Women undergo the same rigorous training as men in camps in the mountains of northern Iraq, but train and live separately from male comrades. The PKK bars relations between female and male fighters, fearing a weakening of the cause.
According to Ozcan, the PKK has executed fighters ‘‘who fell in love’’ — for breaking the groups’ strict rules.
To some Kurdish women, joining the PKK was an escape from Kurdish culture’s rigid social mores — forced marriages, honor killings and other restrictive practices that remain rife in the southeast. Many others joined the PKK inspired by a dream of a separate state for Kurds or to avenge Kurds killed, imprisoned or tortured by Turkish security forces.
The PKK originally set out to fight for a separate state for Kurds, who make up an estimated 20 percent of the Turkish population. It later revised its goal to autonomy and greater rights for Kurds, including the annulment of Kurdish language bans imposed in the 1980s.
A series of European Union-backed reforms have widely expanded cultural rights and freedom for Kurds in recent years: A state television station broadcasts programs in Kurdish, students can now choose to learn Kurdish in schools, and there are plans to allow detainees to defend themselves in Kurdish in courts.
Cansiz is believed to have moved to Europe in the mid-1990s, becoming a leading activist for Kurdish women’s rights. Unconfirmed Turkish media reports say she was dispatched to Europe following a dispute with some PKK leaders in northern Iraq.
Cansiz received asylum from France in 1998, according to Devris Cimen, head of the Frankfurt-based Kurdish Center for Public Information.
The Wikileaks cable suggests that Cansiz and another PKK member, identified as Riza Altun, were the PKK’s key financiers in Europe, helping to funnel ‘‘upward of US$50-100 million annually’’ to the organization. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its allies, including the United States.
‘‘We must redouble our efforts to shut down the financial flows from Europe into PKK headquarters’’ in northern Iraq, the cable reads. ‘‘We need to narrow our focus by identifying and going after the two top targets of Riza Altun and Sakine Cansiz.’’
The cable suggests that the PKK raises money in Europe through fundraising and business activities as well as drugs, smuggling and extortion.
‘‘We can help by ... coordinating with law enforcement and intelligence counterparts in Europe, to ensure these two terrorists are incarcerated,’’ it says.
The co-leader of a pro-Kurdish political party in Turkey, however, eulogized Cansiz for her bravery.
‘‘She spat at the face of her torturers and her oppressors,’’ Gultan Kisanak said Thursday.