This story was updated on Wednesday, 12 October to reflect additional reporting.
More details have begun to emerge suggesting Turkish involvement in the assassination of Kurdish feminist scholar and activist Nagihan Akarsel, who was shot 11 times outside her home in Sulaymaniyah on 4 October.
Shortly after Akarsel’s death, authorities in the Iraqi Kurdish city announced that they had arrested four people suspected of involvement in her killing. Details of the suspects’ identities have remained undisclosed, but many observers have speculated that Turkish intelligence was behind the killings of Akarsel and three other Kurdish activists slain in and around Sulaymaniyah in the last year.
On Tuesday, Voice of America (VoA) Kurdish published video images of a man, his face covered and hands bound, and reported that this was the man sent to kill Akarsel.
VoA reported that interrogation of the suspect had been conducted through a Turkish translator, revealing that he had arrived in Sulaymaniyah around three months prior to the killing.
The report was removed from VoA’s website shortly after it was uploaded. MedyaNews has reached out to VoA for information on why it was taken down.
Fehim Işık, a Kurdish journalist who published the video on social media after it was removed from VoA, said in a tweet that the story had been removed from the news site due to pressure placed on the reporter who made the news.
Sources in Sulaymaniyah conveyed their own suspicions to MedyaNews that the pressure came from officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Turkish embassy.
Işık told MedyaNews he agreed with this appraisal, stating his belief that the Iraqi Kurdish Asayish police force had known about the VoA report before publication, but the authorities had later placed “enormous political pressure” on the news site to remove the video.
Işık also forwarded information from local sources stating that many arrests had been made in connection with Akarsel’s killing, and the suspect in the video is a MİT member who was sent to Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) to assassinate people.
“Turkey has contacts within the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP),” said Işık, referring to the ruling party in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. “While some politicians argue that Turkey is requesting the KRG to send him back to Turkey, others say that Turkey wants to cover up what happened.”
In a tweet on Tuesday Işık said, “It is reported that the murderer was trained in Ankara, sent to Sulaymaniyah and has been preparing the ground to assassinate Kurds in the region for the last three months. Sources close to the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) have confirmed that the murderer is a member of MİT (Turkey’s National Intelligence Service).”
After Akarsel’s assassination, many commentators agreed that MİT was the likely culprit.
Asked about the Akarsel killing during a press conference in Erbil, Turkey’s Ambassador to Iraq, Ali Rıza Güney, openly stated that Turkey was targeting people it considered “affiliated with” the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party).
The head of Turkey’s intelligence service, Hakan Fidan, reportedly met with the Turkish-backed group the Iraqi Turkmen Front, without informing the Iraqi government, in Erbil on 4 October, the day of the assassination.
The murder suspect was arrested by the Asayish police force at a checkpoint on the way to the Iraqi Kurdish capital, Erbil. His name has not been disclosed.
Ambassador Güney “took responsibility for the murders” during the Erbil press statement, said the Foreign Relations Committee of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an umbrella organisation for several Kurdish political movements and entities, in a statement released on Wednesday.
“It is a known fact that the Turkish state has a very dirty record outside its borders,” the KCK said. “As an official representative of Turkey, the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad has now assumed responsibility for this known fact … and recklessly declared that they will continue to commit such murders.”
Güney’s comments are “a declaration of not recognising the sovereign rights of Iraq and South Kurdistan”, the organisation added, calling on Kurdish political parties and movements in Iraq to declare the Turkish ambassador persona non grata.
“The Nagihan Akarsel murder was a summary execution, according to what the ambassador said,” Meral Danış Beştaş, MP and deputy group co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), told reporters at a press conference in parliament.
Several high-profile killings in recent years have been tied back to the MİT, Beştaş said. “These are all assassinations, all political murders. We are not the only ones to say this, Turkey’s Ambassador to Baghdad Ali Rıza Güney said it too. What an eclipse of the mind to confess to such a horrendous crime!”
Turkey “does not just target anyone, it especially targets those who do the greatest service (to the Kurdish people)”, KCK Executive Council Co-chair Cemil Bayık told Fırat News in an interview.
“The Turkish state does not distinguish between guerrilla fighters and civilians. For them, a Kurd is a Kurd,” Bayık said. “They don’t only attack the guerrillas but everything Kurdish in South Kurdistan, Rojava and North Kurdistan.”
Meanwhile, Akarsel’s family was only able to start moving her remains from Erbil on Wednesday, following four days of stalemate with Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. A convoy is taking Akarsel’s coffin by road to the Turkish border, to cross into Şırnak (Şirnêx) and move on to her hometown of Konya.