Nagihan Akarsel, a Kurdish scholar, activist, journalist and co-founder of the feminist Jineology Research Centre, was killed in an armed attack on Tuesday in Iraqi Kurdistan’s Sulaymaniyah province, Roj News reported.
While the perpetrators of the attack remained unclear as of Tuesday, Akarsel is the latest in a series of Kurdish activists and scholars to be killed since last year in attacks in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Akarsel was shot 11 times by an assailant or assailants whose identity is not yet known while she was walking near her house in Sulaymaniyah’s Bakhtyari neighbourhood at around 10 am local time on 4 October, Roj News said. She died of her injuries later that day.
Local police said an investigation into the killing has begun, and Akarsel’s body has been sent for forensic examination.
Nagihan Akarsel was a prominent academic known both for her scholarly work and her activism promoting women’s rights.
As well as editing the feminist sociology journal Jineolojî, she also co-founded the Jineology Research Centre, an institute for the study of a form of feminism advocated by the Kurdish political movement known in English as ‘women’s science’.
Born in Turkey’s central Konya province, Akarsel had been living in Sulaymaniyah for years, where she conducted her academic and activist work including working at the Kurdistan Women’s Library.
News of Akarsel’s death was greeted with widespread dismay by friends and colleagues, who flooded social media with messages of their grief.
Oxford University sociologist Dilar Dirik spoke of her “horror and rage” at the killing of a “fearless defender of women’s liberation, a creator of beauty & life, a thinker who turns ‘Jin, jiyan, azadî’ (Woman, life, freedom), into practice.”
The women’s parliamentary group of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said “the bullets fired at Nagihan have been fired at our struggle for women’s freedom,” in a tweet on Tuesday.
Jineoloji Araştırmaları Merkezi Üyesi, Akademisyen ve Gazeteci Nagihan Akarsel Süleymaniye’de uğradığı silahlı saldırı sonucu katledildi. Nagihan’a sıkılan kurşunlar kadın özgürlük mücadelemize sıkılmıştır. Kadın özgürlük mücadelemizi yükselterek katillerden hesap soracağız! pic.twitter.com/05x6jNDBuV
— HDP Kadın (@HDPkadin) October 4, 2022
And, speaking in parliament, HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan offered Akarsel’s family the party’s condolences, and condemned the killing of the journalist, noting that it had taken place at a time when press freedoms in Turkey are under pressure from new censorship laws.
#Buldan: Jineoloji Araştırma Merkezi Üyesi Nagihan Akarsel’i silahlı bir saldırı sonucu katledildiğini öğrendik. Akarsel’in ailesine de çalışma arkadaşlarına başsağlığı, kendisine Allah’tan rahmet diliyorum. pic.twitter.com/zet29s2Vym
— HDP (@HDPgenelmerkezi) October 4, 2022
While the identity of the activist’s killer remains unknown, commentators quickly pointed out the similarity to attacks on other Kurdish activists around Sulaymaniyah and called Akarsel’s killing an assassination. Many blamed Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) for the attacks.
“No doubt in my mind that Turkey’s intelligence service MİT is behind this murder,” said Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink in a tweet.
another #kurdish women's activist from bakur (#kurdistan in turkey) murdered in slemani in kurdistan in iraq. these are the women who dedicated their lives to making 'jin jiyan azadi' come true. no doubt in my mind that turkey's intelligence service #mit is behind this #murder. https://t.co/hbhec3AIq9
— Frederike Geerdink (@fgeerdink) October 4, 2022
“This comes in a series of attacks against Kurds from Turkey in KRI in the same city, for example Zeki Çelebi this year and Yasin Bulut last year. Likely MİT work,” said Kurdish academic Dastan Jasim in a tweet.
Breaking: Nagihan Akarsel, a feminist scholar working on Jineoloji was assassinated just now in Sulaimaniya. This comes in a series of attacks against leftist Kurds from Turkey in KRI in the same city for example Zeki Celebi this year and Yasin Bulut last year. Likely MIT work. https://t.co/CnuMSDoSIw
— Dastan Jasim (@DastanJasim) October 4, 2022
Sulaymaniyah has witnessed a spate of killings of Kurdish activists and scholars since last year, all of which remain unsolved. On 30 August, Suhail Khurshid Aziz, a Kurdish historian and political activist, was killed in a town southwest of Sulaymaniyah province.
Mehmet Zeki Çelebi, a Kurdish political activist, who had moved from his hometown in Turkey to KRI to avoid persecution 12 years ago, was assassinated on 17 May by gunmen in front of his shop in the city of Sulaymaniyah.
Another Kurdish political activist from Turkey, Yasin Bulut, was assassinated in a similar attack in Sulaymaniyah on 17 September 2021. Kurdish political groups blamed Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation for the killing.