On 11 March, a case will open in Belgium against four men accused of plotting the assassination of two prominent Kurds staying at the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) in Brussels in 2017. A press conference on Tuesday presented this plot as the work of a Turkish network for international assassinations, which European authorities are trying not to acknowledge.
The line-up of speakers at the press conference was itself a powerful statement. It is claimed that if Turkey’s plans had have come to fruition, the men who began and ended the press conference would have died in a “bloodbath” in the KNK building in Brussels, while the two journalists who also spoke could have been murdered in Germany, where they have gone to escape the clutches of the Turkish state.
Remzi Kartal, the co-chair of Kongra-Gel, and Zubeyir Aydar, a member of the KCK Executive Council, did not die in Brussels because they got wind of plans against them and informed the Belgian authorities. The Belgian police tracked the would-be assassins as they carried out reconnaissance of the KNK building; they tapped their discussions as they talked about the relative merits of poison or bombs; they followed up links with undercover networks based around the Turkish embassy in Paris; and they exposed ties with leading figures in the Turkish government and with the Turkish government-linked security firm, SADAT, including photographs of key figures together at the presidential palace in Ankara. Even so, we were told, Belgian prosecutors did not want to proceed with the case; however, the judge insisted. The four men on trial are being accused not only of being members of a criminal gang, but also of participating in the activities of a “terrorist organisation” – but the trial will avoid making the link between this “terrorist organisation” and the Turkish state by claiming “insufficient evidence”.
As the dossier on all this that has been put together by the KNK makes clear, Turkey’s foreign assassinations have a long history. President Erdoğan has brought in new structures and networks. The purpose of the press conference was to show how the case about to be tried is not an isolated incident, but part of a Turkish policy of intimidation, violence, and murder that is organised across Europe against Kurdish organisations and against individuals who have spoken out in opposition to the Turkish government. The speakers also referred to plans to assassinate Berivan Aslan, a Kurdish politician who was an MP for the Austrian Green Party – plans that became derailed when the man contracted to carry them out gave himself up to the Austrian intelligence services. And they discussed the triple murder of three Kurdish women activists, Sakine Cansız, Fidan Doğan, and Leyla Şaylemez, in Paris in 2013. They talked about further evidence linking the Turkish secret service (MIT) to the French murders, and also evidence on MIT activities in Germany, where there is a 55-name hit list.
The Armenian journalist, Hayko Bağdat, who escaped Turkey for Berlin in 2016, told the press conference that at one point the German authorities deemed the threat against him so great that he was given the same level of protection as the German president; while journalist Erk Acarer, who came to Berlin from Turkey in 2017 and joined the conference by video link, was attacked outside his Berlin home last summer.
Antoine Comte, lawyer for the French triple murder case, explained that even though the man accused of pulling the trigger died of a brain tumour before the trial was complete, the original accusation broke new ground by also accusing the Turkish state, in the form of MIT, of criminal conspiracy, and this made it possible for the families of the murdered women to get the case reopened. A wealth of evidence even includes a recording of the alleged assassin discussing operational details with MIT.
Jan Ferman, lawyer for the Belgian case, observed how European authorities have tried to look away in order to avoid inconvenient facts. He gave two examples demonstrating unwillingness within the French authorities to carry out a proper investigation. When the French carried out inquiries at the request of the Belgian judge, only a part of what was found was passed on to the magistrate investigating the French murders. And French police who were investigating a lost list of names and telephone numbers were fobbed off with the claim that this was a list of Turkish names from French cemeteries, without questioning how their phone numbers might function. This reluctance to pursue Turkey’s assassins – which is matched, in the KNK dossier, by other examples from different countries – constitutes a serious breach of the authorities’ obligation to protect the right to life.
As the world tries to work out what to do when a state disregards international rules and turns to brute force to achieve its ends, governments need to be reminded that Russia is far from being the only culprit. The scale of the ongoing Russian attack cannot be allowed to obscure other acts of state violence that politicians find it politically harder to respond to, especially when these are carried out in their own countries.
The press conference can be watched here.
Sarah Glynn is a writer and activist – check her website and follow her on Twitter @sarahrglynn
A note for the reader: The image in this article shows, from left to right, Hayko Bağdat, Jan Firman, Zubeyir Aydar, and Remzi Kartal