Hacı Bişkin / DUVAR

The southeastern districts of Şırnak, Cizre, Silopi, İdil and Roboski have witnessed some of the highest increases in drug use in Turkey in recent years, resulting from a combination of unemployment, regional conflict, insufficient education, and mental health issues. 

One village in the area alone is home to 30 drug addicts, according to an addiction expert who works on the issue. 

“First of all, the main responsibility lies with the families. But unfortunately they are not sufficiently informed on this issue. Currently, we are working with 63 kids who are addicted to drugs. Not a single one of their families is properly informed on the issue, and most of them do not even ask how their kids are doing,” the expert said. 

Unemployment and violence have plagued the districts in question for years. In 2011, a total of 34 people, mostly children, were killed in an airstrike by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in Şırnak’s border village of Roboski. Following the airstrikes, Turkish authorities said that they thought those near the Iraqi border were militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), when in fact they were only smuggling goods – a widely-known means of living of the people in the area.

After a peace process between the Turkish government and the PKK collapsed in 2015, there was heavy armed conflict in the region, resulting in high numbers of casualties and much urban destruction. A primary reason for the increase in drug use in the region comes from the curfews that were imposed during this period of conflict, according to the expert. 

“A few years ago there were things that happened here that never even took place in Syria. This impacted people’s mental health. These people were thinking about their future and were sad about the people they lost. They looked for a way out,” the expert said. 

Roboski has the highest number of drug addicts per capita in the region, followed by Cizre and Silopi. However, the area lacks rehabilitation centers, with the closest facilities located at least seven hours away in the cities of Elazığ and Gaziantep. 

“Society has affected us in a major way. When we have no job and when our mental health is bad we look for a leg to stand on. But in the region we live in, there is no leg to stand on,” said one young man who was receiving treatment for drug addiction. 

One parent of a young addict who was in treatment in another city explained how much their son’s drug use affected the family. 

“Every day there was something else that was missing from the house, it was as if we were being robbed. When I was on lookout one night I saw my son taking the TV out to sell it, and my world crumbled,” the parent said. 

The Istanbul-based Clean Society Association has been fighting drug use across the country for three and a half years, according its chairman Bilal Ay. 

“I am calling on all 81 provinces and our 83 million people: If there is someone who is an addict and wants to get clean, or if there is someone who wants to raise awareness in their district and province, we are ready to support them,” Ay said.