28 January 2013.
People packed the streets of Diyarbakir 17 January to express their grief and anger at the murder of three Kurdish women activists, Sakine Cansiz, 55, one of the founders of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Fidan Dogan, 32, and Leyla Saylemez, 25. Whoever may turn out to be behind this horrendous crime, many ordinary Kurds made it clear that they feel they were the target of these murders.
Accompanying the coffins as they were slowly driven through this Kurdish city in south-eastern Turkey, an enormous crowd of people chanted, "We are all Sakine!" On 10 January, within hours of the announcement of the killings, thousands of Kurdish immigrants had filled the Paris street where the assassinations took place. There were similar outpourings in several German cities and elsewhere in Europe.
The three were found shot in the Kurdish Information Centre in the northern part of the French capital where many immigrants live. After visiting the scene, France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that the killings were "without doubt an execution". (The New York Times, 10 January)
Cansiz is widely believed to have been the main intended victim. She was arrested after the military coup in 1980 and spend 11 years in a notorious hell hole for Kurdish political prisoners in Diyarbakir. She was said to have remained defiant under severe torture that scarred her for life. After her release in 1991 she joined Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of PKK, in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, then under Syrian control. The German news site Der Speigel wrote, "When Ocalan left Syria under massive Turkish pressure in the late 1990s, unsuccessfully seeking asylum in Europe, Cansiz was always by his side until his last arrest in Kenya in 1999, PKK experts say." (11 January 2013)
There has been much speculation about who killed the three and why, but little publicly-known evidence. The Turkish government and media rushed to blame the murders on what they called factional conflict in the PKK regarding the peace talks between the Turkish government and Ocalan. On 28 December Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had revealed that "his government had renewed talks with PKK leader Ocalan, who is currently in solitary confinement on the island of Imrali, in the Sea of Marmara. Shortly thereafter, one of Erdogan's advisors disclosed that the head of Turkey's MIT intelligence agency, Hakan Fidan, had spent 23-24 December on the island to meet with the prisoner." (Der Speigel, 11 January)
Within hours of the murders, Erdogan announced almost immediately that he believed that the killings "bore the signs of an internal feud." (The International Herald Tribune, 12 January). A number of people claiming to be well informed nevertheless contradicted each other in their statements about Cansiz's position on the peace talks and whether or not such a split exists.
Another theory adopted by commentators was that the assassinations were designed to sabotage the negotiation process. Some said that the killer or killers were sent by high level "deep state" figures from the military and elsewhere in the power structure opposed to the talks, and/or the Grey Wolves, a shadowy reactionary organization that has attacked and killed Turkish radicals and other regime opponents with impunity in the past. Others put the blame on Iran, Syria or another country that might feel that the negotiations threaten its interests.
A further possibility that has been suggested is that the three were killed by the Erdogan-led state, not because of any splits in the Turkish ruling class, and not out of opposition to the negotiations, but to weaken the PKK and set the terms for a cruel bargain.
The France police investigating the case have not ruled out any possibility. Recently they announced the arrest of two young Kurds living in Paris, one of whom, they say, was a chauffeur for the three women.
There has been little denial of the need for these negotiations from among the factions that make up the Turkish state, whether Islamist or non-Islamist, or military or non-military. There seems to be agreement that under present international and national circumstances, such negotiations are in the interests of the Turkish ruling class.
This does not mean, however, that they intended to put an end to the oppression of the Kurds in Turkey. Given that the Turkish state and its ruling class have always denied that the Kurds are a distinct nationality, and that they have always used extreme brutality to put down Kurdish demands for the right to use their language and other forms of national self-expression, as well as for the right to political self-determination, it is hard to believe that all this has changed overnight.
Reports have indicated that there have been negotiations between the Turkish security services and Ocalan on and off since his arrest in 1999. It seems that for the Turkish state, these negotiations seek the same goals as the state's military attacks on the PKK: to force the PKK to stop their armed struggle, give up their weapons and, in a word, surrender.
