Turkey exploits Paris attack on Kurds while claiming to be 'anti-terror' - analysis

Kurds were killed in the attack last week, prompting some Kurds and supporters to protest. This is where Ankara stepped in. It wanted to paint the protesters as “PKK supporters.”

 Protestors clash with French police during a demonstration near the Rue d'Enghien after gunshots were fired killing and injuring several people in a central district of Paris, France, December 23, 2022 (photo credit: CLOTAIRE ACHI / REUTERS)
Protestors clash with French police during a demonstration near the Rue d'Enghien after gunshots were fired killing and injuring several people in a central district of Paris, France, December 23, 2022
(photo credit: CLOTAIRE ACHI / REUTERS)

A 69-year-old Frenchman has been charged with killing three people in Paris last week.

The attack targeted a Kurdish culture center, and three Kurds were murdered. Even though government authorities were quick to condemn the attack at the highest levels, there were days of protests and some riots and clashes after the killing.

Turkey’s ruling party and pro-government media have led a campaign to exploit the attack, not sympathizing with the victims but condemning the protesters as “terrorism supporters.”

Turkey has also summoned France’s ambassador, claiming protesters spread anti-Turkish propaganda. This is a new type of exploitation, where an extremist murders members of a minority, and then a foreign country condemns the minority and bashes the country where it took place.

This is the latest incident of extremism in France. In the past, migrants have been attacked in racist assaults, and other people have been attacked by extremists and terrorists. For instance, a kosher deli was targeted in 2015, and media figures, teachers, a priest, a Jewish school and other people and institutions have been attacked in recent years.

 French police and firefighters secure a street after gunshots were fired killing two people and injuring several in a central district of Paris (credit: REUTERS) French police and firefighters secure a street after gunshots were fired killing two people and injuring several in a central district of Paris (credit: REUTERS)

Turkish presence in Paris' internal politics

Turkey has meddled in France’s internal politics in the past. After a French teacher named Samuel Paty was beheaded by an extremist, Turkey slammed France for “Islamophobia” – in essence, inflaming the tensions after the beheading.

Ankara’s new critique of France comes as Turkey has tried to get Sweden and Finland to crack down on dissidents and critics of Ankara. This often results in the targeting of Kurds, especially Kurds on the Left. Sweden and Finland want to join NATO, but Turkey, which is a member of NATO, has prevented them from joining until they agree to crack down on critics of Ankara. Recently, a court in Sweden appeared to prevent a dissident from being extradited.

“The shooting at a Kurdish cultural center and a nearby hairdressing salon on Friday sparked panic in the city’s bustling 10th district, home to numerous shops and restaurants and a large Kurdish population,” France24 reported. “Hundreds of people marched in Paris on Monday to pay tribute to the three Kurds shot dead.”

In contrast to French media and most international coverage of the attack, Turkish media quickly began to criticize the protesters. Turkish pro-government media called the protesters “terrorists.” This narrative was picked up by Ankara’s right-wing media and online supporters.

Why would Ankara seek to exploit this case in France?

On the face of it, the case appears to be a racist attack on minorities. It’s unclear if the perpetrator targeted the Kurdish center because the people are Kurds or for other reasons. A court will have to determine these facts. In other cases in France where minorities have been targeted, the full story is not always clear, even from the courts.

When an elderly Jewish woman was targeted for attack, the perpetrator appeared to be released for odd reasons.

“Can an antisemitic killer be declared insane because his mind was affected by regular consumption of cannabis?” the BBC reported last year. “That is the question at the heart of an explosive legal row in France following the decision not to prosecute the man who killed Sarah Halimi. Sarah Halimi was a Jewish, 65-year-old, former kindergarten director, who in April 2017 was beaten, then thrown to her death from her flat in north-east Paris.”

Kurds were killed in the attack last week. Kurdish people and their supporters were quick to respond by protesting and arguing the government has not done enough to support them. Some Kurdish groups also brought flags to the protests.

THIS IS where Ankara stepped in. It wanted to paint the protesters as “PKK supporters,” even though there was no evidence that this was the case. But for several days, Ankara-based media published reports in English that didn’t mention the victims were Kurds, instead claiming “terrorism supporters” were burning police cars and rioting.

Why does Ankara want to label these protesters “terrorists”? The reports didn’t say “some protesters” or claim that some extremists infiltrated the protests. It made blanket generalizations.

Ankara has done this before. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020, the same pro-government, nationalist, right-wing media in Turkey spread stories about how “Antifa” was linked to “YPG/PKK” and was involved in the protests. This was an attempt to sway public views in the US, tapping into some right-wing views that “Antifa” was behind the protests and getting those people to sympathize with Ankara.

Turkey claims it is fighting “terrorism” even though there is no evidence of the kind of claims Ankara makes. Ankara wants support for a new invasion of Syria. In Syria, Turkey claims to be fighting the “YPG” and “PKK,” two Kurdish groups. It claims that the US-backed SDF, another group, is the same as these “terrorists.”

This is a kind of Orwellian rhetoric that condemns every critic and group as “terrorists” as a way to excuse targeting them. For instance, after a recent bombing in Istanbul, Turkey carried out dozens of attacks on Syria, even though there was no evidence linking the bombing to Syria.

By quickly using the media to claim any protesters in Paris were “terrorists,” Ankara sought to prevent any criticism of Turkey and to prevent Kurds in France from being able to organize a protest.

Ankara fears Kurdish dissidents and any Kurdish groups abroad. It often works to target the Kurdish language, Kurdish music and flags. Ankara also knows that its opponents will sometimes use these events to raise their flags and voices, so it’s easier for Ankara to claim “terrorists” are protesting than to try to segment out the organized critics from the innocent average people.

Major media in the West didn’t portray the protesters as “terrorists” and generally sympathized with the Kurdish victims, even if some felt the riots were unacceptable.

The danger that Ankara’s intervention represents is that Ankara is always willing to exaggerate and even willing to summon ambassadors of European countries, or try to force NATO not to admit democracies like Sweden, in order to force European countries to suppress critics and minorities in the same way that Ankara does at home.

So far, it appears that France’s judicial system is doing the right thing and that peaceful demonstrations are now the norm in Paris. However, it should be noted that this incident of Ankara meddling in internal politics in France, just as it tried to do in 2020 with protests in the US, is a new escalation.

Ankara is seeking to exploit issues in Europe and the West to its benefit. Under the guise of claiming to be against “terrorism,” it has warped language to an Orwellian degree.

This is a remnant in some ways of the US “global war on terror” and the way countries such as Turkey took this to mean it could do whatever it wants as long as it labels its adversaries “terrorists.”