At least 15,000 Kurds from all over Europe vowed revenge as they rallied on Saturday in Paris over the killing of three top Kurdish activists from a separatist group banned in Turkey.
The march, which began at the city’s Gare de l’Est railway station, was emotionally charged, with demonstrators saying France would be an accomplice in the brazen murders if it did not identify and punish the killers.
Organizers disputed the police estimate, saying more than 50,000 people joined the demonstration.
“This crime is a crime against the Kurdish people and against peace,” said a woman demonstrator, calling for an end to the listing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization.
“The French state bears a responsibility. If the perpetrators of these crimes are not found, France will be indisputably considered as an accomplice,” said a leaflet published and distributed by France’s main Kurdish association, Feyka.
“It’s the first time something like this has happened in Europe,” said Celine Yildirim, a waitress in Paris who gained political asylum in France after being jailed in Turkey. “We want to know who did this.”
The three activists — Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez — were found dead on Thursday at the Kurdistan Information Center in Paris, after last being seen alive at the center at midday on Wednesday.
They were all shot in the head, at least three times each.
Cansiz was a founding member of the PKK, which took up arms in 1984 for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey and is branded a terrorist organization by Ankara and much of the international community.
Police put the number of marchers at 15,000. They came from Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain, Switzerland and especially Germany, which is home to 800,000 Kurds, of whom 13,000 are believed to be PKK members.
The killings came days after Turkish media reported that Turkey and the PKK leadership had agreed a roadmap to end the Kurdish insurgency.
French President Francois Hollande had said the murder was “terrible,” adding that he knew one of the Kurdish women and that she “regularly met us” — a comment seized upon by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who on Saturday sought an explanation from Paris.
“How can he regularly meet with these people who are members of a group listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union and who are wanted under red bulletin [issued by Interpol]?” Erdogan asked.
He said Hollande “must explain immediately to the French, Turkish and world public why ... he is in communication with these terrorists.”