Tunceli Province, Turkey
|Died||9 January 2013 (aged 54–55)
|Cause of death||Execution-style shooting|
|Occupation||Kurdish rights advocate|
|Organization||Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)|
Sakine Cansız (Turkish pronunciation: [saːciˈne dʒanˈsɯz]; Kurdish: Sakîne Cansiz, IPA: [sækiːnɛ dʒænsɪs]; 1958 – 9 January 2013) was one of the co-founders of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (or PKK). A Kurdish activist in the 1980s, she was arrested and tortured by Turkish police. A close associate of Abdullah Öcalan and a senior member of the PKK, she was shot dead in Paris, France, on 9 January 2013, with two other female Kurdish activists, Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez.
Cansız was born around 1958 in Tunceli, a city in eastern Turkey, to an Alevi family. In her youth in the early 1970s, she began to take part in revolutionary activities, which were not endorsed by her family. She fled to Ankara where she first met Abdullah Öcalan, with whom she would work closely. In an interview, she said of this period: "In a sense I abandoned the family. I did not accept that pressure, insisting on revolutionism. That's how I left and went to Ankara. In secret of course."
She was one of the PKK's founding members (code name "Sara"), and the organization's first senior female member. At the founding meeting of the PKK in Lice in southern Turkey in late September or November 1978 (with 22 persons attending), she represented Elâzığ, the administrative center of Elâzığ Province. Cansız and Öcalan's former wife Kesire Yıldırım were the only women who participated in this meeting. Cansız was detained in the 1980s in Diyarbakır Prison and tortured there, but continued to lead the Kurdish movement while in jail, becoming a "legend among PKK members".
After her release in 1991, Cansız stayed in the PKK camps in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley and then in northern Iraq where she fought under the command of Osman Ocalan. In addition to fighting she organized and headed women squads of the PKK there. She went to Europe in the mid-1990s. Murat Karayılan sent her there to be responsible for the PKK's European branch, first in Germany and then in France, to deal with the group's civil affairs. According to Hürriyet, she was moved to Europe after having opposed the execution of PKK member Mehmet Şener. France granted Cansız asylum in 1998 after she had disagreed with some senior PKK figures.
Reportedly, "she was the most prominent and most important female Kurdish activist. She did not shy away from speaking her mind, especially when it came to women's issues." It was also reported that she disagreed with Zübeyir Yılmaz, the alleged financial head of the PKK, with claims made in the Turkish media that he had sexually harassed her.
On 10 January 2013, Cansız, in her 50s, was found dead with two other Kurdish female activists. Autopsy results placed the time of death for the three women as sometime between 6pm and 7pm on the day before. Their bodies were found in the Kurdistan Information Center in Paris.
The killings occurred at a time when the Turkish government was in negotiation with PKK leaders including Öcalan. PKK activists in Paris considered the murders an attempt by "dark forces" within the Turkish government to derail these negotiations. The PKK blamed the Turkish government. Turkish officials pointed at frequent strife within the PKK, with the Turkish national daily Hürriyet claiming that Cansız had been in conflict with Ferman Hussein, the alleged commander of the PKK's military wing. Also killed were Fidan Doğan of the Kurdistan National Congress (based in Brussels) and Leyla Söylemez, a "junior activist". The French interior minister Manuel Valls announced that the three women were all killed execution-style.
The body of Cansız together with those of the other two women murdered was brought from Paris to Istanbul on 16 January 2013 and transferred to Diyarbakır. A funeral ceremony for the three slain women was held in Diyarbakir with the attendance of tens of thousands of Kurds on 17 January 2013. Each was buried in her hometown: Cansız in Tunceli, Doğan in Kahramanmaraş, and Söylemez in Mersin.
Both Turkey and France condemned the killings of the three women. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested that the murders were done for two possible reasons: 1) to derail the current negotiations or 2) to carry out an internal execution within the PKK. Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bülent Arınç condemned the attack and expressed his condolences.
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