Friday, January 18, 2013

Kurds Mourn Three Women Killed In Paris

Updated January 17, 2013, 5:18 p.m. ET

Kurds Mourn 3 Women Killed in Paris .

Wall Street Journal

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey—Tens of thousands of Kurds gathered Thursday in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast for a politically charged tribute to three Kurdish women gunned down in Paris last week.

Floods of men and women packed into Batikent Square in Diyarbakir, Turkey's most-populous Kurdish city, chanting militant slogans at a ceremony many in Ankara feared would turn into a violent protest.

The atmosphere was charged with emotion but there was no violence as Kurdish mourners craned to see three coffins elevated on plinths draped in the Kurdish colors of red, yellow and green. The most prominent housed the body of Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, whose killing threatened to derail nascent peace talks between the guerrilla group and Turkey's government.

Analysts said the absence of violent protest boded well for the talks, which began at the start of 2013 on how to end a three-decade conflict in which more than 40,000 people have been killed. The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union, took up arms against Ankara in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish homeland in Turkey's southeast.

"People are relieved there was no violence, and today's huge crowd demonstrates that the Kurds appear to be relatively unified, which is positive for negotiations," said Soli Ozel, professor at Istanbul's Kadir Has University.

Despite last week's killings, which the French authorities are continuing to investigate, that process has retained momentum. While Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the murders could be a result of an internal PKK feud and imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan suggested shadowy elements within the Turkish state or foreign powers were responsible, both leaders insisted the incident shouldn't disrupt negotiations.

Worries that the funeral could provide a flash point that would undermine confidence-building saw Mr. Erdogan this week call for calm and warn that security forces would be "sensitive and vigilant" to any provocation.

Turkish commentators said the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, kept its pledge to keep the funeral free of violence, underlining the political authority of Kurdish politicians and Mr. Ocalan as peace talks gain traction.

"This nation stands behind the talks that Mr. Ocalan is holding in Imrali," said Selahattin Demirtas, BDP co-chairman. "This square is the photograph of that support.…Let's not miss this opportunity."

Cengiz Candar, a Turkish journalist and prominent commentator on the PKK said that the BDP show of strength would give Ankara confidence that they were dealing with a unified body, rather than splintered factions.

"Many positive things appear to be coalescing at the moment. If the talks fail there will be no chance for more negotiations for at least three years because of elections," Mr. Candar said, referring to likely presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

The funeral speeches on Thursday, broadcast by large speakers suspended from cranes, were accompanied by a famous PKK burial song and mourners' chants of "martyrs never die."

Some chanted militant slogans in reverence of Mr. Ocalan, who has been held on an island south of Istanbul since his capture by Turkish special forces in 1999. Two young men, their faces obscured by checkered scarves, held aloft the red-starred flag of the PKK, a criminal offense in Turkey.

Turkey is reeling from one of the bloodiest summers since Mr. Ocalan was captured and scores of Turkish riot police were deployed around Diyabakir: a city accustomed to violent protests. A police helicopter hovered over the funeral, but armed officers kept their distance.

While previous negotiations with the PKK were secretive and appeared to have stalled, Turkey's acknowledgment of the latest contact raised hopes for a renewed effort to end the war.

Yet in the crowd, many Kurds expressed skepticism over the peace talks, stressing that Turkish jets had restarted airstrikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq.

"There have been talks with Ocalan before. Something concrete should happen," said Lamih Akrif, a 29-year-old construction worker from Diyabakir who had come to the ceremony with his girlfriend. "We may get peace but the price will be very high. I'm afraid a civil war is a closer option than peace."

Write to Joe Parkinson at

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