crimes, including members of the so-called ISIS, al-Nusra, and far-right and jihadist SNA militias such as Ahrar al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sharqiya, which was most recently placed on the U.S. sanctions list. Thus, the sale of these products may constitute both a war crime and a crime under national law.

Europe does nothing

Following a decision by the EU Court of Justice, EU states are obliged to label products from occupied Palestinian territories as such. This regulation aims to inform consumers correctly about the origin of the products. Since the same practice does not apply to products looted from Afrin, it is not difficult to imagine that many consumers are unwittingly supporting looting and occupation.

Lawyer Malterre: The crime can be charged

Jean-Louis Malterre, a lawyer with the Paris Bar Association, states that the looting and marketing of Afrin products violates the international law of war. He says, “It violates the conventions that regulate military actions; this is looting.” Malterre recalls the LafargeHolcim case. The multinational cement company had continued to operate its Çelebiyê site in southeastern Kobanê until 2014, paying money to third parties on the ground to negotiate deals with Islamist groups to keep production going. Thirteen million euros in baksheesh reportedly flowed between 2011 and 2013 alone. The bribes continued even when ISIS overran parts of Syria in June 2014 and proclaimed the establishment of a caliphate.

Against this background, LafargeHolcim is accused of “complicity in crimes against humanity” for its activities in Rojava. According to lawyer Jean-Louis Malterre, the sale of the looted olive products could have similar consequences.

Malterre explains that the products brought into the EU from Afrin are also “products of looting and theft,” adding that “those who directly participate in the looting and those who profit from the looting can be prosecuted.” To get the process rolling, however, he said, criminal charges must be filed by those involved.”