Paris killings and the long hand of the Turkish state
Exactly who was responsible for the brutal assassination of three Kurdish leaders in Paris on 9 January is still unclear. Most observers suspect that a section of a deeply-split Turkish state was almost certainly behind the slayings.
Corinna Lotz reports | Photos of the angry reaction in Paris and mourning by the Kurdish community: Maryam Ashrāfi
The Turkish state is divided around a number of issues, including moves to end the conflict with the Kurds, who have been engaged in a long and bitter fight for self-determination.
The assassinations of Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez were clearly intended as a body blow to the Kurdish movement. Cansiz was a founder-member, with a history going back four decades. She spent long periods in prison and was close to PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) leader Abudallah Öcalan.
The murders in Paris bear a strong resemblance to the strategy of the Israeli secret intelligence Mossad, which over the years has murdered scores if not hundreds of Palestinian leaders from the Palestine Liberation Organisation and other parties, movements and groups. Targeting Cansiz, Doğan and Söylemez has an additional sinister twist – it is an attempt to intimidate the women who have taken an important part in the Kurdish movement.
Öcalan is still incarcerated on the Turkish island of Marmara after being captured in Nairobi in 1999. Until recently he was held in solitary confinement. A PKK statement in the wake of the killings said:
“All had dedicated their lives to the achievement of a lasting peace settlement between Turkey and the Kurdish movement and at the time of their brutal deaths were just about to see all their efforts come to fruition with the reopening of peace talks between representatives of the Turkish government and the leader of the Kurdish people, Abdullah Öcalan.”
Tens of thousands of Kurds in Paris protested against the murders and in the Kurdish parts of southeast Turkey many defied the government’s attempt to block participation to mourn the dead.
Murat Karayilan, president of the executive council of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), believes that far right forces known as Green Ergenekon could have masterminded the assassination. It was possible, he said, that Ergenekon’s “deep state structure” acted without the knowledge of the Turkish government.
An analysis just published by the Royal United Services Institute think tank provides more evidence for the notion of “deep state” provocations against the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islam-inspired, pro-Western AKP Justice and Development Party, which has held power since 2002.
The long-term view is also supported by secret documents obtained by Wikileaks, which related how former US ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson outlined a three-step plan to fight the PKK in Europe.
According to Benjamin Hiller, writing for the Kurdish online newspaper Rudaw, the telegram from 2007 aims to increase pressure on EU partners in combating the PKK and thus “satisfy” the strategically important Turkish secret services.
“The goal was to dry up the money transfers from Europe to North Iraq and to ‘disable’ leading PKK members in Europe through deportation to Turkey. One of the two main targets named in the document is the recently murdered Cansiz,” Hiller notes.
The Turkish state has been deeply split by the landslide elections of the Islamist AKP. At present, the AKP government is trying to pass a key constitutional amendment and is seeking the support of the Kurdish majority Peace and Democracy Party. Erdogan’s proposal, which would be subject to a referendum, would remove the concept of ethnic “Turkishness” which is clearly a red-rag to the far right nationalists, but will give the AKP more support from Kurdish voters.
The security forces – mainly led by secularists – are in disarray. Last autumn, some 250 military leaders were charged with plotting a coup and jailed. But they in turn accuse the government of politically influencing the trials through trumped up-charges. One out of five generals is now behind bars and Admiral Nusret Guner, due to command the Turkish navy, has just resigned.
Turkey’s 500,000-strong conscript army is in a raging crisis. Although the second-largest military force in NATO, it has failed to quell the self-determination movement of the Kurdish people in over 30 years of conflict in which around 40,000 people – mainly Kurds – have been killed.
Tensions in the armed forces are running high. In February a Turkish soldier shot three of his colleagues dead with an assault rifle at a base in south eastern Turkey near the border with Iraq. Military operations against the Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq have been intensified over the last weeks. At the same time, the government is facing conflict with neighbouring Syria as the civil war there spills over into Turkey.
Whilst trying to undermine the power of the military, the Turkish state is persecuting the legal profession when it tries to defend political activists. On January 18 security forces arrested 15 lawyers as well as political activists belonging to the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C).
Tony Fisher of the British Law Society’s Human Rights Commission has reported back on the ongoing trial of another 46 Kurdish lawyers and other professionals on alleged terrorist offences.
7 February 2013