10 Jan 2013

Kurdish PKK co-founder shot dead in Paris

Three Kurdish women reportedly including a founding member of the PKK militant group were shot dead overnight in Paris in killings that sources say was politically motivated.

The women’s bodies were found early on Thursday morning at the Information Centre of Kurdistan in the city centre.

In a visit to the scene, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls called the killings “unacceptable” and condemned what he said was a grave act.

Turkey’s Anadolu news agency identified one of the victims as Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The other women were identified as Fidan Dogan, 32, who was part of the Kurdistan National Congress in Brussels, and Leyla Soylemez, a young activist.

More than 40,000 people are thought to have died in the 28-year conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK. However Turkey recently resumed talks with the PKK and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan, with the goal of convincing the group to disarm.

Huseyin Celik, the deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling party suggested that the murders were an attempt to derail those talks.

The French interior minister said the deaths were “without doubt an execution”.

Were PKK killings an attempt to derail the peace process? Read Jonathan Rugman's blog

Some news agencies reported that all three were shot in the head, but police did not confirm the report.

A murder investigation was launched after the bodies were discovered, along with three shell casings, in a room of the centre in central Paris at about 1.30am.

The role of Syria
The shootings follow a series of attacks by the PKK last year after a decade of relative calm. Before the recent talks between the PKK and Turkish government began, last summer saw some of the worst bloodshed of the three decades-old conflict.

This is partly influenced by the ongoing turmoil in Syria, which has had a big impact on politics in Turkey, and in relations outside it. “The Turks are funding and arming the Free Syrian Army, the main guerrilla group seeking the overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government and allowing its fighters to retreat across into Turkey to rearm and regroup,” International Editor Lindsey Hilsum wrote in her blog last October.

There are around 3 million Kurds in Syria, with a population of 23 million and President Erdogan had long cultivated good relations with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. But he became a harsh critic and accused him of creating a “terrorist state”. In June, Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet, and Turkey has become one of the main destinations for refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.

Hundreds of people, mainly from the Kurdish community, gathered on the street where the centre is located holding flags with pictures of Abdullah Ocalan, the former president of the PKK who is now imprisoned.

Erup Doru, described as a Kurdish supporter, told reporters: “The woman who was killed was an historic figure who was tortured under the military dictatorship in the 1980s, who spent years in jail and who was recognised as a political refugee in France.

“The other, younger one was practically born here. She went through the French education system. She working for the recognition of her rights and her identity and the freedom of the Kurdish people.”