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Locate deep within the eastern Anatolian hinterland, Lake Van sits at the crossroads of Turkey, Armenia, Iran and Kurdish populations. The highlands of the region have made it difficult for either Tehran or Istanbul to bring local populations fully under central government control, and the region historically had a significant amount of Armenian influence as well.

Beginning in the 20th century, Kurds started moving in en masse as the Turkish government began a campaign against Armenian residents in a bid to “Turkify” Anatolia. Distrust of the local government, a high percentage of ethnic minorities, and close proximity to the borders of Iran and the Caucuses has made the Lake Van region a significant smuggling hotspot. Everything from subsidized food and fuel from Iran, Afghan heroin, Kurdish militants, weapons and individuals pass through the hard-to-patrol highlands and disappear from the view of the Turkish military.