Sheri Laizer | Exclusive to Ekurd.net – Tired of the cover-ups, silence, subterfuge and lack of justice for the PKK’s victims the truth must be told. Armistice Day is a fitting date for those that believe in peace.
18 February 2006, updated 10 November 2016, Armistice Day by Sheri Laizer
The grey-brown, rolling Tasluja hills looking over Sulaimaniyah have a fresh coating of snow: they loom as silent witness behind the car wrecker’s yard where vehicles damaged by explosives and fatal accidents squat maimed and rusting.
The small white Daewoo is a twisted wreck of metal and rubber. The roof has been blown out by the force of the blast and now lies beside the car. It has been towed to join other wrecks in the security yard of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
I see Kani’s1 jacket left lying in the mud shredded by shards from the blown out windscreen. One of his shoes is still attached melted to the accelerator. The passenger seat is partly intact. Serdar Kaya (Sabri Tori) was incinerated in the roaring fire that killed his friend, Kani, who had been driving. The petrol cap is still in position: the chassis has exploded from beneath the driver’s seat.2
The explosion owed nothing to a mechanical failure in the petrol tank as the PUK spokesman first told the media3. A specialist forensic laboratory in the UK, Analytichem, that once proved Iraq’s use of chemical weapons in Halabja confirmed the presence of C-4 explosive from the shoe and soil samples that I took from the car and the explosion site. Bogus pro-PKK sources online attempted to distort the facts by speaking of CIA experts – there were no CIA experts involved. The forensic evidence was obtained by me a week after the assassination and I spoke to key witnesses from the PWD’s Sayid Sadiq camp, an explosives expert that had left the PKK and Nizamettin Tas as well as the PUK’s head of Intelligence.
Kani had an appointment two days later at the German Embassy in Baghdad to obtain a travel document so he could return to Europe. It had taken the German authorities almost two years to renew his asylum status.
The Rome period and Kongra Gel’s 6th Congress: January-February 1999
Kani had left Europe on Öcalan’s orders when the PKK leader, seeking asylum, was still there. I had been allowed access by Öcalan to his villa outside Rome and had a private audience with him. Öcalan had always liked me, probably because I was frank with him and not afraid. I was independent of the PKK. Once I had needed to intercede with Öcalan about Kani’s popularity in Europe while he was imprisoned in Belmarsh maximum security prison outside London as a Cat. A prisoner along with several IRA members.
Kani had been ERNK spokesman when I first met him in London in 1994. He held a meeting at the Kurdish Community Centre where I was Coordinator just days before he was imprisoned on the request of Germany leaving the Underground on his way to address a group in the Houses of Parliament. Shocked at his mistreatment I then began working with his Britsh and German team of lawyers. A four-year long legal battle was fought against Kani’s extradition to Germany fearing that he would be refouled to Turkey. I came to know Kani’s generous nature while visiting him in Belmarsh and Celle prison, Germany. He became a free man on 11 February 19984. PKK rivals had tried to stir things up between him and Öcalan and make it difficult for Kani. 5
Seeing Öcalan in Rome was in fact our sixth meeting since first reporting from the PKK’s training schools in the Damascus countryside in the winter of 1994. I told Apo in response to his questions that I considered it best for him to stay in Rome and highlight the necessity of resolving the Kurdish problem in Turkey. His presence in a European capital had raised public awareness of the Kurdish issue.
A week or so later, Ocalan ordered Kani and Ali Haydar Kaytan to go and attend the 6th Congress in Qandil. Kani had been the European Coordinator at the time. (Our paths did not cross in Rome). The two PKK functionaries were to convey a personal message from Ocalan to the Congress that he had decided to remain in Rome. Kani and three others duly crossed into Xinere having walked from Nakchivan(Azerbaijan) into Iran.
In this same period, Öcalan was expelled from Russia and sent on his ill conceived odyssey for sanctuary outside Italy. As is now well known, this ended with his capture in Kenya and removal to Turkey on 15 February 1999.
