Remarks by Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, Ali Rıza Güney, on last week’s killing of a feminist scholar in Sulaymaniyah appeared to confirm suspicions that Turkish forces are behind assassinations of activists in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Asked in a press conference in Erbil about the killing of Nagihan Akarsel, the scholar and activist who was fatally shot 11 times outside her home on 4 October, Güney told Iraqi Kurdish news site Rudaw “those who are affiliated with the PKK are indeed our targets.”
The ambassador referred to Turkey’s operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has seen Turkish forces occupy areas of the KRG and launch lethal aerial and shelling of settlements.
Turkish officials say the operations target militants who threaten Turkey’s security. But Akarsel’s murder was the latest in a series of assassinations of civilian political activists around Sulaymaniyah since last year.
Activists Yasin Bulut, Mehmet Zeki Çelebi and Suhail Khurshid Aziz were killed in targeted attacks in and around Sulaymaniyah since September 2021. Güney’s comments this week reinforce and confirm local observers’ speculation that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation, MİT, was behind the killings.
“Our sensitivity and expectation in the fight against terrorism stems from this. PKK-focused and PKK-related focal points are targets,” the ambassador said.
“We attach more importance to the sovereignty of Iraq than some elements in Iraq. They understand what I mean,” added Güney.
Turkey’s military operations in Iraq have been roundly condemned by Iraq’s central government, and critics have noted that Ankara’s definition of “PKK affiliation” extends to activists, journalists and even the main opposition Republican People’s Party.
While Baghdad has expressed fury over Turkey’s incursions, the KRG’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has faced criticism for what many see as compliance with Ankara’s operations.
Güney’s remarks to Rudaw came during a press meeting in the KRG’s capital, Erbil. The ambassador later tweeted a photograph of himself with KDP leader Masoud Barzani, who received Güney in his office to “discuss topics on the agenda”.
KDP Başkanı Mesud Barzani’yle gündemimizdeki konuları ele aldık. pic.twitter.com/M8b7PQcnvY
— Ali Rıza GÜNEY (@alirizaguney_tc) October 9, 2022
Akarsel’s killing sparked protests from Iraqi Kurdish women, who called on KRG authorities to take proper action in response to the assassination.
It also drew outrage from international figures, including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and journalism NGO, Reporters Without Borders, which condemned Akarsel’s murder and called on local authorities to investigate and bring those responsible to trial.
The security forces in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan announced their arrest of suspects in the killing of Akarsel on 5 October.