Poverty Leading to Marijuana Farms in Kobane

24/08/2012 RUDAW – KOBANE, Syria — Amidst the civil war currently devastating Syria, parts of the liberated Kurdish areas in the north of the country are becoming hubs for marijuana farming.

The Kurdish town of Kobane, bordered by Aleppo to the west and Turkey to the north, was the first area liberated from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces last month. Since the liberation, the surrounding villages and urban population have become known for growing marijuana. The newly established Kurdish security forces (Asayish) in Kobane don’t deny that marijuana farming has become widespread, but they blame Turkish businessmen for bringing marijuana to the region and perceive it as a Turkish policy against the recently liberated Kurdish areas in Syria.

Rojin Hamid, the spokesperson of the Asayish in Kobane, told Rudaw that almost all of the villages are now growing marijuana while residents in the urban areas grow it on their balconies and rooftops. The practice helps people earn an income and survive conditions due to the civil war. Hamid said that, prior to liberation, there was no marijuana in the town because those found smoking marijuana, let alone trafficking it, were sentenced to life in prison under Assad’s rule. “Turkey is behind the business in town,” she said. “Turkish drug lords have used the economic deficiency to pour drugs into the region.”

“In the past, people did not even know what marijuana was but now they grow it themselves. We can only think of it as a Turkish policy against the liberated Kurdish areas in Syria as Turkey cannot stand the fact that Kurds are liberated and run their own affairs,” Hamid added. However, Salim Abdul Aziz, a resident in Kobane, said, “It’s not true what Kurdish parties and the Asayish have been saying, that it has only been around for the last 15 days or month.”

He added, “It is impossible for such a thing to become so common in such a short period. They should say they have only become aware of it recently, not that it spread so quickly, because I believe growing marijuana has actually been around for a very long time.”

Rudaw talked to many people on the streets of Kobane who openly said they knew of marijuana fields and dealers, but refused to make any introductions because many villagers and dealers are apparently armed. Like many Kurdish towns in Syria, Kobane had been left to its own devices by the local administration belonging to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The cracked streets, old buildings and shattered windows of the houses all bear witness to extreme poverty. Before the Syrian revolution began, the people of Kobane cultivated the land to grow cotton and olives, the main sources of income for the population. However, since the revolution entered into a full-scale civil war and economic activity in the Syrian market halted, the cotton and olive fields have turned into marijuana farms.

The people in the Kurdish city of Efrin were also known for growing marijuana during the conflict, but the Asayish there managed to enter the villages and burn all the fields.

Hamid said they cannot do the same in Kobane and have not arrested anyone yet in relation to marijuana operations because “almost everybody grows it and the villagers are armed and have no other jobs.”   Because the dealers are armed, she said, they see education as the only way to tackle the issue. The Asayish wants to “strategically” solve the problem by cutting the water to the villages and then educating the population about the dangers of dealing drugs.

“We cut the water so they think of water first instead of marijuana. It is a physiological strategy,” said Hamid. She added, “Poverty is the reason why the population is growing marijuana, so we have to educate them and find them jobs.”