Sakine Cansız, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and one of the leading figures in the Kurdish women’s movement, who was killed with two other female activists in Paris a decade ago, predicted today’s nationwide “Jin, Jîyan, Azadî – Woman, Life, Freedom” uprising led by Kurdish women in Iran, way back in 2011.
Cansız’s 2011 interview during a conference of the Eastern Kurdistan Women’s Union, which included an analysis of and predictions about the women’s struggle in the Kurdish-populated regions of western Iran known as Rojhilat, was published for the first time in 2022.
Cansız stresses in the interview that the Kurdish women’s struggle has the power to lead not only Kurdish women but also all Persian, Baloch and Azeri women in the region.
“Women have no friends other than the struggle for freedom,” she says.
Emphasising the historical importance of women organising in Rojhilat, Cansız says, “The greatest response to the system that stole women’s freedom from them was women joining the struggle.”
Born in Tunceli (Dersim) in eastern Turkey in 1958 and becoming one of the first pioneers of the Kurdish Women’s Movement, Cansız was imprisoned after the 12 September 1980 military coup in the infamous Diyarbakır (Amed) Prison, which would later go down in the country’s history for the inhumane treatment and torture of its prisoners.
After she was released from prison in 1991, she was among the founders of the Patriotic Women’s Association, the first Kurdish women’s institution in the metropolitan city of Istanbul.
Cansız was still an active and prominent member of the Kurdish women’s movement when she was killed in 2013 in a Kurdish information centre in Paris. The gunman, who was Turkish, allegedly had connections with the Turkish intelligence service (MİT) and as well as Cansız, he killed two other female activists; Fidan Doğan, who was at the time a diplomatic representative of the Kurdistan National Congress, and Leyla Şaylemez, a Kurdish youth movement activist.
That incident has remained unresolved and has caused great distress among the Kurds, fuelling mistrust in European institutions.
The perpetrator Ömer Güney died in hospital in Paris in December 2016, a few weeks before his trial. The investigation of the French judiciary, which stressed the involvement of MİT without however designating sponsors, continues to date, but no progress has been made and there is still a partial confidentiality order on the case files. MİT has officially denied any involvement.
“My Whole Life Was a Struggle“, a three-volume memoir Cansız started to write in 1996, tells of the struggle of women who have challenged traditional gender roles within the Kurdish movement as well as the Kurdish fight for freedom. The memoir was published in Turkish in 2014 and in English in 2018.
Cansız’s life was portrayed in the documentary “Sara: My Whole Life Was a Struggle” in 2015, and her resistance in Diyarbakır Prison became the subject of a short film entitled “Three days in 10 years” in 2018.
Kurdish people gather in the French capital every year on the anniversary of 2013 assassinations demanding justice for the victims. This year’s annual march on Saturday came two weeks after three more Kurds were killed in a Kurdish Cultural Centre in Paris, allegedly by a 69-year-old Frenchman.
The French authorities claim that the December 2022 attack was committed by a lone wolf, but Kurds in France believe the two triple killings, that occurred 10 years apart, are connected and continue to point the finger at Turkey for both attacks.