Three Kurdish female activists shot dead in Paris
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Three Kurdish female activists were found shot dead early Thursday inside a Kurdish institute in the heart of Paris. The victims included one of the founders of outlawed militant group the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
Three Kurdish female activists -- including one of the founders of outlawed militant group the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) -- were found dead with gunshot wounds to the head inside a Kurdish institute in Paris early Thursday, in what France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls has called a “political assassination”.
The bodies of the women were found shortly before 2am local time at a Kurdish information centre, located in the popular tenth district of the French capital near the bustling Gare du Nord train station.
"Three people, three women have been shot down, killed, without doubt executed. This is a very serious incident, which is why I am here. It is completely unacceptable," Valls told reporters outside the building, while declining to speculate about a motive for the triple murders.
French President François Hollande denounced the “horrible” attack as anti-terror police launched an investigation. No group has claimed responsibility for the killings.
One of the victims was Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the PKK, according to the Federation of Kurdish Associations in France (FEYKA), which claims to represent about 150,000 Kurdish exiles in France.
A terrorist group
The PKK has been fighting a bitter guerrilla struggle against Turkish authorities for almost three decades and is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the US among other countries. But the organisation enjoys widespread sympathy among Kurds living inside and outside Turkey.
The other two women have been identified as 32-year-old Fidan Dogan, who worked in the Kurdish institute's information centre, according to the institute’s director, Leon Edart. Dogan was also the Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress.
The third woman, Leyla Soylemez, was described as a "young activist" by FEYKA.
The three were last seen midday on Wednesday at the centre, which was found locked by late afternoon, according to Edart.
In an interview with a Kurdish news website in France, FEYKA chairman Mehmet Ulker said the bodies of three women were found around 1am by their friends, who were worried after numerous phone calls went unanswered. "When they saw traces of blood on the door, they broke down the door and found the bodies of three women assassinated," said Ulker.
‘We are all PKK, we are all Ocalan’
News of the triple murders was greeted with shock and anger by the Kurdish community in Paris.
Reporting from outside the Kurdish institute, FRANCE 24’s Guillaume Guguen said a crowd of around 200 demonstrators gathered outside the building shortly after the news broke. “Some of the demonstrators are carrying pictures of [jailed PKK leader] Abdullah Ocalan and shouting slogans such as, ‘We are all PKK, we are all Ocalan’,” Guguen said.
The attack comes as Turkish authorities recently acknowledged that they were holding talks with Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Armel Taverdin, a lawyer for one of the three victims, said the attack was likely prompted by the peace talks.
“This triple murder was fomented by the forces opposed to a solution to Kurdistan,” he said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was "too soon to comment", but noted that the incident could be the result of either an “internal feud” or else a "provocation" timed to coincide with talks with Ocalan.
Ali Kazancigil, a Turkish political analyst based in Paris, agrees that the assassinations are likely linked to the peace talks and says they could have been perpetrated by either Turkish interests or the PKK.
There are elements on both sides, Kazancigil said, who “have an interest in the continuation of the war and who are not happy with peace talks”.
Kendal Nezan, president of the Kurdish Institute of Paris, an academic and cultural centre, told FRANCE 24 that hardline members of the Turkish security apparatus as well as hawks inside the PKK were unhappy with the prospect of peace because they continue to "profit from the war".
Spate of Kurdish arrests in France
Taverdin added that the French police had plenty of evidence to work on in the case since, he maintained, as at least two of the three victims had been under surveillance by the French police.
Over the past few months, French authorities have made a number of arrests of people suspected of arms trafficking and PKK ties. On October 6, 2012, Adem Uzun, a senior member of the Kurdistan National Congress, was arrested on suspicions of arms trafficking.
The Kurdistan National Congress has denied Uzun has any arms trafficking links and maintained he was in Paris to attend a conference on the situation of the Kurds in Syria.
An approximately 25-million-strong ethnic group, the Kurds hail from the mountainous region where the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran meet.
Turkey, which has a roughly 14 million strong Kurdish population, has waged a bitter 28-year insurgency against the PKK in which more than 40,000 people are estimated to have been killed.
In September, Erdogan accused France and Germany of not aiding Ankara’s fight against the PKK.
"Westerners do not want us to solve this problem, I say clearly, Germany does not want it, France does not want it and they do not help us on this issue," said Erdogan in an interview with the Turkish NTV station.
In a statement published Thursday on the Turkish English language daily, Hurriyet Daily News, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said, "This seems like an internal feud, we have seen these sorts of incidents before," said AKP spokesman Hüseyin Çelik. "There may be some people who want to derail this process, we should be extremely careful," he added.
Outside the Kurdish Institute of Paris, demonstrators were also convinced that the murders were linked to the political situation in Turkey.
“This is an act of provocation,” said Mehmet Algunerahn, a 40-year-old construction worker who arrived at the scene of the crime as soon as he heard the news. “The murders are connected to the negotiations with Ocalan. I call on the police to find those responsible for these killings.”