The violence perpetrated by the PKK/YPG supporters on the streets of Paris last month should be a warning to French authorities that inaction against a terrorist organisation will have deadly consequences.
Shortly after an armed man opened fire at civilians in Paris on December 23, supporters of the PKK/YPG terror group ran amok in the French capital under the pretext of “protests” against the alleged racist attack to the extent the violence was overshadowed the previous incident.
The violence left a trail of destruction at the Place de la Republique and along the Boulevard du Temple, two of the most prominent landmarks in Paris, as PKK/YPG supporters clashed with police on an unprecedented scale. So much so that they even targeted the French Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, who had visited the place of the attack.
Bus stops were destroyed while pavement stones were ripped out and lobbed at police, nearby homes and shops. In the end, at least 31 French police officers were injured.
But this is where the story takes a curious turn.
It has now come to light that the intervention of French police against the actions of PKK/YPG supporters is much more limited and restrained than the force applied to quell the Yellow Vest protests, the popular civilian uprising in France ongoing since 2018 against deteriorating economic conditions.
It is impossible to evaluate the developments in France simply as the action of a group of protesters or actions taken against a certain demand. Those who turned the streets of Paris into a warzone are mostly supporters of the PKK/YPG, recognised as a terrorist organisation by Türkiye, the European Union (EU), and the US.
The unfurling of flags allegedly representing the PKK/YPG in Paris during the orgy of violence also poses a direct threat to public order in France, as they represent a terrorist organisation that has killed and harmed thousands of civilians.
Just like in some European countries, the PKK/YPG has a presence in France through various non-governmental organisations, foundations, and institutes.
Since the 1980s, the PKK terror group has received financial support from states, organisations, and individuals from Europe and has endeavored to use this support in the planning and implementation of terrorist activities against Türkiye.
In France, there are over 20 organisations that are wholly or partially affiliated with the PKK/YPG, including a significant women’s organisation that is seen as giving importance to gender equality and the environment. In doing so, they have created an image of a civil society organisation.
France also stands out as one of the centres where young people brought from Türkiye by the PKK/YPG may have been recruited and used in propaganda activities of the organisation, both inside and outside of Europe.
The PKK and its affiliates have shown no remorse in recruiting child soldiers and using women as pawns in their terror campaigns — spread from Iraq to Syria and all the way threatening the borders of Türkiye. The issue has come to the fore multiple times with the US releasing a full-fledged report in July last year revealing the extent of PKK's child recruitment.
While remaining silent to the great vandalism, PKK/YPG supporters and related media claimed that the attack in Paris and the violence that followed had a connection with Türkiye.
This black propaganda reached such a degree that rumours were spread to insinuate that the 69-year-old gunman, a retired mechanic, was a Turkish by the name of Mehmet who had it shortened to William M. It was stated in French media that the attack, which was the main argument of PKK/YPG supporters, was allegedly carried out by people linked to Türkiye.
Coverage of the PKK’s arguments in mainstream French newspapers also indicates the group’s effort to instrumentalise social and traditional media to push their narrative of the attack.
In the midst of the propaganda blitz were the personal, social, and health problems of the attacker, who was identified as a far-right racist with a criminal history. It expressed that William M. harboured a pathological hatred towards foreigners as the reason behind his deliberate attack.
The response of French authorities went along the usual lines: to treat it as a lone-wolf campaign by an individual with mental health problems. But in refusing to subsequently call out PKK/YPG supporters, the French state affirmed the PKK’s organisational structures in French society.
After the events in Paris, Türkiye felt the need to respond in a diplomatic manner. Herve Magro, the French Ambassador to Ankara, was summoned to Türkiye’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ambassador was told in no uncertain terms about Turkish discomfort over the PKK/YPG terrorist circles starting anti-Türkiye propaganda following the attack in Paris. Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin questioned why French authorities remained silent after the PKK/YPG terrorist organisation, which France supported in Syria, caused destruction on the streets of Paris.
On one hand, the developments in Paris are related to French foreign policy and its consequences on domestic politics. Along with certain European countries, France for years has refrained from sharing Türkiye’s concerns regarding the PKK/YPG/PYD. Besides, it has prepared a social and political ground for the organisation and its supporters in their own country.
However, the acts of violence in Paris should be an inflection point for France, and for it to have a clearer understanding of Türkiye’s arguments on this issue. Mehmet Rakipoglu, a Turkish international relations expert, argued that “what has happened in France proved that funding terrorist organisations does not prevent being attacked by terrorists such as PKK, in return”.
The costs of inaction
The portrayal of the attack in France committed by a racist with mental problems alone comes at the risk of ignoring growing right-wing extremism in the country. The vandalism of the PKK/YPG terror group’s supporters on the streets of Paris, coupled with the French government’s unwilling condonation of the events, could likely accelerate far-right extremism against minorities.
In this context, France’s refusal to take action against supporters of PKK/YPG terror group may expose other immigrant communities, to the fatal effects of the far-right. Just like the PKK’s efforts to secure their presence in France under the guise of protecting themselves from the far-right, certain far-right French leaders have also criticised and politicised the issue for the French government’s failure to act on the attacks.
Additionally, PKK supporters should be prevented from seeking social and political legitimacy in France under the pretext of the struggle against the far-right. At the same time, the silence of the French authorities in the face of related violence may increase the efforts of the organisation to portray itself as a human rights-seeking group. It may also attempt to project itself as a victim through its different wings in France.
What is clear from the Paris violence is that refraining from calling a terrorist a terrorist and treating them accordingly will likely have negative consequences for each state. The motto “No one is safe until everyone is safe”, often emphasised by Turkish officials, shows the holistic nature of security today.
At a time when Türkiye’s relations with Sweden and Finland have brought with it a re-evaluation of the terrorist organisation’s structures and actions in Europe, maybe it is time for the French authorities to re-evaluate the PKK/YPG for the safety of Parisians, the French people and everyone in the region.
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