The execution-style assassination of Sakine Cansız, a top financier for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Europe, in a building on busy Rue Lafayette behind the Gare du Nord, one of the main train stations in Paris, has the potential to expose the dirty dealings of the terrorist organization in the middle of Europe.
There are lots of speculations surrounding the deaths of Cansız and two other Kurdish women who were found on Thursday in the Centre d’Information du Kurdistan (Information Center of Kurdistan) in Paris. It may have been related to intra-group fighting or the result of a secret operation conducted by the intelligence service of one of the countries that has a vested interest in seeing the 30-year conflict go on.
It can be read as a warning message to the PKK leadership in northern Iraq that if they were to relocate to a third country in Europe as part of a peace deal in the ongoing negotiations between the Turkish government and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, “You won’t be safe even if you settle in downtown Paris after you decide to give up your fight against Turkey and lay down your arms.” Iran, which has conducted assassinations in France before, and Syria fit the profile of suspected countries.
Though all these explanations have a valid point, my guess is that it has to do with money and the huge financial operations worth hundreds of millions of dollars that Cansız was managing on behalf of the Marxist-Leninist militant organization that turned out to be a major racketeering network instead of a freedom-fighting Kurdish political activist group. This criminal enterprise is benefiting from illegal drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortions, illegal tax levying, contract killings and disruptive sabotage operations. In other words, they are guns for hire.
Cansız, who was one of the co-founders of the PKK, raised money for the PKK across Europe, funneled it to other PKK leaders located in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, and helped to fund arms and munitions for a conflict that has claimed the lives of some 40,000 people over three decades, most of them Kurds. It is amazing that she conducted all these financial transactions under the close scrutiny of European security agencies, mainly French, British and German intelligence monitoring units, which simply turned a blind eye to her travels and business dealings for years.
Even when American officials, acting under the US presidential directive to crack down on PKK operations in Europe, pressured the French and the Germans to extradite her to Turkey, the governments of France and Germany balked at the idea. Under the pretense of legal arguments, both France and Germany denied Turkey’s demands. She was protected and sheltered first in Germany and later in France to the irritation of Turkey.
For example, when Cansız was arrested in Germany in 2007 pursuant to an Interpol extradition request issued by Turkey, she was let go after a brief detention by German authorities citing insufficient evidence forwarded by the Turkish government. She was allowed to return to France, where she continued to run the financial operations for the bloody terrorist organization. It is no wonder she picked Paris as a base for PKK operations because no single extradition request from Turkey has been approved by the French authorities in the past two decades. Cansız, along with her comrades, was free to run fundraising activities from cultural and social events to narcotics, smuggling and extortion.
Ever since PKK leader Öcalan entered into negotiations with the Turkish government with pretty much no preconditions following a year-and-a-half of mop up operations by Turkish security forces that significantly diminished the ability of the terrorist organization to successfully mount attacks against Turkish interests, it seems that there has been a panic spreading among the backers of the PKK. The supporters of the terrorist organization wanted to clean up their acts by muzzling the people whom they have dealt with for years.
Cansız, as the leading bookkeeper for the PKK in Europe, was the prime target because she was intimately familiar with its money flows and arms transactions. Having lived in Europe since 1992, she cultivated a network with leading figures in France and other European countries. Therefore, she simply knew too much and was a security risk for many. The possibility of an embarrassing exposure of her knowledge during Öcalan’s talks with the Turkish government might have prompted some to send a cleaning crew to the Paris building to take her out.
It is interesting to note that French President François Hollande said he and several politicians knew one of the women professionally. He did not say which one. But the fact that Hollande himself admitted that he had been involved with a group known to have a clear affiliation with the PKK gave rise to further speculations that the French establishment is deeply engaged with the organization listed as a terrorist group by the US, the EU and Turkey. If we are to lend credence to these allegations, how do we make sense of the ongoing judicial cases initiated against the PKK in France? The same question is also valid on the supposed cooperation between the French and Turkish interior ministries on the PKK issue.
As Turkish Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin announced recently, there has not been a single extradition of a PKK terrorist from France to Turkey in the last 20 years. Hence Turkish doubts on the sincerity of the French government still linger. It may very well be the case that the French are trying to project a positive image of cooperation with Turkey in order to relieve some of the tension built up between Paris and Ankara. But in reality, the French position with regard to the PKK has not changed fundamentally.
Let’s assume Cansız could have been a key suspect or even a witness in these cases which the French have started. Now that she, along with her secrets, is gone, we will never know how the French investigations will eventually turn out. Whoever ordered her killing was probably targeting the derailment of the ongoing judicial cases against the PKK in France as well.
We know that Cansız was part of a list of senior PKK leaders that the Turkish government wanted and has in fact distributed to different countries, including France. Ankara had also submitted her name to the Iraqi government in the past to prevent her from using airports in Baghdad and Arbil to reach PKK commanders from the European capitals. Neither the European governments nor the Iraqi government paid any attention to the Turkish demands, deciding to look the other way when Cansız and her companions traveled between Europe and northern Iraq.
We will probably never know exactly the motivations that played into the assassination of this woman, rendering all explanations mere speculation. But suffice it to say, whoever gave the order for the killing of Cansız, an accountant and arms dealer, wanted to cover up her tracks in order to prevent embarrassing revelations in the future.
The counterstrategy for this dirty game is to stick strongly with the negotiations with those who represent peace while continuing to fight the hard-core militants who have no interest in laying down their arms. This should be complemented with strong signals from Ankara to the backers of the PKK conflict that their support for terrorism will eventually boomerang as well.