Unknown gunmen attacked an office of the Kurdistan Information Center in Paris on Jan. 9, killing three women: Sakine Cansız, a legendary founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); Fidan Doğan, Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress (KNK); and Leyla Söylemez, also of the KNK. Outraged Kurds poured into the street in Paris, blaming Turkey in the attack. Turkish officials meanwhile said the killings were probably a dispute among Kurds, perhaps intended to derail new peace talks between the government and the PKK’s imprisoned leader, or to settle a score. (NYT, Hurriyet Daily News, Jan. 10)
A statement from the EU-Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC), which is working to improve the rights situation in Turkey in preparation for its entry into the European Union, issued a statement warning that “deep dark forces” bent on sabotaging the peace process were behind the attack, calling it a “coup” against the talks now taking place between the Turkish state and the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. (Kurdish Media, Jan. 10)
The talks, taking place at the top-security prison on İmralı Island off Istanbul, where Öcalan is the only inmate, wre launched with the new year. In principle, the talks are to end with disarmament of the PKK in return for increased rights for Turkey’s Kurds. (Alliance for Kurdish Rights, Jan. 10)
Cansız was present at the founding meeting of the PKK in November 1978 at a tea house in Fis, near Diyarbakir. After the military coup of September 1980, she was imprisoned along with many other PKK militants. She spent several years in Diyarbakir’s prison, where 34 inmates died of torture between 1981 and 1989, and hundreds suffered lasting injury. The treatment of political prisoners in Diyarbakir was one of the main reasons for the PKK’s radicalization and the armed struggle against the Turkish state, which escalated dramatically in 1984.
Cansiz led the Kurdish protest movement inside prison, and upon her release found her way to a PKK training camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, then under Syrian control, and joined the armed struggle. She was part of the guerilla forces based in northern Iraq under the command of Osman Öcalan, Abdullah Öcalan’s younger brother. Osman later distanced himself from the PKK, while Cansiz’s role in the organization grew. She became an outspoken advocate for women’s leadership within the PKK, and in 1992 became the organization’s representative in Europe. (The Guardian, Jan. 10)