Kani had stayed on in Qandil, narrowly overturning Kongra Gel’s allegations that he was in some way responsible for Ocalan’s error of judgment culminating in the leaders’ confinement on Imrali island. Kongra Gel’s decision to return to violence provoked Kani and his group to escape from Qandil and make their way into PUK-controlled territory outside Sulaimaniyah in July 2004.6 7 There they joined Osman Öcalan (Ferhat), Nizamettin Taş (Botan) and others that had fled earlier and founded the Kurdistan Democratic Patriotic Party (PWD).8
All through the period from February 2004 onwards after Kani had decided to leave Kongra Gel he contacted me by phone as a trusted friend from his Belmarsh prison period. After he escaped from Qandil he called to tell me they had made it as he had feared being shot or captured by Kongra Gel. NO one was allowed simply to resign and walk out. Contact over the next months was regular. He dictated press statements to me by phone detailing why they had left Kongra Gel and setting down the aims of PWD. These I translated into English and they were then published on the Kurdishmedia.com website that aimed to be independent of all the Kurdish political parties. The original statements in Turkish and Kurdish can be viewed on the PWD’s website, pwdnerin.com. I travelled to Kurdistan to meet Kani again in October 2004. I hadn’t seen him since 1998 at a Kurdish festival in the Netherlands. The PWD’s constitution dates to 21.10.2004, just days after Siphan’s murder.9
The first of the breakaway PWD members to be murdered had been prominent Iranian Kurd, Shapour Badoshiveh (Sipan Rojhilat), murdered sometime between 6-7 October 2004 on the Makhmur-Mosul road, kidnapped from his car and his body left on the roadside. I was in Sulaimaniyah with Kani when the call came in detailing the bad news.
Kani’s face had turned ashen. I had been in the process of taking new identity photographs for him for his Baghdad application for a new German travel document. Kani left looking devastated, taking an Iraqi Kurdish journalist with him to collect Siphan’s body for burial.10
Former HADEP Deputy leader, Hikmet Fidan, liaising with the PWD from Turkey and opposing the PKK’s return to armed struggle, was the next to be killed by the PKK reportedly in the person of hitman, Serkan Şitilay11 (Deniz Ulaş) in Diyarbakir. This political murder came just five months after Kani and Sabri, on 6 July 2005. 12 13 Turkish sources tried to falsely implicate the PWD. The PWD was close to HIkmet Fidan and strongly condemned his murder unlike certain DTH members close to Öcalan. Hikmet Fidan’s wife and son told of the many threats the deceased had received from the PKK along with pressure to join the DTH fronted by Leyla Zana and Orhan Dogan.14
Kamal Shahin, a Syrian Kurd, that left the PKK and joined the PWD was next to be shot and killed by the PKK in Sulaimaniya on 17 February 2005. That assassination had also coincided generally with the anniversary of Abdullah Ocalan’s capture. Among those sentenced for the murder a year later was high ranking PKK member, Dogan Dideri. 15
PKK agent assassinates Kani Yilmaz and Sabri Tori
Kani Yilmaz and Serdar Kaya were assassinated in a car bomb planted by Veli Çat beneath the driver’s seat from where he had sat in the back seat on Saturday 11 February 2006 . The bob exploded just as the car Kani was driving began to turn off Highway 60 into an industrial zone not far from the centre of town in Rizgari district17. Numan had disembarked saying he was going to an Internet café.
After receiving threats by phone the day before , Kani had driven down to the breakaway camp near Sayid Sadiq to warn his comrades that the PKK was planning an attack to coincide with the anniversary of Ocalan’s capture by the Turks. He phoned me just before midnight on Friday night and told me about it. He did not foresee that he was the main target.
The chief suspect, Veli Çat, (Numan) a former bodyguard to Murat Karayilan, was not heard of by the PWD after he disembarked from the car minutes before it exploded. PUK intelligence admitted to phone taps of Çat speaking with a PKK member called Serdar known by the PWD to be a member of the PKK armed wing, HPG’s Military Intelligence who reportedly provided the explosive.
