Kurds across Europe strongly reacted to the latest killing of three Kurdish activists in Paris, but smaller protests were staged in Iraqi Kurdistan amid heavy police presence.
Three women, all originally from southeast Turkey (or north Kurdistan as Kurds refer to it), were found dead with gunshot wounds on 10 January, inside a Kurdish cultural centre in the heart of Paris, French police said.
Reports suggest that a 100,000-strong crowd took part in a public rally in Paris on 12 January to condemn the killings and grieve for the women, with Kurds from all over Europe joining in.
At least one of the victims, Sakin Cansiz, was seen as a high profile Kurdish political figure who helped found the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) organization in the 1970s, but she was little known among Iraqi Kurds.
Most reactions from official Iraqi Kurdish political parties focused on the resultant consequences of the assassinations — seen as an attempt to derail peace talks currently under way between the Turkish government and the PKK — rather than on the actual losses.
Kurdistani Nuwe daily, the mouthpiece of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), carried the news of the slaying on page 5, on 11 January, with mere factual reporting.
Talabani’s party recently lauded its leader’s “vital” contribution to the current peace talks as he reportedly presented a proposal to Turkey last year to end the 30-year Ankara-PKK conflict.
Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani’s office released a brief condemnation statement on 11 January, describing the killing as an act of “terrorism”, while hoping that the development will not impede the peace talks.
Generally, the outlets of ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Barzani, paid little attention to the event, carrying only brief factual reports.
The KDP is perhaps the closest Iraqi Kurdish political party to the Turkish government and its recent rapprochement with Ankara has put it heavily at odds with the PKK.
In recent years, as Barzani bolstered ties with Ankara, he frequently paid tribute to Turkish soldiers killed in PKK attacks, but he was not observed to pay equal respect to PKK fighters slain in Turkish army operations.
While most would describe the turnout in the demonstrations in Iraqi Kurdistan as humble, given the high-profile triple killings, they were by far the biggest protests organized in the Kurdish region since 2011.
Following large-scale anti-government protests between February and April 2011, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been reluctant to give license to gatherings and public protests for fear of a repeated scenario.
Local media in Sulaymaniyah, which was the heart of the 2011 protests, reported that police on 14 January closed roads leading to the city’s main square as the size of the crowd reached hundreds. The square was the centre of the 2011 protests and was dubbed the”freedom square” by protesters back then.
The heavy police presence perhaps was one factor for the low turnout.
Moreover, judging by the number of PKK flags and photos of its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan present at the protests, it is perhaps no surprise if ordinary Kurdish citizens were reluctant to take part in protests awash with PKK symbols.
Events like these are usually owned by pro-PKK groups operating in Iraqi Kurdistan, and while the PKK is not officially banned in Iraqi Kurdistan, its sister group, the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party, has been banned from taking part in elections, precisely due to its PKK connection.
However, private Iraqi Kurdish media outlets and ordinary Kurds promoted the story on Facebook and other online platforms.
The three victims are: Sakine Cansiz, whose nom de guerre was Sara, was 55. She was the co-founder of the PKK and reportedly the most senior female leader of the party in its early years; Fidan Doghan, nom de guerre Ronahi, 32, the representative of the Belgium-based Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) in Paris; PKK activist, Leyla Şaylemez, 23.
As well as Kurdish reports, international media outlets said the killings were carried out by professional assassins, and were believed to be aimed at hampering peace talks as the two sides - Ankara and the PKK - reportedly seek to end a conflict which has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people on both sides since it began in 1984.