A portait of late PKK activist Sakine Cansiz is seen at the
Kurdish cultural centre in Paris, after three Kurdish women
were found shot dead. Photo by Reuters
A female founding member of the Kurdish PKK rebel group
and two other female activists were shot dead in Paris
overnight in execution-style killings that cast a shadow over
peace moves between Ankara and the guerrillas.
The bodies of Sakine Cansiz, who promoted the role of women
in the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) group, and the two
other women were found soon after midnight on Thursday (local
time) in an institute in central Paris with close links to
They appeared to have been shot in the head, a French police
source said. Kurdish media said one woman was also shot in
the stomach. Workers had broken in to the room in the
Information Centre of Kurdistan after seeing blood stains at
Cansiz had been a prominent figure in the PKK before falling
out with the group's factionalised leadership. A 1995
photograph shows her standing next to militant leader
Abdullah Ocalan, wearing olive battle fatigues and clutching
an assault rifle.
It was not immediately clear who had carried out the
killings; but the PKK has seen intermittent internal feuding
during an armed campaign in the mountainous Turkish southeast
that has killed some 40,000 since 1984.
Turkish nationalist militants have in the past also been
accused of 'extra-judicial killings' of Kurdish activists but
such incidents have been confined to Turkey.
Among the crowd gathered behind police lines at the Paris
institute were onlookers chanting slogans and waving yellow
flags bearing Ocalan's likeness.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said it was too early
to apportion blame.
"This may be an internal reckoning. Aside from this, we are
engaged in a struggle against terrorism ... but there are
people who don't want this. This could be a provocative
undertaking by these people," he said during a visit to
The killings came shortly after Turkey announced it had
re-opened talks with Ocalan, the PKK leader jailed on the
prison island of Imrali, near Istanbul. The talks to end the
conflict would almost certainly raise tensions within the
movement over demands and terms of any ceasefire.
"Rest assured that French authorities are determined to get
to the bottom of these unbearable acts," French Interior
Minister Manuel Valls said at the scene, adding the killings
were "surely an execution".
France is home to a large number of Kurds, many of them
having emigrated in the 1960s and 1970s, but there is also a
number of Kurdish pro-PKK exiles such as Cansiz. Other
Kurdish activists have settled in Germany and Sweden.
Any Turkish government contacts with the PKK, deemed a
terrorist group by Ankara, Washington and the EU, are highly
controversial in the Turkish political establishment.
Last summer, the months preceding the move to talks, saw some
of the worst bloodshed of the three-decades-old conflict.
Television footage of soldiers' coffins returning home draped
in the red Turkish flag inflamed nationalist tensions.
Valls identified one of the victims as the head of the centre
and said homicide and anti-terrorism units had been assigned
to investigate the murders. A police source confirmed their
nationality as Turkish.
The two other victims were named as Fidan Dogan, 28, and
Leyla Soylemez, 25.
"This is a political crime, there is no doubt about it,"
Remzi Kartal, a leader of the Kurdistan National Congress, an
umbrella group of Kurdish organisations in Europe, told
"Ocalan and the Turkish government have started a peace
process, they want to engage in dialogue, but there are
parties that are against resolving the Kurdish question and
want to sabotage the peace process," he said.
The Kurdish question has taken on a particular urgency with
the rise of Kurdish groups in neighbouring northern Iraq,
where they control an autonomous zone, and in Syria. Turkey
fears that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could encourage
Kurds to feed militancy in Turkey.
Many Turks fear such autonomy the PKK is seeking could stoke
demands for an independent Kurdish homeland, in Turkey and
beyond Turkish frontiers, and undermine Turkey.
The Firat news agency, which is close to the group, said
another victim was the Paris representative of the
Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress. It said the
murder weapon was believed to have been fitted with a
"A couple of colleagues saw blood stains at the door. When
they broke the door open and entered they saw the three women
had been executed," French Kurdish Associations Federation
Chairman Mehmet Ulker was reported as saying by Firat.
Female militants have played a significant role in the PKK's
insurgency, partly reflecting a principle of equality within
the group's Marxist ideology. In some cases, desire to avenge
the killing of other family members was the motivation for
joining, for others it was a way out of family repression,
The government and PKK have agreed a framework for a peace
plan, according to Turkish media reports, in talks which
would have been unthinkable in Turkey only a few years ago.
Ocalan is widely reviled by Turks who hold him responsible
for a conflict that burns at the heart of the nation.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has introduced some
reforms allowing Kurdish broadcasting and some concessions on
language; but activists are demanding more freedom in
education and administration.
Turkish broadcasters reported police as saying the women
retained links to the PKK and may have been victims of an
Several members of the Kurdish community in Paris said that
Cansiz, who was in her fifties, was an emblematic figure who
had been imprisoned in Turkey before obtaining asylum in
"She was in charge of communicating information on events in
Turkey, she would denounce arbitrary arrests, unsolved
murders" of Kurds in Turkey, said a member of the Arts and
Culture Academy of Kurdistan who asked not to be identified.
Turkish political analyst Emre Uslu, who previously worked in
Turkey's counter-terrorism police unit, said in a blog that
the killing of Cansiz could point to a split within the PKK.
He said Cansiz was a leading member of a faction within the
PKK that had in the past opposed Ocalan's moves towards
"This group ... could at any moment sabotage the peace talks
which will be held with the PKK," Uslu said. "For Turkey to
sit down with the PKK before its internal problems are solved
is considerably problematic."
Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP) opposition
party, two of whose members were allowed to pay a rare visit
last week to Ocalan on the island in the Marmara Sea where he
has been jailed for the last 14 years, condemned the
"We call on our people to hold protest meetings wherever they
are to condemn this massacre and stand up for the Kurdish
people's martyrs," the party's leaders said in a statement.