The PWD’s Europe office observed a few days afterwards: “The team who performed the murder was hired by PKK. Veli Çat, code name Numan, from Hilvan Urfa was separated from PKK Special Team and was sent undercover. He had been staying at the Seyit Sadiq Camp near Suleymaniye for approximately a year. Just before the murders Serdar-a code name- who is tied to HPG Military Intelligence Team Member ran by Murat Karayilan had provided him with the explosives. These group of individuals telephone conversations before the murders are recorded and available…”
No public investigation
I did not meet anyone in the PWD until a week after Kani and Sabri were killed. I returned to Sulaimaniyah via Erbil to see the locations, collect evidence, then press the PUK for a formal investigation and make public its report. Kani’s cousin, Salman, who had called me with the chilling news of the explosion the Saturday took me to see Botan and Kani’s closest friends in the PWD. There I stayed in Kani’s simple bedroom where his few clothes and personal belongings, including the laptop I’d left with him to work on his book, had been safeguarded. Most of his clothes I took to his family afterwards. They were deeply saddened that there was so little left to them of Kani – just his watch and reading glasses, both shattered in the explosion, a pair or shoes, and a suit to wear on the return journey to Europe that had been planned for the following week. The PKK did not want him to return with the popularity he had enjoyed there in the past.
PUK official, Sarkawt Hassan (AKA Sarkawt Kubba) head of security in Sulaimaniya at the time20 worked from a well-furnished room on the upper floor of a squalid Ba’ath Party era building. His office was reached by broken stairs strewn with cigarette butts.
Sarkawt Hassan was charming and personable. He ordered Turkish coffee as Huseyin Kaytan, his partner and I entered the room. He heard our requests for an official investigation to be launched.
After the thirty-minute audience was terminated, Sarkawt Hassan sent us with two PUK peshmergas to the Asayish wreckers yard where the Daewoo had already begun to rust.
The visit to Sarkawt Kubba’s office had been a significant advance on the day before at the PUK’s Public Relations Office in central Sulaimaniyah. Men with dark faces had given little away and redirected Huseyin Kaytan, his partner, and I to the Interior Ministry. The Interior Minister met us but spoke without conviction claiming “Everything possible is being done to bring the perpetrators to justice…”
Interestingly, that same day, seven suspects held in detention in Sulaimaniyah prison had been convicted of the assassination of PWD member,
A local newspaper report had commented: “The assassins were sentenced just over a week (sic) of the assassination of Kani Yalmiz and Sebri Turi in a bomb attack. It is not known whether the timing of Shahin’s court hearing was a reaction to Yilmaz’s assassination.” 21
The Turkish Interior Ministry allowed the cortège and two bodies to cross the border into Turkey at Khabur. Neither Kani nor Sabri could have made that crossing legally whilst they were still alive.
Easy to kill in Kurdistan
The car doesn’t move. I remain beside it, stood close to the breeze-block wall as if immobilised beneath the wintry sky. No shaft of light steals through the cloud and no divine hand reaches down to resurrect the dead. Only a chill little breeze lifts the torn upholstery of the car and stirs the broken wires in the engine but that is all. The car will rust away in this corner and probably soon no one will even remember whose car it was or how it came to be there.
These mangled cars feature in the aftermath of numerous car bombings while idle youths gather like flies seeking their moment of fame on the TV cameras, kicking at flattened tyres or staring vacantly into the charred remains. The blackened bodies are removed as quickly as practicable from their death traps.22
On this particular morning Iraqi television was broadcasting stories of the latest bombing of Shi’a mosques followed by retaliation against Sunni mosques. Al-Qaeda’s propaganda videos are also shown – featuring religious chanting over scenes of glorified carnage. Other Al Qaeda clips show American convoys being blown up in Afghanistan, the sequence of images repeated over and over again in slow motion.
Down the side streets of Sulaimaniyah, daily life goes on. Women swaddled against the cold in their velveteen kaftans huddle around the metal gateways of their houses, watching the street, occasionally calling out to children playing on the broken footpaths while chatting with female neighbours.
Kurdish politicians including the PUK’s Saadi Pir, based in Hewler (Erbil), said “Kani was a political man: this is the life…” then proceeded to tell me his personal story of loss: “In this very building two years ago, my brother, my nephew and my son were killed in the big explosion. It was C-4…”
But does being a ‘political man’ have to mean a life of internal purges, revenge attacks, assassinations and cover-ups? In Iraq, people are blown up as easily as birds shot from the sky.
