PKK feminist activist Nagihan Akarsel assassinated in Iraqi Kurdistan

PKK feminist activist Nagihan Akarsel assassinated in Iraqi Kurdistan
4 min read
06 October, 2022
Turkey intensifies its air strikes against PKK activists and members in the Kurdistan region, as Iran continues shelling border areas.    
A protester holds a sign and the picture of activist for the freedom of Kurdish women Nagihan Akarsel during a demonstration in solidarity with Iranian women and protestors Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome on 5 October 2022. [Getty]

A Kurdish feminist activist linked with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been assassinated in downtown Sulaimaniyah city of the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, two other suspected PKK members were killed in a Turkish drone airstrike on Tuesday.

Nagihan Akarsel, a member of the Academy of Jineoloji (women's studies) and the editor-in-chief of the organisation's magazine, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman early Tuesday in the Bakhtiary district of Sulaimaniyah city.

 PKK-affiliated Firat News Agency (ANF) accused Turkey's intelligence agency (MIT) of being behind the killing.

Akrasel was from Turkey's Konya and has left her home town to live in the city for the past few years.

Hours after the killing, Sulaimaniyah province's security forces - locally called "Asayish"- announced in a statement the arrest of suspects behind  Akarsel's assassination.

Since last year, six PKK activists and members have been killed in the province dominated by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Although Kurdish security forces say they have arrested several suspects, neither the identities nor nationalities of the suspects have been shared publicly. 

Kurdish political observers have often argued that security and spy agencies affiliated with the two main Kurdish ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK are collaborating with MIT to pursue PKK members.

Hasan Turan, the president of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC), on Tuesday shared several photos on his official Facebook account in which MIT undersecretary Hakan Fidan is shown visiting ITC's headquarters in the Kurdistan region's capital city of Erbil.

On Tuesday afternoon, a suspected Turkish drone targeted a civilian vehicle carrying two suspected PKK members in the Sharbazher area of Sulaimaniyah.

"On Tuesday at about 2 pm local time, a drone attack targeted a car near Shekhalmaren village; two persons were killed," Shaho Othman, mayor of Sharbazher, told The New Arab.

"We could not identify the identities of the two victims, since drones were observing the area for several hours, and the car has been targeted again. In the evening, unidentified fighter jets bombed Rangena and Bayanan villages," the mayor added. 

In June 2020, a Turkish drone targeted Kuna Masi, a touristic resort in the Sharbazher area, which killed several civilians - including women and children.   

Othman said that the attacks were carried out on pretexts of the existence of PKK or the Party of Free Life militants, causing fear and panic among villagers and farmers in the region.

"The increase of terrorist acts against activists from North and East of Kurdistan [southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran] in the Iraqi Kurdistan region is partly due to the deep-rooted operations by MIT and Iran's intelligence ministry in the region. Iran and Turkey officially declared they have several spy bases in the region to track and target Kurdish activists," Niyaz Abdullah, a prominent Iraqi Kurdish freelance journalist, told TNA.

"There is no international pressure on Ankara and Tehran to stop their assaults against the Kurdistan region, thus both countries are emboldened to increase their terrorist acts of assassinations, drone attacks, and bombardments," she added. 

Abdullah also stressed that as security and intelligence agencies in the Kurdistan region are affiliated with the ruling parties and are not "national institutions", they are under the pressure from the Turkish and Iranian authorities to not arrest those behind the assassinations.

"Thus, we can say the KRG indirectly lit the green light for both countries to continue with their military operations in the region," she added.

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Zana Rahman, mayor of Sulaimaniyah's Penjwen district, told TNA that Turkish fighter jets targeted several sites in the area, with no casualties reported. Rahman reiterated that locals are afraid to return to their villages.

The PKK, a Kurdish guerrilla force fighting for autonomy in Turkey, was formed in the late 1970s by militant leader Abdullah Ocalan.

It is listed as a "terrorist organisation" by Turkey, the US, the UK, and the EU, and its bloody conflict with the Turkish military has left at least 40,000 people dead since 1984, many of whom were civilians.

Turkey and Iran regularly conduct air and ground operations in neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan to root out the PKK and Iranian Kurdish opposition parties, which have bases in the area. Civilians are often caught in the crossfire.

"Since 2015, the Turkish Armed Forces have killed up to 129 civilians and wounded up to 180 civilians in northern Iraq," Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Iraqi Kurdistan reported in late June.