Turkey peace talks halted as Kurdish activists are assassinated in Paris
January 11, 2013 1 Comment
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The future of peace talks between the Turkish government and the country’s Kurdish minority appeared uncertain yesterday, after three female Kurdish activists were found murdered execution-style in downtown Paris, France. The murders marked the first-ever killings in Europe of senior members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which operates as the primary political and paramilitary agent of Turkey’s Kurdish population. According to reports from France, a gun fitted with a silencer was used to kill two of the women in the back of the neck and the third one in the stomach.
One of the dead, Leyla Sönmez, was a Kurdish activist responsible for Kurdish diplomatic relations in France. Another, Fidan Doğan, who was also a French citizen, was the Paris representative of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), which operates as Kurdistan’s government-in-exile based in Brussels, Belgium. But the most prominent victim of the triple murder is Sakine Cansiz, co-founder of the PKK, who is described as a “legend” among party activists. Cansiz who was present at PKK’s founding in 1978, was imprisoned by the Turkish government in the 1980s and given political asylum in France in 1998.
Six years after its founding, the PKK took up arms against the Turkish state, demanding autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, which some say constitutes 20 percent of the country’s 75 million citizens. The PKK is outlawed in Turkey and is officially designated a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union. However, many European countries host hundreds of thousands of Kurdish political refugees on their soil, recognizing Turkey’s abysmal human rights record when it comes to its treatment of some ethnic and religious minorities. France is home to at least 150,000 Kurds, mostly from Turkey. Many live in Paris’ 10th district, where the Kurdish institute —site of this week’s murders— is located.
Speaking to French media, the country’s Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, said the murders were “undoubtedly an execution”, but refused to speculate as to the motives of the executioner(s). There are rumors that the premises of the Kurdish institute have no close-circuit monitoring system, while and initial indications suggest that there are no signs of a break-in at the murder scene. It is important to note that, after a 30-year on-and-off war with Kurdish paramilitaries, the Turkish government recently opened secret talks with the PKK’s leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in a Turkish prison since 1999, when he was captured in a joint American-Turkish abduction operation in Kenya. Ankara is pressuring the PKK to disarm in exchange for guarantees of safeguarding Kurdish cultural identity and freeing thousands of Kurdish political activists from prison.
Some claim that far-right nationalist elements representing Turkey’s deep state carried out the Paris murders, which are allegedly aimed at derailing the peace talks. On the other hand, not all PKK factions are pleased with the peace talks; many Kurdish separatists consider any form of negotiation with the Turkish state a strategic diversion from the ultimate goal of Kurdish autonomy. Some senior Turkish officials, including Hüseyin Çelik, chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, suggested yesterday that the Paris murders were caused by internal schisms within the PKK, sparked by the peace talks.
On Thursday, soon after the grim assassinations were reported by French authorities, the Turkish government officially condemned the incident through its media spokesman Bülent Arınç, who called the murders “utternly wrong”. The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has few friends among Turkey’s military and intelligence organizations, which historically sustain the Turkish deep state, said that the murders would not derail the peace talks with the PKK. But few observers believe that the negotiations can continue unaffected by this tragic turn of events.