France has put on trial 11 alleged high-ranking members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), accused of extortion, terrorist financing and propaganda for the organization, AFP reported.
Declared a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Turkey, the PKK has waged a decades-long armed struggle against Ankara for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority in Turkey’s southeast.
None of the 11 suspects standing trial at the Paris Criminal Court – all Turkish nationals – have admitted membership of the group, which they say has no presence in France.
However, investigators believe that France, along with neighboring EU countries, offers a place for the PKK to operate.
Organized cells are believed to operate among the 150,000 Kurdish residents of France, as well as among the 100,000 people in the Netherlands and the million-strong community in Germany.
The investigation began in 2020 when two Kurdish women, aged 18 and 19, were reported missing in southeastern France.
It soon emerged that they had gone to PKK training camps in other parts of Europe.
Untangling the thread led investigators to a network based around a Kurdish association in Marseille that they say collected a type of public tax known as a “campaign” to fund the PKK.
Testimony and wiretapping reveal harassment and extortion of members of the diaspora, as “tax collectors” assign arbitrary contributions to individuals based on their estimated income.
Some Kurds are voluntarily paying for the “campaign” out of “full agreement” with the PKK, investigators say.
But many of them see it as a “duty” that they do for fear of ostracism or reprisals from the community.
One witness says he was threatened that his legs would be broken.
Investigators estimate that around two million euros ($2.2 million) are collected each year in southeastern France.
They also investigated how young Kurds were “recruited” for the PKK in conditions “close to kidnapping and illegal imprisonment”.
All who undergo “ideological training” in Europe are sent to military-style camps, many in Iraq, and enlisted in fighting forces loyal to the PKK.
Up to 35 million Kurds, who are located on the territory of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, do not have their own state.
In France, three Kurds were shot dead in December in a Paris public center in a crime that investigators called “racist.”
The hearings are expected to continue until April 14.
Illustrative Photo by michael Bayazidi: