Many scenarios have been put forward to explain the recent murders of the three Paris-based Kurdish activists (Sakîne Cansiz - Fîdan Dogan - Leyla Soylemez), all of whom were members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, more commonly known by the initials PKK. Most of these explanations were overly hasty and unconvincing, with a few exceptions. Here I show why neither Turkish ultra-nationalist, nor a radical wing inside the PKK carried out the assassinations; but an external force that wants to derail the peace talks committed it.
The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan stated a couple hours after the incident that “it might be an internal conflict”. Mr. Erdogan’s evidence is that “the killer or killers had gotten into a building with a security door code, and had somehow managed to get into the office without breaking down the door”. In reality, there is very thin evidence to support this. According to witnesses “the building where assassination took place was not that difficult to access as claimed” says Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a journalist who traveled to Paris after the incident. “The assassination was professionally planned” he adds. It seems to be planned and done by a powerful intelligence agency. There are speculations that they opened door to killers. Killers might have followed them in.
It is true that the PKK contains various wings. It is also true that some are more radical than others. However, unlike all previous occasions, all the factions of the PKK are in agreement on the present negotiations with the Turkish government, simply because the negotiator is Abdullah Öcalan. Mr. Öcalan is the pillar that unites all the factions of the PKK and the other organizations related to it. The hunger strike that lasted more than 60 days in the fall of last year showed how powerful he is. According to a leader of the PKK who spoke with me on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the current situation, Sakîne Cansiz, the main target of the assassination, was one of the consensus-building leaders who had worked to balance relations between the PKK’s different wings. Some Turkish media outlets are claiming that Cansiz was killed because she was “pro- peace talks”, without acknowledging that all the PKK factions are presently pro- peace talks, because of the involvement of Mr. Öcalan, whom they see as their spiritual father.
For the first time, roughly all the major players in Turkish politics agreed on the necessity for negotiations between the Turkish government and the imprisoned leader of the PKK. Even the Turkish nationalists agreed that it was time to tackle the decades-long Kurdish issue: this was not because they wished to embrace the PKK, or even the current government, but simply because there are serious threats to Turkey’s unity at present; more, in fact, than at any previous time. All Turkish political factions are aware of this. The rapid developments in neighboring Syria and Iraq, especially regarding the case of the Kurds in these countries, are threatening Turkey. Furthermore, this year was very tough for the Turkish army, as hundreds of them have been killed in some of the bloodiest encounters with the PKK since 1991. Interestingly, the Turkish ultra-nationalists, who have a lavish record of assassinating Kurdish dissidents inside Turkey, have not much that record abroad -- even when they were much stronger than now. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is the main opposition party and includes as its members much of the shadowy world of the notorious Turkish "deep state", has notably welcomed the negotiations.
According to a Wikileaks cable, more than five years ago the American ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, advised the Turkish government to limit the financial resources of the PKK in Europe by arresting both Reza Altun and Sakîne Cansiz. Altun had been one of the main money collectors for the PKK in Europe and was jailed in France in July 2006, and later exiled to Iraqi Kurdistan. Cansiz, one of the three targets in the Paris incident was according to the US ambassador’s report the agent responsible for the purchase of the PKK’s weapons. She was also, according to Turkish media, one of the PKK negotiators in the Oslo talks between the Turkish intelligence agency and the PKK. She was arrested Germany on the 27th of August 2007 and held for forty days before being released by the court of Hamburg.
The main target of the Paris incident is Sakîne Cansiz; the other two were in the wrong place and in the wrong time. This scenario seems unlikely because Cansiz had supported the peace talks and disarmament of the PKK if the talks succeeded. If the Wikileaks wire proves correct, the Turkish government might have been trying to send multiple messages by ordering the hit. First, to show the PKK it’s capability to hit hard even if the negotiations were to fail. Second, to force the PKK to accept difficult concessions. Additionally, it may have had the purpose of widening the differences inside the PKK by persuading some portion of its members as well as the world at large that the Paris incident was an internal conflict over the peace talks with the Turkish government.
The most probable scenario is that an external force committed the assassinations. This scenario is the strongest amongst all scenarios for several reasons. This is the first time that both the Turkish and Kurdish sides have been seriously engaging in peace talks that might finally disentangle the Kurdish question. The only barrier that has blocked Turkey’s development has been the Kurdish issue. Solving this problem would be a big step for Turkey in terms of economy, foreign policy and joining the EU. This would automatically be a setback for Turkey’s regional rivals, especially those who have Kurdish minorities; namely Iran and Syria. Mr. Erdogan once said that terrorism has cost Turkey more than 400 billion dollars, in spite of the lost of many human resources. We can see that the region is passing through a crucial period that might witness the remapping of the political landscape. With Mr. Erdogan’s government backing the Syrian opposition, the Paris incident might be well linked with the events in the neighboring Syria. We should consider that previous week the Syrian wing of the PKK fought with the regime forces for the first time. This was a very important development as the PKK had been allied with the regime before. Iran, an important regional powerhouse, is also concerned. If the Kurds in Turkey finally find peace, the Kurds of Iran, who compromise 10% of the population, will probably be motivated to seek autonomy, especially as a growing number of them have been hanged lately. Additionally, the PKK that once was part of the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis, might distance itself from them if the peace talks in Turkey succeed. Therefore the peace talks contain multiple negative possibilities for Iran. Aside from all this, we should consider that Iran has a long and notorious history of foreign assassination, from the famous Kurdish politician Abdul Rahman Qasimlo to Sadiq Sharafkandi and Fazil Rasul, both Kurdish politicians. There can be more than one message if the culprit is Iran. First, to the PKK leaders, that nowhere will be safe or peaceful for you, even if you get an agreement with the Turkish government to disarm and reside in Europe. Second, to the Turkish government, that they are capable of poisoning any efforts to reconcile with adversaries on Turkish soil: not while the Turkish state supports the toppling of Iran’s most important ally, the Syrian regime.
Why Paris? For two reasons: because they wanted to target Sakîne Cansiz, the PKK’s most controversial leader, both the Turkish government and the PKK can be accused of murdering her, this way Iran would be distanced from the case. The second reason: because she was based in Paris because Turkey’s ties with France had been deteriorating over the French parliament’s recognition of the Armenian genocide, which Ankara denies.
Whoever is the perpetrator, it should be denounced. Those who carried this action out are dark forces who want bloodshed to continue, and don’t want a prosperous Turkey to emerge from a lasting peace.