One of the victims, Sakine Cansiz, helped found the PKK in 1978. Initially a guerrilla, she spent 12 years in a Turkish jail where she alleged she was tortured along with other political prisoners. Dispatched to Paris by the PKK’s acting leader Murat Karayılan, she was in charge of the group’s civil affairs in Europe. She was killed alongside Fidan Doğan, the Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress, and a young activist, Leyla Soylemez.
Despite widespread protests calling the Turkish intelligence service MIT to account, the French authorities said it was unclear who was behind the attacks. They proposed two theories: one, that the assassination was arranged by a political party opposing Kurdish Independence or two, that it was the outcome of internal feuding between different factions of the PKK.
Tahsin Burcuoğlu, the Turkish ambassador to Paris released a statement claiming the evidence suggested an ‘inside job’: he alleged the building was secured by a coded lock meaning the perpetrator would have had to have been let in by the victims. This has prompted suspicions that the victims knew their killer.
De-facto PKK leader Murat Karayılan has long refuted accusations his group’s $140 million annual military budget is bolstered by Syria’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad. His position has been considerably weakened by leftist factions of the PKK since he assumed leadership, and he is reported to have had problems with one of his guerrilla commanders, the Syrian Bahoz Erdal, in particular. The Turkish authorities suspect the latter to be the leader of the Kurdistan freedom Falcon’s, a terrorist group that splintered off from the PKK after becoming dissatisfied with its tactics. Furthermore, the Turkish news outlet Today’s Zaman reported in July that a senior PKK commander acting under the name “Bahoz Erdal and his team” are controlling the activities of the PYD who have been left by Assad to rule Syrian Kurdistan.
This raises a number of questions. Given the cooperation of PKK leaders with Ankara, an assassination on the part of the Turkish authorities would seem to be if not unlikely, self-defeating, especially since the talks were well received by the public. It seems more probable that the murder was organised by parties hoping to derail the peace talks in which Karayilan has been cooperating; that the target Sakine Cansiz was a close ally of his suggests the perpetrator to have been from a faction dissatisfied by Karayilan’s leadership specifically. If links between Erdal, the Kurdistan freedom Falcons and the Syrian PYD are proved, along with evidence of the door being opened from the inside, accusations that internal fighting in the PKK emanating from Syria is responsible for the death of the three women in Paris could be strengthened.
That said, as it stands no one can say for certain who is responsible. Despite the recent rapprochement between the government and PKK, Prime Minister Erdogan has taken a hard line against the dissidents over the past year, (imprisoning many on flimsy charges for example), prompting fears of human rights abuses. It is, however, the first assassination of such a high profile to be seen outside Turkey’s borders, and, as the BBC has reported, a tacit agreement was made between both parties that high-profile attacks would not be made against either. The only other possible case scenario is that this was an assassination orchestrated by the Turkish secret services to make the PKK’s foundations look weak. Regardless, the result has led to public empathy and popular support for the banned party for now.