Thousands of Kurds from across Europe traveled to the Paris suburbs on Tuesday for a politically charged funeral for three of their own who were killed in an attack in the French capital in December.
Buses have been chartered to bring people from across France and some neighboring countries to the ceremony in Villiers-le-Bel, north of Paris, local sources said.
Tears and cries of “martyrs live forever!” greeted the coffins draped in the flags of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish-controlled Rojava Territory in northern Syria.
The huge crowd watched the funeral on giant screens set up in the parking lot, showing the coffins surrounded by wreaths beneath a portrait of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Volunteer police and security forces were deployed outside the hall rented for Tuesday’s trial.
A xenophobic gunman, William Malet, killed two men and a woman in an attack on the Ahmet Kaya community center in Paris’ 10th arrondissement on December 23.
His victims were Abdurrahman Kizil, singer and political refugee Mir Perwer, and Emine Kara, a leader of the Kurdish Women’s Movement in France.
Malet, 69, arrested after the shooting and formally charged on December 26, told investigators he had a “pathological” hatred of foreigners and wanted to “murder migrants,” according to prosecutors.
distrust of Turkey
Malet, a retired train driver, had a history of violence and had just been released from prison over a previous incident.
But many Kurds in France’s 150,000-strong community refuse to believe he acted alone, calling his actions a “terrorist” attack and pointing the finger at Turkey.
Tuesday’s funeral recalled another fate at the same spot almost exactly ten years ago, when three Kurdish activists with ties to the PKK were also shot dead in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.
The Turkish suspect, who is said to have connections to Ankara’s secret services, died of cancer in custody.
More recently, an April attack in which men were beaten with iron bars at a Kurdish cultural center in the eastern French city of Lyon was blamed on members of the Turkish ultra-nationalist group Gray Wolves, which has since been banned.
The PKK, which has been fighting with arms for almost four decades for more rights for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, is classified as a terrorist group by Ankara, Europe and the United States.
Their leader Ocalan is serving a life sentence on a prison island off Istanbul after being captured by Turkish agents in Kenya in 1999.
“The fight must go on”
Often cited as the world’s largest stateless people, the Kurds hail from regions spanning Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, with Ankara particularly hostile to their quest for a country of their own.
“We feel like they’re doing everything they can to destroy us, whether it’s here or in Turkey,” said Celik, a local who attended the funeral and asked that her family name not be released for security reasons.
“We are here because it is our duty, it is a fight that our parents fought for many years and that we must continue,” she told AFP.
Clashes between police and Kurdish protesters in the immediate aftermath of December’s killings heightened tensions between nominal NATO allies Turkey and France.
Ankara’s foreign ministry summoned the French ambassador to complain about “black propaganda by the PKK.”
The Kurdish Democratic Council of France (CDKF) called Tuesday’s ceremony an “opportunity for those who want to pay their last respects… before the bodies are taken back to their home country for burial.”
CDKF activists are planning a march on Wednesday to honor the December victims on the street where the shooting took place.
On Saturday, a “grand march” by the Kurdish community – originally planned to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2013 shootings – will set off from the Gare du Nord rail junction in Paris.