Further, even before Ocalan's arrest the PKK sought to be allowed some sort of political power-sharing arrangement under the present Turkish state. They have negotiated not only with the Turkish state but also various imperialist powers, trying to assure them of PKK's willingness to cooperate and play by the rules of the imperialist world. This was accentuated after Ocalan's arrest and even more when the U.S. occupation of Iraq led to Kurdish autonomy there under American supervision. In a statement after the three women were murdered, French President François Hollande mentioned to TV reporters that he knew one of them personally. Although he provided no details, it would not be surprising if this meant that there were high level contacts between the PKK and the French authorities.
In the last couple of decades the PKK has reorganized itself and its armed struggles in accordance with these political objectives. First, it has used its armed struggle mainly as a mechanism to force the Turkish government into negotiations and also to boost its position at the bargaining table. Secondly, it has focused the work of a very large number of its members and supporters on taking part in parliamentary and municipal elections. The Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) now runs almost 100 municipalities. The BDK is often called the PKK's political wing.
Yet, despite these goals, the prospects for the PKK's achievement of a power-sharing have gone up and done according to international and national developments.
In another words, what Turkish state has meant by negotiations is the one-sided demand that the PKK disarm and the surrender its forces. What the PKK has meant by negotiations, especially recently, has been replacing "their demand for independence with the more practical goals of autonomy, native-language instruction in public schools, and an end to repression of Kurdish activism. They also want PKK fighters to be able to return home from their mountain bases in northern Iraq and to freely engage in democratic politics." (IHT, 15 January)
The international situation has also powerfully effected both sides. It may be that the situation in Syria is an important factor at this time. The Turkish ruling classes are seriously worried by the unpredictability of events and the fact that Kurds and especially PKK have taken local political power in some Kurdish regions of Syria. The idea of an independent Kurdish state on a long stretch of Turkey's borders, including not only northern Iraq but also part of Syria, is a nightmare for them. All this has added to their fears of instability within Turkey and pushed them to seek to "solve" or neutralize the "PKK problem" as quickly as possible.
The prospect of Turkey being able to play a new and bigger role in the Middle East while continuing as a partner of the U.S. and other Western imperialists has also pushed the Turkish state in that direction.
But the Turkish state wants to solve this problem on its own terms. They want to disarm PKK and make them surrender in exchange for nothing or as little as possible.
After all these negotiations, Erdogan made it clear that what is on the table is very limited. As he put it "neither general amnesty nor house arrest were under consideration for Ocalan." So far all that has been offered the PKK in exchange has been a few kind words for its leader. For instance, "Bülent Arinc, the Vice-Prime Minister, says that Ocalan had been a good Muslim in his youth. And MIT head Fidan says approvingly that 'among Kurds he is a cult figure.'" (Der Speigel, 11 January)
It has become increasingly evident that the Turkish government is using carrot-and-stick tactics. In these talks Turkey seeks the same goals as it does with its military operations against PKK.
In fact, the Turkish state has continued its military campaigns against PKK forces in south-east Turkey and northern Iraq. It has continued to harass the Kurdish people and even the BDP members and leaders. More than 8,000 Kurdish activists have been arrested over the last four years, including mayors, journalists, lawyers and other Kurdish intellectuals.
What is on the table, in terms of the Kurdish people's rights, is just as limited as what is being offered PKK. "The constitutional provisions… restrict the use of the Kurdish language in schools [and] punish criticism of the Turkish state." And the Erdogan regime has no intention of changing this. In a recent interview, he said that "there was no need to instruct Kurdish students in their native tongue, because they can already study the language as an elective." (IHT, 15 January)
Under such circumstances it is conceivable that the Turkish state did not see these negotiations as a reason not to hit harder with their stick. Whatever the truth may be about these murders, Erdogan and the state he leads have not laid down their arms and sworn off violence.
On the day of the funerals of the three women, as they were carried in their coffins draped with the red, green and yellow Kurdish flag, overhead were Turkish military aircraft flying to bomb PKK bases and fighters in Qandil, Iraq.