A memorial park has been created to honour those killed in the twin suicide attacks of Eid on 1 February 2004. Marble tablets inscribed with the names of the dead includes Saadi Pir’s son, his brother and nephew, and KDP leader, Sami Abdurrahman killed along with his son, Salah, in one of the two explosions that killed 56 people in all and wounded scores of others.
Did Sami Aburrahman’s widow, Fawzia, shrug it off and say “He was a political man: this is the life!”
Perhaps she did. But ten years later, she too left the world. Her heart had been broken and she died from a stroke.23
Of the carnage that killed her husband and son, a journalist observed “…the morgue in Irbil was so full that bodies were lying under covers in the blood stained corridors. The bombers, witnesses said, made their way through checkpoints outside both venues and detonated their bomb belts once inside…24
As I lifted Kani’s steel-blue jacket from the muddy yard, the outer fabric parting company with the shredded lining, I remembered Kani trying it on in front of a cracked mirror in a little boutique on the outskirts of town. The jacket was bought to last the winter but here it was, its owner dead, now just a tangle of strips abandoned beside the silent hulk of his car. There was no public investigation, no punishment. Kani and Sabri’s killers accomplished the assassination with impunity. Even the truth had been hidden and distorted.
The clouds parted and the sun broke through as I moved reluctantly away from the wreck as if by remaining there I could have willed the occupants back to life and set the car on course to some happier destination – anywhere but here.
1 Kani Yimaz (Faysal Dunlayici) quit the PKK in February 2004 along with others disillusioned with the PKK’s on-going support for violence. They formed the Patriotic Democratic Party of Kurdistan (PWDK) under the PUK’s physical protection. Kani was the fourth PWDK official to be assassinated by the PKK.left looking devastated a new Netherlandsnned by the Turkish prosecutorari updated to 2004 Turkish edition.all on that same datewreckrnalist hadhusband and son k,l in Arab majority areas of Iraq., the PKK base despite having pretended to have broken away.
2 PWD: Phone tap evidence confirms killers of Yilmaz and Torin as PKK’s PCDK. Source: www.kurdishmedia.com
3 Kurd PKK official assassinated in Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan 12.2.2006 at http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2006/2/turkeykurdistan502.htm
4 It was Kani’s brother, Ibrahim, who drew my attention to Kani’s life having very significant events all on the 11th February, his first imprisonment in Turkey, his release from prison in Germany and his murder in Kurdistan all on that same date years apart.
5 See my book of this period, Martyrs, Traitors & Patriots – Kurdistan after the Gulf War (Zed Books, London and New York), 1996; also, Sehitler, Ihanetçiler ve Yürtseverler – Kürfez Savasindan Günümüze Kürdistan, Avesta Yayinlari, Istanbul, updated to 2004, published 2007 in a Turkish edition after winning the case against the book being banned by the Turkish prosecutor.
6 See the account written of this period by Kani Yilmaz in his book published posthumously, Kürt Sorunu: Kemalizm, PKK Sistemi ve Ulusal Birlik Çözümü, (The Kurdish Problem: Kemalism, the PKK system and the National Unity Solution,Veng Yayinlari, Diyarbakir, March 2007. He writes at first hand of the Rome period and then the 6th congress between pages 44-47
16 Several of their friends in the PWD had been witness to Veli Çat getting into the back seat of the car to drive up to Sulaimaniyah that morning from Sayid Sadiq camp, including Veli Çat’s pregnant wife.
17 I was taken to the location a week later where I took soil samples and photographs. Burn marks were still evident.
20 Sarkawt Hassan known as Sarkawti Kubba, former head of Sulaimani security apparatus http://www.mesop.de/2011/08/18/13502/ See: http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2012/10/irankurd887.htm
21 Seven assassins of Kemal Shahin sentenced to life. KurdishMedia.com 22/02/2006 http://www.kurdmedia.com/article.aspx?id=11451
22 The great loss of a Kurdish patriot – the first anniversary of the political murder of Kani Yilmaz, 09/02/2007 http://www.kurdmedia.com/article.aspx?id=14031
23 26 January 2014 https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=599676616768791&id=106032002799924
Sheri Laizer, a Middle East and North African expert specialist and well known commentator on the Kurdish issue. She is a contributing writer for Ekurd.net. More about Sheri Laizer see below.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.